Tag Archives: usa

WMS Boathouse at Clark Park

WMS Boathouse at Clark Park in Chicago, Illinois, by Studio Gang Architects, 2013

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Jeanne Gang and Studio Gang Architects (SGA) have been infatuated with water for some time now – metaphorically, in the rippling facade of the Aqua Tower; directly, in landscape projects like the Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo; or on the large scale, in projects like Reverse Effect, which proposes re-reversing the Chicago River, among other tactics, to improve the ecosystem of Lake Michigan. A recent addition to the above water-related projects in their hometown of Chicago is the WMS Boathouse at Clark Park, situated along the Chicago River about eight miles north and west of the Loop.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Like Reverse Effect, the boathouse is envisioned as a means of remediating one of Chicago's waterways. As SGA describes it: "By creating a key public access point along the river’s edge, it supports the larger movement toward an ecological and recreational revival of the Chicago River." This building and access point will hopefully "transform the long-polluted and neglected Chicago River into its next recreational frontier." Chicago – flat and gridded – has long oriented itself toward the lake, whose length in the city is public and almost entirely recreational, be it beaches, museums and parks (one of which is being designed by SGA for the old Miegs Field). So it's no wonder that the river – reversed in the early 1900s so that pollution wouldn't flow into the lake, the source of the city's drinking water – has been neglected.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

SGA's design separates the project into two buildings: a two-story Field House on the south and a one-story Boat Storage on the south; in between is a courtyard that aligns with the access down to the water on the west. Each building has a distinctive serrated roofline that "translates the poetic motion and rhythm of rowing into an architectural roof form, providing visual interest while also offering spatial and environmental advantages that allow the boathouse to adapt to Chicago’s distinctive seasonal changes." The main driver of the form is sunlight, such that "the roof achieves a rhythmic modulation that lets in southern light through the building’s upper clerestory."

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

The reading of the forms is aided by the muted palette of exterior materials, notably zinc and slate, which give the building a sense of solidity while also accentuating the interior spaces when lights glow from the inside in the evening. The palette inside is just as spare, with plywood used for the walls and ceilings and exposed concrete on the floors. It all adds up to an inexpensive building ($8.8 million) that hardly looks cheap.

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Photo: Steve Hall © Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Studio Gang Architects

Site Plan/First Floor Plan

Longitudinal Section

Clifftop House

Clifftop House in Maui, Hawaii, by Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti, 2011

The following text and images are courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Maui's south coast is gentle and works for indulging all-inclusive holidays, whereas its north coast is a rough surfer’s paradise with strong winds and most important perfect waves. Windsurf sail designer Robert Stroj moved from Europe to Maui to lead the design research studio of Neil Pryde in Kahului, Maui. While exploring the island with his wife, they soon fell in love with the area of West Maui Mountains on the north coast; a very unpopulated area with high cliffs at the cost, fresh onshore breezes and unobstructed views to the ocean.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

After finding the perfect spot it took them three years to buy the land and several more to finish the house. Now they live there with their two sons and a dog. The home in such an environment becomes crucially important. Besides being just a home, this house works also as a social venue for the owners. The evening events are culinary blasts, where every guest realizes that cooking is not just necessity but more an obsession. Therefore the kitchen and the dining form the center of the house.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Perfect ocean view, beautiful cliffs, strong winds and unspoiled rough landscape—Is there any space for a house? It was a very unusual task for us European architects usually dealing with quite dense urban environment. It was hard to understand before its first visit and easy to respond after some days spent there.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

The concept defines several "houses" under a common roof. Each separate "mini house" is a U-shaped volume in order to open up and frame the perfect ocean view. The houses are self-contained private units combining bedroom and bathroom as en-suite double room. A fluid public space between enclosed private volumes serves for cooking, eating, lounging, etc.

Sketches courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

The ensured privacy within the separate houses allows for a home without hallways, and furthermore for a continuous social and typological change: the four-person family home can be easily transformed into a mini hotel for 3 couples or 3 families with small children. The spatial concept even allowed the transformation of both "service houses" into a workspace: the garage into a sail loft - workshop for sail prototypes and the utility into Robert’s ocean view design studio.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

The roof concept is strongly related to the rough climate with plenty of sun and strong ocean winds. The area of the roof is twice the size of the house, so the size of the covered outdoor space equals the size of the indoor space. The house needs no air-conditioning, since it is cross ventilated throughout. The folded roof is carefully attached to the walls of the U-shaped volumes and defines specific spaces. It also serves as a folded wooden deck for contemplating, playing or releasing the radio controlled flying wings, with the aim to materially and topologically integrate the house with the landscape.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Local materials are used for the finishing of the house. The walls are rendered with the specific plaster using beach sand inside and outside and furthermore emphasize the smooth indoor-outdoor relationship. The same Ipe wood is used for the floor, terrace, ceiling and even the roof. On the other hand the house is for U.S. standards typically constructed out of concrete blocks, which just reflects the European origin of the owner.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

We like to believe the architecture is done on site with a strong control of the construction process. Here we were not able to visit the site while in process as often as we would want to, but all the essential supervision and site-coordination work was carefully done by the owner, an industrial designer mind who was always in touch online. The owners’ true passion for this house was stretched to the level that the last seven years they largely helped with most of the physical work from roof cladding to stucco or furniture. Within this extensive process they have already built a long-lasting relationship with this house, now their home.

Photo: Cristobal Palma, courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Floor plan courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Diagram courtesy of Dekleva Gregorič Arhitekti

Pizzagalli Center for Art & Education

Pizzagalli Center for Art & Education at Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, by Ann Beha Architects, 2013

"The campus side offers a one-story structure with a long welcoming porch." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

As museums around the United States continue to expand—think St. Louis Art Museum and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others—their facilities overtake parts of the city and the landscape, resulting in sometimes over-sized institutions. Another tactic can be found in Shelburne, Vermont, and the new Pizzagalli Center for Art and Education at the Shelburne Museum, a 45-acre (18-hectare) campus with nearly 40 buildings. The new Center, designed by Ann Beha Architects, adds only 16,000 square feet of exhibition and educational spaces, but it nevertheless makes a large impact on the museum, particularly by allowing it to stay open year-round, when previously it closed during the winter months.

"View from the Museum Campus." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

Of course, adding to the Shelburne Museum in the manner of other institutions does not make sense, for twenty-five of its buildings are historical and were relocated to the grounds. For one, this creates an eclectic collection of buildings ("houses, barns, a meeting house, a one-room schoolhouse, a lighthouse, a jail, a general store, a covered bridge, and the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga," per the museum) that is without a definitive center or base to add on to; this also means that the buildings are part of the collection, not just containers for the art. The new building respects this by locating itself near the parking lot and museum entry to become a starting point for experiencing the grounds, and by giving a visitors a place from which to take in the museum's Lake Champlain Valley landscape.

"The building is clad with horizontal and vertical cedar on a granite fieldstone base." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

While the unique museum takes its name from its locale, it is really the product of Electra Havemeyer Webb (1888-1960), who founded the museum in 1947. Her parents collected European and Asian art, instilling in her an appreciation and eye for art, but she collected buildings to house her Impressionist paintings, folk art, quilts and textiles, decorative arts, furniture, and American paintings now totaling 150,000 objects. Her approach speaks to a breaking down of the boundaries between art and architecture; they work together (and with the landscape) to create an aesthetic and educational institution where history and distant places converge.

"The auditorium provides magnificent views of the Museum’s historic steamboat." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

So how does an architect add something to a campus where every style imaginable can be found? One approach would take this as an invitation for free rein, rewarding a formally exuberant piece that would become the early 21st-century building amongst the other 38 buildings. But Ann Beha takes a modern yet understated approach, resulting in what the New York Times calls "Modernist pastoral." Two overlapping bars, set at about a 15-degree angle to each other, sit atop stone walls that anchor the two-story building firmly in place. Above the stone are walls of wood, large windows with carefully framed views, and overhanging copper roofs.

"The upper and lower level lobbies are designed for events, installations, and music." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

The two bars basically define the exhibition and educational components of the program; the former to the south and the latter to the north. They utilize spaces on both floors, but the upper floor is where the most light is gained and where views are to be had. Here is also where the west-facing porch can be found, an in-between space that connects the new building with the landscape and campus of buildings beyond. The space may not have a program, like the galleries and exhibition spaces, but it's integral for lending an appreciation of the museum that Electra Havemeyer Webb created.

"The upper level lobby looks out onto the porch and campus beyond." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

"The upper level provides galleries for special exhibitions. The galleries incorporate local beech flooring and a flexible ceiling and lighting system. Lighting is provided by a combination of LED tracks and daylight diffused through a translucent laylight." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

"Lower Level Lobby." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

"The education studio accommodates year-round programs in studio art for children and adults." Photograph by Peter Vanderwarker, courtesy of Ann Beha Architects

Site Plan

"Lit from clerestories, the upper level is connected to the lower level via a glass and stone-clad stair."

Modern Ruin

Modern Ruin in Sante Fe, New Mexico, by Autotroph Design, 2012

Photographs by Alexander Dzurec and Kate Russell are courtesy of Autotroph Design

"Modern Ruin" is an apt name for this house and studio in Agua Fria Traditional Village, just outside Sante Fe. Sharing a piece of property with a family member's house, a green house, chicken coops, and a garden, the new structures designed by Autotroph Design recall the area's traditional adobe architecture and its modern industrial infrastructure. The project appears like something incomplete—a ruin—even as it provides relatively comfortable appointments for the owners, who are also the builders.

The project is comprised of two primary volumes: the dwelling in rammed earth and weathered steel, and the studio in a prefabricated Quonset hut. The house is a two-story structure with service and living spaces on the first floor and a bedroom upstairs. A roof terrace extends from the bedroom over the kitchen and living room.

Inside, the industrial aspect of the design comes in the form of steel joists, corrugated decking, fixtures, and exposed conduit that stand out against the thick rammed earth and CMU walls. The open living area benefits from a glazed garage door that unites the space with a patio to the south. Another patio can be found on the west, just next to the kitchen.

The owners are two artists and avid art collectors, and the "modern ruin" jibes with their lifestyles in a couple ways. First, the house acts as an armature for the display of art, especially on wood walls that were sanded down from the formwork used for the rammed earth. Second, the house is itself an artwork, in terms of the rough qualities of the materials and details, like the kitchen island and sliding doors.

The house also benefits from a number of sustainable features: passive solar orientation and window shading, natural ventilation, solar-thermal radiant floor heating, rainwater catchment, a green roof, permaculture landscape and reused building materials. These features blend seamlessly with a design that finds inspiration in traditional methods, all the while expressed in way that is contemporary and unabashedly (in a good way) rough around the edges.

Saint Louis Art Museum East Building

Saint Louis Art Museum East Building in St. Louis, Missouri, by David Chipperfield Architects, 2013

North elevation. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Many thanks to Aaron Dougherty for the photographs of SLAM's new East Building.

South Terrace. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

In 2005 David Chipperfield Architects was selected for the Saint Louis Art Museum's (SLAM) expansion. Two years later the British architect unveiled his design for the East Building, a low modern addition that quietly respects Cass Gilbert's Palace of Fine Arts, the only lasting building from the 1904 Worlds Fair and one of three buildings SLAM occupied to date (above- and below-ground expansions occurred in the 1980s). Due to the recession, it would take another three years for construction to start, and another three years for the project's completion. The $160 million, 200,000-sf (18,580-sm—more than half devoted to below-grade parking) East Building opened on June 28, 2013—free, just as it's always been.

North Entrance. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Taylor Hall, north entrance. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

The East Building's exterior is predominantly dark concrete and glass; the former provides a contrast between the light stone of the Main Building and the addition, while large openings of the latter frame views of Forest Park. The Panorama Restaurant looks north toward the Grand Basin, while different galleries reach out toward the other cardinal directions (see Level 2 plan, at bottom). Daylight entering the galleries is modulated through automated vertical shades wired to rooftop sensors. As we'll see, natural light is one of the driving forces of the design.

Sculpture Hall in 1904 Main Building. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Entrance to Panorama Restaurant adjacent to Taylor Hall. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

The plan of Chipperfield's addition (carried out with HOK as architect-of-record, it should be noted) wraps itself around the 1904 Main Building in an "L" shape, linking to the older building on its east and south sides. The plan further pinwheels through smaller "L"s, each end reaching out to frame the views mentioned above. Next to the restaurant on the north side of the East Building is a new entrance, but it does not replace the original entrance, which drops visitors into the grand Sculpture Hall. People have a choice of how to enter and then move through SLAM, but a difference between the old and new buildings happens through what is on display: the East Building focuses on contemporary art and special exhibitions (for which admission is charged). The larger galleries in the new building can accommodate larger pieces of art, one reason SLAM underwent the expansion.

Gallery 259, looking from Taylor Hall with Main Building beyond. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Gallery 251. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

If the exterior is dark and mute, the interior is light with the artwork coming to the fore. The windows that are visible from the outside are an important component in providing so much light, but not as important as the ceiling, made up of skylights inserted between 4'-deep (1.2-m) concrete beams on a 5'x10' (1.5mx3m) module. To eliminate any direct sunlight from entering the galleries from above, the infill between the beams is made up of four layers: a glass skylight on the roof, then an adjustable blackout blind, followed by a "halo" to block residual light, and finally a "light spreader" made of translucent resin panels. Also tucked above the bottom of the beams are downlights and exit signs, creating remarkably uncluttered galleries that are anything but generic.

Gallery 252, with south-facing window. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Gallery 256, overlooking South Terrace. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Chipperfield's design could be discussed alongside contemporary museums by the likes of Renzo Piano and Allied Works—museums that filter sunlight from overhead into galleries that aim to serve the artwork—but a more fitting comparison would be with the public buildings and landscapes recently completed and underway in St. Louis. SLAM's opening of the East Building follows the reopening of the St. Louis Public Library's Central Library by about six months; Cannon's renovation similarly takes a beloved 19th-century building and makes it usable for the 21st century. Add to that Michael Van Valkenburgh's work on the grounds of the St. Louis Arch—especially the portion decking over the interstate to connect the Arch and downtown (on axis with the great CityGarden, another recent project of note)—and the city is finally making some great investments into its public infrastructure.

Andy Goldsworthy's "Stone Sea," near South Terrace. Photograph by Aaron Dougherty

Level 2 plan, courtesy of SLAM

Four Chesapeake Energy Buildings

Four Chesapeake Energy Buildings in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, by Elliott + Associates Architects, 2011

Chesapeake Finish Line Tower. All photographs by Scott McDonald/Hedrich Blessing, courtesy of Elliott + Associates Architects

While formed less than 25 years ago, Chesapeake Energy bills itself today as "the second-largest producer of natural gas, 11th largest producer of oil and natural gas liquids and the most active driller of new wells in the U.S." (Texas's ExxonMobil is the one ahead of Chesapeake in the first case.) The company is headquartered in Oklahoma City and is in the midst of adding considerably to their 111-acre (45-hectare) campus north of downtown, just off of I-44. Each building on the new campus has been designed by Elliott + Associates Architecture, also based in Oklahoma City; three of those buildings are discussed here as well as a building on the banks of the Oklahoma River closer to downtown.

Chesapeake Finish Line Tower

The Chesapeake Finish Line Tower is a project of both Chesapeake Energy and the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation; basically the former gave money to support the latter's focus on using the river for recreation and competitions to make "a stronger, healthier community." The foundation's goal has involved the construction of eight buildings for storing boats and providing facilities and amenities, with two more in planning. The tower is their third building, and it is the third for the foundation designed by Rand Elliott's firm. The 4-story, 7,100-sf (660-sm) tower provides a welcome center on the first floor, a space for the finish line jury one floor above, a media room on the third floor, and a VIP viewing gallery on the top floor. The glass prow of the tapered building allows for full views of the river, particularly when the glazing at the corner retracts (visible in the top photo).

Chesapeake Finish Line Tower

Chesapeake Building 13

The Chesapeake Finish Line Tower was completed in July 2011, the same month as the next two projects: Chesapeake Building 13 and Chesapeake Car Park One. Both can be seen in the photo above, with Building 13 in the foreground. As can be seen in the aerial at bottom, this 130,000-sf (12,000-sm) office building is triangular in plan, while the larger parking structure that links to it by bridges is a rectangle just south of it. The north-facing glass wall defines the north edge of the campus and presents outsiders with a contrast between the modern expansion and Chesapeake's neo-Georgian campus across the street to the west.

Chesapeake Building 13

Elliott followed the client's existing 52-foot module for offices, resulting in a central atrium that is highlighted by dichroic glass panels hanging in the triangular space. What really conveys the logic of the module intersecting the tapered triangle of the site is the view of the corridors from the "tip" at the building's eastern end (photo below). This point is accentuated through two panes of backlit glass.

Chesapeake Building 13

Chesapeake Car Park One

With a single architect and simultaneous construction of the two buildings, some elements are shared between the office building and the car park. Most notable is an armature with angled screens that blocks afternoon sunlight—more important in the office building but used on both as a formal link. The majority of Car Park One is covered with staggered metal panels that allow natural ventilation but not views of the cars. Without any exterior lighting, strips of light illuminate the building at night, as artificial light from inside leaks through the gaps.

Chesapeake Car Park One

Given that the most common saying after parking a car in a garage is "remember where we parked," wayfinding is particularly important. The large, 4-aisled footprint of this garage on 5 levels (850 spaces total) means this is important, even though most drivers will be using the garage day after day as employees of Chesapeake Energy. Elliott uses color to help people locate what level they parked on; through paint, lighting, and graphics. The central, east-west axis that cuts through the building (below photo) is particularly memorable for the use of Dan Flavin-like fluorescent strips of light and the way the colored bands of light overlap with the angled floors (a section occurrence of the angled plan intersection in Building 13).

Chesapeake Car Park One

Chesapeake Child Development Center 1

In the middle of the campus expansion's many blocks being taken over by office buildings and parking garages is the Chesapeake Child Development Center, a 60,000-sf (5,575-sm) building that serves the children of the company's approximately 12,500 employees. The general footprint can be grasped in the aerial at bottom: classrooms, offices, a kitchen, playroom, and other spaces are located in four rectangular volumes that branch off of a central east-west circulation spine. This layout allows secure courtyards to be created between the volumes.

Chesapeake Child Development Center 1

Like the parking structure—and appropriate to childhood learning—color is used predominantly and strategically. Even as the exterior is made up of primarily gray and white bricks, splashes of color (especially in mechanical enclosures on the roof) hint at the saturated interior. In the case of the main corridor (below), the yellow from the floor and wall colors the ceiling and the brick wall that link inside and outside. Light tubes help to fill the spine with natural light and "spray circles of light on the walls and floor," what Rand Elliott admits is his favorite detail in the building.

Chesapeake Child Development Center 1

MCA Denver

All photographs by John Hill

Museum of Contemporary Art Denver in Denver, Colorado, by David Adjaye Associates, 2007

They say that a book should not be judged by its cover. The same sentiment should surely be applied to architecture, since what a building presents to the street—its facade—is never a totally accurate depiction of what is happening inside. This pertains to traditional buildings as well as modern architecture, but it is particularly pronounced in the case of the latter, particularly all-glass exteriors that reflect the surroundings rather than giving a peek inside. A building where this is pronounced especially is David Adjaye's competition-winning design for the MCA Denver. What looks like a simple glass box at first glance is fairly complex in three places: the back of the building, the interior, and the rooftop.

On approach to the building, a Cor-ten clad mass detached from the museum on one side draws one's attention. The house is also designed by Adjaye (the LN House on his website) and works on a similar premise while also being quite different; namely, its skin is flat and taut but the rust has a much different sensation than the glass. The lane between the two buildings leads to more residences that cater to the popularity of the adjacent LoDo District (Lower Downtown) as well as the museum itself. Cantilevering over the lane is a wood box in the far corner of the museum, something that looks a little precarious and has a strong presence; but it's a total surprise, nowhere to be seen when approaching the building.

Walking back to the intersection to enter the museum, one gets a close look at the exterior glass walls (above). They are dark but are translucent, as if they are painted on the interior or have curtains behind them. What is actually going on is revealed when ascending the ramp from the corner to the entrance (below). Behind the glass is a layer of translucent plastic (Monopan, to be precise) that insulates the interior spaces while softening the light that enters the galleries. Adjaye used the material before in the studio/residence he designed for two artists in Brooklyn, where it is used as an outer skin and silkscreened to take on a dark appearance.

The heart of the building is a full-height, T-shaped space capped by two linear skylights. While the glass-box exterior gives the impression that the building, like office buildings with similar wrappers, is made up of pancake slabs behind the exterior skin, the institutional program allows some flexibility. Turning the 180-degrees from entrance ramp, through sliding glass door, and around the ticket counter, the atrium space came as quite a surprise. Given how the translucent panels eliminate direct sunlight entering galleries, the atrium space is a means of defining the locations of the galleries, creating a center within the museum, bringing natural light to the center of the building, and orienting visitors as they move through the spaces.

Where the circulation on the ground floor happens below the T-shaped skylights, on the second floor the circulation is pushed to the perimeter, with galleries sitting roughly in the middle of the plan (three galleries on the other side of the atrium walls). The circulation on both floors, combined with the stairs connecting the two (and the roof) adds up to a good chunk of the building's 25,000-sf area. Since the MCA Denver is not a collecting institution, it can be a little loose in the ratio of functional space to circulation.

The first and last of the three surprises are found on the roof. A hint of something happening on the roof can be glimpsed from across the street (top photo) but, like the cantilevered box seen from the lane below, it's not until walking up to the roof that they are fully grasped. Inside the wooden box is a lounging area that is more art than furniture, and out on the roof deck are planters, a cafe, and a variety of places for sitting and taking in views of Denver.

Clyfford Still Museum

All photographs by John Hill

Clyfford Still Museum in Denver, Colorado, by Allied Works, 2011

One of the highlights from a recent trip to Denver for the AIA Convention was definitely the Clyfford Still Museum, designed by Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works. The rectangular box sits in the Civic Center area, directly next door to Daniel Libeskind's 2006 addition to Gio Ponti's 1971 Denver Art Museum; the latter is visible across the street in the photo above. The Still is like an ocean of calm in the maelstrom, looking inward as its immediate neighbor explodes outward (see the aerial at bottom for a good look at the adjacency and contrast of Cloepfil's and Libeskind's buildings).

That the Still is an introverted museum is fairly clear from the outside, given the primarily solid walls and the few windows that can be found on any of the four faces. These openings range from clear glass (the smaller openings) to wood-screened apertures that are much larger; the entrance bridges these two, with wood slats layered in front of full-height glass walls. The concrete walls are not just solid, they are textured, accentuating their depth and solidity, and giving the impression (even from across the street, photo above) that they have been worked by hand.

Up close, the concrete skin has an even more pronounced profile, but one that is irregular—in terms of the spacing of the vertical projections, their depth, and their roughness. One can only wager how the formwork was arranged and removed; the latter seems to have taken concrete along with it, something that must have pleased Cloepfil, making a richly varied surface. The wood slats give a hint at the formwork...are they the same width as the strips above? Are they reused from formwork? I doubt there is a one-to-one relationship, but the two work together in terms of dimensions and rhythm. And it should be noted that the first tangible non-visual sensation of the building is the smell of wood when passing by the slats near the entry.

The textured concrete walls continue inside, giving museum-goers a chance to rub their hands along them. Like me, one does not need a deep knowledge of Clyfford Still's art to appreciate the architecture and to see the relationship between one and the other. The building's concrete and plaster walls, wood floors, and open precast concrete ceiling create a calm setting for the paintings, most of which have a vertical orientation like the textured concrete. What is most unexpected about the museum's layout is the complexity of space: it flows from one gallery to another over the walls and under the skylights. Glimpses can be made from gallery to gallery through openings that visually connect the spaces and give light numerous paths throughout the museum.

Cloepfil explains the building and site as "a place of refuge from the intense light of central Colorado." Further, in regards the upper-floor galleries: "Overhead, an open lattice of concrete unites the body of the building and offers illumination and connection to the atmosphere of the city. The galleries respond to the evolving character of Still’s art, changing scale and proportion, while varying the intensity of light."

Another surprise is found in the exterior terraces that are found at the southwest and northeast corners of the museum. They are situated behind the wood-slat openings that turn their respective corners (see the fourth photo for exterior view of below terrace). Like the olfactory experience at the entrance, these spaces are rich for the senses. They offer the museum-goer a break from Still's paintings, but also a chance to look at the surroundings through the wood slats; perhaps this is a way to see the world through Still's eyes, a wood filter that abstracts the surroundings into color and vertical lines.

The Public Theater

The Public Theater in New York City by Ennead Architects, 2012.

Sometimes the smallest and most discrete of projects can have the greatest impact. Such is my take upon experiencing the new lobby for The Public Theater at Astor Place, and hearing the history of the building and project from Ennead Architects (formerly Polshek Partnership). The Public occupies the former Astor Library, which actually consists of three buildings constructed over the course of 30 years in the middle of the 19th century. The Byzantine landmark nevertheless appears as one entity, with bilateral symmetry about its taller middle section. Over the years the building changed from a library to a boarding house and then to a theater, when Joseph Papp persuaded the city to save the building from demolition in the 1960s. Small physical changes had large effects, especially the relegation of the library's exterior steps to the interior, a situation that made the lobby of The Public's five theaters less than ideal.

Easily the most important design decision in the transformation of the lobby and entry by Ennead Architects is the relocation of the steps from inside the building back to the sidewalk. This decision certainly complicated the process, as it brought the city's Department of Transportation into the picture, but the benefits to both The Public and the city outweigh any potential headaches or delays. First, ADA ramps were provided, a much better arrival than the handicap lift formerly by the front door. Second, the shallow and generous three-sided steps are a nice public amenity, accomplished by bumping out the curb in front of the steps. Third, the addition of a canopy over the stairs helps to give the institution a strong identity on Lafayette. Fourth is the fact that the exterior steps free up space in the lobby, something that gave the Ennead team, led by project designer Stephen Chu, design counsel James Polshek and management partner Duncan Hazard a bit more freedom in their lobby design.

Upon walking inside, the first impression is the fairly generous size of the space (not huge, but bigger than before). Yet the second impression is the most important: the space flows from the lobby in all directions—through the arched openings on the left and right, through the larger rectangular openings in the back wall, and up to the new mezzanine inserted above the ticket booth opposite the entry. Ennead's reworking of the circulation, in particular the fire stairs bordering the lobby, enabled them to provide access to the five theaters and Joe's Pub (formerly entered via an alley on the north side of the building) through the various openings of the lobby. Red and black text (done with Pentagram) is seemingly pressed into the white plaster, giving clear orientation from this central space.

Given the opening up of the lobby and the flow of space through the openings, it's not surprising that very little of the design is object-based; even the lighting is hidden above the beams where it highlights the coffers as it illuminates the space. The only objects inserted into the space are an elliptical bar, a chandelier above it, and the aforementioned mezzanine. The latter attracts attention through the red-glass guardrail, yet it fits with the general scheme of white, red, and black. The bar and light fixture, combined with the ticket booth behind as well as the openings on both sides, reinforce the symmetry of the building and the lobby. Most striking and dynamic is the Shakespeare Machine, the large light sculpture designed by Ben Rubin. Even as it anchors the center of the lobby with the bar, its swirling form and ever-changing readouts capture the motion of people in the space as they venture to and from shows. Yet the lobby and mezzanine are also places for lingering, something that would have been furthest from people's minds in its previous incarnation.

Phipps – Center for Sustainable Landscapes

Phipps – Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, by The Design Alliance Architects, 2012.

Of the various means of measuring and setting goals for sustainability in architecture, the most stringent (at least in North America) is definitely the Living Building Challenge (LBC), administered by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Unlike the point-based LEED system, in which certain "credits" can be achieved or ignored, every part of the LBC's "petals" are imperative. This means that a building cannot be strong in one area, such as materials, and weak in another, like energy—the building and site have to excel in all areas in order to approach a truly sustainable building. That only four projects to date are LBC Certified is testament to the appropriateness of the word "challenge."

Aiming to be a fifth addition to the list of LBC-certified projects is the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at the 120-year-old Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, designed by The Design Alliance Architects (TDA) and open since December 2012. Due to the fact LBC requires one year of operation for certification, the success of the project with this gauge will not be known until some time in 2014. Given that the project was designed to also meet LEED Platinum (its highest rating) and 4 Stars in the Sustainable Sites Initiative, it's easy to be optimistic of CSL's chances; combine this with the fact ILFI's imprint Ecotone has published a book on CSL, Building in Bloom, reviewed this week. Of course, the decision by Phipps and its Executive Director Richard V. Piacentini to meet the LBC is just one part of a broader goal to transform its Pittsburgh campus so it works in harmony with nature.

We see the connection between people, plants, health, planet and beauty in everything we do. This inspires us to align our actions with our values. As we adjust to a new way of thinking about how we work in the built environment, we will look for every opportunity to fulfill what we see as the ultimate goal of a Living Building: to continue to learn and help people reestablish their connection to nature. -Richard V. Piacentini, in "Building in Bloom"

The heart of Phipps may be the formal, 19th-century glass Conservatory, but the site for CSL is down a 30-foot slope that is adjacent to later additions, namely the curving wall of the Tropical Forest Conservatory and the serrated roofline of the Production Greenhouse. This brownfield location facing southwest provided certain advantages for TDA and the myriad actors that were part of the integrated design process, for it enabled an old structure to be retrofitted as a maintenance building and mounted with solar panels. In fact, much of the required net-zero energy requirement happens well beyond the footprint of the CSL, be it the solar panels mounted in three locations, the geothermal wells under the parking, or the wind turbine next to the Production Greenhouse. While this situation makes Phipps a less-than-ideal precedent for sites without such wiggle room, it allows the excess energy to be used for other parts of the campus, not just CSL, which ties into the institution's larger plans.

The site also gives the building a subdued presence, particularly when approached from the north (akin to the view from CSL's green roof, at right), since it embeds itself into the slope. From the south, the two-story office bar stands out from the use of reclaimed timber, but over time the weathering of these surfaces will help integrate the building even more into the landscape designed by Andropogon Associates. A three-story atrium transitions between the high north and low south sides, but it also serves as a means of naturally ventilating the interior spaces; open plan offices further this reliance on natural ventilation for passive cooling. Rather than continuing with a list of even more green building features and tactics, it's worth pointing out that the project, which took shape over six years, acts as a means of educating the public about sustainable buildings and landscapes through programs, dashboards the visitors can interact with, and the architecture itself. This extends the goals of Phipps even further and gives many people an excuse to head to Pittsburgh.