Archive for February 4th, 2011

February 4, 2011

Northeastern University Bldg G,H | William Rawn Associates

Northeastern University
College of Computer & Information Science and Residence Hall
Boston, MA

Located diagonally across Huntington Avenue from the Museum of Fine Arts, this project includes the College of Computer & Information Science (70,000 s.f.) and a 190-bed Residence Hall, and a 6-story building with an additional 300 beds (231,000 s.f.) and ground floor classrooms. These buildings fulfill the goals of a University Master Plan developed by this firm. This project opened in fall 2004. (301,000 s.f.; 190 beds)

February 4, 2011

Hariri Pontarini Architects

Roger Otto’s artist studio | Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada | 1,650 sf

School Of Pharmacy, University Of Waterloo |   $36M budget | 183,000 sf

Downtown Halifax Development | $105M budget | 700,000 sf | 824 units

February 4, 2011

NYU Takes a Village with Campus Plan

Adding millions of square feet to two Moses superblocks south of Washington Square enrages locals.

NYU has proposed a fourth tower (center) for I.M. Pei' Silver Tower complex on Houston. Designed by Grimshaw, it needs Landmarks approval.


A stroll along Washington Square South provides a good primer on NYU’s approach to development in recent decades. On one side is the park, former stomping grounds of O’Neill, Dylan, and Jacobs. On the other, a stretch of stone-faced institutional buildings, their imposing facades beckoning exclusively to students and faculty with a severity alien to the lively mood that otherwise energizes Greenwich Village. In the bad old days, these buildings were constructed in an as-of-right, piecemeal fashion with little community input.



Now the school is attempting a different approach, creating a masterplan that maps out the creation of roughly six million square feet in the city over the next two decades, an effort university officials said has been rooted in thorough planning and outreach. Yet despite the change in tactics, many in the community remain wary as ever, saying the university continues to ignore local input.

NYU is in fact looking as far away as downtown Brooklyn and Governors Island for opportunities, yet the heart of its plan—and of the university—remains in the blocks surrounding Washington Square Park, known as the Core. The university wants to put nearly half its new development in the area, much of it focused on the two Robert Moses superblocks north of Houston Street: Washington Square Village and the landmarked Silver Towers. By concentrating development in these already dense areas owned by the university, officials say, NYU can avoid buying up more of the Village.

The university and its designers—Grimshaw, Toshiko Mori, and Michael Van Valkenburgh—are proposing four thoughtful, albeit large, buildings that strive to minimize their impact on the neighborhood by peeling back the problematic parts of the superblocks, including serpentine fencing and landscapes, dreary street frontage, and a hodgepodge of circulation paths in order to create a more inviting environment.

Mori said the idea is to work within the logic of the disparate superblocks, where a plan for three slab buildings was abandoned by the original developer in the face of economic challenges in the late 1950s. Two of these Paul Lester Weiner–designed slabs were built, becoming Washington Square Village, which NYU then acquired along with the site of Silver Towers, which were built the following decade. “This is not a tabula rasa,” Mori said. “We’re not replacing the buildings but rationalizing, enhancing, and making them better.”

The first piece of the plan to enter public review will be a tower designed by Grimshaw for the Silver Towers site. Rising to 38 stories (eight more than its neighbors), the new tower will pay tribute to I.M. Pei’s distinctive facades with its own inventive glass treatment. The tower consists of four L-shaped volumes, with two elevated to create transparency and entrances, one for residents, the other for a controversial hotel.

Because the Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarked not only Pei’s three towers but the grounds surrounding them, NYU must seek its approval to build the new tower in line with Wooster Street, which the designers argue creates the best sight lines within the complex. The grocery store at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street would be replaced with an underground garage and a playground on top; the designers could have built here as of right, but prefer not to.


To the east of the towers is the squat Coles athletic center, which would be demolished to make way for the 17-story, Zipper Building, so called for the light wells creating bays in the structure’s upper half. The Zipper would accommodate both a new grocery store and academic space.

The most complicated piece of the plan is at Washington Square Village. The designers are proposing to replace a park and underground parking lot between the extant slab buildings with a two-level, 500,000-square-foot academic building below grade. In the center, a sunken garden would provide natural light into the space inspired, according to the architects, by Dominique Perrault’s Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.


Bookending the site would be two more academic towers, one of which may also include an elementary school, a nod to the community. Rising up to 8 stories on LaGuardia Place and up to 17 on Mercer Street, the buildings are crescent-shaped in a yin-and-yang layout meant to reflect light into the heart of the new quad. NYU intends to take the entire project before the City Planning Commission next year, after Landmarks determines what, if anything, can be built on the Silver Towers site.

In spite of NYU’s efforts, the community is not happy with the ambitious plan. In part, their anger is based on a 2007 promise NYU made not to pursue non-essential development within the Core. NYU counters that it has reduced the amount of its development and concentrated it within a tight footprint. “For them to turn around and stab us in the back so quickly is unconscionable,” one local resident said. “Some of us tried to maintain as much goodwill as possible, but I don’t see how that is possible anymore.”


There is also rage about the proposed hotel and NYU’s apparent disinterest in considering Lower Manhattan because of its distance from the Core. That NYU presented it as a single ULURP rather than phased per project has attracted particular vitriol.

Just as when Moses created these superblocks a half-century ago, the designs on paper meet far different conditions on the ground. The university needs to expand; the community doesn’t want 2.6 million square feet of new development. The density, if not the design, is as of right. This being New York, it just might happen. This being the Village, it just might not.

Matt Chaban

February 4, 2011

… proving how technology can live in harmony with nature.






Imagine a chair that moves when you move, that adjusts to every muscle in your body, that responds like a living organism . . . a chair kind of like a really excellent lover. Neri Oxman imagined such a chair. Then she built it. The result was Beast, the chaise lounge that the young designer built in collaboration with MIT professor Craig Carter. She describes it as being “all about an efficiency of material, distributing it according to your body load.” Resembling a praying mantis, the Beast chair is a prime example of the “living-synthetic constructions” that Oxman is becoming famous for. In short, her works are a complex recipe of design, science, art, and environmentalism, and it’s often hard to tell where one field ends and the other picks up.

Raised in Haifa and Caesarea, Israel, by architect parents, Oxman rebelled (well, by academic standards anyway) by going into medicine, completing med school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. But she couldn’t squelch her interest in design, and so she ventured to London to get a degree from the Architectural Association School of Architecture before enrolling in the PhD program in design computation at MIT. As a designer, the current grad student has a rather simple philosophy: to change the world by proving how technology can live in harmony with nature. “It’s a love affair with design that is continuously being nurtured by reaching into other disciplines, then coming back to design with those different points of view,” she explains.

Oxman usually looks to nature for practical design answers. Her work integrates the principles of biomimicry with manmade objects—think buildings that can “breath and sweat and think and grow and change,” she says. Recently at MoMA, she even showed a series of hive-like sculptures made of wood, acrylic, and nylon that actually respond to light, heat, and weight like living tissue. Such experiments are more than aesthetic: They could point to the future of energy-efficient building materials. Not surprisingly, there’s just as much public interest in what Oxman’s ideas mean on a larger scale as there is in the scale models she’s already constructed. Thus, most of her products and prototypes aren’t very commercially viable. “I hope that they will be one day,” she says. “But if I needed to live in a tent and continue thinking about innovation, I would probably choose that option.”

As for her own future, she rejects any possibility of a Neri Oxman line of roof tiles or a collaboration on Andre Balazs’s next hotel. Ideally, she would direct others in her art-design-ecology practice. “A great dream of mine would be to run a design studio full of scientists who think about science as creatively as if they were doing art,” she says. Oxman isn’t so taken with architecture and design whose only revolution lies on the surface. “Forget about the way it looks,” she says. “Think about how it behaves.”

To learn more about Neri Oxman’s work, visit her Web site and blog.

February 4, 2011


Most Creative People 2009 | Fast Company

Noah Kalina

In the MIT Media Lab’s basement workshop sits a machine that can slice human bone instantly using a blast of water mixed with garnet dust. It’s Neri Oxman’s favorite. “The laser cutter is very feminine, elegant. The water-jet cutter is very masculine. It cuts anything. To be here at 2 a.m. all by myself — it’s really exciting!” This laughing, chic young woman in a flowing Helmut Lang jacket is an artist, architect, ecologist, computer scientist, and designer who is not just making new things but also coming up with new ways to make things.

February 4, 2011

Double-glazing vs. masonry

Do More With Less

Double-glazing vs. masonry. Why, in an era of rapidly diminshing resources, is architecture so technologically complex?

By: Kiel Moe

Credit: Jameson Simpson

Architects often have a nostalgic view of progress: Our feebly linear understanding assumes that humanity always benefits when a new technology arises. Architects frequently deploy systems, software, and products to replace older versions and differentiate themselves in a crowded and competitive marketplace. Many architects thus embrace linear progress with excitement and incorporate technology with misplaced enthusiasm, unaware that they are caught in a vicious cycle, based on recurrent, and self-undercutting, obsolescence. Technology is anything but new, and the traditional view of progress—a curiously mixed cocktail of acquiescence and hubris—reflects little about its real dynamics.


In reality, progress is nonlinear and unstable. As such, it is very much open to design. Today, progress itself must be designed. Contrary to the traditional model, one design for progress today would selectively de-escalate the most egregious forms of technology in favor of a lower-technology but higher-performance paradigm. Neither stubbornly reactionary nor blindly optimistic, this lower-technology, higher-performance approach is an intelligent mongrel of both the archaic and the contemporary, and it can improve the performance of our design practices and buildings.

Instead of adding ever-increasing layers of intricacy, specificity, and coordination, architects should question the complexity that dominates our buildings and lives. Using a low-technology, high-performance approach, architects can exceed the performance expectations of a higher-technology building, and in the process they can engender durability, adaptability, tolerance, and, most importantly, resilience—qualities that are increasingly fundamental to architecture. One cannot underestimate the role of designed resilience in the 21st century.

Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Construction
The linear model of progress in architecture is invariably additive: When architects encounter new problems and obligations, they often respond by layering materials, technologies, consultants, software. The double-glazed envelope is a classic example—a cascade of compensations for the conceit of an overilluminated, underinsulated glass box. The extra glass and steel, automated shading devices, fire controls, and operable vents consume prodigious amounts of embodied energy and coordination time. These costs are difficult to justify when envelopes with a vastly more sensible 20 to 40 percent ratio of window to opaque, insulated wall can yield much higher performance for thermal conditions, lighting, operational energy, embodied energy, serviceability, and resilience.


Monolithic wall assemblies such as site-cast, air-entrained, lightweight insulating concrete are, by contrast, an optimal approach to the de-escalation of technology. The lower strength of lightweight concrete requires greater wall thickness to perform structurally. The concrete incorporates millions of air pockets that provide insulation equal to layered insulated wall assemblies and that manage vapor and water migration with its capacity to “breathe.” Indeed, what are often seen today as problems inherent to building envelopes, such as vapor or water migration, only became problematic as assemblies became layered with thinner, task-specific systems and air conditioning.

Whether lightweight air-entrained concrete, solid cross-laminated wood panels, solid masonry, or solid stone, monolithic assemblies become even more beneficial when coupled with a thermally active surface for heating and cooling, created by moving water through pipes that are embedded directly into walls and ceilings. Structure becomes the primary mechanical system. In Portland, Ore., Opsis Architecture renovated a masonry horse stable into its new office by retrofitting the building with a thermally active surface, which at once served as the seismic retrofit, the thermal-conditioning system, a perdurable finish material, and a foundation for a future expansion.

Bureaucracy of Technique
Architects have inherited a mentality of overly programmed, layered, engineered, additive, complex, and obsolescent design from the 20th century. We routinely strain against the bureaucracy of techniques we have passively grown to accept. We lose more ground than we gain in our successive attempts at “progress,” and yet, somehow, we routinely acquire more liability. Architecture stands to benefit from a rigorous reevaluation of its more pernicious theories, techniques, and technologies.

As the complexity of buildings and practices continues to increase, so does our inability to know the difficult whole. This is an intellectually and professionally dubious position. In a radically less-additive mentality, there are systemic gains for buildings and practices when we do more with less by orders of magnitude: 40 drawings in a construction set, not 400, for instance. Practices that do this know more about what they do and do more of what they know well. Doing less but better, and in turn achieving more, is consequential progress. A primary aim of de-escalating technology is an escalation of actual knowledge about technique, practice, and performance.

Twin Obsolescence
Architecture’s chronically divergent preoccupations with a building’s image and the inevitable obsolescence of ever-escalating technologies and systems is not a cogent pathway forward in this century, and it never was. Rather, consequential progress will emerge only when architects productively merge architecture’s objecthood and objectivity; when they grasp that a single-speed bicycle offers a model of far-higher-performance design than a Toyota Prius, much less a Formula One race car.

In all aspects of practice, an increasingly interesting question has arisen: What is the least architects can do and still exuberantly achieve or exceed the expectations of our discipline? This is not to suggest laziness, or some trivial minimalism, but rather to invoke a more mindful engagement with technique—a wholly untaught, unthought but inordinately consequential concept in architecture in this century.

What the profession needs is more intellectual and disciplinary agility to finally set our techniques and practices on a course for meaningful progress. This will emerge from strategic shifts in our pedagogies and practices. It will not emerge from capitulating to the demands of software packages, certification checklists, or greenwashed products. As Lewis Mumford wrote, “The machine itself makes no demands and holds out no promises.” Progress will not arrive automatically, but through thoughtful tactics and strategies. Progress will only be achieved when it is designed.



February 4, 2011

Terra-cotta rainscreen systems present designers with a broad palette of cost-effective possibilities.

Let It Rain, Let It Rain, Let It Rain by Aaron Seward

For the University of Michigans Ross School of Business, Kohn Pederson Fox Associates (KPF) used terra-cotta both as visual punctuation for the glass-and-aluminum curtainwalls and in a rainscreen system for the large planar surfaces. The apparent differences in tile color are due to the fact that some of the tiles have vertical flutes that point to the right, while others have vertical flutes that point to the left.

Credit: Barbara Karant/Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

For the University of Michigans Ross School of Business, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) used terra-cotta both as visual punctuation for the glass-and-aluminum curtainwalls and in a rainscreen system for the large planar surfaces. The apparent differences in tile color are due to the fact that some of the tiles have vertical flutes that point to the right, while others have vertical flutes that point to the left.



Rainscreen section, Ross School of Business, Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates

Payette used a terra-cotta rainscreen system to cover the entrance face of the Meditech Computer Science Building (above). In addition to offering a contemporary riff on the areas historical architecture (mills built from stone), the terra-cotta absorbs the suns heat, insulatating the interior with an R-value of 12.5.

Payette used a terra-cotta rainscreen system to cover the entrance face of the Meditech Computer Science Building. In addition to offering a contemporary riff on the areas historical architecture (mills built from stone), the terra-cotta absorbs the sun’s heat, insulatating the interior with an R-value of 12.5.


Rainscreen section, Meditech Building, Payette

DiMella Shaffer used terra-cotta (at right in photo) on about 25 percent of Crimson Hall. The tiles sandy color and size14 inches high by 4 feet longprovides a sharp visual contrast against the smaller red bricks.

Credit: Robert Benson Photography

DiMella Shaffer used terra-cotta (at right in photo) on about 25 percent of Crimson Hall. The tiles’ sandy color and size—14 inches high by 4 feet long—provide a sharp visual contrast against the smaller red bricks.
Rainscreen section, Crimson Hall, DiMella Shaffer

Terra-cotta rainscreen systems have been in German façade manufacturers’ catalogs since at least the 1980s. But this marriage of an ancient material with a more contemporary construction methodology has only really caught on in the United States over the past decade. In that relatively brief amount of time, however, this nation’s architects have put the system to good use both in solving project-specific design challenges as well as in foiling one of the chief enemies to a building’s longevity: water infiltration.

The traditional way to keep water out of a building has been to seal the envelope, generally with caulking. This has one major fault. Caulking materials inevitably deteriorate. Weather causes them to expand and contract, and eventually crack, while UV rays corrode them. Meanwhile, wind, or the inevitable pressure differential between interior and exterior, causes water to worm its way into the exterior.

Rainscreens, of whatever material, answer this problem by doing away with caulked façade joints and replacing them with a vented cavity between the cladding and insulation, where the final weather barrier is established. This eliminates the pressure differential and allows the water that does invade the system to be harmlessly vaporized.

A multitude of materials can be employed in rainscreen systems, including woods, metals, and masonry. Terra-cotta, however, offers a relatively affordable way to achieve a durable finish, with a wide spectrum of design possibilities. The material can be manufactured in almost any color imaginable, and in extrusions limited only by physics and the architect’s imagination. The three projects that follow are examples of designers using terra-cotta rainscreen systems to develop a contemporary response to built environments dominated by brick and stone.

Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, 2008
When the University of Michigan hired Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF) to design a new 281,000-square-foot home for its school of business in Ann Arbor, Mich., the architects found themselves facing the challenge of integrating their building into a context of revival styles. The project sits diagonally across from the neo-gothic William W. Cook Law Quadrangle. “The client had an inclination to use a material that would enable the building to be perceived as a good neighbor to the campus’ traditional buildings, and a material that would last with a high level of elegance over the life span of building, but we didn’t want to do brick or gothic, exactly,” explains William Pedersen, FAIA, the design principal for the project. “A terra-cotta rainscreen seemed perfect. The modular nature of its construction lends it a certain modernity, and it blends well with a masonry context. It also goes well with glass and stone.”

The architects used the terra-cotta in two different applications: as larger surfaces with no fenestration, and as vertical punctuation elements on the glass-and-aluminum curtainwalls. Only the unpunctuated surfaces employ a true rainscreen system. The tiles hang from aluminum clips attached to metal stud-framed walls. From interior to exterior, the wall sandwich is assembled like this: metal studs, gypsum sheathing, bituminous sheet waterproofing, 3-5/8 inches of mineral-fiber insulation, an air barrier, a 1-3/4-inch vented air space, and, finally, the terra-cotta cladding. “We wrapped the mineral-fiber insulation with an air barrier in case any wind-driven rain got behind the terra-cotta,” says KPF senior associate principal Phillip White, AIA. “In Europe, they typically don’t add that, but we did because when insulation gets wet, it loses its value.” The architects subjected the system to a battery of performance testing and believe the wall to provide an R-value of 16.

While the terra-cotta’s red-brown color is vibrant on its own, the architects took full advantage of the sculptural properties of the material to add texture to the surfaces of the building by using vertically fluted tiles. In half of the fluted pieces, the flutes point slightly to the right, whereas in the other half, they point the same degree to the left. These ridged tiles are alternated on the wall with the flat tiles, giving the otherwise planar surface an interesting texture. The tiles—which vary in size but are, for the most part, roughly 1 foot by 2 feet 5 inches—were also hung oriented vertically (most terra-cotta rainscreen systems feature horizontally hung tiles). This allowed the crisp joints between tiles to further strengthen the lines of the building.

The sculptural tiles did add cost to the system, but KPF worked with the manufacturer to reduce the number of extrusions to 10, thus keeping the price tag within reason. The wall was stick-built on site and cost approximately $70 per square foot—far cheaper than the project’s curtainwall, which rang in at around $120 per square foot.

Meditech Computer Science Building
Payette, 2008
Medical Information Technology, or Meditech, is a healthcare software developer, one of the industry’s leaders in hospital records database management. When commissioning a computer science building for its new 17-acre campus on the northern shore of South Watuppa Pond in Fall River, Mass., the company wanted to embody its high-tech culture and yet nod to the area’s historical architecture. In the 19th century, Fall River was a center of American textile manufacturing, and many of the old mills—constructed from local stone—still dot the landscape. Boston architecture firm Payette looked to these structures for inspiration when designing the 120,000-square-foot building, a strategy that led the architects to clad half of the facility in a terra-cotta rainscreen system. “Although terra-cotta is a very ancient material, its application in a rainscreen offered a way to reinterpret the mills in a contemporary way,” says Payette associate principal Jeff DeGregorio, AIA.

The terra-cotta rainscreen clads the entrance face of the building and is outfitted with punched windows set in a pattern much like that found in the local textile mills. This relatively closed façade stands in contrast to the opposite face: a floor-to-ceiling glass curtainwall that allows Meditech employees to take in views of the water and the landscaping. In addition to establishing an open and closed dynamic, the opposing façades are oriented optimally for sun exposure, with the terra-cotta and its superior insulation values accepting the lion’s share of the summer sun and heat. The punched windows are triple glazed for the same reason. The terra-cotta features an R-value of 12.5, whereas the windows have R-values from 4.5 to 5.6 in the summer and 4.2 to 5.5 in the winter.

To add variety and texture to the terra-cotta façade, the architects designed a stripe pattern in the chalky white tiles, which are 3 feet 4 inches wide by 14 inches high. The pattern was accomplished by extruding each tile with a 2-inch-wide horizontal stripe of honed finish at the bottom and the remainder of the tile with a corduroy pattern. “We went through a long process with the manufacturer and looked at 70 to 100 different samples of terra-cotta to get to the right coloring and texturing,” DeGregorio says. “There was no amount of rendering or computer modeling that could tell us if the building was too stripy or not stripy enough. Terra-cotta offered us the flexibility to actually mock-up lots of different pieces and see what worked.”

Rather than stick-build the rainscreen system, Payette had it prefabricated in 30-foot-wide by 14-foot-high panels that were trucked to the site, then hoisted into place by crane and clipped to the floor slabs. This saved time and money on installation and made the process easier in the face of the site’s strong winds. Each panel, from interior to exterior, was made up of 6-inch cold-formed metal framing, 5/8-inch exterior sheathing, an air and vapor barrier, 2-inch rigid insulation, a 1-3/4-inch vented air gap, a vertical aluminum rail that accepts the terra-cotta, and then the tiles themselves, which were shiplapped. The windows were installed later. “We worked hard on the details to make sure the air and vapor barriers were secured and used the cladding to keep as much of the system as watertight as possible,” DeGregorio says. The system was bid at $80 per square foot, not including the windows.

Crimson Hall, Bridgewater State University
DiMella Shaffer, 2007
In designing Crimson Hall, a 130,000-square-foot student residence at Bridgewater State University, Boston architecture firm DiMella Shaffer combined terra-cotta rainscreen, brick cladding, and glass curtainwall to create the building’s envelope. The decision was, in part, one of contextual sensitivity. “The rest of the campus is made up of multimaterial structures that mix brick and precast concrete and things like that,” says firm principal Ed Hodges, AIA. “I wanted to keep our building in that tradition.” The proportion of material to material, however, came down to a matter of cost. Availed of a tight budget and an expedited construction schedule, the architects clad most of the building in brick, saving the curtainwall and terra-cotta for the standout elements of the facility.

DiMella Shaffer used the rainscreen system on about 25 percent of Crimson Hall. A desire to emphasize the mélange of materials guided the architects’ detailing of the terra-cotta. The sandy-colored tiles themselves are 14 inches high by 4 feet long, allowing the terra-cotta surface to pop next to the smaller red bricks.

Construction of the project began in March 2006, with a completion date set in July of the following year. This meant that the cladding would have to be erected during the winter months. In this case, the terra-cotta rainscreen system was a big help to DiMella Shaffer because it employs a dry installation process. The system was built layer by layer on top of metal studs. The wall composition, from interior to exterior, consists of gypsum wallboard, metal studs, sheathing, an air barrier, 2-inch mineral fiber insulation, a 1-3/4-inch air gap, and, finally, an aluminum rail system upon which the terra-cotta tiles were clipped. The windows in the wall were set back at the water barrier and flashed with aluminum and membrane flashing.

At around $50 square foot (in 2007 dollars), the terra-cotta rainscreen system at Crimson Hall was a bargain. Its R-value of 12.15 also helped the project to achieve LEED certification. But the real value may be in the system’s durability. “Because there’s no caulking in the rainscreen system, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance,” Hodges says, “and that’s crucial for any material you use in a building that’s going to last 100 years.”