And the Winners Are

National
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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(Rick Lowe's Project Row House. All images courtesy United States Artists)

(Denari's HL23)

Among the winners at last night’s ceremony for United States Artists (USA) were architects Neil Denari, Laura Kurgan, and architect/activist Rick Lowe. The $50,000 unrestricted awards are given each year “to ignite the creativity that makes this country great,” according to the organization’s website. USA was started in 2005 with seed money from the Rockefeller, Ford, Prudential, and Ramuson foundations to support artists in the wake of dwindling public funding for the arts.

They praised Denari as a “leading voice in the pedagogy and practice of contemporary architecture,” and commended him for showing that “progressive ideology is buildable.”

Kurgan’s work employs “data network information and uses it as a visual device to inform and educate the general public on social issues and their physical implications to the built environment.” Read More

The Big Bang

National
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
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On Friday I posted a video about the Ocean Tower in South Padre Island, Texas, also known as the Leaning Tower of South Padre Island. It is, or was to be, a 31 story condo. Regrettably, after topping out one side of the foundation sank more than a foot into the sand, construction was halted, and on Sunday the structure was imploded. At 400 feet tall, it was the tallest concrete structure to ever be imploded, according to the demolition contractor, Controlled Demolition of Phoenix, Maryland. The above video, and many more like it on youtube, capture the magic moment.

Willets Wonderings

East, East Coast
Monday, December 14, 2009
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The city saw a robust response to an RFQ for the development of the western portion of Willets Point in Queens.

The city saw a robust response to an RFQ for the development of the western portion of Willets Point in Queens.

It appears the city’s plan to trifurcate development out at Willets Point has been a smashing success, as the Economic Development Corporation announced on Friday that 29 developers from across the country have expressed interest in the first phase of the project, an 18-acre swath of land on the western section of the 62-acre Iron Triangle that contains the densest mix of uses. “The quantity and quality of these responses are strong indicators that the development community has confidence in the successful redevelopment of Willets Point despite current economic conditions,” Seth Pinsky, president of EDC, said in a release. An RFP is expected sometime in 2010 for a selection of those 29 respondents. After that, the next hurdle is finishing land acquisition, which stands at 75 percent of the phase one area controlled by the city. If need be, the city has not ruled out acquiring what’s left through eminent domain, a specter that has cast a long shadow over the area’s redevelopment, though one that could be sunsetting. Read More

High Tech Holidays

Midwest
Monday, December 14, 2009
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(images courtesy SOM)

The Chicago office of SOM has designed a modern take on the menorah, which recently took top prize in a charity competition sponsored by Steelcase. The solid wax menorah, which was created by Colin Gorsuch, burns so that the eight inch square frame is revealed with the passing of each night of Chanukkah. Read More

Related Events?

East, East Coast
Friday, December 11, 2009
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City Council member Joel Rivera leads a rally against the Related Companies Kingsbridge Armory project on Wednesday. Council speeker Christine Quinn has taken a quieter approach with that developers Hudson Yards.

City Council member Joel Rivera leads a rally against the Related Companies Kingsbridge Armory project on Wednesday. Council speeker Christine Quinn has taken a quieter approach with that developer's Hudson Yards.

With all the ink spilled of late on the Related Companies’ faltering plans to transform the massive Kingsbridge Armory into an equally huge mall, another of the developer’s megaprojects has been lost amidst the protests: Hudson Yards. As Bronx City Council member Joel Rivera has been leading a noisy fight against the armory, demanding a living wage for workers who will someday populate its stores and food courts, speaker Christine Quinn has been more quietly negotiating with Related on adding affordable housing to the western section of the outsiszed development planned for the Far West Side. Read More

Leaning Tower Of South Padre Island

National
Friday, December 11, 2009
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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.

A Sobek Sausage, Anyone?

Eavesdroplet
Thursday, December 10, 2009
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Sobek, at a 2006 talk. (No sausage in sight.)

Sobek, at a 2006 talk. (No sausage in sight.)

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.

Doing Ollies In Watts

West
Thursday, December 10, 2009
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A rendering of the proposed skate park

A rendering of the proposed skate park

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…

Among the Righteous Dopefiends

East
Thursday, December 10, 2009
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From Righteous Dopefiend (Photography by Jeff Schonberg)

From Righteous Dopefiend, now on view at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. (Photography by Jeff Schonberg)

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 Newest LA Award Show

West
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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The proposed Hollywood Freeway Park won a SPARC award

The proposed Hollywood Freeway Park won a SPARC award

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

Torch to Olympia

East
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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Olympia Kazi

Olympia Kazi

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.

Spire Revival

Midwest
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
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(image courtesy Shelbourne Development)

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.

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