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News Highlights of the Week: June 16 – June 22, 2007

June 22, 2007

by James Murdock

Editor’s note: You may read the news digest below or listen to it, plus other news headlines from ArchitecturalRecord.com, as a podcast by clicking this link.

Click the play button to begin | Click here to download

New Orleans still faces a significant risk of flooding, according to an Army Corps of Engineers analysis released this week. While central neighborhoods have benefited from $1 billion in levee improvements since Hurricane Katrina, the study found that the Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly, St. Bernard Parish, and other areas would likely be flooded during a 100-year storm, according to an Associated Press story appearing June 20 on enr.com. The current analysis failed to account for what will happen once levee upgrades are completed in 2011, but it will be periodically updated.

Engineers in Washington, D.C., are studying a potentially soggy situation of their own: parts of the Jefferson Memorial complex, constructed on an artificial mud flat in the Potomac River’s tidal basin, are sinking. While the 32,000-ton memorial building seems to be safe, sections of a sea wall and road around it have settled as much as six inches, the Washington Post reported on June 16. Although “alarming,” this problem is apparently nothing new at the memorial, which was built during the 1930s and 1940s: “engineers have been struggling for decades to keep everything firmed up.”

Marcel Breuer’s Cleveland Trust Tower, a 1971 opus that attracted RECORD’s unofficial Modernist deathwatch in March, won a temporary reprieve last week when the Cleveland Planning Commission refused to approve its demolition. Foes of the dour Brutalist tower are pushing for its replacement with a sustainable office building for the county. “I don’t understand what’s going on and the angst over this building,” deputy county administrator Lee Trotter told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer on June 16. But The New York Times wrote on June 19 that preservationists ironically value the building as an artifact of Breuer’s failed 1970 attempt to plant a nearly identical skyscraper above Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan. The Cleveland planning commission will take up the matter again on June 29.

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Speaking of RECORD’s Modernist deathwatch, add I.M. Pei’s earliest solo effort to the list: the Gulf Oil Building in Atlanta, completed in 1949. The Atlanta Constitutional-Journal reported on June 22 that the unassuming low-rise office block lies in the path of a developer’s plan to construct a 20- to 25-story tower. For the moment, project architects are exploring ways to build above or around the diminutive Pei work—or, at the very least, preserve its facade. “Our goal is to get as much of the building as possible incorporated into the new project,” said David Green, with Lord Aeck & Sargent.

And, last, it’s people who find themselves at a crossroads in Tampa Bay. As we report elsewhere on ArchitecturalRecord.com today, the Tampa Museum of Art has approved Stanley Saitowitz’s design for a building. The first 68,000-square-foot phase is estimated to cost $32.5 million, the St. Petersburg Times reported on June 21, and the museum must raise half this amount through private donations. Belt tightening will also occur during construction, when it will lay off half its 31-person staff. The museum’s interim director would not say if these employees—described as “museum store workers, front desk receptionists, maintenance workers, and curatorial staffers”—will get their jobs back when the new facility opens in 2009.

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