News Highlights of the Week: December 15 – December 21, 2007

December 21, 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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Columbia University’s proposal for rezoning portions of Manhattanville received a green light from the New York City Council this week, allowing the school to move forward with developing a controversial campus expansion designed by Renzo Piano and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. As RECORD has reported, the council’s approval seemed likely in November after the city’s planning department recommended a modified plan that gives Columbia most of what it wants—a 17-acre campus of glass-walled classroom buildings—but also grants concessions to the community, including a lowering of the building heights in some areas and ensuring that public spaces are constructed first. Although Columbia is leaving open the option that it might seek eminent domain to clear the land of commercial properties, The New York Times reported on December 20 that the largest landowner, Nicholas Sprayregen, is negotiating a sale with the school. Eminent domain is the main sore point for opponents of Columbia’s plan, but many community members also fear that the new campus could eventually lead to a loss of affordable housing in the neighborhood.

Rafael Viñoly tops the list of architects tapped for rehabilitating the Stanford Medical Center, in Palo Alto, California—a project that could total $1 billion to $2 billion, according to a December 18 article in the East Bay Business Times. Also on the team are Kohn Pedersen Fox; Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA); and the southern California firm Lee, Burkhart, Liu (LLL). The medical complex includes the Stanford Hospital, a 1959-vintage facility onto which Viñoly and LLL will add 700,000 square feet of new space in addition to demolishing and redeveloping 700,000 square feet of existing space. KPF and HGA, meanwhile, will design a 425,000-square-foot addition to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Pending approvals from the city, construction could begin in 2010.

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Moshe Safdie has walked away from a “once-in-a-lifetime” commission, Canada’s Globe and Mail reported on December 15—but it appears the job, to design a $1.6 billion master plan for rebuilding the McGill University Health Centre, isn’t worth the trouble. The commission involved overseeing the rehabilitation of McGill’s aging hospital complex in Montreal, both its internal infrastructure and the way that it is integrated into the urban fabric. But the Boston-based Safdie, as Montreal’s Gazette reported on December 5, quit because he was concerned that the government is running the project as public-private partnership (PPP). “The objective of the private developer, in order to win this project, is to produce the cheapest possible solution,” he told the Gazette. “I’m deeply concerned that there would be compromise. My experience is that the PPP process ... is not going to lead either to innovation or anything outside the box, other than the minimal interpretation of the written specifications.” It’s a sentiment that the Globe and Mail seems to share: “Safdie stood up for the profession of architecture the other day, and, for having the guts, he needs to be thanked.”

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