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News Highlights of the Week: March 1 – March 7, 2008

March 7, 2008

By James Murdock

Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický, whose British office Future Systems won the design competition for a new National Library in Prague, is threatening to pull out of the project, according to a March 4 article in the Prague Daily Monitor. Chosen in March 2007, Kaplicky’s scheme for the $183.5 million project has earned the evocative monikers “the blob” and “the octopus.” It calls for a bulbous, gold-tinted volume with round windows to rise in a neighborhood of more traditional, older buildings—a funky look that some observers think is too funky. Prague’s mayor, who initially appeared to endorse the project, feels that Kaplický’s building is “too bold for its historical downtown location.” After the mayor withheld planning permission for the project, a special commission met to determine the building’s fate. It was due to release recommendations last week but postponed making a decision, calling for more time to evaluate legal matters. The Monitor wrote that Kaplický’s response was “to threaten to the city of Prague at an international court and abandon the project altogether if no decision is reached within a month. … He’s deeply disappointed and that Prague is setting itself up for ‘incredible embarrassment’ if the library project ends up being scrapped.”

Four teams of developers and architects have unveiled different visions for redeveloping a 16-acre waterfront site in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on March 2. The groups are Hargreaves Associates, Beyer Blinder & Belle, and SMWM; C.Y. Lee Architects and Patri Merker Architects; WRT/Solomon E.T.C.; and a team including Jon Worden, Jim Jennings, Stanley Saitowitz, Peter Pfau, and David Meckel. Once the industrial “rump end” of downtown, wrote the Chronicle’s design critic John King, Mission Bay is in the midst of a healthcare and residential building transformation catalyzed by the arrival of a University of California San Francisco campus and a new stadium for the Giants. The city’s port agency, which currently owns the 16-acre site, sought proposals last fall for the creation of a mixed-use neighborhood to center on “a major new public open space at the water’s edge.” The four teams responded in kind—with schemes that combine office, retail, and residential space—although King best likes the one put forth by the Giants, which assembled the Hargreaves-led team. He wrote “the new landscape would be shaped to include a walkway that slides out above the rocky shoreline of McCovey Cove, and an inland lawn spacious enough for 10,000 people. At a different bayside location this would be an empty gesture, but here it works: few sites offer such a bracing juxtaposition of city and nature.” The city’s Port Commission will narrow its choices in April.


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“Too many architecture students can’t write”—that dirty little secret exposed by independent scholar Norman Weinstein, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s special March 7 architecture issue. “The sloppy public confusion surrounding words like ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ is evidence of a deeper problem,” Weinstein contends. “In an architectural culture as image-saturated as ours, it isn’t surprising that architecture students can’t find words as satisfying as pointing to models or conjuring images on their computers. ... One computer-composed image is not worth a thousand words to a nonarchitect.” Unsurprisingly, given the article’s context, Weinstein advocates solving the problem with better education: “What about having students critique a star architect’s book containing never-realized buildings, and consider whether the author’s writing actually impeded possible construction?” He also makes a plug for former RECORD editor-in-chief Stephen A. Kliment’s book Writing for Design Professionals.

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