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News Highlights of the Week: October 13 – October 19, 2007

October 19, 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.

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Polshek Partnership’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center received conditional approval from the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts yesterday. But as The Washington Post reported on October 19, some commissioners expressed concern that the proposed underground visitors and education center on the Mall “might dilute the emotional impact” of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial nearby. Polshek’s design, the paper wrote, “calls for a 34,100-square-foot structure dug two stories into the ground and reached by a 280-foot-long entrance ramp. There would be a sunken courtyard, a facade of dark stone and glass and perhaps a reflecting pool.” The project has already won approval from Congress and the National Capital Planning Commission. It could begin construction in 2010 and finish 18 months later, but backers still face the hurdle of raising the estimated $75 million to $100 million price tag. The center will be built by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and operated by the National Park Service.

The Cira Centre South project in Philadelphia cleared a city council subcommittee on Wednesday and could go before the full council for final approval as early as next week, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on October 18. Located just south of the 30th Street Station, the $800 million scheme includes two towers by Pelli Clarke Pelli, containing office, condo, and hotel space, as well as streetscape regeneration and an urban plan by Sasaki Associates. Pelli also designed the nearby Cira Center, whose chunky glazed volumes provide inspiration for the new buildings. The Inquirer wrote on October 15 that developer Brandywine Realty Trust expects to complete the project’s first element, the conversion of an existing art deco postal facility into offices for the IRS, by 2010 but that it could take much longer to achieve the desired “24/7” activity level worthy of a “city within a city.”

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SMC Group, a London-based firm that grew by leaps and bounds last year and was poised to become the largest design firm in Europe, has had a very bad week. First it was revealed that plans for a merger with London-based Aukett Fitzroy Robinson Group fell through after “the parties could not come to acceptable terms,” The Scotsman wrote on October 13. (According to the firms’ Web sites, SMC employs 655 people in 20 offices through the UK and China—roughly 200 of its staff are architects—while its would-be suitor has 200 people and a significant presence in Eastern Europe.) Then, on October 18, the U.K.’s Building magazine reported that SMC’s highest profile architect, Will Alsop, is looking to “jump ship” from the group, which only just purchased his atelier last year for roughly $3.5 million. “Will is an artist as well as an architect, but the unique nature of what he does frankly hasn’t been monetized yet,” an anonymous source said. And as if that weren’t enough, SMC’s shares slid on the London Stock Exchange after the company’s former chairman Stewart McColl, who was ousted in May, failed in a private equity-fueled bid to buy out the company, the U.K.’s Telegraph reported on October 19. Not surprisingly, perhaps, SMC recently announced pre-tax losses of $9 million during the first half of 2007, compared to $3.6 million in profits for the same period in 2006.

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