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Princeton Zeroes in on Zaero-Polo as Next Dean

Alejandro Zaera-Polo in front of his Yokohama Terminal project in Japan. (Wikipedia and Naoya Fujii/Flickr)

All pointers indicate that the next dean at Princeton University School of Architecture will be Alejandro Zaera-Polo. The last lap of the race to take Stan Allen’s position as dean had narrowed down to three with odds on one of the several female contenders including Sylvia Lavin and Keller Easterling. But when the London-based, Spanish-born architect was called in London on March 18 and asked to fly to Princeton, where he is currently a visiting lecturer, the die seemed cast. Allen and Princeton had not confirmed as of this morning.

Zarea-Polo is best known for his work with his former wife and co-founder, Farshid Moussavi, at Foreign Office Architects particularly for the award-winning Yokohama International Cruise Terminal in Japan and a design and media building for Ravensbourne which was shortlisted for a 2011 RIBA Award. FOA was “demerged” in 2009 and in 2011, he founded Alejandro Zaera Pola Architecture, at the same time that Farshid Moussavi established Farshid Moussavi Architecture (FMA).

The 49-year-old architect has also taught and studied widely. After taking a degree at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Madrid, he also studied with distinctions at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. He worked in Rotterdam for OMA before opening FOA in 2003. He was dean of the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and the first recipient of the Norman R. Foster Visiting Professorship at Yale in 2009.


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US home sales unexpectedly drop 1.6%

The pace of purchased new homes fell to a 313,000 annual pace, the slowest since  October. Though an analyst says there are signs of life in some regions, “we’re  not seeing a broad-based recovery.”

(Bloomberg) – Purchases of new homes in the U.S. unexpectedly fell  in February for a second month, a sign the recovery in the housing market may be  uneven.

Sales dropped 1.6% to a 313,000 annual pace, the slowest since October, from  a 318,000 rate in January that was weaker than previously reported, figures from  the Commerce Department showed Friday in Washington. The median estimate of 78  economists surveyed by Bloomberg News called for 325,000.

Sales of new homes are struggling to gain momentum amid increasing  competition from foreclosures, which are hurting all property values.  Nonetheless, a pickup in hiring, growing incomes and mortgage rates near a  record low are making all houses more affordable, which may help underpin the  market.

“There are signs of life in the market in certain regions, but we’re not  seeing a broad-based recovery,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior U.S. economist at  Bank of America Corp. in New York, who forecast a 310,000 sales pace. “Builders  are still competing with existing inventories. The spring selling season should  show some modest improvement, but it will be limited.”

Economists’ estimates ranged from 310,000 to 350,000. The rate for January  was previously reported at 321,000.

The recent slowdown in demand has pushed up the amount of time it takes to  sell a new house. There were 150,000 new houses on the market at the end of  February, matching the prior month’s record low. The supply of homes at the  current sales rate climbed to 5.8 months’ worth from 5.7 months in January.

Purchases, tabulated when contracts are signed, fell in two of the four U.S.  regions, led by a 7.2% drop in the South. Sales fell 2.4% in the Midwest and  rose 14% in the Northeast and 8% in the West.

The regional breakdown affected prices as demand fell in the South and  Midwest where homes are less expensive and rose in the Northeast and West where  they are costlier.

The median sales price increased 6.2% in February from the same month last  year to $233,700, Friday’s report showed.

New-home sales have lost their ability to forecast the broader market as  demand shifts to previously owned houses. Purchases of existing homes are  calculated when a deal closes about a month or two later. New properties made up  almost 7% of the market last year, down from a high of 15% during the last  decade’s housing boom.

Existing-home purchases eased to a 4.59 million annual rate last month from a  4.63 million pace in January, the National Association of Realtors reported this  week. Even with the decline, January and February sales marked the strongest  start to a year since 2007.

Home foreclosures remain a concern for builders. Filings fell 8% in February,  the smallest year-over-year decrease since October 2010, as lenders began  working through a backlog of seized properties, RealtyTrac Inc. said last week.

“February’s numbers point to a gradually rising foreclosure tide,” Brandon  Moore, RealtyTrac’s CEO, said in the statement. “That should result in more  states posting annual increases in the coming months.”

To hold down borrowing costs like mortgage rates, Federal Reserve policy  makers last week said they will continue to swap $400 billion in short-term  securities with long-term debt to lengthen the average maturity of the central  bank’s holdings, a move dubbed Operation Twist.

The National Association of Realtors’s affordability index climbed to a  record high in January, underpinning demand. That may be why builders are  gaining confidence.

Builders this year have broken ground on homes at the fastest pace since  October to November 2008, according to Commerce Department figures released this  week. Permits for construction climbed to the highest level since 2008, the same  report showed.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo index of builder  confidence in March held at the highest level since June 2007. Sales  expectations climbed for a sixth month, according to the March 19 report.

Ryland Group Inc., which builds homes with an average price of $255,000 in 13  states, said it has a positive outlook for 2012.

“We finished the year on a strong note, entered the year optimistic and still  feel fairly optimistic today,” Larry Nicholson, president and CEO at the  Westlake Village, Calif.-based company, said March 6 at an investor conference. “The good thing about the traffic we are seeing is it’s new traffic. We feel a  lot better than we did a year ago. Hopefully, we can keep this trend up.”

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Real Madrid building $1 billion resort island in the United Arab Emirates

What Real Madrid Resort Island will look like. (Getty)

Have you ever dreamed of a place where the warm sun dries Iker Casillas’ tears before they reach his cheek, the Persian Gulf breeze blows through Xabi Alonso’s beard and Pepe stomps someone to death on the beach? Then welcome to Real Madrid Resort Island — a holiday resort on an artificial island in the United Arab Emirates scheduled to open in January 2015.

From Reuters:
A presentation at the Bernabeu on Thursday showed plans for sports facilities, a marina, luxury hotels and villas, an amusement park, a club museum and a 10,000-seat stadium with one side open to the sea.

“It is a decisive and strategic step that will strengthen our institution in the Middle East and Asia,” said Real president Florentino Perez.

[ Related: Photos of Read Madrid Resort Island ]

The 4.6 million-square-foot venture is in partnership with the government of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah and is expected to attract a million visitors in its first year of operation. But since that’s a whole three years away, Jose Mourinho probably won’t be one of them.

Hopefully Barcelona will build its own island right next to Real Madrid’s, but make it so everything is miniature and inhabited by Ewoks.

Look at the tiny computerized people! I see Ozil! (Getty)

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Corallo House / PAZ Arquitectura

The floor plan is free of columns and the changes in level adapt to the existing topography. Both façades are mostly glass in order to connect the interior to the exterior.

Located on a dense hillside forest in the Santa Rosalía area of Guatemala City, Corallo House integrates the existing forest into the layout of the house. It merges nature into the architectural intervention. The design process began with the aim to preserve the existing trees, in order to have the trees interact with the living space.

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Client does not pay freelance architect and takes credit for design

I work as a freelance architect and designer. In this particular instance, I was victim to the ignorance of an uninformed client. When you’re dealing with intellectual property, such as creating a design, it’s important that the client is knowledgeable and has the capacity to understand what they’re actually paying for: your ideas!

While designing Whitehall, located on 19 Greenwich Ave in New York City, I produced construction drawings, digital renderings, hand sketches, filing drawings for building permits, and material call outs. The built space was written about in Vogue magazine, and they not only left out my name but gave the owners the credit for the work, literally stating that the space was designed by Donal Brophy and Brian McGory.

After using all of my ideas, the clients claimed that they were actually the designers. Confused? I was too. After interrogating them, the response was that they had to deal with a lot of questions from the contractor. Has anyone ever worked with a contractor who doesn’t ask questions? If they’re not asking questions, they probably aren’t doing a great job.

In most cases, the client would typically allow the experienced professional to perform what is called Construction Administration. I technically should have been the one who was answering all of the contractor’s questions on this job and would have if the client hadn’t stated that he was also an “experienced” designer and therefore this role would be unnecessary for me to perform. The client asked me to remove that fee from our contract. I agreed to remove the fee and it was made clear that I would not be performing the CA role on this job. This was all agreed upon prior to beginning the work.

Even though I explained this to the client, he told me to take $3,000 in cash (the contract was for $8,000), off the books, and be done with it. I refused on moral grounds as I had clearly already done all of the work. To then be stiffed on top of that was just adding salt to the wound. As a result of this loss, in addition to having gotten short-changed by another client who claims he’s broke, I’ve been forced to give up my studio space.

“After using all of my ideas, the clients claimed that they were actually the designers.”

Freelancers don’t have a financial buffer like corporations do. We’re typically operating month to month and if you don’t have more than one job lined up, you have no leverage in your negotiations. Having worked in this industry for the past seven years, what I can now advise is that it’s not worth it.

If the terms aren’t to your liking and you don’t find yourself personally attached to the work or to the client, then walk away. Otherwise, you’ll always end up with the short end of the stick.

If you freelance in the New York City area, stay away from Donal Brophy and Whitehall. If you do decide to stop in Whitehall for a drink, tell them it’s on me!

Antonio is a freelance architect and designer.  (The views and opinions in the posting above do not reflect those of Consulting4architects Blog.)

This story was submitted to the Freelancers Union

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Eisenhower Memorial architect says he’s open to design changes in response to family criticism

This image provided by Gehry Partners shows the Eisenhower Memorial Pedestrian Experience. Planners of a memorial honoring Dwight D. Eisenhower respond to criticism that the Frank Gehry design puts too much emphasis on Eisenhower’s rural Kansas roots and not enough on his achievements as a military hero and president. (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Famed architect Frank Gehry says he is open to design changes in a planned Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington to try to answer objections from Ike’s family.

A letter from Gehry was introduced as testimony in a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Susan Eisenhower, the 34th president’s granddaughter, told the panel her family wants the memorial to be redesigned.

A hearing in Congress could pressure memorial planners to make changes. But the panel does not have a direct role in approving the design.

Final approval of Gehry’s concept from a commission that approves architecture in the nation’s capital has been delayed amid ongoing objections from the family. The family wants the project to focus more on Ike’s accomplishments and less on his rural Kansas roots.

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SHoP’n the South Street Seaport

The overview of SHoPs redesign of the Pier 17 at South Street Seaport. (Courtesy SHoP)

Last night,  SHoP‘s Gregg Pasquarelli presented plans  to Community Board 1 for South Street Seaport’s South Street Seaport. Not surprisingly, the reception was positive. The design is a huge departure from the desolate barn-like mall developed by the Rouse Corporation in the 1980s, where to this day nachos and tropical cocktails remain de rigueur. The new owner, the Howard Hughes Corporation, hopes to bring New Yorkers back to one of the most spectacular sites in town, while welcoming tourists and not quarantining them in a thematic trap.

Angelica Trevino and Thorsten Kiefer are SHoP’s project managers. In a telephone interview, Trevino parsed the details…

The new pier will contain four stories of retail with a green roof that would hold two pavilions, one for music and the other for a restaurant, and the entire structure features an exposed steel frame. The landscape, designed by James Corner Field Operations, includes the rooftop, a large deck to the north overlooking the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, and a plaza to the south.

The first two stories of the pier include the ground floor and a mezzanine with two story high glass doors that will slide open vertically. When open, the doors front the glass enclosed second and third stories. Shops on the first two stories set back several feet from the openings. The architects refer to the area as “The Village.”

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Newark Project Aims to Link Living and Learning

Below: Part of the Teachers Village construction site, a project in Newark designed with education in mind.

NEWARK — Work has begun on an education-centered community featuring three charter schools and affordable housing for teachers in the city’s decayed downtown, with much of the design work done by the noted architect Richard Meier.     The development, called Teachers Village, is expected to cost $149 million when it is completed two years from now. It will consist of eight low-rise buildings clustered around the intersection of William and Halsey Streets, in Newark’s Four Corners historic district. As such, Mr. Meier has designed buildings to reflect the historical nature of the area.

Teachers Village is receiving millions of dollars in government subsidies in various forms, with $14.2 million being provided in equity by the developers. Two of the buildings, together about 134,000 square feet, will be leased to the charter schools and day care while offering retail space on the ground floor. The other six buildings, totaling about 289,000 square feet, will contain as many as 220 rental apartments for teachers with retail space on the ground floor.

Teachers Village received its final approval at the city level in March 2011, but did not break ground until last month with a ceremony that included Mayor Cory A. Booker, Gov. Chris Christie and several private developers and investors.

Mayor Booker, who has shepherded the project from its first presentation in 2010, was not available for comment and referred a reporter to a news release: “Teachers Village shows that when Newark dreams big and makes ambitious plans, we can achieve development projects that meet the highest standards for innovation and excellence. While the global economy is struggling, we in Newark have fought to create transformative change that will lead to educational, economic, and social gains for our citizens.”

While the project seems to have the city’s unqualified support, some residents have protested the inclusion of the charter schools instead of traditional public schools, and others have said they felt left out of the planning process and disliked the project’s reliance on large public subsidies.

Ron Beit, a managing member of the lead developer, the RBH Group of Manhattan, said, “We were very committed to the point that you needed to create this community overnight.” Other partners include the billionaire investor Nicolas Berggruen; the private equity giant Frederick Iseman; the financier Warren Lichtenstein and his firm, Steel Partners Holdings; and the short-term commercial lender BRT Realty Trust.

Teachers Village is the first step of a development project by the same developers that will entail building or rehabilitating 15 million square feet of space, including several skyscrapers, on 32 parcels of land downtown.

The school spaces have been leased to two established Newark charter schools, Team Academy and Discovery Charter School, and a new charter, Great Oaks Charter School. The schools, with a charter school that abuts the site, are expected to accommodate about 1,360 children.

They and their families are potential customers for the stores that will occupy the 64,000 square feet of retail space being built, Mr. Beit said. So are the residents of the 220 apartments, which are not restricted to teachers, he said.

The residences in Teachers Village will be marketed toward Newark educators in charter schools, traditional public schools, private schools and universities, Mr. Beit said. About 40 studio apartments must be kept affordable according to government requirements, but Mr. Beit said the public subsidies involved in the project will enable developers to keep all their prices low — about $700 a month for a studio; $1,000 to $1,100 for a one-bedroom; and $1,400 for a two-bedroom apartment, he said.

“Our vision for Newark is really sort of a middle-income utopia, very much like how Queens and the outer boroughs have succeeded tremendously with their retail,” said Mr. Beit, who is working with Jacobs Enterprises of Clifton, N.J., to build the retail space.

He said the larger downtown development, which is to have a wide range of rental apartments and condominiums, both subsidized and market rate, may eventually draw more upscale retailers and affluent residents attracted by Mr. Meier, who is known for buildings like the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Mr. Meier, who designed five of Teachers Village’s eight buildings — the others were done by a local architect, Mikesell & Associates, and KSS Architects of Princeton — also spent a significant amount of time working on the streetscapes in the plan. He said he expected to work on the master plan for the larger project beyond Teachers Village, also in the historic district.

“We spent a lot of time with the local landmarks commission to make sure that the designs were historically contextual,” Mr. Meier said, “and to ensure the neighborhood was true to its historic roots, while at the same time ensuring that the community has a unique distinction and quality suggestive of the new chapter commencing in this neighborhood.”

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Signature Design by Gehry

Nowadays it seems like good architecture has to turn heads to be noticed, putting a burden on talented architects to provide flashy performance before thoughtful execution. And so it is a pleasure when one of the world’s most renowned, and scrutinized, architects, Frank Gehry, designs a quietly potent new kind of space as he has at the Pershing Square Signature Center on an Off-Broadway stretch of 42nd Street.

That there is little razzle-dazzle is just as well, because at the Signature the play’s the thing. And it always has been since founder and artistic director James Houghton established the company’s mission in 1991 to blast through the canons of living playwrights (Edward Albee, John Guare, Arthur Miller, August Wilson, among others) and to build audiences with affordable tickets (there are $20 seats for all productions).

The Signature’s new home exudes a workshop aesthetic and energy. The grand staircase is made of plywood, bolts and beams are visible throughout, the floors are all concrete, and sprayed-on stencils of playwright’s silhouettes decorate the sheetrock walls. It’s jazzy and mutable. That the lobby’s prime real estate is turned over to a vast open space ramping across two levels—with a bar, cafe tables, shop, window seats, couches and armchairs—sends an equally clear message that the audience is part of the production of that longest-running hit known as theater-going.

The three theaters—plus studio theater and rehearsal studio—all fall into the category of small Off-Broadway venues; the largest has 299 seats; the jewel-box and black-box theaters hold 199 seats each. Still it’s a big leap for the Signature from its former home base, where there were just 160 seats.

Along with the 100-seat theater now nearing completion on the roof of the Vivian Beaumont at Lincoln Center and the 299-seat Theatre for a New Audience under construction within Brooklyn’s BAM Cultural District—both designed by New York architect Hugh Hardy—it is also a gain for New York’s theater scene, particularly that segment devoted to the city’s teeming population of newcomers, strivers and on-the-verge or comeback talents.

The Alice Griffin Jewel Box, where Athol Fugard’s “Blood Knot” is now playing, is the most charming and successful of the Signature’s three theaters in the way it matches a true quality of intimacy to the smallness of scale. The edges of the space curl around to embrace the seats that appear more clustered than in rows. It’s a sensation reinforced by a balcony braced with overlapping, irregularly shaped panels. Mr. Houghton has described them as torn pieces of paper, perhaps in reference to Mr. Gehry’s reputed method of crumpling scraps to model his architecture’s curves.

The infinitely flexible Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre—with enough metal scaffolding to strap on a herd of horse puppets and folding-chair seats flanking both sides of a patch of stage—feels just as a black box should, raw and ready for conversion. And the 299-seat End Stage Theater is Broadwayesque in its largesse, particularly the stage itself. For the current performance of Edward Albee’s “The Lady from Dubuque,” an entire ranchhouse appears to spread out, a suburban forest glimpsed beyond its windows. The rake of the auditorium seating is just as generous, and the stained-plywood walls cut into loosely rearranged jigsaw pieces shade pleasantly from honey hues at the back to dark mahogany at the stage’s edge, a playful spatial echo of the houselights dimming. Would that part of the careful rethinking of the theater experience had included allowing more leg room between rows: If you are more than 5 feet 10 inches tall, expect to feel cramped.

For years, the Signature bounced around, renting space from the Public Theater downtown or holing up in a black box on Bond Street and then on far, far West 42nd Street. In 2004, the company was selected to be part of a revitalizing cultural mecca promised for Ground Zero. Mr. Gehry would be the architect of a new $700 million performing arts center, and the Signature would share marquee space with the Joyce Theater. But by 2007, with the whole site mired in controversy, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. decided to cut costs and disinvite the Signature, a blessing in disguise.

As it happened, development rights for a large parcel between Dyer Avenue and Tenth Avenue on 42nd Street hinged on including a performing-arts element to make up for two Off-Broadway houses that had been razed to allow for a subway extension. The Signature stepped right in, and Mr. Gehry stuck with the company, though they now faced the far more complicated job of fitting the theaters and all adjacent support spaces between the structural columns of a 62-story tower. Working with H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture as architects of record guaranteed finely tuned theatrical spaces. Hugh Hardy is a practiced hand at New York theater-making, having designed the original Joyce Theater, BAM’s Harvey Theater and many others. Collaboration may well be all the rage in architecture right now, but it’s still rare to see such high-powered talents giving each other an assist, making the Signature all the more notable.

And so it’s hardly worth complaining that the cafe chairs make an awful screech when dragged on those concrete floors, and that there’s still a line to the ladies room at intermission when the audiences of two of the three theaters come out to stretch. A bit of hubbub is, in fact, very much on the program, and it’s right that the architecture should reflect on that rather than on itself.


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