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News Highlights of the Week: July 14 – July 20, 2007

July 20, 2007

by James Murdock

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

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“Confrontational and controversial” architecture is what Gehry Partners’ Edwin Chan hoped to find among the five designs unveiled this week for the new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Michigan, according to a July 18 article in City Pulse. With an avant-garde roster of finalists, it’s likely that Chan, one of the university’s eight jurors, got his wish. Coop Himme(l)blau proposed a building that breaks down the elitism of art museums, while Zaha Hadid Architects designed a rhomboid structure that lacks right angles, representatives from these firms told WILX television. Kohn Pedersen Fox’s William Pedersen celebrated the role of the outdoors in the university’s history, while Thom Mayne and Randall Stout both sought to increase connectivity between the new museum and the campus. Construction on the winning design is expected to begin in 2008 and finish by 2010.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is planning to spend $2.7 billion on the repair and construction of Louisiana’s public infrastructure, only a fraction of these funds have so far been released “because of the program’s inherent complexity and because of a failure of local officials to master the bureaucratic labyrinth,” The Times-Picayune wrote on July 15. FEMA had approved $2.1 billion for “permanent” public works projects as of June 28, but state agencies, which must front the money to applicants before receiving reimbursement from FEMA, had released only $532 million. State officials contend that FEMA’s paperwork requirements have slowed their ability to release money for rebuilding everything from schools to sewage systems.

Things are looking up for the Pierce-Arrow plant in Buffalo, designed by the great industrial architect Albert Kahn in 1906. The development firm United Group has hired Jenson Stark Architects to prepare plans for a $100 million transformation of the 1-million-square-foot factory into affordable housing for college students, shops, and a hotel. Although the building is currently occupied by a range of small businesses, developers have been eyeing the aging property for redevelopment since 2001; pending approvals, United Group could begin construction later this year.

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When it comes to the size of their houses, Los Angelinos are increasingly realizing that “bigger isn’t always better,” Michael Ross, FAIA, design committee chairman of the AIA Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times on July 19. This realization could drive a nail in the McMansion’s coffin, except that not everyone agrees. Although the Los Angeles Planning Commission passed an ordinance last month that would limit the size of infill housing—which could affect as many as 300,000 properties—the City Council, whose blessing is needed for regulation to become binding, is leaning against approving it. The debate turned ugly, with accusations of anti-Semitism, but the council now proposes to conduct an opinion poll to see what the public wants.

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