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News Highlights of the Week: February 9 – February 15, 2008

February 15, 2008

By James Murdock

Despite rising construction estimates and at least a $1 billion funding gap, New York governor Eliot Spitzer remains committed to remaking Penn Station. At a press conference this week, The New York Sun wrote on February 13, he said that “‘real progress’ was being made in the planned overhaul”—and that the project would avoid the fate of the Javits Center expansion, a Richard Rogers design that was drastically scaled back last month. As RECORD has reported, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Foster + Partners, and Kohn Pedersen Fox have been engaged to redesign the existing subterranean rail station in Midtown Manhattan and supplement it with a new hub, dubbed Moynihan Station, inside the Farley Post Office across the street; the postal building would also become home to a new Madison Square Garden arena. According to a February 12 article in the New York Post, the state has commitments for half of the $2.3 billion needed for overhauling the current station; the Farley Post Office portion could cost an additional $900 million and the total price tag is triple that of estimates made in 2006. Patrick Foyle, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the project, said earlier this week that the state will seek “more funding from the developers, the Related Companies and Vornado Realty Trust, along with more city, state, and federal funds,” the Sun reported.


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conceptual scheme for potential new Moynihan Station

Image courtesy Empire State Development Corporation

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s conceptual scheme for what the new Moynihan Station might look like when it is built inside the Farley Post Office building.

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Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects’ Buckhead branch of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System, opened in 1989, could face the wrecking ball—despite being recognized as one of Atlanta’s “most important buildings of the last quarter-century” by architectural historians including Robert Craig, of Georgia Tech, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on February 11. Developer Ben Carter has offered the county $24 million for the two-acre library site; he proposes to demolish the low-rise building, which occupies the center of the site, and erect a mixed-use tower in its place. The deconstructivist library is a regular stop for architecture students and archi-tourists visiting Atlanta. The paper noted that it was lauded in 1993 by the American Institute of Architects, which wrote that “the dramatic geometry of the canopied entry creates an aura of excitement not typically associated with a library and draws the visitor inside to the quiet spaces.” But not everyone shares this admiration. “That library, to my way of thinking, was an abortion the day it was dedicated,” Fulton County commissioner Tom Lowe told the newspaper. “I am a lover of art. I can even stand abstract art. But God darn, who in the world would build something like that? There ain’t no damn artistic value to that library.” Businessman Charles Loudermilk added “I see it from my window. I think it’s ugly. I like brick and limestone, stuff that looks like quality.” If the county takes Carter up on his offer, the paper noted, it would be the second Atlanta building by Scogin and Elam to be destroyed (the first was a 1980s conference center for Emory University). Scogin, for his part, said that he found the most troubling aspect of Carter’s proposal to be the redistribution of public property: “To turn it over to private enterprise to decide on its fate I think is hugely disappointing. It’s sort of contrary to basic principles of democracy and how the public is allowed to enjoy the kind of product its government creates. The client is no longer the public. The client is private industry. It’s the developer.”

Jean Nouvel’s design for a 45-story condominium tower in the Los Angeles suburb of Century City, unveiled last week, is being hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “an ode to architecture’s Modernist heroes” and “a sign of things to come.” Writing on February 9, the paper’s architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne mused that the glass-clad tower’s profile—it will be 600 feet tall, 325 feet wide, and 50 feet deep—recalls that of the United Nations headquarters, designed by an all-star architectural team including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Wallace K. Harrison. But the slender dimensions of Nouvel’s building hold the key to its sustainable edge. Hawthorne noted that they “allow sunlight to reach deep into each unit, so residents can keep their lights off during most of the day. Those dimensions may also allow natural ventilation, lowering air-conditioning use.” Other green features include a lush 1-acre garden at the foot of the tower, designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios, as well as a system of sky gardens: “additional landscaping—using a special hydroponic system to avoid cluttering the tower's streamlined shape with planters or dirt—will be added by the design team to terraces on each floor. Units will also have private gardens.” If the actual building is as attractive as the conceptual renderings, Hawthorne added, Nouvel will succeed in scoring “a curious coup: a machine for living with a verdant, Southern California twist.”

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