Open-Minded Emerging Firms Don't Discriminate When it Comes to Work

Event: Architectural League Emerging Voices Series
Location: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 03.28.08
Speakers: Hagy Belzberg, AIA — Principal, Belzberg Architects (Santa Monica, CA); Michael Meredith, Hillary Sample — Principals, MOS (New Haven, CT, and Boston, MA)
Organizer: The Architectural League of New York

Ahmanson Founders Room

Belzberg Architects’ Ahmanson Founders Room.

Benny Chan, Fotoworks, courtesy Belzberg Architects

Whether through its work, a focus on a certain building type, or a philosophy about finding design solutions, every firm aims to make its name emerge amidst contemporaries. Regardless of intention, an architect’s client base also plays a role in crafting that image. Projects are “an example of how client influence affects a firm,” according to Hagy Belzberg, AIA, principal of Belzberg Architects. Both Belzberg Architects and MOS Architects carry a portfolio of work that they attribute to a wide variety of clients.

With patrons ranging from Target Corporation to Belzberg himself, Belzberg Architects’ projects don’t fit into just one category. At the Conga Club, a Latin-themed restaurant and dance club in Los Angeles, an array of faceted panels and LED lights were introduced inspired by the patterns found in the establishment’s artwork. The ceiling defines the space that expands or contracts in scale responding to the density of occupants in a variety of overlapping programs. For the Los Angeles Music Center, the Ahmanson Founders Room for the center’s V.I.P.’s is located in a parking garage. Using scripting and CNC modeling techniques, walls of backlit, perforated metal panels transformed a windowless room with spatial dividers and furniture milled into wave patterns inspired by theatrical curtains.

For professors Michael Meredith and Hillary Sample, partners of MOS, every design opportunity should be tested. “We built a practice out of marginal projects,” Meredith said. For a temporary puppet show theater located beneath Le Corbusier’s Carpenter Center in Boston, white triangular plastic panels create a reflective surface in the interior for miniature performances, while the hollows of the structure on the exterior incorporates planted moss. Total chance — a client dialed a wrong number when calling another firm — was a catalyst for the recently completed Floating House on Lake Huron. The two-story guesthouse plays on vernacular lake residences with cedar plank siding that dissolves into screens to filter daylight into the interior. The structure floats on a metal truss framework and hollow tubes, so the building rises and falls with the tides.

Rising Costs Threaten City’s Cultural Melting Pot

Event: Downtown Third Thursday Lecture Series
Location: Broad Street Ballroom, 01.17.08
Speaker: Pete Hamill — Journalist & Author, Downtown: My Manhattan
Organizer: Downtown Alliance

City Hall - Woolworth

A cross section through NYC reveals diversity in buildings and their inhabitants.

Jessica Sheridan

From the height of the Woolworth Building to the detail of City Hall, each block that breaks the street grid represents centuries of architectural evolution that defined downtown NYC. You can take a similar cross section through its populace, revealing assorted origins that make the city unique. So says author Pete Hamill in Downtown: My Manhattan, where he explores how NYC’s nature is born of it combination of classes, cultures, and lifestyles. But he’s afraid the rising cost of living may put this cultural melting pot at risk.

The local culture in NYC developed “because people who were not like each other came up against and learned from each other,” Hamill stated. Older neighborhoods still reflect the cultural complexity that created them — the varied townhouses of the village, overhead banners in Chinatown, the twisting streets of Little Italy. But even these hallmarks of a rich past face encroachment from a profit-driven archetype.

Hamill spoke fondly of his childhood in Brooklyn, and his first view of the Manhattan skyline; however, when asked what he saw as the city’s greatest current challenge he cited rising cost of living. NYC famously attracts and benefits from those struggling toward insurmountable goals — including artists, writers, and actors. Now they are being out-priced and inhibited from moving to the city because of economics. The true cost of surging high-end residential space could be deeper than simply demolition of aged brick façades, claims Hamill. The result could be a resident population narrow in class and cultural variety.

Rent stabilization and stocks of affordable or market rate housing can help to curb the issue. Hamill is reassured knowing that New Yorkers tend always to fix the city’s cultural problems in the long run. In this case, history will repeat itself, one hopes.

Seven Years or Bust

Event: Pratt Institute President’s Lecture Series
Location: Higgins Hall, Pratt Institute, 11.29.07
Speaker: Edward Mazria, AIA — Founder, Mazria Inc., Architecture Planning Conservation and Founder & Executive Director, Architecture 2030
Organizer: Pratt Institute

NYC 3M-5M

NYC if there is a three-meter (left) or five-meter (right) rise in sea level.

Courtesy architecture2030.org

Edward Mazria, AIA, conveys a frightening reality of a world fueling global warming. He predicts the world’s population has seven years before its discharge of greenhouse gases brings it to a point that scientists consider irreversible. Seven years before the inertia of a rising concentration of carbon dioxide will be beyond our ability to stop catastrophic rises in sea level.

Architecture 2030 — a non-profit organization aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way buildings and developments are planned, designed, and constructed, according to their mission statement — recently released a study showing the incremental rates that sea levels are changing throughout coastal American cities. Cities like Boston, New Orleans, and Miami would be devastated from just one meter of rising waters. Mazria, who is the founder and executive director of the organization, exclaimed, “It astonished us that our government did not do this study before.”

There are two methods to solve the greenhouse gas emission problem in the U.S., according to Mazria. Since burning coal is the single greatest source of carbon dioxide emissions today, a moratorium on coal is necessary to reverse its affect. Also, the nation must begin implementing the “2030 Challenge,” calling for all new buildings to use a maximum of 50% of the energy required by today’s standard by the year 2030.

Mazria is confident that the challenge can be met, but the time to act is now. Santa Barbara, CA, is the first municipality to carve the standard into its building code. Hopefully, more will follow soon.