Archive for the '1' Category


End of Life Cycle for Gettysburg Cyclorama

Among other accomplishments, Richard Longstreth has served as president of the Society of Architectural Historians and now directs George Washington University’s graduate program in historic preservation. In an ArchitectureWeek article, he discusses some abstract notions by referencing a real-world example, the Cyclorama at Gettysburg National Military Park It’s not clear whether this unique structure has already been demolished, but if not, it’s only a matter of time. What interests the author is the difference of opinion between people who don’t agree on the definitions of things like architecture and history. He says,

…the practice of preservation, like the crafting of history, is of necessity a selective act that is impossible to conduct in a purely neutral fashion. Rather, practice must be guided by reason, principle, knowledge, and fact. Much the same applies to cultural landscape, which is a construct no less than the idea of anti-restoration or of historical significance.

Consulting Wikipedia, we find that the term “cyclorama” seems to be used interchangeably to describe either the building itself, or the long, 360-degree painting of Pickett’s Charge that it was built to house. The building was designed by Austrian immigrant Richard Neutra who is recognized both as a history-sensitive modernist architect, and one who was extraordinarily attentive to the needs of his clients. He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1949, and designed the Cyclorama in 1959. It was finished in 1962, toward the end of his career. He died in 1970.

Here’s an interesting historical footnote: Even though he didn’t exist, Howard Roark, the hero of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, is probably the architect with the highest name-recognition factor ever. Rand owned a Neutra house. Once, when Neutra brought some people over to see it, Rand focused her attention on his contractor, Fordyce Marsh. “You are the physical embodiment of Howard Roark!” she is said to have exclaimed. Neutra felt slighted, or so the story goes.

In relation to the Cyclorama, Neutra seems to be a forgotten man. On the National Park Service’s Gettysburg website only a single page mentions his name. The Cyclorama seems to be a forgotten artifact. On Flickr, a search through many pages of Gettysburg photos reveals no trace of it.

For a while, it looked as if the Cyclorama might survive. The effort to preserve it turned into a bureaucratic nightmare of which Longstreth relates only a fraction. In 1998, the National Register of Historic Places declared it of “exceptional historic and architectural significance,” and in 2005, the World Monuments Fund put it on their 100 Most Endangered Properties list. But it wasn’t enough. Those who wanted to keep the Cyclorama were ganged up on by two bureaucracies, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which said, “There are other Neutra buildings; there is only one Gettysburg Battlefield…The Building must yield.”

Longstreth deplores the attitude of the park administrators, who feel that the building is an intrusion and a violation of sacred ground. In his view, the building is an integral part of the landscape, and actually, it’s the building that is not getting due respect. He defends the Cyclorama’s right to exist, and equates the literal-minded drive to restore the Gettysburg battlefield to its previous condition as a form of snobbery.

The things added since 1863 are equally legitimate parts of the place and the meaning it holds. And even if the battleground itself could be put back like it was, there’s still the whole surrounding environment of businesses and fast roads. In fact, local merchants were among those who opposed the relocation of the visitors’ center. And in fact the parking lots will stay, “partially restored” to their 1863 appearance, whatever that means.

Any opinions on the destruction of the Cyclorama?

SOURCE: “Preserving Cultural Landscapes” 06/04/08
photo courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik , used under this Creative Commons license


Broad Contemporary Art Museum Still Controversial

When it comes to exegesis of a particular project, it would be hard to beat this Architecture Week article by Leigh Christy, in which the author takes a detailed look at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex, and particularly at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM). Christy’s piece adds value with many photos; site plan, section and elevation drawings; and links. (For the geo-curious, here’s a terrific zoom-in map.)

They’ve been trying to figure out what to do with LACMA for a long time, because of the lack of unity throughout the campus. A few years back, a plan to raze the whole thing to the ground and start over was nearly adopted. So when Renzo Piano Building Workshop and executive architect Gensler took on BCAM, it wasn’t only about a building. There was a very strong mandate to create a unifying element that would help pull the whole thing together – which is a heavy burden for a museum to bear, especially when it faces so many other tasks. Christy reports on the attempt:

Mimicking the solid masses of existing LACMA buildings, its limestone-clad walls proclaim “institution.” Rob Jernigan, Gensler’s principal-in-charge, observes that “the building is a simple, very well executed form that is beautiful and functionally driven. Purity, simplicity, ‘less is more’ – Renzo believes that.”

Renzo Piano is, of course, the Pritzker Award-winning architect with a list of completed and ongoing projects as long as your arm. The LACMA website says,

While Piano projects can vary greatly in concept and scope, what binds them together is the theme of lightness, the alliances between art and technology, attention to detail, and the relationship between architecture and the natural environment.

Christy cites the intricate detail found here as among the reasons why this project has brought Piano “one step closer to realizing the perfect gallery.” Comprising three stories, the building features two external exit staircases and an escalator that goes directly to the third story. Inside, six galleries of equal size are symmetrically arranged, and between them is a big red glass-walled elevator which Christy characterizes as a work of art in itself, and which some irreverent tourists cite as the most memorable feature of their visit.

Speaking of irreverence, New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff says “the entry pavilion evokes a gas station,” while a not-so-famous observer remarks that the roofline evokes the hairdo of cartoon character Calvin (of “Calvin and Hobbes”). Actually, the angular roof spires are carefully placed baffles that regulate the amount of indirect sunlight illuminating the top-floor galleries.

In the galleries, floating walls allow the inspiration of curators, rather than the exigencies of solid matter, to dictate their arrangement.

More structures are planned at the museum complex, and Piano is reported to have remarked informally, “The question is how you tie this mess together.” Christy says:

Piano noted in his architect’s statement: “I imagine LACMA as a blend of new and old buildings, each reflecting the values of its age. To unite them, we will carve through the site with the precision of a surgeon.”….Execution of subsequent phases, along with judicious programming of event spaces, therefore becomes crucial to the project’s long-term success.

Regarding the degree of success so far, the jury is still out.

SOURCE: ” Broad Contemporary Art Museum ” 05/07/08
photo courtesy of JoeBehrPalmSprings , used under this Creative Commons license


The Cladding of Porter House, New York City

Porter House

In Manhattan’s meatpacking district, an existing warehouse needed an extra 15,000 square feet for a housing addition. The job was done by Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (SHoP) who, as described in the Computing Technologies section of Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition came up with a “custom-designed, laser-etched zinc metal wall panel cladding system…The condominium’s zinc rainscreen emerges from a family of 15 profile types, from which there are 150 versions of profiles, yielding 4000 total panels.”

The variations were achieved by cutting and bending each profile type of panel differently. After four initial drawings, the rest of the communication between SHoP and the fabricators was carried out electronically.

This case study is presented in order to explore the use of software by SHoP in design, construction, and fabrication. It entailed a lot of originality, all of it concentrated in the few-inches-deep cladding system, with the other parts of the project achieved more conventionally. Part of the reason for this concentration on the outer layer was to astonish the eye, because making a visual impact was a priority. The creators were going for an ambiance of complexity and randomness, to fit in with the existing environment. This aim was also achieved by offset from the underlying warehouse. The addition looks like it grew there.

The use of building information modeling achieved huge gains in fabrication and installation time, accuracy in the production of the varying panel elements, and efficiency of material use. The builders were able to get the most bang for the buck out of standard zinc sheets of 39″ by 118″, by careful planning of how the various sized pieces would be obtained, cutting waste to the bone. They started with several basic shapes: flat panel, bent sill panel, window panel, light box panel, and more.

To deal with the numerous idiosyncratic factors that needed to be taken into consideration, ShoP used the 3D NURBS program Rhinoceros, which told them what shape to make each piece in order to meet the technical requirements of a rainscreen. Enthusiasts describe Rhino as very simple and powerful, able to do all levels of design for any discipline, and blessed with a high degree of interoperability. The program is said to be especially popular in Europe.

Rhino describes itself as having the capability to do uninhibited free-form 3-D modeling with extreme precision. It can create, edit, analyze, document, render, animate and translate NURBS curves, surfaces and solids, handle polygon meshes and point clouds, and support a wide variety of 3-D digitizing arms, 3-D scanners, and 3-D printers. It can handle large projects, and has the additional advantages of relative ease in learning and relative affordability. It can, in short, do everything but sing lullabies to the kids in a finished building’s daycare center.

After Rhino had done its bit for ShoP and the Porter House, everything was transferred to a program called Solidworks to fine-tune the 150 different panel shapes. For a short description of Solidworks, we turn to Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, which says on page 937:

Solidworks is most commonly used by mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, and product designers. By building “solid models” of objects (as opposed to surface models), engineers can perform finite material and structural analyses on objects, as well as communicate more seamlessly with CAM equipment, which often operates on proprietary software that more easily reads solid models.

Please feel free to share experiences other projects have had with Rhinoceros and Solidworks.

SOURCE: ” Computing Technologies ” 2007
photo courtesy of b.frahm , used under this Creative Commons license


BIM + CMM = BiCMM, says Sohail Razvi

Cube de Rubik 3D

Here’s where Building Information Modeling and the Process Improvement Movement come together. Process improvement, according to an article by Sohail Razvi at ThinkSpace, is dedicated to achieving Capability Maturity Model Integration. (This article is also available as a PDF file.) Razvi was a practicing architect for more than a decade before he moved into consultancy. His current area of interest is the intersection of Building Information Modeling with the Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Facilities Management (AEC/FM) Industry.

Back in the day, when a task needed to be done, there was “the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way.” Now there’s also the CMMI way. It’s how you do things when the wrinkles have been ironed out, and the bugs have been eliminated, and it’s time to standardize the process and not fiddle with it any more. Each new iteration of the task does not involve re-inventing the wheel. You document what’s the best way to do it, and that’s your Process Maturity model. Of the Capability Maturity Model Integration, Razvi says,

The CMMI is a process improvement model for the development of products and services. It consists of guidance for implementing practices that address development and maintenance activities covering the product lifecycle from inception, through design, to production, delivery and maintenance. It helps integrate and institutionalize these activities into the organizations’ collective knowledge so the processes can be (1) repeated with similar quality of results and (2) monitored for continued improvement.

Process Maturity is achieved when a process has been identified, understood, defined, and measured. This is good, because a link is created between design/engineering activities, and business objectives. Crucial organizational functions are recognized, customer expectations are more readily met, best practices are made better, and risks are more accurately managed.

But the first step in process improvement is to ask, figuratively speaking, “Is this trip necessary?” Will any useful purpose be served in trying to set some kind of framework? Or is the thing better off left alone? There are cases where calling in an efficiency expert, or a time-and-motions study expert, or even a CMMI expert, might not be the best answer. CMMI affects process, project and product levels, though not enterprise level – in other words, when consultants come into the mix, whether they are human or cybernetic, the top bosses still run the company as they see fit.

The CMMI came into being to address the gap between engineering and business processes, and Razvi sees the AEC/FM industry as having a unique need, in that it “builds its prototypes live on the production line.” Up until recently, this industry has not had the same opportunity as others to create and test virtual prototypes. The nature of AEC/FM is that every client is a beta tester — not so bad when it’s a new Google app being tested, but potentially disastrous when it’s a bridge or a building.

AEC/FM products come in two flavors, tangible and intangible. Its processes can be improved by better planning, tracking, and management of schedules, by requirements definition and configuration control and by continuous improvement on every front.

Why this, and why now? Because the AEC/FM industry has become so intertwined with software. With that as a given, policy, process and technology overlap with a large common area which Razvi calls the “bonding agent” that holds everything together. The name he has chosen for that territory of intersection is the ‘Building Information Capability Maturity Model’ (BiCMM).

And the question we pose is the same one he does: “Can the CMMI approach be of benefit to the AEC/FM industry as it undergoes its current BIM-driven transformations?”

SOURCE: ” BIM and the Process Improvement Movement ” 05/08/08
photo courtesy of jorgefelipe , used under this Creative Commons license


Green, Eco-friendly, and Sustainable Architecture

Caltrans Building Aerial View

What uses the most electricity, more than half of the total electricity generated in the United States? Buildings that are four stories high or taller, says Michael Martinez in the Chicago Tribune. He succinctly explains what is being done about this by the U.S. Green Building Council:

The non-profit council implements a universally accepted method for authenticating a green building, under a rating system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)…The project is awarded “points” for the sustainability features until it achieves certification, which has four levels: basic, silver, gold and platinum…California and many other states now require that all new government buildings be certified as “green,” or eco-friendly. Officials also are stepping up efforts to set an example for the private sector.

For example, the California Department of Transportation regional headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, which occupies a whole city block and is 13 stories high, has healthy air inside, and plentiful natural lighting. It opened nearly four years ago. One of the features that helped it gain a LEED silver level certification is the wall of solar panels. In its chapter on heating, ventilating and air conditioning, Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, has this to say:

For commercial/institutional structures in particular, the use of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) is becoming rather common. In such cases, PV modules may be sufficiently integrated into the roof or walls of the structure so that they provide the exterior barrier to the elements. Because of this integration of the PV system with the building envelope, it is particularly important that the architect be intimately involved in the design and specification of such a system.

It appears that the General Services Administrations, i.e., the federal government, is the nation’s largest commercial tenant, which puts the government in a position to encourage green building through a number of incentives, like tax breaks, and with disincentives. Over the last six years, 24 states have initiated programs that spell out requirements. So far there are around 1300 certified green buildings in America, although somewhere in the neighborhood of 11,000 applications await the council’s attention.

Every day, some community announces a national “first”. In Elkhart, Indiana, there’s the first theological library to be registered with the USGBC. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has the first LEED-certified carbon neutral building, the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center, which also was named a top-ten green project by the American Institute of Architects. Wisconsin is also working on the state’s first LEED-certified jail. Recently in Washington, the Public Utility Districts Association headquarters became the state’s first new construction project to snag a LEED platinum rating. In New York there is Dinkins Gardens, Harlem’s first green building that is 100 percent for low-income residents. The state of Illinois boasts 18 LEED-certified buildings including five public libraries, a high school, a police headquarters, and the renowned Merchandise Mart.

California is really surging ahead in the race to green. The first LEED-certified parking structure recently opened in Santa Monica. San Francisco has the nation’s first LEED-certified medical spa. In Paso Robles, the River Oaks Center is the first building to be pre-certified gold. In Hemet, the Water + Life Museums complex is the first museum to be certified at the platinum level. It is part of the Western Center for Archeology and Paleontology.

What makes some people nervous is that green-only construction adds about 5% to a building’s cost. But developers and builders are assured that such cost can be made up in energy savings within the first couple of years of the building’s operation. It’s one thing to have a brand-new building certified because all the correct elements are in place. How are green measures working out over time?

SOURCE: ” Push on to Make Buildings Grow Green ” 04/21/08
photo courtesy of Mr. Littlehand , used under this Creative Commons license