Most design competitions are won by entries with a narrow focus, as architects know only too well. There is simply no time to work through all the issues and tell a comprehensive story. The goal is to unearth a single idea and then work to present it in the most compelling fashion. Those who try to design too much fail. Those who concentrate on a succinct scheme, succeed.
When we began working on the Office Building of the Future Competition we realized that this was one of those game changing assignments, and it needed a completely new approach. Only by integrating a variety of issues such as engineering systems, site constraints, market forces, and architectural design could we hope to understand the challenge facing us. How then, could we achieve this integrated concept with limited time and resources?
We called our friends and some of our most trusted consultants: Mark Tamaro at Thornton Tomassetti for structural engineering; Christian Agulles at WSP Flack+ Kurtz for MEP Engineering; and Paul Totten at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger for building enclosure consulting. We fully expected to have to “sell” them on this project. After all, we wanted them to donate their most valuable commodity, their time. Their response was quick and definitive. Not only would they work with us, but they were excited by the prospect.
In the course of reporting my piece on Edward Mazria, I had a very interesting conversation with Andrew C. Revkin, for years an environmental reporter for the New York Times. Today he writes the paper’s Dot Earth Blog and also teaches at Pace University. A big admirer of Mazria, Revkin has an altogether clear-eyed view of the environmental road ahead. An edited version of our talk follows:
Martin C. Pedersen: First off, what’s your role at Pace?
Andrew C. Revkin: I am Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. And I co-teach three courses. One is a new course I’ve launched called Blogging a Better Planet. In the spring I co-teach a documentary production course, where we do films on sustainability topics, and an environmental science communication course.
MCP: You’ve been aware of Ed’ Mazria’s role in the environmental movement for a while. How would you characterize it?
ACR: His case—and it’s a good and simple one—is that buildings really matter. He’s trying to shift how we design them, and how we design architects, as well.
MCP: How does his advocacy differ from someone like Bill McKibben http://www.350.org/?
ACR: I think Ed is focusing on things that are imminently more doable. Bill is very good about building movements around numbers, but has not adequately articulated how you get there. In other words, besides yelling at fossil fuel companies. That may be something that needs to be done, but it’s not a path that will actually change a lot of things. Ed is working in a space where there’s a lot to be done, both on existing structures and on new buildings. There’s huge potential to make big gains.
To understand how landscape architecture can address our society’s rising security concerns, we naturally turned to the eminent architect Laurie Olin in our November issue. His Philadelphia- and Los Angeles-based studio has long engaged with the thorny task of designing the public realm, from New York’s Bryant Park, to the grounds of the Washington Monument. I met with Olin in his sun-drenched office overlooking Independence Hall in the heart of historic Philadelphia. Some of our long conversation about designing for security was published in the article “The Trouble with Washington.” The conversation continues below:
Avinash Rajagopal: How did designers get left out of the conversation on security?
Laurie Olin: Why do designers get left out of so many conversations in our environment? It’s partly because people don’t realize what we can do and how we can help, and partly because people panicked.
A few years ago, after 9/11, when the federal government insisted on closing Chestnut street here in Philadelphia— basically paralyzing this end of our city with their notion of defending Independence Hall from some sort of attack—it took us three years to unwrap that, and to get the street open, and to get the barriers down. I personally had to go down to Washington to talk to two senators one day, to get them to reopen one of the main arteries of our city, which passes in front of Independence Hall.
Now the truth is that any teenager could figure out how to blow up Independence Hall if they wanted to. You could do it from any of these offices around here; it’d be so easy. Probably no one will. Even if they did, it is a building that, thanks to the American Building Survey, has been documented to death, and it could be rebuilt. If Dresden has been rebuilt after the fire bombing of WWII, surely we could rebuild this hall. It’s been rebuilt two or three times already, those aren’t the real towers anymore. It’s like those old shrines in Japan that are rebuilt every 25 years. They’re 800 years old, but they’re really only 25 years old. Yes, Independence Hall was built in 1759, but its been rebuilt many times since. There’s a lack of perspective on the part of the current administrators.
A sunken wall and bank were used as security measures in 17th and 18th-century parks in France and England. Some of these, like this one in Greenwich, near London, have been modified into embellishments. Image courtesy Laurie Olin.
As we re-engage with our federal government, in the belief that productive discourse for the good of the people and the environment may resume once more, let’s take inspiration from a moment of hope and optimism.
The year was 1962. President Kennedy…
On a steamy Monday morning in July, over a dozen high school and college students took their seats in a Washington DC gallery just half a block from the Anacostia River. They’re here to participate in a two week-urban design charette. Following a brief presentation the students launched into questions about the proposed transformation of an existing freeway bridge into a pedestrian link and recreational destination. The tone of the discussion was occasionally rowdy, but the content was right on target, hitting all the major concerns that arose since this project began as an inspired pipe dream: how will it be funded, is there political will to see it built, how to ensure that foot traffic and access are adequate, how to deal with polluted river water, will there be gentrification and potential displacement of existing residents, and how to prevent crime?
The old 11th Street bridges that connect southeast DC with communities east of the river have reached the end of their lifespan; replacement bridges are now under construction. The D.C. Office of Planning along with several District agencies are exploring the idea of using the base of one of the bridges to create a park for active recreation, arts, and environmental education and connecting the communities of Capitol Hill with Anacostia.
Though the students understand the obstacles facing the bridge project, this has not hampered them from delving into design and programming to achieve the four lofty goals of the project: promote healthy communities, restore the health of the Anacostia River, bring economic prosperity to the region, and symbolically stitch together the two sides of the river. Participating students are in the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program, chosen for their interest in architecture, planning, and environmental engineering. They come directly from one of three District agencies: the departments of Planning, Environment, or Transportation. They understand the challenges they face, while they’re eager to come up with some truly innovative solutions.
Living in a big city can be hard. If you live in New York, you have probably quoted the famous song, “If I make it there, I can make it anywhere.” But Portland-based developer Gerding Edlen recognizes the need for giving a softer side to the city.
They develop buildings that, from my perspective, promise to be soft on communities, soft on the environment, and soft on residents.
Gerding Edlen has spoken with Metropolis before, but now they are considering bringing rental development to the east coast, potentially to New York City. I spoke with Mark Edlen, CEO, about their development plans and how those plans fit into cities like ours, “the city that never sleeps.”
“We’ve seen a movement to the cities. Cities are the solution to our global population growth,” said Edlen. His firm recognizes that people see city living as a way to help solve global problems. They also see how it’s becoming more popular to live a mobile and sustainable urban lifestyle.
In 1984, the environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich made a startling discovery. In studying hospital patients recovering from surgery, he found that one factor alone accounted for significant differences in post-operative complications, recovery times…