Monday, December 28, 2015

Quietly Commanding Our Attention

The Center for Character and Leadership Development
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Hello Everyone:

Blogger hopes your holiday was bright, merry, and safe.  Yours truly cannot wait until the new year to bring you more of the stories that continue to shape our built and urban environment.

Today we look back at some of the more notable buildings of 2015.  In her article for the Wall Street Journal, "The Best Architecture of 2015: Their Modesty Becomes Them," Julie V. Iovine reports that inspire of "...the loudest works of new architecture..." that held everyone's attention, there were some quieter projects that snuck into the scene, expanding the definition of what architecture can be.  These are buildings that do not scream "look at me" (Broad and Petersen Museums), instead they give us a more modest, yet thrilling experience.  Here are the buildings that command attention in their modesty.

Betty and Clint Josey Pavilion
Ted Flato and David Lake
Cooke County, Texas
Photograph by Casey Dunn
The first building on our list is the Betty and Clint Josey Pavilion in Cooke County, Texas.  The Pavilion was designed by Ted Flato and David Lake for the Dixon Water Foundation.  At first glance, it resembles a typical ranch house however, Ms. Iovine writes that it falls into the category of living building.  This means "...the structure is made almost entirely from local and recycled materials, its energy consumption is self-generated and next to nil ("net neon in the new jargon), and its water independent.  The firm of Lake|Flato is know for the novel way they make traditional building elements: deep overhangs, clerestory windows, chimneys, and ceiling fans look more contemporary.

The Betty and Clint Josey Pavilion is set amid towering live oak and the rectangular sheds are dressed in reclaimed pine which are "...pulled apart and reconnected with wall and doors of slatted wood carefully position to provide shade from the hot summer sun and shelter from winter's north winds."  The client, the Dixon Water Foundation, provides resources and education on water conservation.  The 5,000-square-foot pavilion is encircled by wetlands that will filter and recycle wastewater and eventually restore the local watershed.  Messrs. Flato and Lake argue "...that a connection to beautiful architecture can lead to caring and a desire to preserve and conserve one''s surroundings."  This unassuming building could very underscore this point.

Front elevation of The Center for Character and Leadership Development
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
United States Air Force Academy
Colorado Springs, Colorado
The next building on the list of memorable buildings is The Center for Character and Leadership Development.  The Center was built by the venerable firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, for the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  This is not the first project SOM completed for the USAFA.  In 1962, they built the Chapel, the centerpiece of the campus, "...layering 17 aligned spires made of folded aluminum and glass tetrahedrons."  They returned over fifty years laters to add the Center for Character and Leadership Development, "an equally striking building meant to balance the focus on faith with a building dedicated to reason."  Upon first sight, the Center and the Chapel, modest would not be the first word that comes to Blogger's mind.

Designed by SOM partner Roger Duffy, the new 46,000-square-foot center is sited across the Court of Honor from the Chapel, resting on an elevated plaza.  There is a ceremonial staircase leading down to a below-plaza-level entry.  Julie V. Iovine writes, "This deferential move actually highlights the propulsive energy of the 105-foot steel-farm and glass inverted funnel-actual a skylight-that projects through the plaza at a 39-degree tilt."  The complex includes meeting rooms, a library, and seminar rooms however its core is the Honor Board Room.  The Honor Board Room is a rather impressive space-the officers addressing disciplinary issues are seated on a marble plinth and the errant cadets are seated below, under an oculus.  The location of the cadets's place is deliberate-precisely under the North Star-as a way to remind them of their own moral compass.

CENTRO University
Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos
Mexico City, Mexico
Julie V. Iovine gladly reports, "It's a welcome trend to see architecture addressing both the symbolic and functional side of space dedicated to education."  CENTRO University in Mexico City, Mexico, designed by Enrique Norten of the firm TEN Arquitectos follows this trend.  The university features a hybrid curriculum, melding creative, technological, and business studies.  The over $50 million campus is composed of four buildings that features either green or solar-panel roofs arranged in a manner that keeps out or connects to the surrounding neighborhood.  The campus also features a six-story building "...whose glass wall provides the cafeteria with views of the city, while across a communal courtyard another building is laced with exterior staircases overlooking the public space, and a third building floats above and joins them both."  The elevated exterior space, formed by these interlocking components, has a 40-foot-wide, "sit-able" staircase with a painted black and white pattern by Jan Hendrix which references the energetic midcentury pavers of Roberto Burle Marx.

Columbus Museum of Art Margaret M. Walter Wing
Michael Bongiorno of DesignGroup
Columbus, Ohio
The final member of our list of more modest buildings is the Columbus Art Museum's Margaret M. Walter Wing in Columbus, Ohio.  When the Walter Wing was originally conceived, it was far more ambitious in plan but scaled back in 2008 and given over to local architect Michael Bongiorno of DesignGroup.  Mr. Bongiorno began by taking the much loathed 1970s addition down to its bones, rebuilding it to blend seamlessly into the new 80,000-square-foot wing on the east side to the 1928 Renaissance Revival building.  Both the old and new happily coexist, "...each retaining its own identity, the elegant limestone cornice of the original building is now a visual attraction inside the skylit atrium of the new wing."  the Walter Wing is clad in patinated green and its extruded rectangular shape gives it a distinctive presence.  The museum is cognizant of the fact that local visitors outnumber tourists; thus provides ample space to linger.  Both the new and renovated portions of the museum bracket the outdoor sculpture garden, design in 1979 by Russell Page.  This once passive space in the back of the museum should be a more fascinating place to revisit.

As Julie V. Iovine has shown us, buildings do not have to bluster to get attention.  Sometimes, it is the unassuming designs that create a presence.  Perhaps the Los Angeles civic officials can take heed of these lessons and reconsider the bombastic proposals.

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