Archive for the 'Materials' Category

30
Jun
08

Louisiana Architect Trey Trahan

It’s always enlightening to examine one particular architect’s methods and ways of thought, which Liz Martin has done in a substantial interview with Trey Trahan FAIA of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This comparatively young professional has found himself in the news lately as a person who bears watching — in the best possible way, of course. When asked by the interviewer if he finds a particular project inspirational, he moves the conversation to a different plane by talking about his grandfather, who impressed on him the idea that we’re not just here to suit ourselves, but to help others whenever possible. Trahan says,

My grandfather was a humble and extraordinary person that started with very little and worked very hard, and he did it with such dignity….He was a simple and quiet man that spoke only when he had something to say, but was terribly genuine. It’s the characteristics that I think great architecture possesses.

Trahan was also strongly influenced by the words of Le Corbusier, whose declaration that “creation is a patient search” grounds his philosophy. Trahan summarizes the process:

You learn a little; you work really hard. You learn a little more and then you work harder.

He talks about how easy it is to be taken in by an idea that seems, at first, to be the one, only, and inspired solution. Often, on closer examination, the perfect answer turns out to be more sizzle than steak, and the conscientious creator needs to start over again by re-stating the basics: the program, the uniqueness of the place, the cultural influences at work, and of course the client. Then, more study and testing. To be real and right, architecture has to satisfy on all levels. Simplicity is an important value. In general he feels that most of our lives are impeded by too much clutter.

When asked about how being a Louisiana native has affected his life as an architect, he is enthusiastic about the rich diversity of the area in terms of its population. His firm is working against the perception of Louisiana being something of a backwater where innovation doesn’t show up. He thinks it possible that the state can move into the creative forefront in architecture as well as in other areas.

Trahan describes himself as excited by new materials and processes, and at the same time willing to go back to old materials, for example in the design of Holy Rosary Catholic Church Complex where an elegant solution was found in the combination of an old material with a new process. The needs of the project led to the study of an old, primitive form of concrete called bousillage.

When the original bid for the construction turned out to be more than twice the budget, the firm turned to the new technology of building information modeling and created 3D computer files which a milling company used to produce the cypress boards that form the building. This brought the cost back within range, with the additional benefit of using a material whose interplay with light is very satisfying to the architect and many other who admire the building – including more than 30 magazine editors who included stories about it in their publications.

This project also offered a great opportunity for intensive collaboration, which Trahan sees as very important. Before the Holy Rosary project started, he hosted a day-long meeting with all the contractors and sub-contractors where he impressed upon them the importance of their work not only as handlers of physical construction components, but as artists whose contributions were essential to the aesthetic result.

Perhaps the most socially significant role played by his firm was the renovation of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. This was by many as a vital step in recovery for the whole state of Louisiana, in terms of morale, because it symbolized the rebirth of the city of New Orleans and pointed toward the return of normalcy. Even though the building is not “his” in any sense, Trahan calls this project the most fulfilling experience in his career up to this point.

More recently, the firm has gained media attention as one of those chosen to work on the Make It Right! project, for the rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, which has become well-known through the participation of actor Brad Pitt.

SOURCE: ” Trey Trahan Defining Local Architecture at a Variety of Scales” 06/03/08
photo courtesy of raybdbomb , used under this Creative Commons license

27
Jun
08

BIM Revolution Not Quite Here Yet

An interesting article in The Economist suggests that the revolution in BIM (Building Information Modeling) is, at least for the present, mainly wishful thinking. By and large,

… fancy graphics tend to be used only for conceptual purposes and play no role in the detailed design and construction of the finished structure. For the most part, this is still carried out with old-fashioned two-dimensional elevation and plan drawings, created by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) software. “It’s still a 2-D profession,” says Shane Burger, an associate architect at Grimshaw…

With CAD, you draw your picture, and the software makes it malleable, so it can be changed, added to, combined with another. With BIM, you put in the facts of the case and tell the software what you need, and it draws the picture. It seems that many practitioners are still in a CAD headspace, unable to make the leap of imagination that would really put BIM to work for them.

When the client says, “How will it look from over there?”, the elegant and stunning pictorial answer can be shown, and that’s cool. But there’s so much more to BIM than dazzling graphics. The amazing virtual walk-through is negligible compared to the real power and beauty of BIM. The thing to keep in mind is that a building information model is a digital representation of both the physicals and functional characteristics.

Traditionally, one of the embarrassing possibilities, once construction starts, is discovering that a basic law of physics is being violated, as two things, such as an air duct and a beam, try to occupy the same space at the same time. In building information modeling, the word “information” is there for a reason – because the best part of BIM is the huge database of everything you could possibly want to know about every part of the building at all times. Like the weather or any other system, a building is subject to the so-called “butterfly effect.” Tweak something over here, and something over there is affected. With BIM,

the model is based on objects, which are solid shapes or voids with their own properties. The model also includes information about the relationships between these objects, so that when one object is changed… any related objects are automatically updated.

In a large project, the number of stakeholders can grow to monstrous proportions, and BIM keeps them all on the same page. Time is an added dimension, so processes can be followed through the life cycle of the building. All the stages of design, construction, and facility management are taken into account and automatically updated. Energy use, lighting, heat flow, acoustics, and many other factors can all be kept track of. The most important thing is the sharing of resources and information across platforms and environments.

The author points out that the early adapters are the more flamboyant, high-name-recognition architects. Because their creations are so complicated and unusual, there’s really no other choice. What’s needed is BIM across the board; it needs to be a plow horse as well as a show pony. Apparently this is happening, as the General Services Administration now requires BIM technology for all the projects it funds.

Of course, accurate cost estimation is a huge incentive, now more than ever. When the digital prototype is the main reference, it’s possible to calculate very finely the quantities of materials needed. Perhaps even more important, every detail necessary for compliance with regulations is spelled out. MIT professor William Mitchell estimates that inconsistencies and clashes can eat up from 2 to 5% of a budget. This is interesting, because that’s about the same percentage range as it costs to make a really good green building. So, thanks to BIM, it seems that a building could be made greener (costing 3% more) and smarter (saving 3%) and still end up with about the same price tag, when all’s said and done. With the cost of energy and materials going up, and the cost of information going down, it looks like the BIM revolution will go forward.

Pictured: the Eden Project, in England. The geodesic domes were BIM-designed.

SOURCE: ” From blueprint to database ” 06/05/08
photo courtesy of just_laze , used under this Creative Commons license

24
Jun
08

The Glavinich Guide to Green Building Requirements

Green Roof in Canada

Among other accomplishments, Thomas E. Glavinich is past president of the Architecture Engineering Institute, associate professor at the University of Kansas (more specifically in the schools of Engineering and of Architecture and Urban Design), and author of a new book from Wiley. In its current issue, ArchitectureWeek excerpts a chapter of this book, Contractor’s Guide to Green Building Construction. Glavinich draws the distinction between green project requirements and green building project requirements, and recommends careful attention to every detail of both, saying:

Green building product requirements are expressed explicitly when the required green product characteristics are included in the product’s respective specification section with other standard product requirements. Implicit green building requirements are usually included in the contract documents by reference.

Explicit requirements should not be hard to find in the building’s specification and drawings, and of course it’s always better to have these things spelled out in a way that guarantees a reduction of the contractor’s risk by expediting the bid process and the accuracy with which bids may be arrived at. Clarity upfront leads to a project where change orders are few or none, and disputes don’t even have a chance to happen.

A responsible contractor will diligently comb every available paragraph of text in order to glean the fullest information on which he is expected to act. As in so many other areas of life, making assumptions is not recommended, since they can lead to a large ration of grief, down the road.

Green building product requirements might be spread around in a lot of different parts of the documentation, and general requirements might be loosely stated as a requirement that the building be certifiable at a certain level of a certain third party system, such as LEED-New Construction 2.2 (from the US Green Building Council), SBTool 07 (from International Initiative for a Sustainable Built Environment), and Green Globes for New Construction (from Green Building Initiative.)

Implicit requirements always include the particular demands of state an local governments, as well as federal agencies and whatever third-party rating system is invoked.

When the green building product requirements have been identified, they need to be broken down into the categories of general, specific, and mixed. A specific product requirement can be told by its descriptive, prescriptive, or performance specifications. The specific product requirements translate into how many tons of what kinds of materials need to be procured.

Of course, all these things must be figured out before the contractor decides which parts of the project he will self-perform and which parts will be let out to subcontractors, and the sooner that is known, the better. Both the contractor and the specialty subcontractors need the most accurate information possible before suppliers are asked for RFQs (requests for quotations.) Getting things right from the earliest possible moment always gives a project the strongest possible foundation on which to build.

Glavinich’s book, Contractor’s Guide to Green Building Construction, covers the broad areas of management, project delivery, documentation and risk reduction; and judging from the sample of his meticulous work presented in this excerpt, he lays out a path through the green building jungle that can be followed easily, and with great benefit to all the concerned parties.

SOURCE: ” Getting Green Products Right ” 06/18/08
photo courtesy of pnwra , used under this Creative Commons license

20
Jun
08

Urban Landscape Lights Up with LED Technology

Galleria Seoul

Rebecca Cathcart recently interviewed Sonny Astani, a Los Angeles developer of real estate who turned her on to his vision of a shining city reminiscent of the urban landscape revealed in the 1982 film Blade Runner. As she lyrically describes it:

The illuminated windows of the city’s densely packed towers sparkle like stars in the night, and their facades are covered with bright, animated billboards. A flying car glides past the enormous eye of a smiling geisha hundreds of stories above the wet urban streets.

The Philip K. Dick story from which the movie was derived was titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Now, architects dream of electric buildings. Though the action of the film is set in 2019, Astani wants to hurry things up. He envisions just such a glowing façade on each of the two high-rise condominiums that are his current project. Located in an area some call “Times Square West,” the 30-story towers are scheduled for completion next year.

Various methods of lighting up buildings are in use around the globe. In Seoul, the Galleria West (pictured) shows off electronic façade technology developed by UN Studio and Arup Lighting. The shopping mall’s whole façade is covered with discs, more than four thousand of them, which can each display up to 16 million colors, just like a desktop monitor, combining their colors into any graphic or text combination dictated by the controlling computer. Each disc is 850 millimeters in diameter and each one plays its part in the perpetually-changing appearance.

In Hong Kong, a building’s LED-lined elevator changes color as it moves up and down. The tallest building in Israel, the Moshe Aviv Tower, is topped with shimmering display from Color Kinetics. In Minsk, the National Library of Belarus sports 4646 LED fixtures lighting up the tundra night. In Tokyo, the new corporate headquarters of Chanel employs an art director whose task is to invent new looks for the LED-encrusted façade. Likewise in Barcelona, a single computer controls the 4,500 points of light on the programmable radiant surface of starchitect Jean Nouvel’s Torre Agbar.

Astani’s lighting designer is Frederic Opsomer, whose company System Technologies made a splash by creating a 706 square meter video screen for rock band U2’s 1996 tour. This first and biggest moveable LED video display screen was greeted with rapturous amazement by fans. The company’s website offers a complete list of other music stars whose concerts have been enhanced by similar technology.

What Opsomer has in mind are not discs but “blades” or panels set six inches apart, each half an inch thick and 3″ wide, with a row of diodes. From a distance, the illusion of a solid lighted surface is attained. A similar method was used to clad the T-Mobile headquarters in Bonn.

UCLA graduate Astani, originally from Iran, built up a business that now encompasses two million square feet either currently in development or already built. About five years ago, when the concept of adaptive reuse really started to take hold in Los Angeles, he saw an opening for the adoption of his fantasy. City planning officials are in the process of mulling over Astani’s application, also taking into consideration the objections of residents who are disenchanted with the sometimes obtrusive glare of advertising.

Brightness is not the object here. Astani’s plan is for low-key graphics with an intensity only fractionally that of existing LED billboards. The pictures would move sedately and vary in brightness according to the time of day or night. Only 10 stories of each structure would be involved, and only on one side. The builder’s plan is to allot 80% of the time to paid advertising, but reserve 20% for the use of non-profit agencies and to display works by Southern California artists. The partly pro bono aspect of the plan has complicated matters for the Planning Department.

People who care about the appearance of downtown Los Angeles are divided in opinion. How about it – should buildings shine?

SOURCE: ” A Developer’s Unusual Plan for Bright Lights, Inspired by a Dark Film ” 05/21/08
photo courtesy of zoom zoom , used under this Creative Commons license

12
Jun
08

Parking Structures Fit for Kings

Cordova Parkade, Vancouver

In the pages of Newsweek, Matt Vella reports on his quest for the world’s greatest parking structures. The piece is accompanied by a slide show titled “Most Incredible Parking Garages.” They may be the neglected stepchild of the architecture world, but buildings that house cars are an important component of modern urban life, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of them, so they might as well be good. While Vella’s definition is a bit broad, his admiration is sincere:

Few and far between, these wonders are sprinkled around the globe in locations from Paris to Santa Monica. These buildings-green parking garages, innovative automobile dealerships, and futuristic gas stations-form a network of buildings fit for admiration as well as for parking your car.

Santa Monica is mentioned because of the attention-getting Civic Center parking structure, the creation of Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners. Its glass panels add bold color to the seaside community, while concealing the presence of 900 vehicles inside. This innovative facility made history when it gained recognition as the first parking garage to be certified according to the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating program.

Also singled out for praise is the Cordova Parkade in Vancouver, British Columbia, an $28 million edifice with a light well in the middle (pictured), recycled elements from an older building, and a method of cleaning storm water by filtration.

At the Fullerton branch of California State University, the Nutwood Parking Facility stands as an example of the movement toward greenness. Holding more than 2,500 vehicles, it is enveloped on three sides by “living walls” of vines and bamboo which are sustained by the storm water collection system.

Vella also finds much to admire in several automobile showrooms, particularly one in Paris where Citroën shows off its classy cars. Located on the fabulous Champs-Elysées, it had better look good . A Toyota dealership in Australia is impressive too, with its high degree of energy efficiency and its sinuously warped roof. Some compare this building’s profile to a snowdrift, while others think it resembles an interstellar craft that has just landed or is about to take off.

Another fine example of a car dealership to the nth degree is San Francisco’s Mercedes-Benz complex, which is actually four separate structures, including a tall, glass-enclosed atrium and a two-story showroom. In Los Angeles, Helios House is a modernistic gas station which, Vella says,

incorporates energy-efficient lights, a green roof of native plants, and a water-collection system that treats contaminated waste water and redistributes it to irrigate on-site greenery. The station’s unique metallic skin is made of prefabricated, recyclable, stainless-steel panels.

In Stamford, Connecticut, the Royal Bank of Scotland is in the process of constructing what will be the state’s largest green building, which will include a 2,000 car parking structure with an aluminum, faux wood façade.

This seems like a good opportunity to mention something that, while not a garage nor indeed a structure of any kind, is a place to keep cars, and does hold environmental benefit as a high priority. It’s actually the parking lot of a ballpark, US Cellular Field, on the south side of Chicago. Its permeable surface is composed of more than half a million interlocking pavement blocks (made of recycled brick) that absorb water rather than letting it run off into channels. The Environmental Protection Agency and the US Green Building Council are all in favor of the concept, and this thing can soak up 920 gallons of water per minute.

Are there any more innovative parking solutions out there that we should know about?

SOURCE: ” Traffic-Stopping Parking Structures “05/21/08
photo courtesy of SqueakyMarmot , used under this Creative Commons license

11
Jun
08

Bird’s Nest, Water Cube, and More in Beijing

Olympic Stadium, Beijing

In only two short months, the Beijing Olympics will take place, and a very interesting article by Paul Goldberger in The New Yorker gives us a tour of some of the major structures created for the event. He begins by reflecting on the architectural layout of the whole city in relation to the 2,800-acre Olympic Green. Back in 2002, 96 architects competed for the honor of mapping out the master plan. Sasaki Associates of Boston became the decider, and Goldberger explains the significance of the placement of the National Stadium and the National Aquatic Center. Here’s how the author describes the National Stadium (pictured):

The concrete wall of the arena is wrapped with a latticework exterior of crisscrossing columns and beams, a tangle of twisting steel twigs. The lattice arcs upward and inward over the stadium’s seats, supporting a translucent roof and forming an oculus around the track. The building may look like a huge steel sculpture, but most of the beams are structural, not decorative…. The outer wall of the concrete structure is painted bright red…and when lit up at night it shines through the latticework, an enormous red egg glowing inside its nest.

It’s not difficult to see why the enormous building is informally called the Bird’s Nest. It was designed by two Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, and built by a crew that totaled as many as 9,000 workers at a time. For the Olympics, the stadium will seat 91,000 guests. Afterward, many tiers of seats will be removed and the capacity brought down to 80,000 for the remainder of the building’s life as China’s national stadium.

Just as startlingly original, in a different way, is the appearance of the National Aquatics Center, or Water Cube, designed by PTW Architects, an Australian firm. The bubbly exterior is a cladding formed from cells of a plastic called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene. Goldberger explains the wonders of ETFE, as the substance is familiarly known. It transmits light better than glass and only weighs 1/100th as much as glass, plus it has better insulating properties than glass. This remarkable exterior treatment was developed with the help of Arup, an engineering firm. For the Olympics, the Water Cube will seat 17,000, but when the games are over, nearly 2/3rds of the upper tiers will be removed and multipurpose rooms will take their place.

Goldberger lyrically describes the surreal experience of being inside the Water Cube, and speculates on the motives behind the Chinese bringing in international architects for the most prominent structures. There are 31 structures in all, and most of the ones designed by native architects are not particularly noteworthy, except for Digital Beijing, the control center, whose four slicey sections remind some observers of the internal parts of a computer. Its designer, Pei Zhu, received his education at the University of California.

Goldberger also takes a retrospective look at previous Olympic venues in cities around the world, explaining why they were the way they were. In recent decades there has been a strong tendency for the host cities to use the Olympics as a catalyst for extensive urban renewal, going far beyond the requirements of the games themselves. Barcelona redeveloped its entire waterfront. London is gearing up in a big way for 2012, with a $19 billion plan for the East End, which has traditionally been the low-rent part of town.

Many people are not sure what to make of Beijing’s Olympic preparations. The subway system has been upgraded and extended, and there’s plenty of cosmetic touching-up, with trees planted and roadways tidied, but there is a feeling in some quarters that it’s largely an optical illusion, composed of more façade than substance – as Goldberger puts it, “driven by image, not by sensitive urban planning.” His question, and one worth asking, is, “Beijing’s Olympic architecture is spectacular, but what message does it send?”

SOURCE: ” Out of the Blocks ” 06/02/08
photo courtesy of borkur.net , used under this Creative Commons license

10
Jun
08

Awards from American Institute of Architects, San Francisco

In ArchitectureWeek, Brian Libby reports on the awards handed out by the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Of particular interest is the Urban Design category, in which Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) received a merit award for the immense project known as Beijing Finance Street.

Located in a historic district close to the city center and the Forbidden City, the plan is organized around a Central Park as well as a series of interior courtyards based on the traditional Chinese Hatong neighborhoods that were largely wiped out by past urban renewal but have regained favor as the nation re-embraces its past heritage.

Beijing Finance Street encompasses eight square blocks or 860,000 square meters of office buildings, hotels, and retail stores including a huge glass-roofed shopping mall. There are also more than 300 apartments and numerous small parks. Each of the 18 buildings has three parking levels underneath. It’s a district that never sleeps, but the hotels and housing units are located near the central park to take advantage of the quieter atmosphere there, while office buildings are on the edges.

The firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill can do pretty much anything, including the most high-tech projects that clients can dream up. In Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition, we see another example of their work, this time for the Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, New York, with special attention to how they designed the vault for the Diagnostic & Treatment Facility Linear Accelerator (page 667.)

Not all AIA chapters do so, but the San Francisco chapter has a whole category for energy and sustainablilty. The honor awards in that category were captured by the Orinda City Hall (Siegel & Strain Architects), and by the Nueva School Hillside Learning Complex (Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.) This latter project was also recently named one of the top ten green projects of 2008 by the AIA Committee on the Environment. Additionally, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Molecular Foundry (SmithGroup) won the only merit award in this category.

Four Honor awards for excellence were given. One recipient was the firm Brand + Allen Architects, for 185 Post Street, a restoration project with innovative aspects that worked with the protective laws guarding the early 20th century origins of the historic building. Morphosis and SmithGroup shared credit for the San Francisco Federal Building, whose double skin and tall thin shape help it to overreach the energy code’s requirements. Also recognized for excellence were Stanley Saitowitz/Natoma Architects, for Bridge House, and Fougeron Architecture, for Tehama Grasshopper.

Tehama Grasshopper is a remodeled warehouse located in San Francisco, which has been converted to offices and residences, and it also has received more than one award, having been honored earlier this year by the national AIA for its interior architecture.

Again, unlike some other local chapters, AIA San Francisco has established an awards category for interior architecture, which this year recognized three projects: a temple, a restaurant, and a residence.

Interestingly, there is even an “unbuilt design” category, for which the honoree was IwamotoScott Architecture for Hydro-Net: City of the future, a vision of San Francisco a hundred years from now. Building information modeling (BIM) helped The Design Partnership snag an honor award for the remodel of a University of California pathology lab in which costs and construction time were greatly reduced through use of the BIM technology.

The Panhandle Bandshell (pictured) received an urban design honor award, which just might be the coolest one of the bunch. This functional piece of sculpture is now located at Treasure Island, an artificial island that is part of San Francisco, where students and other low-income residents live. Among other reclaimed components, the bandshell was constructed from 65 automobile hoods and 3,000 plastic water bottles.

SOURCE: “San Francisco AIA Awards 2008″05/28/08
photo courtesy of MikeLove, used under this Creative Commons license