News Highlights of the Week: December 29, 2007 – January 4, 2008

January 4, 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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Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) has unveiled its concept for what could be the world’s most sustainable office building in the Parisian suburb of Gennevilliers, according to a December 29 article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Branded as “Energy Plus,” the 753,000-square-foot, low-rise complex can accommodate up to 5,000 occupants and will “produce enough of its own electricity to power all the heating, lighting, and air conditioning required by tenants. It will also generate carbon credits which it hopes to trade for money in the future.” Phovoltaic panels will power the building while “cutting edge” insulation will reduce the demand for electricity to just 16 kilowatts per square meter, compared to the 80 to 250 kilowatts per square meter average for similarly sized buildings. Construction will cost 25 to 30 percent more than for typical buildings but the project will receive government incentives and assistance from former president Bill Clinton’s Clinton Global Initiative. SOM developed the Energy Plus concept with help from the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Arson is suspected in a fire that damaged portions of architect J.H. Morgan’s former house in Tokyo this week, according to a January 3 article in Japan’s Mainichi Daily News. This is the second fire to hit the 1931 residence, known as the Old Morgan House, in less than a year; repairs were underway following a fire in May whose cause was also thought to be arson. Morgan, who designed the famed Beaux Arts Hippodrome theater in Manhattan, opened in 1905, moved to Japan in 1919 to work on Tokyo’s Marunouchi Building and the Nihon Yusen Building, among other projects. The fire in May gutted most of his house, which had been scheduled to open to the public for tours, while this week’s blaze destroyed an extension of the main building and an annex.

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The city of Roanoke, in western Virginia, is hoping that a controversial new art museum designed by Randall Stout will generate a Bilbao Effect, The New York Times reported on December 29. Stout, a protégé of Frank Gehry, has designed an angular building—formed of zinc, glass, and steel—that he believes reflects “Appalachia’s undulating hills, cascading waterfalls and linear rail lines.” But local observers unfavorably describe it as the “‘wreck of the Flying Nun’ or the crash of a flying saucer.” For its part, the city hopes that the avant garde design will attract tourists and spur additional investment in an area that is trying to transform its economy from manufacturing and railroads to professional services. It began planning the $66 million, 82,000-square-foot building in 1999 to replace a smaller museum that specializes in 19th and 20th century American art. Construction is scheduled to finish in November.

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