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Today’s Photo

Airport Building in Mestia, Georgia
A project by: J. MAYER H. Architects


The new built airport is part of Georgia’s ambitious plans to develop tourism in Mestia. The beautiful medieval town with its stone defensive towers is part of UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites and also famous as ski-resort. With the unveiling of the airport on December 24th the building was designed and constructed within 3 months.

Hat Tip to Architizer.com

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1,517 new building permits in NYC last year

Mr. LiMandri, 45, is the commissioner of the Department of Buildings, which oversees nearly a million properties in New York City, by enforcing various building codes and laws. He was appointed in 2008, after the resignation of Patricia J. Lancaster, following a series of construction accidents, including a crane collapse in Manhattan that killed seven people.

Robert D. LiMandri

Q The department just released its 2010 annual report. Can you discuss some of the numbers?

A There are 975,000 buildings and properties in New York City and we have 1,109 employees, 337 of whom are inspectors. We performed 335,449 inspections last year; issued 136,294 construction permits and 1,517 new building permits and 67,069 violations.

What many people don’t realize is that we do about 450,000 plan reviews a year. Last year it was 457,375. That rivals some of the largest architectural firms.

Q Do you have more or fewer inspectors now?

A Slightly fewer, through attrition and budget cuts. But we’re doing more with less and using technology to be more efficient.

Q How so?

A We’ve been trying to make it easier for people to get permits, to do plan reviews, online. Electricians can go online as of last year: they put in their ID numbers, pay for the permit online and print it. Construction permits will also go online this year.

The other piece is dealing with plans online. We hope to pilot that by the end of this year. You would submit your plans — the simplest plans, not the big complicated ones. You open an account with us, send it to us electronically. We look at it when we’re available — we might ask questions or note objections — and e-mail it back to you.

Q Could this work with the big developers?

A The number of large buildings that get built every year is like 200 to 300. So if you are a large developer/owner like the Rudins or the Resnicks, you’re doing these kinds of filings on a regular basis. Instead of hiring someone to drop off stuff for us to look at, they can save transaction time.

Q How much time?

A We saw that when they went online for electrical permits, the processing time went from days or weeks to minutes.

Q Getting back to the annual report, what does it tell us about the city’s recovery?

A It’s in pockets. Permits for new buildings and major alterations fell around 19 percent last year, to 13,000 from 16,000. But permits for small-scale alterations — like moving a wall — rose 6 percent, to nearly 103,000. People are still doing smaller work, and that drives the economy as well.

We’re starting to see pockets of demolitions. We just had seven or eight sites in the last couple of weeks. When you see demolitions come back, it’s a leading indicator that development is coming.

Also, in Manhattan there are four or five large sites, where maybe they slowed construction, that are starting to pick up. It’s the heart of the winter so it’s going to be slow anyway, but we’re hoping that the spring will bring a set of new buildings.

Q It’s been over two years since you took office. What are some of your biggest accomplishments?

A We’ve been working on transforming this department — making it more accountable and instilling confidence in our training programs. We put G.P.S. tracking on our 337 inspectors, so we know where our people are. We conducted a facade safety initiative, and we investigated illegally converted apartments. We used Craigslist and posed as tenants.

Q Have you been able to curb construction accidents?

A We had a reduction in 2010 from the year before by about 28 percent. Clearly there’s been less large-scale construction, but also I am very satisfied that the industry has heard us and responded.

Contractors are using cocoon-netting systems to protect the top four floors during the very early stages of construction. These innovative systems prevent people from falling, as well as falling debris. I’m hoping it will become a city standard.

Building a building is complex, and there are a lot of people you depend on to do it well, and it takes just one of them not to do their job for things to go awry. Our job is to make sure that they put safety ahead of profit.

Q Let’s talk about some of the new regulations for this year.

A The big thing that’s coming down the pike is the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which will rank buildings by energy efficiency. Owners have to benchmark their buildings — if they’re over 50,000 square feet — and upload information about utility bills into a federal Web site by May 1. The next step is that every 10 years they will have to go through an audit process.

Hat tip to the NYT

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China to create largest mega city in the world with 42 million people

China is planning to create the world’s biggest mega city by merging nine cities to create a metropolis twice the size of Wales with a population of 42 million. 

City planners in south China have laid out an ambitious plan to merge together the nine cities that lie around the Pearl River Delta.

The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas,” said Ma Xiangming, the chief planner at the Guangdong Rural and Urban Planning Institute and a senior consultant on the project.

However, he said no name had been chosen for the area. “It will not be like Greater London or Greater Tokyo because there is no one city at the heart of this megalopolis,” he said. “We cannot just name it after one of the existing cities.”

“It will help spread industry and jobs more evenly across the region and public services will also be distributed more fairly,” he added.

Mr Ma said that residents would be able to use universal rail cards and buy annual tickets to allow them to commute around the mega-city.

Twenty-nine rail lines, totalling 3,100 miles, will be added, cutting rail journeys around the urban area to a maximum of one hour between different city centres. According to planners, phone bills could also fall by 85 per cent and hospitals and schools will be improved.

“Residents will be able to choose where to get their services and will use the internet to find out which hospital, for example, is less busy,” said Mr Ma.

Pollution, a key problem in the Pearl River Delta because of its industrialisation, will also be addressed with a united policy, and the price of petrol and electricity could also be unified.

The southern conglomeration is intended to wrestle back a competitive advantage from the growing urban areas around Beijing and Shanghai.

By the end of the decade, China plans to move ever greater numbers into its cities, creating some city zones with 50 million to 100 million people and “small” city clusters of 10 million to 25 million.

In the north, the area around Beijing and Tianjin, two of China’s most important cities, is being ringed with a network of high-speed railways that will create a super-urban area known as the Bohai Economic Rim. Its population could be as high as 260 million.

The process of merging the Bohai region has already begun with the connection of Beijing to Tianjing by a high speed railway that completes the 75 mile journey in less than half an hour, providing an axis around which to create a network of feeder cities.

As the process gathers pace, total investment in urban infrastructure over the next five years is expected to hit £685 billion, according to an estimate by the British Chamber of Commerce, with an additional £300 billion spend on high speed rail and £70 billion on urban transport.

Hat tip to the Telegraph

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Rem Koolhaas’s Architectural Progeny.

The architect Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA) are the forces behind some of the most striking structures built in recent years, including the Seattle Central Library and the CCTV headquarters, in Beijing.

The new MOCA (www.mocacleveland.org)

But dozens of architects who were trained at or otherwise passed through Koolhaas’s firm are now spread across the world and beginning to make their mark, observes Metropolis. The magazine dubs them Baby Rems.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, for example, is moving ahead with construction of a striking new building, which features triangular facades that, from certain angles, allow luminescent peeks at the museum’s interior. It’s the handiwork of Foreign Office Architects (FOA), an OMA offshoot.

The Balancing Barn, which has been feted in England (and lives up to its name, cantilevering off into space), is a project of MVRDV, which also traces its roots back to Koolhaas’s office.

Metropolis’s generational schema confuses me—who counts as Generation One, again, and who as Generation Two?—but Work A.C., evidently part of the second wave, has gotten the nod to revitalize the Hua Qiang Bei Road, in Shenzhen, China; the renderings look pretty wild, and also impressive.

All this amounts to another reminder that even architecture, long considered the redoubt of the lone genius (see: Ayn Rand), is in fact better viewed as a shifting network of creative minds with personal, professional, and intellectual ties: a Kaleidoscopic Discovery Engine.

Hat tip to Christopher Shea, WSJ

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Beautiful Underground Aloni House Blends in With the Earth

This stunning underground home by Deca Architecture utilizes a natural palette of materials to maintain a low profile while complementing the serene Mediterranean landscape that surrounds it. Situated in a small valley with views of the coast, the Aloni house consists of two stone walls bridged by a beautiful green roof that spans two adjacent slopes. The home takes advantage of rustic materials that maximize energy efficiency while allowing the house to blend in with the rugged terrain of Greece’s Antiparos Island.

The Aloni house finds its inspiration in the landscape of the Cycladic Islands, which were shaped in the past by earthen retaining walls erected to create land fit for farming. Deca Architecture decided to incorporate this traditional building typology into the design of the house, and the result is a structure that resonates with the topography of its site while taking advantage of low-impact materials that impart high insulation values. The single-level 240 square meter home features walls made of retained earth that regulate the interior temperature thanks to their high thermal mass, while a green roof provides further insulation from the bright Mediterranean sun.

To read full article via Inhabitat click here.

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Norway’s Snohetta architecture firm marries business savvy with artistic inspiration

The planned National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion.

Low-tech meets hi-tech in the Oslo offices of Snohetta, Scandinavia’s premier architecture firm. Housed in an open-plan former warehouse on the edge of the Oslo fjord, the firm greets visitors with an improvised light fixture, comprised of 600 water-filled plastic bags suspended from the ceiling in an undulating pattern. Meanwhile, in a secluded room, a robotic arm, installed last year, is busy making 3-D prototypes associated with the firm’s diverse projects around the world.

“We are the only architects who have this,” says Snohetta’s founding partner and principal, Norwegian architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, of the robot, manufactured by the German firm KUKA for use in the auto industry. Snohetta uses the prototypes, explains 52-year-old Mr. Thorsen, the way an artist might use preliminary studies for a final painting.

What Snohetta also has — and what just about every other large and midsize architecture practice lacks these days — is momentum. Founded in 1989, Snohetta, named after a Norwegian mountain, burst onto the architecture scene in 2002, with the opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, a modern-day revival of the ancient world’s most famous library. Their current roll began in 2008, with the opening of the acclaimed Oslo Opera House, and culminated in July with the commissioning of a much-publicized extension to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This summer, the firm was also awarded a commission to redesign New York City’s Times Square, and construction is finishing up in lower Manhattan on the National September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion, a multi-use visitor center built directly on the site of the former World Trade Center.

Using what Mr. Thorsen likes to call an “organic” approach, Snohetta combines a deep respect for a building’s location with a harmonic and often stripped-down use of materials. In addition, Snohetta routinely incorporates artists in the very early stages of a project, rather than seeking them out later to decorate a building after it is finished. The result is a style of architecture that is both distinctive and tranquil, and often seems like an antidote to the self-conscious experiments and brash monumentality that have characterized much of the world’s recent building spree.

This year, a few months before beating out several Pritzker-Prize-winning architects for the San Francisco commission, Snohetta launched an in-house consulting wing, called Snohetta Design, which plans to extend the firm’s activities beyond architecture. The goal, says Martin Gran, CEO and managing director of Snohetta Design, is “to brand what [a] building is supposed to house.” Mr. Gran, 38, previously worked at global advertising giant McCann Erickson, where his clients included MasterCard.

During a meeting this July with Messrs. Thorsen and Gran, the two seemed to be speaking different languages. Mr. Gran may talk about “the power of branding” inherent in a successful building like the Oslo Opera House, while Mr. Thorsen, when referring to the Opera House’s predominant use of marble, talks about the “homogeneous continuation of material.”

In conversation, the effect is jarring but one of Snohetta Design’s inaugural projects, an ethereal 3-D logo for Snohetta’s King Abdullah Center for Dialogue, currently being designed for a site just outside Mecca, Saudi Arabia, demonstrates how business savvy and artistic inspiration can come together in common purpose.

Branding may have its limits, concedes Mr. Thorsen. The September 11 Memorial Pavilion, which sits atop an underground museum by another architecture firm, needs to respect the project’s commemorative function. And even the new San Francisco museum extension offers some branding challenges, he says, because of the need to respect the 1995 original building by Swiss architect Mario Botta, whose postmodernist approach of incorporating previous eras’ architectural styles is just about the opposite of what Snohetta is trying to do. “Postmodernism was never my agenda,” says Mr. Thorsen, who describes the wave as “reinventing replicas.”

“It’s not easy,” says Mr. Thorsen, of the joint task before Snohetta Design, and the architects themselves, as they try to create a new project that does justice to Mr. Botta’s popular building, while carving out an identity for itself. “But then again, architecture never is,” he adds.

The Snohetta building will be part of a $250 million expansion, says the museum’s director, Neal Benezra, which was initiated to house the contemporary art collection of Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of the Gap chain of clothing stores. Mr. Benezra says Snohetta was chosen after a selection committee visited Oslo this summer and saw the Oslo Opera House in person. Made up of several complementary levels of white Carrera marble, which seem to rise up collectively out of the Oslo Fjord like a geometric iceberg, the building proved to be “the tipping point for us.”

American architect Craig Dykers, Snohetta’s New York-based principal, is also excited about the challenge of working with Mr. Botta’s building. “It a very strong piece of architecture,” he says. “Making expansions means that you’re entering into a marriage. And I prefer to have a strong partner.”

Mr. Dykers, 48, doesn’t see the firm’s recent successes as altering its essential nature. “We have a funny name,” he says, speaking by phone from New York. “People don’t easily remember it, so fame isn’t tailored into who we are. Most people remember our buildings before they remember us.”

Hat tip to WSJ’s J. S. Marcus

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NYC Council Approves New Domino Project

The landmarked Domino Refinery complex will be preserved and adapted for residential, commercial, and cultural uses, including 30- and 34-story apartment buildings. Rafael Viñoly Architects developed the overall master plan as well as the conceptual design for all new buildings on the site; Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners developed architectural concepts for the refinery; and Quennell Rothschild and Partners developed the landscape design. The master plan will transform the industrial complex into a modular, mixed-use, and multi-income residential development that emphasizes open space and public access to the river while preserving the refinery and its famed 40-foot-tall Domino Sugar sign. The project will create approximately 2,200 residential units, 660 of which will be affordable. The more than 223,500 square feet of retail will include a grocery store that will adhere to FRESH zoning standards in addition to approximately 143,000 square feet of community facility space. A nearly one-acre open lawn will anchor a new public waterfront esplanade.

Read more posts from the NYC AIA via eOCULUS here.

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Nonresidential Construction to Grow by 3 Percent in 2011

AIA’s Consensus Construction Forecast predicts a 20 percent-plus decline in nonresidential construction spending through 2010.

According to the semi-annual Consensus Construction Forecast recently released by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the poor conditions created by a combination of surplus nonresidential facilities, low demand for space, declining commercial property values, and lack of available credit are laying the groundwork for drop of more than 20 percent in nonresidential construction spending this year, despite slight improvements in the overall economy.

However, conditions should begin to turn around by the middle of 2011, with an overall increase of 3.1 percent, notes AIA chief economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA. The hotel, amusement/recreation, and retail sectors will lead with 8.7 percent, 8.1 percent, and 7.6 percent growth, respectively. Healthcare facilities will follow closely with growth at 5.1 percent, but all other sectors—office buildings, industrial, education, religious, and public safety—will see far less positive improvements; only education is predicted to top 1 percent in growth in 2011.

To read the complete Consensus Construction Forecast and Baker’s analysis, click here.

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New Green H2Otel Hotel Planned for Amsterdam by Powerhouse Company + RAU


RAU and Powerhouse Company developed H2Otel, a luxurious and completely sustainable hotel for Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The project, a prototype for luxury hotel typologies, is shown at the National Design Triennial ‘Why Design Now?’ at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

How to make a hotel tower more sustainable? As a typology, the modern hotel is at odds with the concept of sustainability. Most of the time they are empty and unused, yet they have to be fully accessible, comfortable and pleasurable all the time. Guests usually enter their rooms in the evening. Large glass planes provide stunning views but also heat up the rooms when no one is there. The biggest energy consumer in hotels is usually the cooling system. So, why are the facades of most highrises the same on all sides, despite their different exposure to sunlight? Apart from that, modern hotels are increasingly build according to global formulas in brownfield locations. How do we create a local sense of place while using the particular efficiency if the hotel typology?

Water is an important theme of the H2Otel. Situated alongside the Amstel river, the hotel is overlooking the historic center with its numerous canals, the docks on both banks of the River IJ and, on a clear day, the North Sea. But the name, H2Otel, does not only refer to its scenic views. Water is the building’s main carrier of energy. Through oxy-hydrogen generators water can be used for heating, cooling, cooking and the generation of electricity.

Fluctuating occupancy rates are an obstacle in reaching efficient climate control, especially in large hotels. In order to improve efficiency, an adaptive, sensor-based climate system monitors and controls the indoor climate in real time and for each room individually. It recognizes the number of occupants in a room and adjusts the level of conditioning accordingly. Conditioning is automatically switched off in empty rooms. This climate system helps to save approximately 40% of the building’s energy consumption.

While innovative technology is an important asset in achieving energy efficiency and carbon neutrality, inventive design solutions make a crucial difference in keeping the building’s demand for energy at a minimum in the first place.

Much much more via Arch Daily here.

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