News Highlights of the Week: June 14 – June 20, 2008

June 20, 2008

By Jenna M. McKnight

On Tuesday, a school board in Sarasota, Florida, voted to raze the Paul Rudolph-designed Riverview High School to make way for a parking lot. The narrow 3-2 vote ended a two-year long battle to save the structure, which opened in 1958, reported the Herald-Tribune newspaper. Preservationists were trying to raise money to convert the building into a community music center, a project anticipated to cost $15 to $20 million. As of this week, pledges totaled a mere $100,000, according to an article in The Architect’s Newspaper. "The time to show me the money was today,” said board member Shirley Brown during Tuesday’s meeting. “I’m sorry.”  In 2006, the district announced its plans to demolish the building—regarded as a prime example of Sarasota Modern, a regional post-war architectural style—and to build a parking lot in its place. The district also is constructing a new $135-million school on the 42-acre campus.

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Walter A. Netsch Jr., FAIA, a former partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, died on Sunday at the age of 88. The prominent Chicago-based architect began his career at L. Morgan Yost in Kenilworth, Illinois, and in 1947, took at job at SOM, where he concentrated on institutional projects. Netsch was the lead designer of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and its distinctive Cadet Chapel, named a National Historic Landmark in 2004. He also designed the University of Illinois Circle Campus, where his “buildings and urban spaces proved difficult to use and were vilified or even destroyed,” wrote Blair Kamin in his Chicago-Tribune blog. Netsch’s work often strayed from the boxy forms popular in the mid 20th-century; many scholars now regard his style as a precursor to the sculptural work by Frank Gehry and other contemporary architects. Look for future coverage in RECORD’s news section.

Architects certainly aren’t immune to the slumping economy. Billings for nonresidential construction were down again in May, according to an article in BusinessWeek. The architects’ billings index (ABI) produced by the American Institute of Architects dropped to 43.4 points last month—down more than 10 points over May 2007’s score of 55.4. (A score below 50 indicates a decrease in billings.) "With the exception of the institutional sector—projects like government buildings, schools and hospitals—we've seen a dramatic contraction in design activity in recent months," AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a statement. There is good news: billings have risen since March 2008, which saw the lowest score (39.7) in the ABI’s 13-year history.


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