Friday, January 31, 2014

YEOW: Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway System

I'm sure many of you have seen this article, but hear me out.  What environment captured your design eye at first but has now become a routine part of your life?  I challenge you to find the beauty!

Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
The AIA's been giving out its 25 Year Award since 1969. It's designed to honor a building that's been around for 25 to 35 years—not terribly old, by traditional standards, but definitely pretty elderly by modern ones. The idea, according to the AIA, is to recognize buildings with "enduring significance" that have "stood the test of time." In other words, these are buildings that are still solid, useful, and beautiful, to borrow a phrase from Vitruvius.

So, what buildings have qualified? Well, the Seagram Building won it in 1984. The Salk Institute in 1990. The Airforce Academy Cadet Chapel, the General Motors Technical Center, and the Eames House have all won, too.  This year's winner, though, is less of a building and more of a whole system of buildings: The D.C. Metro, designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese.
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Image: Highsmith, Carol/Library of Congress.
It's easy to understand why the AIA would honor Weese. The incredible Brutalist elegance of his Metro stations—precast concrete vaults, futuristic lighting, and hushed high-tech systems included—is still the object of obsession amongst architects who weren't even born when Weese was working.
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Images: Al Ebnereza and laffy4k.
But that's really only a small part of what makes the system great. Here was a guy who, in the early 1970s, had the foresight to create a modular kit-of parts that worked not only for the five D.C. Metro stations that opened in 1976, but also for the 78 other stations that were designed since—some of them, after Weese himself had already died.
To put it in perspective, imagine a contemporary architect building a library or museum based on the plans of a designer from the late 1960s and 70s. It's difficult to picture, right?
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Images: AIA; Garyisajoke.
Of course, we give awards to new buildings for a whole list of good reasons: To honor contemporary architects, to celebrate peers, to generate publicity and interest in the profession. But it's a shame there aren't more awards for buildings that are still great, four or five decades out. Architecture is getting more and more disposable—these days, football and baseball stadiums are old if they live past 30 (despite billion-dollar price tags) and new home construction is once again soaring past pre-2008 levels.
It's enough to make you wonder why we celebrate buildings for arriving, but not remaining. Check out the AIA's full commendation here.
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Why the AIA Just Gave Its Most Prestigious Award to a Subway SystemSEXPAND
Images: AIA

Friday, January 24, 2014

A New Look at Gentrification

Today's YEOW is multimedia!  Check out the audio of the story on NPR here.

Gentrification May Actually Be Boon To Longtime Residents

Bobby Foster Jr. can often be found reading the paper on a wooden bench outside Murry's grocery store on the corner of Sixth and H streets northeast in Washington, D.C.

"The sun shines over here this time of day," says Foster, a retired cook.  "It's always good when the sun shines"

Murry's has been an anchor in this neighborhood for decades - during the crack wars of the 1980s and the urban blight that followed, when most other businesses packed up and left. Foster has been somewhat of an anchor, too. He's lived here for 54 years.

But now, this neighborhood and hundreds like it across the country are changing. Every other shop is a new restaurant, high-end salon or bar.

The neighborhood is gentrifying.

A 1988 riot in Tompkins Square Park in New York's East Village helped bring back the concept of gentrification to the fore in the U.S.

That's been a dirty word for 30 years, since the middle and upper classes began returning to many urban cores across the U.S. It brings up images of neighbors forced out of their homes.

But a series of new studies are showing that gentrifying neighborhoods may be a boon to longtime residents as well - and that those residents may not be moving out after all.

Even Foster is conflicted by the change he sees happening around him.

"Some things are good; some things are bad," he says.  "But sometimes the good outweighs the bad."

Gentrification burst into the social consciousness on Aug. 6, 1988, with the Tompkins Square Park riot in New York City's East Village. Residents carried signs saying "Gentrification is class war." Police carried batons. The bloody battle that ensued left more than 100 people injured.

The protesters' fury centered on the idea that the poor would be made homeless so the rich could live in their neighborhoods, destroying whatever character they may have had.

A lifetime resident of the H Street Northeast area, Cherry Tilghman says some of the changes here, like a new Giant Grocery store, have improved the neighborhood.
Lance freeman, the director of the Urban Planning program at Columbia University, says that's what he believed was happening, too. He launched a study, first in Harlem and then nationally, calculating how many people were pushed out of their homes when wealthy people moved in.

"My intuition would be that people were being displaced," Freeman explains, "so they're going to be moving more quickly. I was really aiming to quantify how much displacement was occurring."

Except that's not what he found.

"To my surprise," Freeman says, "it seemed to suggest that people in neighborhoods classified as gentrifying were moving less frequently."

Freeman's work found that low-income residents were no more likely to move out of their homes when a neighborhood gentrifies than when it doesn't.

He says higher costs can push out renters, especially those who are elderly, disabled or without rent-stabilized apartments. But he also found that a lot of renters actually stay - especially if new parks, safter streets and better schools are paired with a job opportunity right down the block.

That squares with a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

"We're finding that the financial health of original residents in gentrifying neighborhoods seems to be increasing, as compared to original residents in nongentrifying, low-priced neighborhoods," says Daniel Hartley, a research economist with the bank.

He looked at the credit scores of original residents and found that they went up - regardless of whether they rented or owned - compared with residents who stayed in nongentrifying neighborhoods. 

"There may be these kinds of side benefits to gentrification that we've been less focused on, that can actually help the original residents of the neighborhood," he says.

As for Bobby Foster, he says he's staying. He and his family own their home.

Some days, he says, he's very concerned about what will happen to the beauty salon across the street from his bench. Its owners often do elderly people's hair for free.

"They are beautiful people," he says. "they've been here as long as I've known this place."

But he says he also likes the new people too. He wasn't sure he would, but he says he likes that they sweep their stoops just like his grandma did.

"The people are still good," he says with a smile.

Two months ago, city officials announced that new retail apartment complex is coming to the corner of Sixth and H streets northeast. Murry's will be closing, and a Whole Foods will take its place. Foster says he just hopes Whole Foods will put a bench out front.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Library of Muyinga

The first library of Muyinga, part of a future inclusive school for deaf children, in locally sourced compressed earth blocks, built with a participatory approach.
Our work in Africa started within the framework of BC was asked to scale the "Open structures" model to an architectural level. A construction process involving end-users and second-hand economies was conceived. Product life cycles, water resource cycles en energy cycles were connected to this construction process. This OpenStructures architectural model was called Case Study (CS) 1: Katanga, Congo. It was theoretical, and fully research-based. 5 years later, the library of Muyinga in Burundi nears completion.
Children's library in Africa with rammed earth walls by BC Architects

Project Description: Library for the community of Muyinga
Location: Muyinga (BU)
Client: ODEDIM
Architect: BC architects
Local material consultancy: BC studies
Community participation and organisation: BC studies and ODEDIM Muyinga
Cooperation: ODEDIM Muyinga NGO, Satimo vzw, Sint-Lucas Architecture University, Sarolta Hüttl, Sebastiaan De Beir, Hanne Eckelmans
Financial support: Satimo vzw, Rotary Aalst, Zonta Brugge, Province of West-Flanders
Budget: €40 000
Surface: 140m2
Concept: 2012
Status: completed
Vernacular inspirations
A thorough study of vernacular architectural practices in Burundi was the basis of the design of the building. Two months of fieldwork in the region and surrounding provinces gave us insight in the local materials, techniques and building typologies. These findings were applied, updated, reinterpreted and framed within the local know-how and traditions of Muyinga.
The library is organised along a longitudinal covered circulation space. This "hallway porch" is a space often encountered within the Burundian traditional housing as it provides a shelter from heavy rains and harsh sun. Life happens mostly in this hallway porch; encounters, resting, conversation, waiting - it is a truly social space, constitutive for community relations.
Children's library in Africa with rammed earth walls by BC Architects
This hallway porch is deliberately oversized to become the extent of the library. Transparent doors between the columns create the interaction between inside space and porch. Fully opened, these doors make the library open up towards the adjacent square with breathtaking views over Burundi's "milles collines" (1000 hills).
On the longitudinal end, the hallway porch flows onto the street, where blinders control access. These blinders are an important architectural element of the street facade, showing clearly when the library is open or closed. On the other end, the hallway porch will continue as the main circulation and access space for the future school.
Children's library in Africa with rammed earth walls by BC Architects
A very important element in Burundian (and, generally, African) architecture is the very present demarcation of property lines. It is a tradition that goes back to tribal practices of compounding family settlements. For the library of Muyinga, the compound wall was considered in a co-design process with the community and the local NGO. The wall facilitates the terracing of the slope as a retaining wall in dry stone technique, low on the squares and playground of the school side, high on the street side. Thus, the view towards the valley is uncompromised, while safety from the street side is guaranteed.
The general form of the library is the result of a structural logic, derived on one hand from the material choice (compressed earth blocks masonry and baked clay roof tiles). The locally produced roof tiles were considerably more heavy than imported corrugated iron sheets. This inspired the structural system of closely spaced columns at 1m30 intervals, which also act as buttresses for the high walls of the library. This rhythmic repetition of columns is a recognisable feature of the building, on the outside as well as on the inside.
The roof has a slope of 35% with an overhang to protect the unbaked CEB blocks, and contributes to the architecture of the library.
Children's library in Africa with rammed earth walls by BC Architects
Climatic considerations inspired the volume and facade: a high interior with continuous cross-ventilation helps to guide the humid and hot air away. Hence, the facade is perforated according to the rhythm of the compressed earth blocks (CEB) masonry, giving the library its luminous sight in the evening.
The double room height at the street side gave the possibility to create a special space for the smallest of the library readers. This children's space consist of a wooden sitting corner on the ground floor, which might facilitate cosy class readings. It is topped by an enormous hammock of sisal rope as a mezzanine, in which the children can dream away with the books that they are reading.
The future school will continue to swing intelligently through the landscape of the site, creating playgrounds and courtyards to accomodate existing slopes and trees. In the meanwhile, the library will work as an autonomous building with a finished design.
Children's library in Africa with rammed earth walls by BC Architects
Local materials research
The challenge of limited resources for this project became an opportunity. We managed to respect a short supply-chain of building materials and labour force, supporting local economy, and installing pride in the construction of a library with the poor people's material: earth.
Earth analysis: "field tests and laboratory tests" - Raw earth as building material is more fragile than other conventional building materials. Some analyse is thus important to do. Some easy tests can be made on field to have a first idea of its quality. Some other tests have to be made in the laboratory to have a beter understanding of the material and improve its performance.
CEB: "from mother nature" - After an extensive material research in relation with the context, it was decided to use compressed earth bricks (CEB) as the main material for the construction of the building. We were lucky enough to find 2 CEB machines intactly under 15 years of dust. The Terstaram machines produce earth blocks of 29x14x9cm that are very similar to the bricks we know in the North, apart from the fact that they are not baked. Four people are constantly producing stones, up to 1100 stones/day.
Eucalyptus "wood; the strongest, the reddest" - The load bearing beams that are supporting the roof are made of eucalyptus wood, which is sustainably harvested in Muramba. Eucalyptus wood renders soil acid and therefor blocks other vegetation to grow. Thus, a clear forest management vision is needed to control the use of it in the Burundian hills. When rightly managed, Eucalyptus is the best solution to span spaces and use as construction wood, due to its high strengths and fast growing.
Tiles: "local quality product" - The roof and floor tiles are made in a local atelier in the surroundings of Muyinga. The tiles are made of baked Nyamaso valley clay. After baking, their color renders beautifully vague pink, in the same range of colors as the bricks. Each roof surface in the library design consists of around 1400 tiles. This roof replaces imported currogated iron sheets, and revalues local materials as a key design element for public roof infrastructure.
Internal Earth plaster: "simple but sensitive" - Clay from the valley of Nyamaso, 3 km from the construction site, was used for its pure and non-expansive qualities. After some minimal testing with bricks, a mix was chosen and applied on the interior of the library. The earth plaster is resistent to indoor normal use for a public function, and has turned out nicely.
Bamboo: "Weaving lamp fixtures" - Local bamboo is not of construction quality, but can nicely be used for special interior design functions, or light filters. In a joint workshop with Burundians and Belgians, some weaving techniques were explored, and in the end, used for the lamp fixtures inside the library.
Sisal rope: "from plant to hammock" - Net-making from Sisal plant fibres is one of the small micro-economies that bloomed in this project. It took a lot of effort to find the only elder around Muyinga that masters the Sisal rope weaving technique. He harvested the local sisal plant on site, and started weaving. In the pilote project, he educated 4 other workers, who now also master this technique, and use it as a skill to gain their livelihood. The resulting hammock serves as a children’s space to play, relax and read, on a mezzanine level above the library space.
Concrete "when it’s the only way out" - For this pilot project, we didn't want to take any risks for structural issues. A lightweight concrete skeleton structure is inside the CEB columns, in a way that both materials (CEB and concrete) are mechanichally seperated. The CEB hollow columns were used as a "lost" formwork for the concrete works. It is our aim, given our experience with Phase 1, to eliminiate the structural use of concrete for future buildings.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beautiful Architecture Has Weaknesses Too.

On October 9, 2005, the final phase of the santiago calatrava-designed (the city of arts and science) in Valencia, opened to the public. The 'el palau de les arts Reina Sofia' (the opera house and performing center) finished off the cultural site which is also home to: l’àgora (a covered plaza) which hosts a variety of events; el museu de les ciènces príncipe felipe (prince philip science museum); el pont de l’assut de l’or (a suspension bridge); l’hemisfèric (planetarium);  l’oceanogràfic (open-air oceanographic park); and l’umbracle (a landscaped walkway that acts as a sculpture garden).

Now, 8 years after its inauguration, Calatrava is under some heat from his home city who is suing him for the building’s rapid deterioration. it has been reported that pieces of the ‘white elephant’ have been crumbling off of its façade as a result of high winds, thus forcing officials to cancel performances and restrict public access to the €100 million complex until further notice. a technical report has been issued to evaluate the opera house’s current state to determine a further course of action.
This is the latest in a series of controversy that Calatrava’s designs have sparked in the last decade or so. He is perhaps even more renown for surpassing any budget and creating buildings with technical shortcomings than for his bombastic style of architecture.

For more information see link below: