Tag Archives: public space

Architecture Local planning

AU’s Tenley Campus is Pinned to the Past

American University’s plan for the Washington College of Law not quite right. Designed to minimize conflicts in the short-term, the current plans are not the right kind of development for Tenleytown.

While AU continues to present its east campus plan before the Zoning Commission, they left out plans for the Law School campus at Tenley Circle, promising to submit them in August. But even with that deadline far off, it is possible to tell that the design is wrongheaded. The site is more urban and has more potential than the East Campus site, so it must be held to a higher standard.

Last year, when AU announced a plan to relocate the two blocks from the Tenleytown Metro and at the intersection of Wisconsin and Nebraska Avenues, the potential for progressive campus seemed overwhelming. As at East Campus, political expediency got in the way of good design. The plan is a recapitulation of suburban design principles hemmed in by unwarranted preservation concerns.


Site Plan as of June. Image courtesy AU.

What is good about the design is how it pairs the program to the site. The law school has a non-residential program, where faculty and students live off campus and commute to the school. Many maintain jobs downtown, requiring a direct link into the city, which the metro can provide. Bus lines in eight directions fill in the transit gaps including an express bus on Wisconsin Avenue, which received a TIGER grant for more improvements. It would be very easy to graduate without ever parking a car on local streets.

It is near two functional but underdeveloped commercial strips on Wisconsin Avenue. These have been struggling for years, although most storefronts are occupied as of July 2011. The project could energize the South Tenley and Tenleytown strips by creating a bridge of activity where there is now just a narrow sidewalk and an empty field. The project might add a few customers too, since most students don’t have a meal plan.


Change in lot coverage. Blue areas are new area, yellow is removed, gray is no change. Dark gray represents preserved buildings.

As of July, the designs do not meet of the location’s potential. AU asked the architects, SmithGroup, to mass the building in the footprints of the 1950s campus: objects in relation to each other, but not in relation to the city. As the ground plan has evolved, its forms have become more sophisticated, but its relationship to the streets has remained pinned to the footprints and the outdated ideologies that prescribed them. read more »

Architecture

The Basics

The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces is the single most important book for creating non-monumental public spaces. The reason it’s so great is not just that it’s always right, but that it’s all about behavior and process and not so much about architecture, so it lets you expand on its rules, rather than just being some nuts-and-bolts guidebook.

So how awesome is it that Tropolism found this video of William Whyte going through the areas of the book. With the film you get to see a little more of the behaviors that don’t come across on the page and you get to see the time-lapse film that Whyte  used to make rigorous studies of the Seagram building. After you’ve seen this, you’ll see social spaces in totally different ways.

Reno Park Studies

Reno Park 090725: Property

As promised, a map of all of the property lots in the area of Reno/Tenleytown area. Fascinating ain’t it?

property

Even without squinting, you can see diagonal lines that don’t seem to match up with any roads or lots. I’m fairly certain these cuts line up with older borders and roads, putting a whole new volume of evidence of the past fossilized in the modern legal form of the city. The erasure and remainder of various structures as a history appears too. Why did some lines stick around? Perhaps one owner sold out before the other, and a divided lot just went up for sale as two later. More comparisons under the fold. read more »

Local Reno Park Project

When a concert isn’t just that

reno-concert-1

Last night began week five of this summer’s Fort Reno concerts. The annual series of musical triptychs, which take place in an improvised venue in the Tenleytown park, may be the most urbane happening of any place in DC. Amid the mild yellow-orange light of a summer evening, a small local band plays and a few hundred people of various ages watch while they sit on the grass. But beyond that and behind the stage, those less interested in the concert partake in all kinds of leisurely activity. Really, I’ve never seen the park so well used. read more »

Architecture planning

Biggest urban gamble of the past 20 years opens

The High Line opened today. The much-vaunted and extremely chic park built on a former railroad viaduct south of Penn Station will be a test of both urban design theories and the exceptionality of New York. Diller Scofidio + Renfro have built what appears to be a truly beautiful modern park that appeals to theorists as much as hipsters and bankers. It’s also an elevated pedestrian structure, with limited access and some other design decisions that contradict basic public space design practice. But it’s popular and it’s going to get a lot of attention; many cities are already looking to copy it. 

There hasn’t been a place in New York that deserves close  observation since the West Village in 1961. The degree to which this works could change the way governments approach marginal spaces, just as the Embarcadero and the Central Artery/Tunnel projects have show the civic potential of highway removal. We’ll just have to wait and see if this is the same.