January 5, 2007
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Courtesy Rutgers and Ten Arquitectos.
Enrique Norten, Hon. FAIA, is rolling on the river. In back-to-back competition wins last month, the Mexican architect has made inspired proposals for the waterfront: On December 13 he was chosen to help lead the reinvigoration of Rutgers University’s historic campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in a project that focuses on linking the school to the banks of the nearby Raritan River. Eight days later Norten learned that he would master-plan a stretch of the Mississippi River in New Orleans.
The Rutgers competition, first launched in 2005, was relaunched in September after a university budget crisis last spring. The competition called for improving the campus’s public spaces surrounding the river and improving connections around College Avenue, a major route developed on the original campus. It also called for a “signature academic building” to draw more students and attention.
Norten’s plans, co-led by Philadelphia-based Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT), include a landscaped mall that will run perpendicular to College Avenue and culminate in landscaping that will rise above and over Route 18, which now separates the campus from the river. “The river is the area’s biggest asset, but it was never taken care of,” says Norten, who likens the planted bridge to a “folding carpet.”
The “signature” classroom building was to be sited near the New Brunswick train station, but Norten’s design moves it toward the Raritan. Although the building’s future is not yet certain, an early plan presented a 16-story glass and steel cylindrical tower. Its double skin would be planted with vegetation in between, says Norten. Norten also says plans are in the works for a new student dormitory in the area.
Rutgers has committed $15 million to the first phase of the project, which focuses on improving public spaces near College Avenue and developing the master plan for the area. Planning for the entire project is expected to begin in January, and groundbreaking is set for summer. Other members of Norten’s team include New York–based preservation specialists Pasanella + Klein Stolzman + Berg, engineering firm Arup, and New Jersey–based Green Shield Ecology, which specializes in landscape restoration.
For the New Orleans project, the architect collaborated with Chan Krieger Sieniewicz urban designers, landscape firm Hargreaves Associates, and architects Eskew+Dumez+Ripple. The development zone includes a largely derelict 4.5-mile stretch of the north bank of the Mississippi River between Jackson Avenue and the Industrial Canal, now dotted mostly with wharves and port facilities. The New Orleans Building Corporation, which is developing the area, is calling for new commercial, residential, cultural, park, and transportation uses for the area, and for maintaining cruise and cargo operations. The team will help determine detailed functions, and should also help determine guidelines for building scale and placement, lighting, and landscape, says Building Corporation executive director Sean Cummings.
“I think a little bit of everything should be there, to make it a real energized part of the city,” says Norten. The designers’ scheme should be ready in about six months. (Cummings adds that it is too early to tell if there will be future competitions to build specific projects in the area.)
“American riverfronts have been neglected for so long, and now they realize they have some huge opportunities,” Norten says of both projects.