Green Square Library Plaza won by Stewart Hollenstein and Colin Stewart Architects

Guest Contributor: Priyanka Rathod

From 167 entires that included Australian as well as international architects, a young firm Stewart Hollenstein in association with Colin Stewart Architects won the competition organised by City of Sydney. From the judges’ comments during the design excellence award ceremony on 4 March 2013, it was very clear that the decision was unanimous, a well deserved victory for the duo Felicity Stewart and Matthias Hollenstein. They will work with City of Sydney to develop the design and plan for construction in 2017.

Green Square, just 4km south of Sydney CBD, is a suburb currently under transformation from predominantly light industrial to residential. As Lord Mayor Clover Moore mentioned during presentation, it is very important to create a social hub for the community envisaged in future. With recent success of Surry Hills Library, City of Sydney council is looking for a design where people want to come again and again, relax, play, interact, exchange ideas and learn.

Stewart Hollenstein’s design provided all of above, and most of all, it responded to the context very well. Remaining above the flood level line (there is a risk of flood once in 100 years), they managed to create a plaza with submerged functional spaces and just a few tall buildings. With a site surrounded by high density tall residential towers, this seemed a natural and most appropriate option.

The shape of the plaza is essentially derived from site constraints and the library is seen as a large submerged room surrounding a courtyard. The presence of an amphitheatre made it even more interesting. It is not just a place where one would have to go, but a place where one would want to go.

For me, the series of diagrams that explained the usability of the plaza during various events and various time of the day was really impressive. It was clear to me by the end of presentation from Felicity and Matthias that it is truly a well thought design and a deserving winner.

Images Courtesy: Stewart Hollenstein and City of Sydney

The 2013 Edition of 361 Degrees Conference in Mumbai

Architectural conferences are usually made of great moments and breeding grounds for exchanging ideas. The 2013 edition of the 361 Degrees Conference which is now in its 6th year and concluded on 8 March, was no different. Over the last 5 years, 361 Degrees has aimed to capture the true essence of architecture and creating a forum where young and old mix in a meaningful interrogation. I was particularly elated to see such a huge number of students attending the conference which well organized – kudos to the team at IA&B who took upon this colossal task.

You come back saturated with great examples and inspiration from the world of architecture. Speakers were an eclectic mix of nationalities with even more eclectic with the kind of work and their individual journey they are embarked on in built environment. On one side there were stalwarts like Charles Correa who choked the audience into tears with exemplary work of Champalimaud Centre of the Unknown, Portugal and on the other, the work of the likes of Kevin Low Mark and Manuel Clavel Rojo. The message delivered was singular and a strong one: that architecture is a multi-layered discipline of social enquiry and how it can be meaningful, socially relevant and profound.

Charles Correa, Charles Correa Architects, India

Peter Rich proposed the idea that the world is engulfed in a revolution where much of the erosion has taken place in recent history and is looking at culturally significant countries like India and Mexico to rediscover new deeper ways to solve many problems that we are facing as humanity.

Jenni Reuter, Hollmén Reuter Sandman Architects, Finland

Jenni Rueter works in the domain of enabling communities with the help of architecture which are poor financially. She has initiated several projects in Senegal where she engaged with the community first hand and works with the entire cycle of raising fund and actively involving local community in building their project.

Kevin Mark Low said something extremely profound which is worth noting: “Why can’t buildings be as imperfect as us human beings; why are we so anxious to find perfection in the built environment?” I will be trying to explore and understand this more with an interview with him in a series to follow.

Graham Morrison, Allies and Morrison Architects, UK

Graham Morrison of UK based practice Allies and Morrison talked about several of his projects on buildings as not being treated as  solo achievements but looking at more as public spaces they generate which can be both functional and engaging. He later mentioned something which is of relevance here that roads should not be treated only as means to get to places but as places themselves. This paradigm shift may relieve us from the perils that have emerged of complex web of clinical and detached concrete urban freeways.

Lastly, I will wrap this post with a discovery of work of a Sri-Lankan Architect Palinda Kannangara. He is a man of few words, soft spoken. And his work is speaking the language of almost monkish outcome through his projects, primarily in the residential segment. Serene, calm with a strong sense of geometry and his methodology appeared intuitive and visceral than based on any articulated design principles. Projects had a Zen-kind of impact on mind and you just wanted to be there in those houses, even if it was for a brief time. Perhaps someday when Sri-Lanka beckons.

Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai Designs YMCA International Centre Ahmedabad

The UK-based Lewis and Hickey (L&H) practice opened their India studio in Mumbai in 2007 and after 5 years in operation, their portfolio now includes some of the most diverse projects completed in the region.  The Mumbai studio works closely with their London base such that the best of resources are used in conceptualizing, detailing and implementation, utilizing best of international design knowledge and complementing that with locally more well-suited delivery expertise.

Recently, Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai Studio designed and completed their award winning YMCA International ground-up project in Ahmedabad city which is spread over 6.5 acres in site area. The building itself is 200,000 sq ft of built area. The building consists of several functional amenities on four floors coupled with outdoor amenities like pools, jogging tracks, lawn and terrace garden.

The building stands modest, straightforward and unassuming with clean lines which is such a peaceful relief from anxiety driven statement architecture of angles, waves, impatient punctures or boastfulness of height which is becoming a norm in Mumbai nowadays. So much that the burgeoning buildings feel like they are pleading for our ever-diminishing restless attention span.

The plan of the building itself is simple and meshes outdoor and indoor built spaces such that they are made to interact in an invigorating ways in number of places. Once inside, views of outside don’t seem to be lost. The building appears like a composition of studied elegance of voids and solids attempted to give multi-layered spatial experience. The architecture of YMCA International gives an impression of being inspired from I.M. Pei’s Hartford Seminary building in Connecticut, USA. Calm and unpretentious.

Speaking to Lewis & Hickey’s Mumbai director, Architect Brijesh Kanabar, I posed him a question on leading the project in Ahmedabad from Mumbai as this is something I get asked quite often in the fraternity. He explains: “L&H India is fully equipped and experienced in working on projects outside Mumbai. At present 60-70 % of our work in India is outside Mumbai City.

“The major challenges we faced while working on the YMCA project was to achieve high quality finishing on site during execution. For which we tried maintaining balance between design, execution capabilities and budget constraints through regular site visits and good communication with project management team on site.” He further added: “The Lewis and Hickey London and Mumbai team works very closely in both defining and realizing design concepts for most architecture projects in India. So, the final result for YMCA building is remarkably close to the original concept, where careful attention to detail and finishes has been given.”

This information is extremely useful to many global design practices, as more and more international practices are striving to work in the region where emphasis is to bring better yin and yang of international and local best practices made available in India.

Images Courtesy: Lewis & Hickey

Mayor Bloomberg’s ‘electrifying’ State of the City address

Now in his third and final term as mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg delivered what will be his last state of the city address to New Yorkers.  The take away was to further green the city, with more recycling plans and similar such initiatives,  but the big news was the mayor’s sweeping endorsement of electric cars, with plans to make taxis all electric and to add electric car charging parking spaces throughout the boroughs.

“We’ll work with the City Council to amend the Building Code so that up to 20 percent of all new public parking spaces in private developments will be wired and ready for electric vehicles, creating up to 10,000 parking spots for electric vehicles over the next seven years, said Bloomberg.   The goal is aspirational and, if implemented as envisioned,  New York City will have the most progressive programme in the country for electric vehicles.

Critics of the plan say it is too much too soon, pointing out that the plan assumes everyone will want an electric vehicle and be able to afford it.  Also questioned is the long term future investment in electric cars, which is now in the nascent stage.   Many electric vehicles can travel only 70 miles or so before needing to be charged.   So unless major improvements are made on this end, the program most assuredly favours in town travel rather than long distance trips which, for many New Yorkers, is the main reason to keep a car in the city.

Help the Rockaways: MoMA’s call for ideas

MoMA is asking artists, architects, designers and urban planners to present ideas for creating social spaces, new housing models, urban interventions and other ideas related to rebuilding and protecting the shoreline of the Rockaways, an area devastated by Superstorm Sandy.

Submissions, which are due by 15 March,  will judged by a jury led by MoMA director Klaus Bisenbach and including Barry Bergdoll, Peter Eleey, Pedro Gadanho, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Niklas Maak, and others.  25 entries will be selected and presented in April 2013 in the geodesic dome MoMA is building in the Rockaways to serve as a site for culture and community gathering.

All information, including submission details and an impressive filmic portrayal of the Rockaways and the effects of Sandy can be found here: http://momaps1.org/news/view/89

Per-forma Studio’s Great Eastern Hotel

Per-forma Studio, a New York based architecture practice run by architect Sarika Bajoria, has recently been garnering attention for all the right reasons. The practice which started in 2010 remains young and I anticipate better amalgamation of ‘East and West’ sensibilities if there is a distinction between the two.

India’s case is new and its challenges unique and thus there has to be greater importance towards contextual architectural aspirations. Not to mention, it’s exhilarating times for India and we will see a great deal of stimulating, disturbing, provocative and promising built spaces. Indian stable sensibilities have never been ruffled to this extent and its not necessarily a bad thing. This great fertile time can be a great period of reinvention in terms of architecture. Thus, practices like Per-forma Studio who have exposure to more than one area are hoped to go beyond the narrow vision of architecture and push the envelope of excellence.

Per-forma Studio has embarked on designing a mixed-use development called The Great Eastern which is spread over 8.6 acres of previously textile mill land located in the heart of the City, Mumbai. The development will include retail, hospitality, lifestyle and entertainment spaces. The conceptual designs of the hotel are out and the design has attempted to bring in ‘spinning and weaving’, the site’s original purpose of textile mill that it was.

This 8.6-acre development is split in two phases and first phase includes 2.2 acres of mixed used of overall area that spans of 600,000 sq ft. In addition to the hotel, the development will also include a clubhouse, high-end retail, restaurants, cafés, and spa, giving it a holistic spin.

The form of the hotel is undulating and fluid. As Sarika says: “The intertwining of the new and old, modern amenities and sanctity of undisturbed nature, relaxation, shopping, entertainment and luxury within the design and vision for the development creates a unique visual and holistic experience.”

She further explains: “A strategy of analyzing solar radiation performance in conjunction with developing building information modelling systems was taken to develop an intelligent and sustainable facade strategy that responded to solar heat gain and visibility. Sun insulation analysis data informed the shift in the WWR (window-wall ratios) of façade.”

This brings me to a point that has constantly troubled me about Mumbai as a built environment professional. Of these attempts, of creating islands of sanitized developments, however serious, where most of the mixed-use are attempted in such a way that sum of all pieces gives a fragmented understanding to a holistic city precincts.

Even moving forward, I haven’t seen a larger public dialogue on this issue amongst urban design fraternity and government authorities. This is worrisome to a large extent because Mumbai is still not serious about creating a relevant big picture of a masterplan of the city. Thus, it would be unfair to put the burden only on architects and designers to reform complex political and economic realms through architecture aspirations alone.

Images courtesy of Per-forma Studio

Crystal helps contemporary artists create inspiring work with water in the public realm

By Doug Duff, Founding Partner of Crystal, and Rob Mikula, a Senior Designer at Crystal

Water is a powerful tool. As an essential primal element, water tends to resonate with human beings who are often naturally drawn to it, especially when it is presented in a spectacular form. For artists, it is sculptural and highly versatile, and can create different movement, sounds, shapes and colours. For centuries artists have used water in their work to express themselves, and many examples of this can be found in the public realm. This is no different today, with contemporary artists using water as an expressive tool and taking advantage of the latest technology to create inspiring work.

Crystal, a world leader in water design and technology, has been collaborating with artists and helping them realise their visions since the company’s inception in 1967. It acts as a bridge between artists, architects and engineers, believing that fountains are a place where art, architecture and engineering graciously meet. Many of Crystal’s staff are artists themselves, and thrive on being able to converse with other artists and help bring their ideas to life.

Mark di Suvero

One artist that Crystal works with is Mark di Suvero. Born Marco Polo Levi-Schiff di Suvero in Shanghai, China in 1933 to Italian expatriates, he moved to San Francisco, California in 1941 with his family. From 1953 – 1957 di Suvero studied philosophy at the University of California, before moving to New York where surrounded by Abstract Expressionism, he focused all his attention on sculpture. Di Suvero is considered to be one of the most important sculptors of his generation, and his distinctive, large bold pieces can be found worldwide.

He was a founding member of the Park Place Gallery in New York, continues to be the subject of multiple exhibitions, and received the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center. Crystal collaborated with Di Suvero in 2005 at the headquarters of Calpers (California Public Employees’ Retirement System), the US government organisation in Sacramento, California.

“It was interesting working with Di Suvero at Calpers headquarters in Sacramento.  He’d never worked with water before, so when conceiving the sculpture, named ‘Serendipity’, he came to Crystal with his initial design. We became heavily involved with crafting the sculpture, with Suvero’s idea being to create a kinetic piece involving water,” Duff explains.

Having never worked with water, Suvero was very open to ideas. This created room for in-depth consultation with the artist, including materials to be used, the part water would play and how the kinetic element of the sculpture could be made interactive with its viewers.

“Being an artist and musician myself, I suggested a stainless steel keyboard, with eight keys linked to eight water jets, with their water pressure creating movement when the public press the keys – the idea was refined with Suvero and can be seen on the finished piece. It’s a great example of how Crystal collaborates with artists, rather than an artist simply asking us to create what they are imagining,” says Duff.

Jaume Plensa

Catalan artist Jaume Plensa had his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1980. A significant part of Plensa’s production is set in the context of public sculpture, with works installed in USA, Spain, France, Japan, UK, Korea, and Canada. His sculptural work has gone through several stages developed largely with recuperation materials such as iron, bronze, and copper, and more recently constituents such as synthetic resin, glass, plastic, light, video and sound.

Crystal was selected by Emaar and architects SOM to work with Plensa on the development of ‘World Voices’. For the prestigious residential lobby of the Burj Khalifa, the artist created installation befitting the world’s tallest building.

To this end, Plensa created 196 reed-like sculptures with golden leaves. Cast in bronze and brass and plated with 18-carat gold, the ‘leaves’ are actually cymbals suspended on flexible stainless steel rods anchored in two triangular reflecting pools at ground level. There are 196 cymbals in total representing the 196 countries of the world.

Crystal developed custom technology that creates the right size, volume, and control of the droplets that fall approximately 60ft (18.2m) from the atrium’s gold-leaf ceiling onto 18 of the gold cymbals. The droplets fall through 1inch / 25mm diameter openings in the lobby’s atrium ceiling, and create a natural rhythm as they make contact with the cymbals below. The cymbals create a distinct timbre as they are struck by the falling water droplets, which the artist compares to the sound of water falling on leaves.

Crystal developed the gravity-fed water controls that create bigger, natural droplets.  Part of the test workshop run in Toronto studied the size and formation of water droplets as they hit cymbals below, from a height of approximately 60ft. “It sounds like a simple idea, and in fact it looks simple, but to generate the right sound at the time intervals dictated by Plensa, was challenging,” says Mikula.

Jo Schneider

Jo Schneider creates sculpture, public art and architecture. She is renowned for creating environments that are striking, engaging and memorable. She has a Masters of Architecture degree from UCLA Graduate School of Architecture, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from SUNY College of Ceramics, Alfred University.

Duff worked closely with Jo Schneider on Macy’s Court in Plaza Las Americas, Puerto Rico, where a giant kinetic sculpture slowly revolves as if buffeted by winds, evoking the historic sails of the galleons in which Christopher Columbus navigated. The project was part of a renovation and expansion of Plaza Las Americas, with artistic elements aiming to recreate the island as it was in 1493 when Christopher Columbus discovered it.

In front of Macy’s Court, on the first level, the fountain is filled with Schneider’s sculptures of the Island’s marine life. A manatee, a turtle and various fish, share the waters in an artistic vision of the wonders of the sea. Even though some of these depicted species are endangered, the idea is they will swim forever here.

Duff says he and Schneider created the concept together, with Crystal providing the water effects to compliment the sculptures, and a motor to operate the manatee’s flippers. “Crystal was present for all crucial parts of the project’s installation, ready to make any necessary adjustments,” he explains.

So what for the future? Both Duff and Mikula agree that technology such as submersible LED Lights, new water jets with endless choreographed possibilities will drive the work artists create with water. Duff cites Digital Rain Curtains, which fashion specially created shapes, colours and pictures with water and LED Lights, as well as jets and lights that enable water to dance to music. These effects can now even be created on a ‘smart’ level with the public being able to control fountains with devices such as Apple’s iPad.

‘Waste Not’ installation by Song Dong at Carriageworks

Guest Contributors – Vin and Priyanka Rathod

From 3 ‘R’s of sustainable principles – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle – ‘Reuse’ has most power of creating innovative and refreshing objects, that also have an embedded cultural value. Like inheritance from our ancestors, the reused objects have a story, making them very special, unlike mass produced things we buy everyday. This is why the installation Waste Not by artist Song Dong is one of its kind. And the fact that it has been housed under Carriageworks - a Waste Not, modern cultural space created by reusing the old Eveleigh rail yard in Sydney – makes it extraordinarily unique.

Waste Not is translated from Wu jin qi yong: anything that can somehow be of use, should be used as much as possible.

From paper bags to leather bags, bowls to bottles, bird cages and empty boxes, Waste Not is a massive collection by the artist’s mother, either out of fear of shortage or to reuse them as something else or because it reminded her of her deceased husband. The art compelled all visitors to feel the daily life of a whole generation of Chinese people, and question the everyday waste we generate today.

Televisions, record players and radios … the collection had it all. We overheard a visitor telling her friend “Doesn’t that bring back memories?!”

Presence of a home in the centre as a main focal point of the display, enhances the domestic nature of the collection, and ties it all together. The efforts of assembling, disassembling and transporting the house, over and above all the collected items, is well worth it.

Carriageworks, as a reused space, forms a perfect backdrop for the art installation. A great example of how architecture can add value to art.

Launched during Sydney Festival last month, Waste Not is on display until March 7th at Carriageworks. It is a perfect time to explore Carriageworks if you haven’t done so already.

Images by Vin Rathod, text by Priyanka Rathod.

Vin Rathod is an architect and a photographer. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture from KRVIA, Mumbai and Master of Construction Project Management from UNSW, Sydney. Vin is an Emerging Member of Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) and works in Sydney, Australia. For Vin, each photograph is a design; a design for the subject, be it an art, architecture, city, or a sculpture. He thrives on creativity and imagination and is always developing new ideas. The photographs speak of his vision to see built-form as an artwork. A collection of Vin’s fine art photographs are constantly evolving as seen on his website Through Vin’s Lens

As an architect, Priyanka is very much interested in exploring designs with sustainable initiatives. After completing Bachelors of Architecture from KRVIA, Mumbai University, she did her Master of Architecture with major in Design from UNSW, Sydney. In her professional career, Priyanka has worked on variety of projects – urban and rural; commercial, institutional and healthcare both in India and Australia. Her volunteering initiatives include participation in the event organising team of Archikidz! Sydney 2012 held during Sydney Architecture Festival. Currently, Priyanka lives and works in Sydney enjoying her time between professional work and some personal initiatives including writing for Through Vin’s Lens

Shrinking skyscrapers

Naomi Wilcock, Editorial Assistant at World Architecture News

A new method of demolishing buildings by ‘shrinking’ them from the top down has been pioneered in Tokyo, Japan. Using technology developed by Tokyo-based contractor Taisei Corporation, the method is currently being used to demolish The Akasaka Grand Prince Hotel in Japan in a contract that will last until May 2013.

The process involves a jack-down system, with the roof section of the building gradually lowered while being supported by jacks and an internal crane moving debris and other materials down to the ground floor. “It’s kind of like having a disassembly factory on top of the building and putting a big hat there, and then the building shrinks,” Hideki Ichihara, a construction technology developer for Taisei Corporation, told Japan Times.

Demolishing the 139m-high hotel, which closed in March 2011, floor by floor, the change has been almost imperceptible to many residents nearby. Dispensing with the previous demolition method of using cranes and explosive materials, this process, known as the ‘Taisei Ecological Reproduction’ technique (Tecorep) is reported to be a safer, cleaner and more ecologically sound way of demolishing high-rise buildings.

Video: Razing a skyscraper the ecological way

Other advantages include the reduction in dust and noise production, as using the Tecorep method can reduce dust levels by up to 90 per cent through taking the existing structure apart from the inside. As well as this, the top-down process means the building can be demolished in all weather conditions and the reduction in disturbances to nearby residents means that, with their permission, work can carry on twenty four hours a day.

The second time this Tecorep demolition method has been used, it offers an environmentally-friendly way to raze skyscrapers in densely-populated areas such as Toyko with Taisei Corporation looking to sell the technology abroad in the future. First conceived as an idea in 2008, the technology was deemed to be necessary owing to the limitations of the crane in demolishing buildings of over 100m tall.

With Japan having almost 800 buildings standing at over 100m high and the average lifespan of a building of this size being 30 to 40 years according to Ichihara, Taisei Corporation saw a need to develop a new kind of technology. Japan currently has 104 buildings which are more than 20 years old, so the need for technological development in the area of demolition is seen as paramount.

Ichihara commented: “We thought, is it really possible to safely disassemble buildings over 100m? We thought we needed to research that, which is how Tecorep’s development started.”

The ecological credentials of the technology can also be seen in the energy-producing cranes used to move the debris, as the movement of the cranes creates enough energy to power lights and other equipment. As well as this top-down method, other demolition processes are also being looked at, including the top-up method called the ‘Kajima Cut and Take Down Method’ by Kajima Corporation, which demolishes buildings from the ground floor upwards.

Architecture’s Future

David Benjamin of the Living. AIA NY New Practices New York 2012

Practice makes perfect as they say.  But for those starting out in architecture,  practice isn’t so much about perfection as it is about transformative ideas.  That was the message of the young architects premiated in this year’s AIA NY’s New Practices New York progamme, which recognizes emerging talent and, in doing so, gives us all a lot to think about with regards the practice of architecture in the future.

Courtesy Dan Fox AIA NY

Last week at Axor’s New York headquarters in the Meatpacking District, the last in the series of talks from this year’s NPNY winners was presented to a room packed crowd of architects and interested others.  The speakers were David Benjamin of the Living and Jonathan Lee of Google.  Benjamin presented four projects that illustrated how an individual project might connect to collaborators.  Benjamin, who also teaches at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, is interested in the intersection of new digital technologies and information.  One project he presented, which looks at air quality, engages digital facade technologies to convey real time information about temperature and air quality in a city by district.  Passersby can look at a building facade and determine what the air quality is today, relative to what it was yesterday and whether it has improved or worsened and how their neighborhood fares relative to other neighborhoods.   The project is intended to illustrate the possibilities of digital facades to convey important information to a large group of people that was previously invisible to the human eye.

Benjamin did much the same for water quality with a project that puts sensors deep in the Hudson River that light up in different colors at the surface level, with each color representing a different type and level of pollutant as well as indicating the presence of fish.   It was one interesting and inspiring evening that left us all clamoring for more and Benjamin did not disappoint as he told the crowd about a project he was working on now involving living bacteria and forecast that new building materials, like light weight and flexible concrete, that is sheet thin and stronger than an ox, could be made in a petrie dish in the future.

We got more of same out of the box thinking from Jonathan Lee, the second act of this dynamic duo.  In addition to talking about his collaborations with Benjamin,  Lee briefed us on Google products and what was in the offing.  He spoke to the future of smartphones and other devices saying that digital devices will work more effortlessly in the future so users won’t  have to think so much about what it is they want their devices to do but rather have smarter devices that can anticipate our every move and needs for information.    Lee is currently working on Google Project Glass which you may have seen on You Tube but if you missed it here it is for your viewing pleasure.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9c6W4CCU9M4.

Kudos to AIANY and the Center for Architecture for the good work it does bringing inspiring and thoughtful voices like Benjamin and the six others honoured in the NPNY programme into public view.