News Highlights of the Week: August 25 – August 31, 2007

August 31, 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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On the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, August 29, USA Today summed up New Orleans’ ongoing recovery this way: while some neighborhoods “have rebuilt themselves using private funds, insurance money and sheer will,” publicly funded efforts “have moved much more slowly.” The New York Times, in an August 28 article, had a similar view of the city’s architecture: “No grand designs. No inspired vision for the future of New Orleans. There have been only a handful of earnest, grass-roots proposals to preserve what’s left of the historic fabric.” But two recently announced projects might prove the exception. The New Orleans National Jazz Center, designed by Morphosis, is “the most significant work of architecture proposed in the city since the Superdome.” And a six-mile-long park and mixed-use development along the Mississippi, designed by TEN Arquitectos, Hargreaves Associates, and Chan Krieger Sieniewicz, will “undo decades of misguided building on the riverfront.” That is, if these projects are fully realized. Both face significant hurdles, the Times wrote, including the fact that they depend on “government and private interests mobilizing for the public good.” So far, unfortunately, this has yet to happen and “those in charge of the rebuilding efforts have been practicing a form of benign neglect.”

Santiago Calatrava has “expressed interest” in designing a new bridge for I-35W in Minneapolis, the Star Tribune reported on August 28, and the four design-build teams currently vying to rebuild the Mississippi River span have expressed “lukewarm” support for this idea. But if bringing Calatrava or another noted bridge designer such as Christian Menn on board is to happen, which state Department of Transportation officials say is up to the contractors to decide, it better happen soon: the deadline for proposals is mid-September. Not surprisingly, the idea has gained favor among local architecture enthusiasts. “Whatever we do... is going to get international attention,” Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design at the University of Minnesota, told the newspaper. “If you have to hire a bridge designer anyway, why not hire a good one?” But Linda Mack, the paper’s former fulltime design critic, wrote in an August 24 op-ed that hiring a starchitect might be unnecessary since the four design-build teams feature “experienced designers with impressive structures on their resumes.”

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Frank Gehry must be hoping that when it comes to winning public support for a large, basketball-anchored mixed-use development, his second shot at such a project is a slam dunk. Although New Yorkers panned his Nets / Atlantic Yards scheme, which continues to be dogged by legal challenges, Bloomberg reported on August 30 that Gehry is designing a $2 billion development 30 miles south of Salt Lake City in the small town of Lehi, Utah, adjacent to a 10,000-seat arena he’s also designing for the Utah Flash. (This NBA expansion team begins its first season of play in November.) The 85-acre project, developed by team owner Brandt Andersen, will feature a 450-foot-tall hotel tower—Utah’s tallest building—retail shops, residences, and two manmade lakes. Designs are still being finalized for the project, which does not yet appear to have a name, but Andersen told Bloomberg that the architecture will “‘look substantially different’ from anything else Gehry has done.” Groundbreaking is set for 2008 and the arena component could be ready by 2009.

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