Tag Archives: design

Architecture

Precedents for the 11th Street Bridge Park

I’ve written up a post on the the 11th Street Bridge Park for Greater Greater Washington. It’s an exciting idea, but it’s important to slow down and consider what’s possible.

The Bridge Park is really more of an elevated park than a bridge. But its bridge-like form means it can be much more than just a deck with greenery. Since it’s elevated over water, it offers something special related to depth. Its section can go up into the sky and down into the water in ways that no other park can. No excavation is required, and people on the deck can interact with what’s below.

Since there is only one precedent for such a structure, the Providence Greenway, perhaps it’s worth looking a things that are typologically adjacent: bridges, linear parks, and buildings that address the water in noteworthy ways.

Bridges

The first kind of bridge that’s worth noting is one that carefully frames the intersection of the stream and a road. The Ponte Alexandre III is a well-known example. It’s a tetrapylon, a marker of the intersection of two equal routes.

Another interesting type is a bridge that’s asymmetrical along the axis of the flow. If you have a road, there typically are two directions of traffic. Each one is usually equal in value. A river, however, does have a direction: downstream, downhill. That by itself can be a source of impressive architectural effects – as how water rushes around bridge piers.

With symbolism, you get something very poetic. Otto Wagner’s Nussdorf bridge-wier seems to fight the force of the water coming down to it. Massive stone pylons, scrolling up against a sturdy truss, support columns topped by lions. The design expresses the strength of the flood protection it offered Vienna.

Linear Parks

In the article, I suggested that the High Line was an inappropriate comparison to the Bridge Park, because one is through dense neighborhoods, while the other is over a river. The level of activation influences the level of activity. The High Line has the luxury of limiting access to create a nice level of calm in the city. The Bridge Park will only ever have two entrances. 

But – James Corner: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the designers of the High Line, made a few design decisions that are worth examining. For one, they distributed little spaces along the way that focus your attention on city life. Even the most jaded visitors end up gawking at the flow of traffic and people-watching.

Waterfront Buildings

At the ICA Boston, a museum on the outer harbor, DS+R turned guests’ attention to the horizon. Every space, like comfortable main porch to the disorienting research room, makes you look at the sky and the water with fresh eyes. 

ICA research room by michelvandenbogaard CC-BY-ND
There’s something surreal about water that’s as relentless as the sky. Take a look at James Turrell’s understanding of the sky. Could a basketball player understand what’s going on here:
Sure. We all know the sky and the water.
Plus, if you want to get beyond vision, steps down to the river, like at the Oslo Opera House might form an incredible amphitheater.
There are a lot of options for this park. I look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. What I think will be important, though, is looking for a designer who wants to relate the communities’ prosaic needs – like a play structure – to fundamentals that are so prosaic we’ve forgotten how wonderful they are.
Architecture

Watch the MLK Library presentations

DCPL put on a good show this Saturday, with the teams of architects presenting their designs. I always enjoy watching architects present their work to the public. It’s not exactly enthralling if you’ve read up on the three different schemes, but the nature of live discussions adds some insight into how each of the teams approached the design.

DCPL has done a great job of encouraging involvement and feedback, even if that meant reading ridiculous tweets at the presentation. They used a good competition process that begins with experience, pays for the work, and demands more than pretty pictures. It was just the level of openness that was needed. I like what Christopher Hawthorne says:

Results will be announced this Tuesday, the 18th, but that will only the beginning of design.

Architecture Local

Marshall Purnell on the Height Limit

Pepco building by Devrouax + Purnell.

Greater Greater Washington asked accomplished DC architects to weigh in on the positives and negatives of the height limit. This comment is part of that series

The argument being used to push for a change in the height limit is misunderstood at best and disingenuous at worst. Washington is full of boxes because developers want to build out to the very maximum FAR available. The measurement is taken from the inside face of glass. This means any relief in the facade results in lost FAR. This makes the city very much a city of two dimensional facades not architecture. There have been noted exceptions to this of course but they are not the norm. All things being equal, allowing for taller building will probably result in taller boxes. Developers will still want to maximize the envelope at the expense of some needed relief. They will still keep hiring the same architects and hope for different results. There’s a definition in that last sentence.

Another solution would be to hire more creative architects. However, if you become popular for creating Washington boxes it seems the development community will beat a path to your door. They get a building with maximum income potential (translated: space) for a modest cost and a downright meager fee with no push back from the architect for any idea suggested, good or bad.

I have had the good fortune to have some clients that were not driven by maximizing the FAR so much as building to their limited budget and providing the best design value.

Marshall Purnell, FAIA, is director of Devrouax + Purnell Architects, and former president of the American Institute of Architects. 

Architecture Local

Matt Bell on the Height Limit

Greater Greater Washington asked accomplished DC architects to weigh in on the positives and negatives of the height limit. This comment is part of that series

Certainly the possibility of an enhanced skyline is suggestive and more height may mean a more interesting skyline in places. But the primary concern should be how the buildings address the street and add to the vitality of our city. Any such changes to the Height Act would be well advised to take that into consideration. Yes, the skyline of New York is great and tall buildings are much the reason. But the 1916 Zoning Code of NY also resulted in a wonderful sense of urbanity, where the tall buildings “behaved” at street level, defining public space and reserving their more celebratory features for many more stories up in the air.

But, it’s doubtful that similar effects will be tolerated in DC. So, where does that leave us? On one hand, the question is one of urbanism. K Street, while generally ugly (it is not the Rue di Rivoli!), has a sense of urbanity that is impressive on weekdays from 8 to 6. More residential development would help in the off hours. Those buildings, for better or for worse, define the street, have active ground floors and provide the continuity of the street wall necessary for any successful downtown.

Thinking architecturally, DC buildings can be proportionally a little squat, so perhaps more height might help. But while many lament “squatness” as a given condition of DC design, its really a question of understanding and manipulating the proportions of the facade and the vertical surface. After all, Paris has short buildings and people seem to like it!

So, will more height give us better designs? I’m doubtful. It may give us more development opportunities and greater density in places. And those are powerful and perhaps good reasons. But better quality? It ain’t necessarily so.

Matt Bell, FAIA, is a principal at EEK/Perkins + Eastman in DC. 

Architecture Local

David Varner on the Height Limit

Greater Greater Washington asked accomplished DC architects to weigh in on the positives and negatives of the height limit. This comment is part of that series

As Shalom Baranes has written, there are good things to come from modest increases in height (one story or so) with no parallel increase in density. This would enable a saavy building owner and creative architect to articulate their design more aggressively, creating better spaces for its users and a more interesting façade. Today’s market in D.C. is marked with significant efforts to differentiate seemingly similar properties and the ability to sculpt and offer alternative space plans is appealing. Also, the concepts of sustainable workplaces don’t need to be “of the future”, and the healthy vibrancy of daylighting and views in our homes is always appealing.

An increase in height doesn’t, however, protect the city from vanilla design and established real estate conditions favoring hyper-efficiency in office planning (such as GSA, for instance), or the increase in the cost of structure or skin, might not appeal to every landowner. Take a look around the region, though, to see how height relates to design quality; it would be better if it was more energizing. I think it will open the gap between designs aiming at the upper percentile market and the mainstream, and to me any opportunity to increase in the average design quality will ultimately enhance the District.

I would be interested in seeing a dialogue about the impacts of changing the height limits in the core downtown areas that have 130 ft to 165 ft height limits. There are huge investments in place, many with trophy designs that might be negatively impacted by a neighboring property that could now leap past them. It could become a bit of a dinosaur discussion that forces change on deep labyrinths of dark office space, and I’m all for removing the pressures that forced creation of those spaces.

One tool that might be useful is already in place — the Transferrable Development Rights provisions in the Zoning Code. This has the net effect of increasing heights in the three receiving zones currently entitled for TDRs. If we were to create new zones, perhaps we could control the locations of new height districts and preserve others along the way.

Relaxing the height limit in a big way — say, for instance, doubling it — creates opportunity for aspirational skylines in a historically flat city. Provided, of course, we can deal with the impacts to sensitive neighborhoods and transportation issues. I think that the CBD should be spared a huge evolutionary jump, though, out of respect for the original planning and beauty in the monumental core. So I’d advocate for new districts where additional height could be created. There are underserved sectors of the city that might attract investment in this new concept, and we might see a futurist vision of Metro emerge out of the hugely successful planning that began over fifty years ago but now seems to struggle with stagnation and capacity questions.

In summary — as an academic exercise, YES, relaxing the height limit will increase design quality in D.C. The scale of a 21st century urban environment should not be bound by 18th and early 20th century idealisms. The scale of our endeavors, the speed of our activities, and the agility of our culture is better off with more variety and greater opportunity for good architecture

David Varner, AIA, is Vice President for office design at SmithGroup in DC.

Architecture Local

David Haresign, Mary Fitch and Bill Bonstra on the Height Limit

Greater Greater Washington asked accomplished DC architects to weigh in on the positives and negatives of the height limit. This official statement of the DC Chapter of the American Institutes of Architecture is part of that series

The 1910 Height Act was necessary to insure the safety of the citizens of the District of Columbia. It was an appropriate response to a very real threat to fire safety. But since then, the District has enacted zoning and building codes that go well beyond the 1910 Act, and in many cases, provide more protection to the city’s unique skyline than the Act does.

Moreover, the language of the Act is limited to the architectural technology and building science of the early 20th century. For example, in 1910 it was not possible to include life safety equipment in a mechanical penthouse, so occupancy of a penthouse was prohibited. Many of the Act’s other requirements include similarly archaic language that is at odds with modern building and life safety codes.

It is our conclusion that this outmoded language should be brought up to date to reference modern building codes in place in the District. We held a workshop with NCPC staff this summer to help draft language to make the Act more consistent. Furthermore, we strongly agree with the recommendations included in DC’s Height Master Plan that protecting Washington’s cultural resources and physical character is the job of the District of Columbia and not that of the federal government.

We believe that the federal interest in the height of buildings should be limited to areas immediately adjacent to the Monumental Core and critical view corridors. We believe that current building and zoning codes in the District now provide better protection for non-federal areas of the city than the Act.

Finally, with respect to the alternatives described in the study, we believe additional height may be possible in carefully selected spots, with adequate public input, around the District. Moreover, we believe that the proposed 200-foot cap used in the study is arbitrary and that additional height above that cap may also be appropriate for areas outside the Monumental Core and its environs.

While we respect the horizontal character that makes Washington DC unique, we believe well-designed, taller structures will provide an interesting counterpoint and add visual interest and variety to the skyline. This would, of course, require a thorough, in-depth study.

David Haresign, FAIA is the current president of the Washington Chapter of The American Institute of Architects. He and Bill Bonstra, FAIA are principals of Bonstra|Haresign. Mary Fitch, AICP Hon. AIA, is the executive director of AIA DC.

Other

The ear is a slave and maybe that’s OK

Put your earbuds in. Watch this. Try to maintain eye contact.

How does it make you feel? Have you ever imagined, sitting on the metro, that the guy across from you is belting out that Ronnie James Dio song you really love? Is that a fender in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me? Can you use your Zune like an Youtube Doubler?

Watch it without the sound. Listen to it without looking at the screen. We’ve become very comfortable with schizophonia because it’s convenient for music. Try to play a field recording and we have a sense that something isn’t right. Have you ever tried to make Subway Dio perform 4’33”?

The little clues do more than we admit, and you have to get creative when you don’t have them. But if we put an video up there, we’re back in the real world, I guess. We desperately want to believe that Lorde is singing right to us. It’s teasing, with the same tinge of sadomasochism as the makeup. Is the body language related? Would we habituate without the “Yeah”? I just want to relate.

We all know video is weird, but it’s kind nice of Joel Kefali to point it out.

Related, also from the antipode:

I wonder what it sounds like in that park? Do the millions of fragments vying for your attention look like how it sounds, anyway? What would Adjaye think?

Architecture Writing

For Adjaye’s libraries, seeing is believing

Among the new DC public libraries, the Bellevue and Francis Gregory branches east of the river have the strongest design. Without sacrificing functionality and accessibility, they put sophisticated works of architecture in historically underserved neighborhoods. But photos don’t tell the whole story. You have to go see them yourself.

Designed by British architect David Adjaye, who’s also designing the Museum of African American History, the libraries are a reminder that it’s possible for a work of world-class architecture to also be a comfortable third place.

DSC_0438

Francis Gregory Library.

When the first renderings of the new libraries were published, I was unimpressed by them. But after a day-long excursion to see all of the libraries built under the tenure of library director Ginnie Cooper, I have to admit that I was surprised at how brilliant Bellevue and Francis Gregory are.

read more »

Architecture

What can BIG do for the Smithsonian?

When I heard today that Bjarke Ingels Group will be producing a master plan for the core block of the Smithsonian Institution, I was not really thrilled. Their work is engaging and sharp, but it’s also can come across as trendy and disposable. The buildings I have visited feel cheap and unsubtle in their handling spaces. It’s personal taste thing, but I don’t like what they’ve built.

But then I remembered that the great thing about master plans is that you don’t have to follow them very closely, so you can keep what you want and take what you need. The drawings and guidelines are not permanent impositions on the urban landscape. They’re ideas. Ideas are cheap and BIG is good at rethinking basic  concepts in fresh ways, even going so far as to be able to propose how to realistically bring unconventional projects to reality. I don’t know if I would like to see Morphosis’s intervention in the Arts and Industries building, but it did cause me to look at the building again, to see its qualities and how it might be adapted.

Too much architecture in DC starts out tame and ends up lame. Sometimes its because of design review and sometimes its because of style anxiety. So, it’s important to start thinking big here, and dial it down when it comes to a serious proposal. So, I say we see what BIG proposes for what has to be the most heterogenous block in DC – The Castle, the Hirschorn, the Freer, and the Ripley Center – that’s most of the past two centuries’ movements – and let their ideas challenge whatever architects complete each project.

Russia

Design the next Moscow Metro map

The City’s Department of Transportation has announced a contest to redesign the cartography of the Moscow Metro, one of the busiest and longest urban rail systems in the world. The impetus for the redesign seems to be the limitations of the current system diagram, which is light on information, and already quite dense with stations. More importantly, that map is about to get more confusing, because the Metro plans to grow 150% in size, with 70 stations to be added by 2025. So, there is a lot of material to work with.

I say cartography, because the brief asks for a tiered wayfinding system, where the diagram on the trains is expanded for each station to include relevant ground transportation and sites, at that particular station.

I am generally negative about designers doing work for free, but the restriction that this contest only be open to individuals ensures that the playing field is at least level, even if only one person is paid for the work that they do.

Submissions are due as PDFs by December 23rd, 2012.