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USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Not Welcome in the NYC

There is a reason that Mr. Gehry always seems to get run out of town whenever he builds in the Big Apple. 8 Spruce Street, the latest work by American Architect and USC alum Frank Gehry, is touted as a skyline success and labeled a turning point in the ‘transition from the modern to the digital age.’ Nicolai Ouroussoff’s ‘Downtown Skyscraper for the Digital Age’ Architecture Review article in the February 09, 2011 edition of the New York Times Art & Design section makes the particularly audacious claim that the building is the ‘finest skyscraper to rise in New York City since Eero Saarinen’s CBS building’ and even more boldly claims that the building marks the birth of the digital era as Philip Johnson’s AT&T building did at the dawn of modernism.

Unfortunately, I believe the project falls short of those boastful claims.

Mr. Ouroussoff needs to reanalyze the building as apart of the dense urban environment of New York City. I fear that the Times writer is still constantly obsessed with the makeup of a particular building rather than its operation and performance within the urban construct. There is so much said in the article praising Mr. Gehry for contrasting beautifully with the terrible commercial drones that poison its context. There needs to be more discussion on how the architect missed a genuinely precious opportunity to pay homage to Tschumi and inject some cross-programming magic into this rather mundane Manhattan high-rise. Mr. Ouroussoff mentions a minimum of three user groups and programs that will occupy the building: residential, educational, and medical. Herein lies a fantastic mix of different users groups under one building skin and yet no program is altered to coerce the three to interact.

Unfortunately, the access points and circulation paths never come together so that at some juncture the user groups could mix. There is a precedent for a similar strategy that SOM utilized with their Tokyo Midtown Project by creating a collection of various programs and organizing them so various user groups could interact and utilize the space to its full potential. For those of you not familiar with the project, SOM organized, in one particular tower, a variety of different programs-from offices, a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a hospital, post office, and a kindergarten-in order to achieve an efficient flow from the bottom of the building to the top. What can also be appreciated are the unique interactions that occur from different program users at interaction points. This aspect was completely lost in the Spruce Street project.  The author continues on to say that this “is architecture that convey[s] the infinite variety of urban life.” Urban life is about the interactions of an assortment of peoples, places, ways of life, beliefs, etc. There is very little urban life in the Spruce Street building. It is simply another skyscraper on the Manhattan skyline that does not seem interested in entertaining an intelligent urban strategy.

The city on a macro-level is an ecology of different inhabitants who all live, work, and interact together on a daily basis. Why not create a microcosm of this in a multi-programmed skyscraper, challenging the traditional notions of what a skyscraper is and how it functions?  Philip Johnson’s AT&T building challenged the then-assumptions of what a skyscraper was, why not do the same in a different era? The fact that you could plug this building into any other context only makes the architectural and urbanistic situation worse.

Instead of a sound urban approach, the aesthetic features of the building have become the unnecessary focal point of discussion for this project. The age of the decorated shed is dead as well as Deconstructivism. Architecture can no longer be content with merely providing visual pornography for a public whose tastes have evolved considerably since the dawn of the printing press. The author does make the correct point that the new era of architecture shares an involvement with technology, but where is that seen or discussed on the building? All that is written about is how great the building looks on the skyline and how great the shifting surfaces ‘attack the kind of corporate standardization that is so evident in the buildings to the south and the conformity that it embodie[s].’ There is no contextual response other than the fact that maybe the reflections of the surrounding buildings could be seen on the buildings façade. So even if Mr. Gehry is carrying out an homage to a Mies van der Rohe project, he is still practicing an outdated form of architecture and urbanism.

As for the author, as a student of architecture, it disappoints me to read an article praising a piece of architecture lacking in the essential urbanistic ingredients that are not suggested, but required in the 21st century. You are writing about an outdated form of architecture that has run its course and is not helping the cause of discovering and embracing new forms of architecture that are more about the programmatic interactions of its users than the façade material details.

-Christopher Glenn

Filed under: 8 Spruce St., Architecture, architecture review, AT&T building, cross programming, Downtown Athletic Club, ecology, Frank Gehry, Manhattan, Mies van der Rohe, New York City, New York Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff, Philip Johnson, Program, Rem Koolhaas, skyscraper, SOM, Tokyo Midtown, Uncategorized, Urbanism, ,

Micro City in a Macro Metropolis

Tokyo is a city of extreme density, which forces architects to not only consider the x and y plane for circulation, rather they are forced to realize the complexity of the circulation layers found within the city. This has led to atypical design moves that form a more adaptive building typology. The understanding of the base of the building, and I will use the term base for it is not as simple as the ground floor/ bottom, is predominantly given to the public to interact with the urban. By doing so the typological lobby of buildings have been replaced with multi-layered pedestrian streets and mini plazas that have successful businesses and life weaved throughout the spaces. These bases actively engage the many layers of Tokyo’s infrastructure including subways, street fronts, and above ground rail lines.

By stepping back and looking at the larger urban plan, one can start to understand this complex network of bases plugging into the city grid. Each of these bases creating connections in the x, y, and z plane. Series of connections are what allow Tokyo to successfully delaminate their ground plane, which requires the architecture to adapt to its surrounding context.

With all of the above-considered one can start to analyze the urban conditions as a woven fabric. The entire city is connected by built environment. This uniformity typically consists of many small objects being brought together by the series of connections. In most cities circulation is dictated by automobile circulation and these connections typically represent an organizational grid. The voids created with the street grid are divided into separate properties allowing for many smaller objects to occupy the single void. Another way of looking at urban manipulation is creating larger objects that embody smaller programs. This method in some ways looks at creating a micro city coexisting within the larger metropolis.

One example of this methodology is the midtown development in Tokyo. By acquiring multiple properties, SOM (Skidmore Owings & Merrill) was able to demo a larger area of land to replace with a micro city. This urban strategy looks at a hybrid program solution, which incorporates retail, business, residential, hospitality, food, art, and transportation in one complex. The diversity of the program required specific attention to adjacencies and circulation to public and private spaces. Midtown’s solution was to create a complex base plug-in that addresses the complex public domain, and allowing three individual towers to rise out of the base to better support private spaces.

The base system for Tokyo Midtown is focused around a public plaza, which is the predominant driving force for the organization of the different programs. The outdoor plaza provides easy pedestrian access to the major program components from the street level, while providing a core to organize the many pieces. Although the plaza is pulled away from the main street the diversity of programs feeding off of it provide enough foot traffic to keep the space lively throughout the day. Off of the plaza are several lobbies that feed to the towers. These lobbies create thresholds that restrict circulation into the more private spaces. In the Ritz Carlton the ground lobby is predominantly used for vertical circulation, which opens to grand lobby on the 45th floor. Other means of linking the different programs together is a series of underground halls that have been scaled to act as pedestrian streets below street level. These streets are primarily driven by subway transportation, and are lined with street vendor style food and general shops.

On one end of the project the galleria anchors two of the towers, and allows the public to engage with the complex in the z-axis. This sectional manipulation provides more hierarchy and exclusivity to the shops that occupy the space above, giving visitors a more intimate relationship by simply pulling the shops off of the “street level”.

Car transportation for the complex is underplayed, and more geared for the wealthier clientele. Side streets provide access to the complex and are predominantly used by the Ritz-Carlton and private residences. This environment follows through to the garage where it is broken up into several small lobbies for valet service for each program component.

The green space is wrapped around the other side of the complex creating public walkways. Setting it off to the side and creating few circulation connections from the main complex, allows the space to maintain a semi private feel creating an oasis in the larger urban context. Towards the back of the complex is an expansive green space that allows for larger events and crowds to enjoy the open sky.

Delaminating the circulation paths in combination with clustering different programmatic elements together helps create a series of diverse sectional environments. The complex has many qualities of a larger ecosystem, which mocks the urban lifestyle. Most of these conditions are represented in the base of the project, which acts as a larger base that plugs into Tokyo’s urban fabric. This different urban strategy so far has proven to be successful, and has been a model for other urban developments including LA Live in Los Angels and The City Center in Las Vegas. With the lack of transportation networks in The United States it will be interesting to see if the complexes maintain their popularity and vitality. In contrast, Midtown has the advantage of plugging into a larger system that has been prevalent in Tokyo for quite some time. The different developments share similar programmatic overlaps, but I would argue that Midtown’s success is largely in part of it’s well thought out arrangement of public spaces and it’s connections to it’s surrounding contexts. When a development successfully connects urban infrastructure and its surrounding context the single project becomes a piece of the collective metropolis.

Ross Renjilian

Filed under: AAU, Architecture, City, Fabric, Metropois, Micro, Midtown, Renjilian, Ross, SOM, Tokyo, Uncategorized, Urban, ,

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Director:
Andrew Liang
Instructors:
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Students:
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu