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News Highlights of the Week: December 22 – December 28, 2007

December 28, 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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Foster + Partners is designing a skyscraper in Moscow that will contain more floor space than any other building in the world, according to a December 23 article in the UK’s Times newspaper. Dubbed the “Crystal Island,” the 1,500-foot-tall tower will encompass some 29 million square feet in a structure that “spirals downwards from a sharp peak with a glass facade that resembles cut crystal.” The Moscow Times reported on December 28 that Russian Land, headed by real estate mogul Shalva Chigirinsky, is developing the project. The $4 billion complex will rise on the Nagatinskaya peninsula, on the banks of the Moscow River, five miles south of the Krelim. It will house as many as 30,000 people in 900 apartments, 3,000 hotel rooms, a school, a museum, theater, shops, and athletic facilities, the UK's Times reported, as well as a large public space “with platforms 980 feet above the ground giving panoramic views over the city’s skyline.” Declaring himself “excited” by the building, Norman Foster told the UK's Times “it is the first time anyone has tried to combine homes, cultural centers, offices and parkland in one project.” But observers are less sanguine, unfavorably likening the tower’s shape to a Christmas tree. “This building is everything that Moscow is today—confidently thrusting, brash, vulgar,” one man said.

New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has requested “hard evidence of redevelopment plans” from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) before he will allow the agency to continue demolishing two of the city’s largest public housing complexes, The Times-Picayune wrote on December 22. His request came after a hearing by the City Council, which voted unanimously that HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans may proceed with the removal of as many as four complexes totaling 4,500 units. Some had already been slated for demolition before Hurricane Katrina, due to their poor condition, and HUD was planning to replace them with low-density, market-rate and subsidized residences available for purchase. As many as 70 protestors objecting to the loss of affordable housing attempted to enter last week’s Council hearing but were turned back by police using chemical spray and stun guns, the International Herald Tribune reported on December 21. Nagin has asked HUD to provide “documentation of all redevelopment financing plans and ‘verification’ that vouchers promised for displaced public housing families are backed up by federal dollars” by February 28, according to The Times-Picayune. Writing earlier this month for the Bloomberg news service, James S. Russell observed that the 1940s-vintage public housing was “deemed worthy of listing on the National Register of Historic Places” because of its “sturdy construction, sensitivity of design, and quality of materials.”

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A judge in Philadelphia halted the demolition of two historic buildings that were to have been preserved as part of an earlier agreement to expand the city’s convention center, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on December 25. The structures are a neo-classical building that housed the Philadelphia Life Insurance Co. and a 1962 Modernist addition by Romaldo Giurgola; crews had already removed the addition’s stone facade. Both buildings were to have been saved as part of a 2004 deal between Philadelphia’s Historical Commission and its Convention Center Authority but earlier this year they became subject to a dispute over their structural integrity. Another hearing on the matter will be held on January 8; in the meantime, the judge has ordered the Convention Center Authority to “save and preserve” pieces of stone from Giurgola’s building. According to an article this fall by Mid-Atlantic Construction, also published by RECORD’s parent McGraw-Hill, Philadelphia is seeking to add 440,000 square feet onto its convention center—bringing it to a total 1 million square feet—by 2010. Thompson, Ventulett, Stainback & Associates, an architect based in Atlanta, designed the original building and is now working on the expansion.

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