Archive for September 6th, 2010

September 6, 2010

Manhattan’s iconic skyline at risk

Change is good. But not all change is equal. And this is precisely why New Yorkers are largely opposed to a 67-storey office tower to be built in the shadow of the Empire State Building, where it will dramatically alter the city’s iconic skyline and sadly not for the better.

Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli for Vornado Realty Trust, 15 Penn Plaza, which was approved Wednesday by the City Council by a vote of 47 to 1, is a giant office building with few redeeming qualities other than the 6,000 jobs and the $15m in transportation improvements it promises to bring to the city. And yet, with yesterdays’ approval, it is all but guaranteed a prime spot on the city’s storied skyline where it will compete with the Empire State Building for top billing.

While the project has its share of supporters, chief among them Mayor Bloomberg who thinks the building will be a tremendous boon to the city’s economy, most people are against it, citing a bevy of reasons from the building’s underwhelming appearance to the harm it will bring to the Empire State Building – a structure that topped the list as the most beloved building in the United States in a survey conducted by the American Institute of Architects in 2007. In a poll conducted by Malkin Holdings, the owner of the Empire State Building, 85% of the people who weighed in on the new tower said it would ruin the skyline with 39% calling for setbacks to soften the building’s impact, particularly at street level. The battle over New York’s skyline raises interesting questions about design merit and the role it should play in shaping the city’s image, specifically how high the design bar should be for a building such as this one that will occupy rare air.

While Mayor Bloomberg has been quoted as saying that every building built in Manhattan alters the skyline, there are some degrees of alteration that are simply not acceptable. One such example is the demolition of historic Penn Station, which most New Yorkers agree was an unfortunate mistake that should not be repeated. But somehow the lessons of Penn Station did not resonate with those who approved this new office tower, who granted numerous concessions to expand the building 50% beyond what is permitted by as right zoning. The issue is not so much the design of the tower, per se, although I’m sure it is for some, but rather the design of this tower at this location. While many people said they would have no issue with the tower if were built elsewhere, the general consensus is that it simply doesn’t have the gravitas required for the address.

This area of Mid-town Manhattan is a beehive of activity, one of extreme densities at certain times of the day. Located across from Penn Station, the main transit hub, the area is teaming with people at rush hour. But at off- peak hours, the plazas and the streets are dead. Adding 2m sq ft of office space to the mix will only further deteriorate the street life, which in other areas of Manhattan, the city has been careful to nurture through programs that ‘pedestrianise’ and ‘green’ the streets.

While 15 Penn Plaza will bring jobs and transportation improvements to the city, it will do so at a cost to the skyline.

Let’s hope it’s not too high a price for most of us to bear.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

Pelli Clarke Pelli
Pelli Clarke Pelli
Pelli Clarke Pelli
Pelli Clarke Pelli

September 6, 2010

SOM Chicago opens new tower, Beijing’s tallest


With the Burj Khalifa and Chicago’s Trump Tower, the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has had quite a supertall skyscraper run lately. And guess what? The run ain’t done. SOM just opened another supertall, this one called the China World Trade Center Tower. It’s Beijing’s tallest building.

Here are the basics about the skyscraper: It rises 81 stories and contains a mix of uses—offices, meeting rooms, restaurants and a hotel. The design architect was SOM partner Brian Lee.

In a statement from SOM, Lee calls the tower “an important new icon on the Beijing skyline, built specifically to suit its environment and unite the Center as a whole,”

He adds: “The project open spaces and courts energize the streetscape and provide a pedestrian, civic setting for the China World Trade Center. The tower’s tapering columnar form is a timeless design that reflects the high performance and rational culture of present-day Beijing. It’s seamless integration with the surrounding areas seeks to return to a walkable, urban fabric that comprised traditional Beijing.”

The only way to judge whether these claims are true, of course, is to be in Beijing. I’m not, but maybe you are and would like to weigh in.

Former SOM partner Adrian Smith, of course, was the lead designer on both the Burj Khalifa and Trump Tower.

September 6, 2010

SOM celebrate completion of China World Trade Tower in Beijing’s CBD

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP or SOM

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP or SOM
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP or SOM
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP or SOM

Yesterday Skidmore, Owings & Mettill LLP (SOM) and China World Trade Center Co. Ltd., officially opened the China World Trade Tower after the successful completion of the third and most recent stage of development, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the China World Trade Center. Soaring at an impressive 330m, the 81-storey tower is now the tallest structure in Beijing and was voted 3rd on a list of tall buildings compiled by CTBUH in the beginning of this year.

A mixed-use facility, the China World Trade Tower consists of office, meeting and restaurant space, topped with the luxurious China World Summit Wing, a Shangri-la hotel. The development also includes a four-storey above-grade expansion to the underground China World Mall, a grand ballroom and retail podium with rooftop Pine Garden and landscaped water-garden.

Famed for their extravagantly tall buildings, SOM are also responsible for designing the Burj Khalifa and Chicago’s Trump Tower. Expressing clear delight in the finished structure, design architect and partner at SOM, Brian Lee commented: “SOM is proud to take Beijing’s skyline to a new height with the completion of the China World Trade Tower. Not only does the Tower emphatically mark the Central Business District but the development also provides citizens of Beijing with quality buildings and open space for business, shopping, hospitality, culture, education and enjoyment in a high density urbane environment.”

And so it does. A smattering of open spaces and courts have been included in an effort to energise the streetscape and provide a pedestrian civic setting for the development whilst the distinctive signature form easily differentiates the building from its neighbours in Beijing’s Central Business District whilst remaining in context with the surrounding urban environment.

The LEED Gold project has undergone extensive analysis and testing to ensure it is capable of withstanding Beijing’s regular seismic tremors, resulting in a moment frame structure with outrigger and belt trusses. Crystalline walls layered with fritted glass and metal fins which serve as vertical sunshades and maximise daylighting give the towering structure its glistening appearance as the undulating glass walls catch the sun.

Additional credits

Local Project Architect : Wong & Tung International Ltd.
Structural Engineer : Ove Arup & Partners, HK Ltd.
M&E Engineer : Parsons Brinckerhoff (Asia) Ltd. and WS Atkins International Ltd.
Façade Consultant : SOM and Meinhardt Façade Technology
Landscape Consultant : SWA San Francisco and TOPO Design Group
Interior Designer : Hirsch Bedner Associates, Tihany Design, LRF Designers Ltd.

Sian Disson
News Editor

September 6, 2010

SOM design Tianjin’s new CBD

Conceived as a new, self-sustaining city, financial hub and regional centre, the Tianjin Binhai New Area CBD Urban Plan sets out to provide China with a new model for progressive, large-scale urban development.

The plan draws its energy from the city’s geographic proximity to the Beijing-Tianjin metropolitan area, broad access to transportation networks, and China’s decision to develop it – and its environs – into an economic engine that will serve the development of the Bohai Region, thus sharing similar strategic importance with Shenzhen in the Pearl River Delta and Pudong-Shanghai in the Yangtze River Delta.

The city’s urban design framework embraces physical, social and ecological sustainable development principles and focuses on creating pedestrian-orientated city spaces, diversified land uses, ample public amenities and a state-of-the-art transit network. By creating a new park system and introducing dense and distributed housing, business and cultural infrastructures, the plan sows a fertile landscape that will build new links between local and global financial, environmental, communication, and educational resource markets.

The 25.8 sq km plan was prepared in phases, initially as a regional planning framework addressing critical issues of access, land use and density distribution. At the heart of the new city, the Yujiapu Central Business District is designed in more detail with special attention to urban form, sustainable infrastructure systems, and the establishment of a continuous riverfront park system. Urban design guidelines – focused on landscape, streetscape, building massing and orientation – direct architectural design and development towards a common vision, yet offer flexibility for subsequent architects and designers to contribute to the ultimate image and character of the built environment.

Acting as catalysts for future development, phase 1 buildings and the high-speed rail station are currently under construction with occupancy expected by 2012. Full build-out of the CBD is expected by 2025.

September 6, 2010

SOM’s designs for a revamped public space in the Windy City

The Chicago Riverwalk Main Branch Framework Plan defines a bold vision for improvements to the public rights-of-way of the Main Branch of the Chicago River. The challenge of this project was to create an actionable plan with specific recommendations to guide a multi-year implementation program, as well as provide opportunities for public and private sector participation.

This plan includes guidelines for the construction of a continuous walkway from Lake Michigan to Lake Street, ramp and elevator improvements to establish universal access between street and river levels, loading and storage spaces to support river business operations, and landscape improvements to return plants and animals to the river corridor.

This plan also includes conceptual designs for a new focal point feature, activity space and green amenity at the river confluence, a new public market under Wacker Drive and new pedestrian bridge to link both sides of the river east of Columbus Drive.

September 6, 2010

SOM’s designs for expanded CBD in the Chinese capital

As the winner of an international, invitation-only design competition to double the size of the existing Beijing Central Business District (CBD), this master plan accommodates 7 million sq m of gross building area in a 3 sq km redevelopment zone. The expanded district remains consistent with the existing CBD functions, containing Class-A office space, quality housing, hotels, retail and entertainment. Special attention is given to integrating existing residential and commercial buildings into the expanded vision, while new cultural facilities add to the vibrancy and civic nature of the district.

The project enhances Beijing’s commitment to public open space by offering three new public parks, green boulevards and a revitalised riverfront park. The comprehensive green network is designed to harvest and cleanse storm water to help alleviate shortages in the water-starved city. Additionally, the master plan aims to reduce vehicular traffic congestion by providing new modes of public transportation, including additional subway lines, streetcars and, most ambitiously, express rail service between a new CBD core and Beijing’s Capital Airport and South Railway Station.

The design is based on classic urban design principles – walkable streets, consistent street walls and active ground floor uses – and optimised with today’s technology to maximise sunlight, views and thermal comfort. Placing this project at the cutting edge of smart technologies and serving as a model for contemporary urban redevelopment, the plan proposes a ‘plug and play’ strategy for the provision of energy, water, conditioned air, communications and waste management infrastructure. Intelligent systems monitor and adjust to deliver maximum efficiencies, while centralised operations are made visible to the public – a true showcase in sustainable design.

Designed as a flexible framework for development, the plan can be adjusted and phased to respond to the evolving Beijing market. The master plan team has continued working with local officials to refine the plan, with a special emphasis on minimising carbon outputs in the expanded CBD. Construction of the initial phases will begin upon final approval, with full build-out anticipated by 2020.

September 6, 2010

Chicago goes ‘low carb’

Chicago Central Area DeCarbonisation Plan, Chicago, United States

Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture are underway with plans to reduce the windy city’s carbon emissions

The Chicago Central Area DeCarbonisation Plan is a comprehensive vision for helping the City of Chicago reach its carbon reduction goals in the downtown Loop. Working with the City of Chicago over much of 2009, the 25-member project team developed a database (including energy use, size, age, use, and estimated carbon footprint) of more than 550 buildings in the Loop. The team used that database, tied to a 3-D model, to research and develop the DeCarbonisation Plan, which interweaves energy engineering, architecture and urban design.

The plan is a roadmap for meeting the 2030 Challenge goal of 100% reduction in carbon emissions for new and renovated buildings by 2030. The team recognised that merely examining energy use in the Loop would not by itself be sufficient to address the city’s carbon reduction goals. The plan takes a more synergistic approach in which eight key strategies, combined with a parametric modeling tool, work together.

The first strategy, ‘Buildings’, investigates how existing structures can be upgraded to improve energy efficiency, increase the value of aging building stock and tap into the potential to transfer excess energy loads back to the grid, all while offsetting the need for new construction. Another strategy is ‘Urban Matrix’, which envisions increasing the residential density of the Loop by enhancing amenities, adding schools and services and converting aging office buildings to residential.

The other strategies include ‘Smart Infrastructure’, a look at how energy can be generated, stored, distributed and shared; ‘Mobility’, an assessment of transit and connectivity; ‘Water’, which examines how this critical resource is used and conserved; ‘Waste’, an assessment of citywide processes and systems for reducing, recycling and disposal; ‘Community Engagement’, which proposes various programs to engage citizens in the green agenda; and ‘Energy’, an examination of existing and new energy sources.

September 6, 2010

Architecture of Dance

Set design by Santiago Calatrava | The New York City Ballet

Architecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of DanceArchitecture of Dance

Pas de Deux

Santiago Calatrava and New York City Ballet director Peter Martins choreograph a convergence of dance and architecture that demonstrates the synergy between their two disciplines.

By Linda C. Lentz

Architecture imitates dance, and dance takes its cues from architecture as the curtain rises on Benjamin Millepied’s Why am I not where you are at New York City Ballet (NYCB). A soaring white arch spans the stage with a torque not unlike classical ballet’s fourth position. Throughout the performance, the company of 20 ballerinas and danseurs execute arabesques and jetés — alone, in pairs, and en masse — in front, behind, around, and through its skewed opening. And the structure responds with taut bands that vibrate when the dancers’ feet hit the floor, and eases into a poignant bow at the finale.

The dance is one of five ballets that were commissioned by NYCB artistic director Peter Martins to premiere at the company’s 2010 spring season at the David H. Koch Theater (which would coincide with Lincoln Center’s 50th anniversary). Inspired by the collaboration of his predecessor George Balanchine and architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee for a 1981 Tschaikovsky Festival, Martins became intrigued with the idea of architecture as it relates to dance in form and movement. So, he invited Santiago Calatrava — who is, he says, “his favorite architect” — to create designs for the new program, appropriately dubbed The Architecture of Dance.

While engaging an architect to design for the stage isnot unprecedented, Martins broke with the norm by asking that the architectural elements influence the shape of the choreography — as well as vice versa. Admiring the way “Calatrava’s work dances, I thought he could create environments that we could play off of to create dances,” Martins said at a talk presented by The New York Times in May.

The multidisciplinary architect was surprised by the offer because, although he sculpts and paints, he had not attempted theater design. But when Martins expressed interest in three of the Calatrava bronze sculptures displayed in the architect’s New York City office, the deal was sealed. Interestingly, “The stage demands a different approach from architecture,” notes Calatrava. “There is no wind. There is no rain. However, there are many special conditions, such as changing from one scene to another.” So, working closely with Martins, the choreographers, and NYCB technical director Perry Silvey, he began to learn what his parameters would be.

To begin, Calatrava and his teams in New York and Zurich developed 10 models, drawing on the vocabulary of his architecture. He also created a series of muted watercolors — later re-created and enlarged to fit the proscenium — for choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Melissa Barak, who both wanted traditional painted backdrops for their story ballets. Wheeldon’s Estancia is set in Argentina’s pampas, while Barak’s Call Me Ben conjures up the life of Bugsy Siegel in the Las Vegas desert.

Successful as creative exercises, the painted scenes do not exploit the architecture-dance connection. This premise works best in Martins’s own choreography, as well as the ballets of Millepied and Italian choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, which revolve around Calatrava’s dynamic constructions. Described as “objects” by the architect, each device depends on the human body for scale, and comes to life through the manipulation of light and shadow.

Hudson Scenic Studios did most of the engineering. “Mr. Calatrava’s engineers are brilliant,” says NYCB’s Silvey. “But they’re not used to building things that have to move on and off a stage in 15 or 20 minutes. For that we need to marry architectural with stage engineering.” Consequently, Hudson Scenic created a 27-foot-tall-by-44-foot-wide structure for the Millepied ballet comprising two arches made of steel, aluminum, and silicon surgical tubing bolted to the floor in a way that allows the unit to be detached quickly and “fly” above the stage between productions. Likewise, the studio made the seemingly straightforward 15-foot semicircles that gradually morph into a graceful, multihued “phoenix” above the dancers in Martins’s ballet Mirage out of aluminum and nylon cord for lightness and mobility. And for Bigonzetti’s Luce Nascosta, the crew crafted a suspended series of nine wood-framed radiating discs, designed to mimic a pantograph, by using a system of motor-driven carriers on tracks to move the discs — each supported by two cables. The movement is barely perceptible as eight of the golden discs (in progressively smaller diameters) appear from behind the largest, a glowing backlit nimbus that takes center stage.

Calatrava says he came out of the experience with a strong admiration for his collaborators. Indeed, he feels that his contribution to the whole endeavor is small, seeing the stage itself as subsidiary. “It helps to highlight the action. It helps to create transparencies for people to move in front of or behind it. It articulates things around it,” says the architect. “But if you take it away and the dancers perform, the peformance is still there.”

Video: We check out Santiago Calatrava’s set designs for the New York City Ballet and visit the Metropolitan Opera to see Herzog & de Meuron’s creations for its stage. We also speak with John Sellars, the Met’s senior technical director, about working with the Pritzker-winning Swiss firm.

Architecture of Dance, New York City Ballet