BTA Housing Honorees Address the Future

Reports from the Field by • 06/09

Event: Building Type Awards Symposium: Housing Winners
Location: Center for Architecture, 05.28.09
Speakers: David Hacin, AIA — Principal, Hacin + Associates; Craig Copeland — Senior Associate, Pelli Clarke Pelli; Eric Bunge, AIA — Principal. nARCHITECTS
Moderator: Anthony Schuman — Graduate Program Director, New Jersey School of Architecture at NJ Institute of Technology
Organizers: AIANY; Boston Society of Architects
Sponsors: Benefactor: ABC Imaging; Patrons: Cosentino North America; The Rudin Family; Syska Hennessy Group; Lead Sponsors: Arup; Dagher Engineering; The Durst Organization; HOK; Mancini Duffy; Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects; Sponsors: AKF Group; Building Contractors Association; FXFOWLE Architects; Hopkins Foodservice Specialists; Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti; JFK&M Consulting Group; KI; Langan Engineering & Environmental Services; MechoShade Systems; New York University; Pei Cobb Freed & Partners; Rogers Marvel Architects; Steelcase; Studio Daniel Libeskind; Tishman Realty & Construction; VJ Associates; Weidlinger Associates; Zumtobel Lighting/International Lights

(L-R, top): Museum Residences in Denver by Studio Daniel Libeskind with Davis Partnership Architects; Project Place Gatehouse by Hacin + Associates; (L-R, bottom): FP3/Fort Point Channel by Hacin + Associates; Visionaire by Pelli Clarke Pelli; Switch Building by nARCHITECTS.

Courtesy AIANY

The 2008 expansion of the Design Awards, adding the Building Type Awards (BTAs), a collaborative New York-Boston program, allows a wider and more detailed examination of the state of the art in specific areas (this year, Housing and Health Facilities). The symposium honoring the Housing winners anatomized an array of innovations on different scales, constructed for residents occupying different points on the economic spectrum. In luxury apartments and social-service housing alike, the emphasis fell on what Pelli Clarke Pelli’s Craig Copeland called “sustainability as a marketable quality” — a nearly effortless incorporation of green details into residences that are both graceful and financially viable. Panelists emphasized the concept of architectural activism, narrowing the design gap between market and subsidized forms of housing. Socially and environmentally progressive housing, in the hands of the kind of talent represented here, can give residents an enlivening atmosphere while offering visionary developers a fair and reliable return.

Boston’s Hacin + Associates took home Honor Awards for two entries, the FP3 adaptive-reuse loft condos at Fort Point Channel and the Project Place Gatehouse, a mixed-use halfway house that integrates 14 studio apartments with a restaurant, communal spaces, and the offices for Project Place, a nonprofit organization that transitions the formerly homeless back into employment and stable life. Both these projects merge modern geometries into Boston’s eclectic old building stock. FP3 threads a new structure through two preserved and renovated 1900-vintage buildings, handling the complexity of building on landfill in a seismic zone on a site where fire had destroyed a previous building. Capping all three buildings is an angled, prepatinated-copper-clad penthouse that honors existing cornice lines, view corridors, and even custom brick sizes. The striped brick Gatehouse emphasizes openness, natural light, and connections to the neighborhood, foregrounding its internal functions through external detail. The 14 interior designers engaged to create distinctive spaces have agreed to stay on and maintain them.

Pelli Clarke Pelli’s 250-unit Visionaire is the latest in the firm’s series of green towers in Battery Park City (BPC) for Albanese Development (along with the Solaire and the Verdesian, joining the latter in achieving LEED Platinum). It strikes a nautical profile with its curved and “tuned” curtain wall combining low-emissivity glass and terracotta rain-screening. Copeland pointed out that the amount of amenity-rich housing this building creates on 0.67 acres compares favorably with what suburbia would offer in 100 acres, saving a large spatial footprint and adding 40,000 square feet of headquarters for the BPC Parks Conservancy plus two public garden spaces. Integrated photovoltaics, wind cogeneration, natural gas-powered cooling, and an efficient filtration/humidification/ dehumidification system allow local thermal and air-quality control while drawing relatively little energy: costs run some 40% below those seen in an ordinary code-compliant building.

Eric Bunge, AIA, of nARCHITECTS (whose bespoke spelling hints at “n as a variable”) took some heady risks with the six-story Switch Building, a Merit Award winner on the Lower East Side that has attracted publicity despite a location in the shadow of Bernard Tschumi Architects’ Blue, and an alarmingly accelerated design schedule, including ad hoc revisions responding to changing instructions by the developer. The Switch is the firm’s first ground-up building and its first façade design; it incorporates alternating bay windows and Galvalume cladding panels, echoed by alternating rear balconies that create double-height spaces for light. Beyond the exterior, the innovation offers unique views and lighting subtleties to every apartment. Bunge and colleagues scrupulously “never turned a corner with a detail,” exterior or interior, front or rear, bringing material contrasts to a neighborhood not previously known for orderly, elegant forms.

Studio Daniel Libeskind, winner of a Merit Award for the Museum Residences in Denver, was unable to participate in the panel. The firm’s seven-story luxury complex across the street from the Denver Art Museum provides context and balance for the museum’s famously aggressive geometries, and a detailed presentation on this project would have been a welcome opportunity. An extended discussion segment demonstrated the willingness of both the panelists and their listeners to drill down and consider specifics of function and program: strategies for venting exhaust, double glass skins, mixed-income designs that avoid stigmatizing the most affordable segments — the myriad details that add up to new varieties of urban livability.

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