Metaphorically speaking, so much of the development that has happened over the last decade has been built on loose sandy soil. Here, however, is a literal example of this very disheartening state of affairs: The Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas—designed by the Brownsville-based Walker & Perez Associates—was to be a 31-story condo, promising startling views of the Gulf of Mexico and proximity to the most exclusive neighborhoods in the popular vacation destination. But after topping out last year construction was halted because one side of the building sank 14 or more inches into the underlying clay stratum. Major cracks appeared throughout the tower’s base, and now the structure is slated to be imploded this Sunday. The eloquent commentary on the above video gives voice to what we have all been thinking but afraid of saying while the myriad of architectural projects have been crumbling around our heads.
On December 2, Werner Sobek, IIT professor and founder of Werner Sobek Engineering and Design, delivered the third annual Franzen Lecture for Architecture and the Environment at the Cooper Union. Sobek, who is also head of the Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK) at the University of Stuttgart, discussed experiments at the institute to develop an inflatable-fabric-structural-envelope-system-prototype, or “sausage” to be economical. Our eyewitness reports that after much exposition about inflatable fabric membranes, New York architect Toshiko Mori, who moderated the discussion, offered that she had sat on Werner’s inflatable sausage, because he wanted her to test the resistive properties to make sure it could withstand the pressure. Tittering spread through the audience, said our witness, who admitted that he lost track of the discussion. Yes, folks, this is what passes for randy double entendre in the academy.
Whoah, Dude… The LA Times reports that a group including skateboarding legend Tony Hawk is backing a proposal to build a neighborhood skate park about 40 yards from LA’s Watts Towers. The colorful towers, made of twisting steel and shards of ceramics, among many other things, were built by Italian immigrant Simon Rodia between 1921 and 1954. They’re arguably South LA’s most important landmark. According to the story the skate park—whose circular bowls are reminiscent of the towers’ plans—is being pushed by councilwoman Janice Hahn and the Wasserman Media Group, an L.A. sports management and marketing company. And “Although no formal plan has been submitted, a conceptual plan has been drawn and fundraising is already underway, with an early boost from Hawk.” Most in the Towers’ camp seem irked by the idea, fearing excess noise and distraction. “It sounds like it would be great for Watts, but not near the towers,” said Michael Cornwell, chairman of the Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts. Should be interesting…
As the sun went down one evening over San Francisco’s shipyards, the anthropologist Philippe Bourgois came across a man in a drug-induced seizure under the intersection of two freeways. Bourgois was only a few months into a 12-year research project on homeless heroin addicts, a journey that would make him a habitué of vacant factories, dead-end alleyways, storage lots, and broken-down cars. Read More
The Urban Land Institute LA’s inaugural LARC (Los Angeles Real Creativity) Awards was not your average design show. Mistress of ceremonies Frances Anderton, the host of KCRW’s “Design and Architecture,” set a light tone that discouraged back slapping and the stodgy speeches that often accompany such congratulatory musings. As dinner was served by Wolfgang Puck, guests seated at tables in the lobby of Wayne Ratkovich’s recently renovated William Pereira building at 5900 Wilshire were treated to a crash course in some of LA’s most innovative projects. And the winners were: Read More
The rumor has been confirmed that Greek-born, Italian-trained dynamo Olympia Kazi is taking over as executive director of the Van Alen Institute as of January 18. After a two-year stint as same at the Institute for Urban Design, where she put the spin on that org’s thirty-year mission to prove that “cities can be designed,” she will now, we presume, have a deeper pool and a wider horizon from which to launch some really big plans. Stay tuned for the official statement.
First reported in the Chicago Tribune, and today in the Wall Street Journal, officials at a group of union pension funds are vetting a plan to lend $170 million to restart construction on the stalled Chicago Spire. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the 150 story residential tower would be the tallest building in the US. The Journal piece points out that with a drastic drop off in condo construction downtown predicted for 2010 and 2011, the completion of the Spire could actually come at a time when there is pent up demand for housing. Blair Kamin previously pointed out that unions have made similar loans in previous downturns, notably providing loans for the construction of Marina City.
According to the Journal, Chicago’s failure to win the 2016 Olympics may have been the key to giving the Spire new life. The pensions had previously been looking to lend funds for the construction of the planned Olympic Village.
In a series of articles over the past week, The Art Newspaper takes an extensive look at the recently concluded art extravaganza in Miami. It reports that the scene was not as grim as last year, offering this roundup of celebrity-studded Art Basel Miami Beach: “The fair attracted its usual tribes of pop stars, fashionistas, museum directors, actresses in sky-high stilettos and dressed-down buyers, including a denim-clad Roman Abramovich, the Russian billionaire. Lily Allen was sashaying around White Cube, while John Taylor of Duran Duran showed interest in a Richard Prince collage at Gagosian.” But while on the subject of Miami and its art world, the paper reported on Terry Riley’s exit from the Miami Art Museum (MAM), and added a few interesting tidbits to the story. Read More
For the last three years, AIA New Orleans has invited teams of architects and artists to takeover “hidden” spaces within the city, transforming them with the latest design tech and hopefully testing the boundaries of this at-times-ephemeral place in the process. One of installations at this year’s DesCours comes from the Chicago team of Marshall Brown and Dana Carter. (Brooklynites may know Brown from his work on the anti-Ratner UNITY plan for the Atlantic Yards.) The duo has focused their gaze on the heavens, where they are harnessing the sun—through photovoltaic, of course—and transforming it for the weeklong nightly event into a constellation in no less a celestial place than Charles Moore’s Piazza d’Italia. More illuminating photos after the jump, and if you happen to be in town for the event, let us know what you think about this or any of the other 13 projects. Read More
Even Union Square, San Francisco’s high-end shopping mecca, sports the occasional empty storefront these days. To beautify a few for the holidays, the Union Square Association brought in four architecture firms to work their magic, a pro bono effort that also “highlight(s) the vibrant creativity of local architecture firms in a whole new way,” says the press release. A delightful idea–but in execution, somewhat of a mixed bag, as you will see. Read More