The Poetry Foundation in Chicago is a place that works. “Let me count the ways,” as Elizabeth Barrett Browning has famously said.
The building, designed by John Ronan Architects, opened in June 2011. It’s an optimal environment to celebrate poetry–even on cold, cloudy almost-spring days like the one on which I visited it. Starting with the sidewalk, passersby are intrigued by views into the courtyard and the rest of the building. The very tall zinc wall between the sidewalk and that courtyard, is punctured by thousands of round holes that invite the curious to move in for a closer look, just as if you were to put your eye against a keyhole and see into a room. This “peeking” experience generates pleasant anticipation. Once you enter the courtyard, the wall helps to keep the city hustle-bustle at bay.
Upon entering the building, you pass through a well-ordered and luxuriously planted courtyard. Gazing out at this space from inside helps you restock your mental energy and focus your thoughts. The generous windows facing the courtyard make it hard not to look outside.
Congo Street Initiative, Dallas, TX. Courtesy of Congo Street Initiative
As an architect and advocate for better urban environments, I am excited about my new role as director of the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence at the Bruner Foundation (Cambridge, MA). The biennial award, founded in 1987 by architect and adaptive reuse pioneer Simeon Bruner, recognizes places distinguished by innovative design and their social, economic, and environmental contributions to the urban environment. To date, the RBA has recognized 67 projects and awarded $1.2 million to support urban initiatives.
In the world of U.S. design competitions, the RBA is unique. We ask our applicants to submit detailed written analyses of their projects—from multiple perspectives—along with descriptive images. And entries must have been in operation long enough to demonstrate their impact on their communities. Our selection process includes intensive site visits to our finalists’ projects to help us fully understand how their places work.
Inspiration Kitchens, Chicago, IL. Courtesy of Inspiration Kitchens
The RBA selection committee meets twice: first to select five finalists and again to select the Gold Medal winner. Assembled anew for each award cycle, the committee comprises six urban experts including a mayor, design and development professionals, and a past award winner. This year’s group includes mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, planner Ann Coulter from Chattanooga, landscape architect Walter Hood from Hood Studio in Oakland, architect Cathy Simon from Perkins+Will in San Francisco, Metropolis Editor-in-Chief Susan S. Szenasy, and Jane Werner, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, the 2007 Gold Medal winner. The committee reviewed 90 applications from 31 states and the District of Columbia to choose the 2013 five finalists. Collectively, the projects they chose represent a diversity of creative, collaborative approaches and scales in tackling significant urban challenges:
- Congo Street Initiative – Dallas, TX – submitted by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP
The sustainable rehabilitation of five houses and street infrastructure along with construction of a new home that provided transitional housing, in collaboration with resident families
- Inspiration Kitchens – Chicago, IL – submitted by Inspiration Corporation
An 80-seat restaurant providing free meals to working poor families and market-rate meals to the public as well as workforce training and placement
- Louisville Waterfront Park – Louisville, KY – submitted by Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation
An 82-acre urban park developed over more than two decades that reconnects the city with the Ohio River
- The Steel Yard – Providence, RI – submitted by Klopfer Martin Design Group
The redevelopment of an abandoned, historic steel fabrication facility into a campus for arts education, workforce training, and small-scale manufacturing
- Via Verde – Bronx, NY – submitted by Jonathan Rose Companies and Phipps Houses
A 222-unit, LEED Gold certified, affordable housing development in the Bronx designed as a model for healthy and sustainable urban living
Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY. Courtesy of Louisville Waterfront Park
My Game Changers profile on Edward Mazria focused on the nature of the architect’s activism. How does an organization of less than five full-time employees have such a big impact? Ed’s genius was in reframing the issue of climate change as a design problem, with easily defined goals (not easy to achieve goals, but with a clear path forward). Just as important, Mazria’s group, Architecture 2030 encourages organizations to take ownership of the issue. There are no better examples than the 2030 Districts popping up all over the country. Each is a local response to a global problem. Recently I talked to Brian Geller, executive director of the Seattle 2030 District about the birth of his organization and the way forward.
Brian Geller, executive director of Seattle 2030 District
Martin C. Pedersen: Ed Mazria calls his group, Architecture 2030 a “seeding organization.” Your effort in Seattle is certainly a good example of that.
Brian Geller: It’s true. It’s interesting to note that when your “Architects Pollute” issue came out in 2003, I was in architecture school in New York, and it was something I vividly remember. That story had a big impact on me, on deciding where I wanted to go with my career.
MCP: How did the Seattle 2030 district begin?
BG: It started about three years ago. I was working as a sustainability specialist at ZGF Architects. I was working at the Seattle office. Bob Zimmerman, the managing partner of the office, had just come back from a conference in Chicago and was telling me about this de-carbonization study that Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill had worked on. Bob said: “It sounds fascinating. I’m surprised that Seattle hasn’t undertaken something like that.” I took that little nugget back to my desk and was thinking it over. It sounded like a great idea. But I thought that if we wanted to do something like that here, it seemed that a study was not the right approach. So I made this map. I started with Seattle’s steam distribution map. We’ve got a small district steam utility here in downtown. They were in the process of building a biomass boiler that would reduce the carbon footprint of their entire operations by 50 percent, and the heating-related carbon footprint of the two hundred buildings attached to them by half as well. There was other great stuff going on, too. There were a number of large building owners undertaking portfolio-wide certification, putting together important tenant engagement programs. The city was about to pass a disclosure ordinance, requiring building owners to benchmark their properties and disclose some of the data to the city. All of this stuff was happening, but it was happening somewhat siloed. So I took their map, put on the ten largest property owners and managers that I knew downtown, who were all doing cool things, and went to a few people in the city, and other architects and engineers, and said, “Look, this is what they’re doing in Chicago. They’re doing a study. But if we did something like this here, and instead of doing a study, invited these people on this map in, we would cover a lot of downtown. We could get all of these large entities measuring their progress the same way, united around one set of goals.” I told them, “You’ll get a lot farther together than you would on your own.” They’d learn a lot from each other. They wouldn’t be duplicating efforts. Hopefully, they’d be generating more work for everybody in the city. People liked the idea.
Last week the American Institute of Architects gave SOM’s “Great Lakes Century – a 100-year Vision” its 2013 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. Coincidentally, we named the project and the brilliant team behind it, lead by Phil Enquist, one of six Metropolis 2013 Game Changers, now in our January issue.
I first heard of the Enquist team’s ambitious plan in 2008, just as our world was receding into the financial turmoil that decimated the architecture profession and extinguished many a dream. Yet here was a small group of architects daring to dream, and enthusiastically telling me about their massive undertaking, as we gathered in the firm’s Chicago office, high in the city’s historic Santa Fe Building. Designed in 1904 by the legendary Daniel Burnham, whose spirit is palpable in the office’s sunlit atrium, but more importantly, it infuses the Great Lakes project. His words propelled the SOM team forward: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”
20 percent of the world’s fresh water is found in the Great Lakes, Courtesy of Earthsat/ESRI
“Design directs everything and everything directs design,” says Kyle Bergman. With that in mind he set out to establish the Architecture and Design Film Festival, which recently wrapped up its 4th edition at New York’s Tribeca Cinemas.
Indeed, movie making shares some similarities with architecture and design. They’re both collaborative practices, in spite the fact that it’s mostly one person/author who gets the credit and the accolades. And they both have to walk a fine line between art and technology as they aim to express their points of view.
“Just like in a script, with each choice of material or specific relationship of public and private, architects are also telling a story, building their narrative,” Bergman told me as we sat in the theatre’s lounge on the festival’s closing day, this past Sunday. The venue was chosen so that the space and the atmosphere would be conducive to the dialogue Bergman wishes to foster with the festival. “We don’t want to just screen movies. We want to have a dialogue about them as well. We want to up the level of discussion between the general public and professionals,” he says. “Film is a great way to understand architecture even if you are not usually involved in that world.”
Typographers, educators, designers, and type enthusiasts from around the world gathered at the annual ATypI conference this past week. Hosted by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University from October 10-14, this year marks ATypI’s first meeting in Asia. The five day conference includes daily presentations and workshops on a variety of topics surrounding typography–with this year’s special interest on multilingual issues. One worshop that was especially popular was the Zi Wut: Chinese-English Blingual Letterpress Demo Workshop.
Zi Wut is a tiny letterpress shop located in an old industrial warehouse in the Kowloon district. Zi, means word, and Wut means alive. If read backwards, Wut Zi translates to moveable type. The founders of Zi Wut have made it their mission to use the newly aquired shop as a “preservation and rejuvination of letterpress in Hong Kong.” They plan to use the space to promote the dying art form of Chinese letterpress to students and the design community by holding workshops and hosting exhibitions throughout the year. This ATypI event was the first time the shop was open to the public.
The bilingual letterpress workshop, held a week ago from Thursday, shed light on the commonalities and differences between Chinese and Latin letterpressing. Surprisinlgy, there is more in common than one would expect. Below is a snapshot from the workshop.
Conference attendees from Chicago, London, New York, New Zealand, Palo Alto, Soeul, and Taiwan–to name a few–gather in this tiny room as founder of Zi Wut, Marsha Lui, describes the history of the shop and how she came upon this complete set of Kai-Shu lead type displayed on the right wall.
Kai Shu, is a calligraphic typeface commonly used in business cards, invoices, legal forms, and other utilitarian printed pieces. It’s typically not used as body text as the legibility becomes compromised. This invoice is set in Kai Shu by Han-chi Tong for his Tai Chi Printing Company. Mr. Tong sold his lead type collection, along with his printing press, to Zi Wut when he recently retired. The shrinking demand for his craft and high rent forced him to close down his business which began in the early 90′s.
In 1969 Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, a tributary of Lake Erie that meanders through Akron and Cleveland, combusted into flames after years of pollution and waste accumulated along its shorelines. While this was not the first time the river caught on fire, it ignited the nation’s attention and inspired significant environmental action, including the creation of our Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Nearly forty years later, Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake, was engulfed in a mat of blue-green algae large enough to be seen from space. The toxic bloom left 2 million people without drinking water for a week. Within the last decade, Lake Tai has been overwhelmed by pollution from rapid development, harmful industry, and chemical-heavy agriculture practices.
In the wake of these infamous events, the U.S. federal government and China’s central government have invested billions of dollars to clean up and redevelop their lakefronts. While the cost of a second chance to create a healthy balance between economic development and environmental integrity is steep, it also leaves an invaluable legacy of hope.
Cities along Lake Tai have agreed upon a bold ecological framework that sets back future development and wraps the lake in a thick band of reconstructed wetlands to filter runoff. In the U.S., Great Lakes cities are reclaiming industrial land, lot-by-lot along the shore, to remediate soils and build a foundation for future growth. We at SOM have had the privilege of working with forward-thinking municipalities in master planning these “second chances” from Wuxi, China to Chicago, Illinois.
Sometimes the places that work are places that shouldn’t work at all. The Sherry-Brener musical instrument store on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago is one of these.
The shop is stuffed with merchandise; it’s small and gets almost no daylight. It is, however, a wonderful place to be, at least for shoppers. And the staff is always pleasant; this tells me that the Sherry-Brener is either a good place to be for hours at a time or the employees are good actors. I suspect the former.
The relaxing colors, the visible wood grain surfaces, and the dim light all contribute to bringing the stress level down and the friendly factor up. The tiny space feels homey. Its feeling of domesticity is enhanced by the furnishings, the occasional sounds of instruments being played, and the curved decorative elements. The store feels like home if your home is a fairy tale musical retreat.
On a recent trip to Chicago, some fellow interior designers and I spoke with Eva Maddox of Eva Maddox Branded Environments, about the state of the design industry. “Are designers still inspired in their designs?” she asked us. In reflecting on my own work, I decided to explore Eva’s challenge by gathering insight from different facets of the profession and designers with multiple levels of experience. I found what they said inspiring.
Some seasoned professionals say they find inspiration from the theoretical viewpoint. Crystal Kittredge of Sasaki Associates in Watertown, MA, spoke of understanding human behavior and interaction as inspiring.
For instance, watching children on a playground can help you tap into your own inner child.
Brian Smuts, senior associate at Gensler in Chicago, said he likes to surround himself with talent and giving these talented people the freedom to be creative. Mentoring young designers is important because as a profession we learn from each other and get inspired by the people around us.
Dewey Nichols, manager of store design for Talbots, is inspired by two celebrity designers, Holly Hunt and Barbara Barry. “They capture a clean and sophisticated design language that speaks to the customer,” he says. “Both have a materials palette that is studied and harmonious.” Dewey also cheers the designs of architect Robert AM Stern. “He reinterprets the classics with a clean and sophisticated style unlike the post modernists of the 1980s.”
On March 22, 2012, in celebration of the United Nations’ World Water Day, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s (SOM) City Design Practice launched the Great Lakes Century Vision video. The goal of the video, produced in collaboration with the award-winning design firm Thirst, was to broadcast and garner international support for a bold 100-year vision for the environmental and economic renewal of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region.