True Green Cities / Celebrating Four Years – A Midcentury Modern Architect and a Gentleman

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, the site of NCPTT's Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium.

The Gateway Arch by Eero Saarinen, the site of NCPTT’s Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium.

It’s been four years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my new venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog two of my anniversary week.

Gyo Obata of HOK shares his creation of the St. Louis Abbey Priory with the attendees of the Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium. We all fell in love with him.

Gyo Obata of HOK shares his creation of the St. Louis Abbey Priory with the attendees of the Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium. We all fell in love with him.

Mr. Gyo Obata

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. One of the real treats of the symposium was meeting Gyo Obata, one of the founding partners of HOK, who is still designing in St. Louis at 92. Mr. Obata gave the opening talk of the Symposium in a building he designed, the American Zinc Office Building, which has been subsumed within the Drury Plaza Hotel. From the faux Colonial interior you would never know that the structure and exterior are an innovative steel truss. I am amazed he was able to tolerate the alterations, although he did remark, “People who renovate buildings, even midcentury modern buildings, should be sympathetic to the original intent of the building. I don’t think they were here.”

Let me take you through a short tour of some of his remarkable buildings in St. Louis, which we were able to both hear him discuss and then see in person.

Lambert-St. Louis Airport, 1952-1955

The Lambert-St.Louis Airport designed by Minoru Yamasaki and Gyo Obata in 1952.

The Lambert-St.Louis Airport designed by Minoru Yamasaki and Gyo Obata in 1952.

Obata earned his Master’s in Architecture and Urban Design from the Cranbrook Academy of Art under Eliel Saarinen in 1946. Upon graduation he worked for SOM in Chicago and then in 1950 joined with Yamasaki Hellmuth and Leinweber in their St.Louis office (he had completed a master plan for St. Louis for his thesis). Yamasaki was interested in the concept of the Gateway to the City, like Grand Central.   The idea of arches became the main design concept for the airport. Their original airport remains highly intact and used, and is a delight to pass through.

The American Zinc Building designed by Gyo Obata in 1967 is a steel building of Vierendeel trusses.

The American Zinc Building designed by Gyo Obata in 1967 is a steel building of Vierendeel trusses.

The American Zinc Building, 1967

The American Zinc Building is a thirty thousand square foot office building with a structural exterior wall system based on a steel vierendeel truss carrying fifty-foot clear office spans. The truss is supported at two points on the south side of the building, resulting in a column-free interior allowing for great flexibility of office arrangements. This four-story building has a sci-fi look from the outside. Sadly its original interiors were completely removed to accommodate hotel functions. It was astonishing to pull back the thick curtains on the window wall and see the juxtaposition of the space-age steel trusses against the 1980s Colonial conference center interiors.

The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an exemplary example of modernism and has been called the finest building designed by Gyo Obata.

The Priory at Saint Louis Abbey, 1962

The Priory at the St. Louis Abbey is a glorious church built out of thin-shell concrete  hyperbolic paraboloids.

The Priory at the St. Louis Abbey is a glorious church built out of thin-shell concrete hyperbolic paraboloids.

This Benedictine Monastery was founded by the monks of Ampleforth Abbey in England and a group of Saint Louis laymen. The architectural form of the church or Priory is also its structural frame. It consists of two sets of thin-shell concrete hyperbolic paraboloids on two levels, set in twenty identical bays tapering toward the center of the circular plan. A thirty-two foot high bell tower of concrete tops the circular structure. Kalwall panels fill in the concrete arch bays. We visited this glorious building around 5 pm, when the sun had finally come out on a rainy day. Walking around and through the building was one of those rare “I’m not worthy, I’m not worthy” experiences for an architect.

The Planetarium, 1962

Built at the same time as the St. Louis Abbey, the Planetarium is also a thin-shell concrete paraboloid structure.

Built at the same time as the St. Louis Abbey, the Planetarium is also a thin-shell concrete paraboloid structure.

The Planetarium, now part of the St. Louis Science Center, is a 160’ wide hyperbolic parabola, with 3’ thin-shell concrete similar to the Abbey. At the time, HOK was working with brilliant structural engineers such as Pier Luigi Nervi and Paul Weidlinger, and both architects and engineers were willing to design innovative and risky structures.

Until this symposium, talk and tour I had never thought much about who the H, O, and K in HOK were or realized that they were at the forefront of the second wave of modernist architecture in the US. It was an honor to have this experience and meet Gyo Obata.

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

True Green Cities / Celebrating Four Years – What Makes Preserving Brutalist Architecture in Buffalo So Hard?

The NCPTT MidCentury Modern Structures Symposium was held in St. Louis across the street from Eero Saarin's glorious Gateway Arch.

The NCPTT MidCentury Modern Structures Symposium was held in St. Louis across the street from Eero Saarin’s glorious Gateway Arch.

It’s been four years since I launched Barbara A. Campagna/Architecture + Planning, PLLC and while many things have changed, my goal to work on “greening what’s already here” continues to be met, often in places I never expected. Many people are finding new ways to integrate historic preservation and green building practices, which makes my new venture a delightful and intellectually inspiring one. This is blog one of my anniversary week.

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. I presented a paper discussing the challenges of preserving Brutalist-style architecture in Buffalo. The title of my paper and this blog is rather ironic because, of course, saving Brutalism is challenging everywhere, not just in Buffalo.

Why is Brutalism one of the most difficult eras to preserve?

One Seneca Tower, built as the Marine Midland Bank Headquarters in 1972, designed by SOM, is one of the least liked buildings in Buffalo.

One Seneca Tower, built as the Marine Midland Bank Headquarters in 1972, designed by SOM, is one of the least liked buildings in Buffalo.

Questions of authenticity, the use of materials such as concrete panels and concrete block, the construction of new building types like public housing that do not have inherent supporters, and maintaining some of the most energy inefficient buildings ever built are some of the aspects that impact its preservation. This Blog and attached paper will look at a sample of Brutalist icons in Buffalo, New York, which demonstrate the pros and cons of saving these buildings.

Buffalo Modernism

Buffalo has a rich modernist heritage, which is now under siege. Not surprisingly, it is concrete Brutalist style buildings at the forefront of this battle. As a way to counteract misconceptions about modernism, this author taught a seminar last spring in the University at Buffalo School of Architecture & Planning. The semester long project was to document a Buffalo modern for the DOCOMOMO US Registry. Four buildings represent the Brutalist era and their appreciation or lack thereof seems to be related to ownership, building type, site plan, maintenance of material and perception of beauty. Those buildings remaining in the ownership of the original owners have fared much better than those that have not.

The Buffalo Evening News Building, Edward Durell Stone

Rendering of the Buffalo Evening News Headquarters designed by Edward Durell Stone. Image courtesy The Buffalo News.

Rendering of the Buffalo Evening News Headquarters designed by Edward Durell Stone. Image courtesy The Buffalo News.

The Buffalo Evening News Building was designed in 1973 by Edward Durell Stone using both site-cast and precast concrete. The project melded the influences of Buffalo’s heavy Gothic architecture with the purity and minimalism of the International Style. The complex has remained in use as the paper’s headquarters and is in fair condition, although its concrete and flat roof require constant maintenance. There is no current threat, but a better level of appreciation of this restrained yet significant structure is desirable.

Temple Beth Zion, Max Abramovitz

Temple Beth Zion designed by Max Abramovitz. Photo courtesy the Buffalo History Museum.

Temple Beth Zion designed by Max Abramovitz. Photo courtesy the Buffalo History Museum.

The Temple Beth Zion, designed by Max Abramovitz in 1967, is representative of the Brutalist movement with symbolic intent and material use. Monolithic, rough-face concrete walls with exposed aggregate and fastener holes reference a simplistic and unadorned approach. It received both national and local praise for its beauty and progressive aesthetic stature when it opened. The complex remains a beloved symbol of the congregation and is not threatened.

One Seneca Tower (former HSBC Center), SOM

SOM designed this precast concrete building in 1972 as a bank’s headquarters. At 40 stories, it remains the tallest privately owned building outside of New York City. It has a conflicted relationship with Main Street, which is articulated through a barren tunnel and windswept plazas at the base of the building. Its most recent primary tenant, HSBC, moved out in 2013, leaving the building 95% vacant with its owners in bankruptcy. It is one of the least liked buildings in Buffalo.

The Shoreline Apartments, Paul Rudolph

The Shoreline Apartments, designed by Paul Rudolph 1971-1974, are threatened with partial demolition.

The Shoreline Apartments, designed by Paul Rudolph 1971-1974, are threatened with partial demolition.

The Shoreline Apartments, a public housing development, was commissioned in 1969. What was ultimately completed in 1974 was considerably reduced in scale from Rudolph’s original scheme. Featuring corduroy concrete block, projecting balconies and enclosed garden courts, the project’s serpentine site plan was meant to create active communal green spaces, but the spaces went unused and the high crime rate over the years has often been attributed to the design rather than poor management.

Still low-income housing, Shoreline is currently threated by the current owners who are proposing demolishing five of the original 32 buildings and replacing them with “Nouveau Victorian fiber cement board suburban rowhouses.” Their reason – the buildings are “ugly,” energy inefficient and encourage crime.

To read the full paper, which will be published in the Proceedings of the symposium later this summer, please click here to read What Makes Preserving Brutalism in Buffalo So Hard?.

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

True Green Cities / How To Save The World With Design

The New School Auditorium, designed by Joseph Urban, hosted Van Jones on February 9th.

The New School Auditorium, designed by Joseph Urban, hosted Van Jones on February 9th.

The construction and operation of buildings accounts for almost 50% of the United States greenhouse gas emissions.  The US has only 5% of the world’s population yet we contribute almost 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and 25% of the world’s prisoners, neither of which are statistics to be proud about.  The construction economy and market has been transformed significantly in the past 15 years – through the efforts of so many around the world.  But our great hopes will continue to remain stymied until our research can meet our aspirations.

The FIT Sustainable Interior Environments program which I chair, is a rare design program that focuses on research in design.  We are in our fourth year, have graduated two classes and are starting to amass a significant body of important research in topics as diverse as “The Role of Delight in Furniture Longevity,” “Fire Retardants in Commercial Furnishings,” and “Healing By Design.”  This year’s second year students have equally diverse thesis topics including: biophilic design in urban hotels, guidelines for plantings in office Buildings, an evaluation of the use of PVC in Pre-K classrooms, the urban and sociocultural aspects of green roofs and guidelines for water conservation in existing NYC office towers.

The program is a two year Masters of Art with a curriculum that develops proficiency in research methods, theories, and progressive practices applicable to building environmentally responsible environments. We are creating a community of professionals prepared to transform the environments in which we live, work, learn, and play.

Using New York City as a Laboratory

Students and faculty from the FIT Sustainable Interior Environments program attended the Van Jones lecture at the New School.

Students and faculty from the FIT Sustainable Interior Environments program attended the Van Jones lecture at the New School.

One of the many great things about a New York City based sustainability program is the ability to use the amazing architecture and culture as our laboratory.  Most of the thesis research has focused on urban environments and the added benefit of lectures and symposia almost every week by the leaders of the field adds to the program.  We took both classes of students to see Van Jones on February 9th at the New School’s glorious auditorium designed by one of my favorite architects Joseph Urban.  Van Jones, the President of Dream Corps Unlimited spoke on Rebuilding the Dream: Framing Civil Rights for the 21st Century.”  He is also the author of  “The Green Collar Economy,” which is one of the required books in our second semester graduate seminar.  One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Mr. Jones (a lawyer by training) is that he makes social justice issues very understandable.  Some of the highlights of this talk included:

Last year was a great year to identify problems. This year needs to be the year to identify solutions.We have to close prison doors, and open doors of opportunity into a new green economy through a left/ right alliance.  This talk focused on the problems with our prisons and he noted that more black people are in prison for nonviolent offenses now than were ever slaves.  While his earlier book encouraged the transitioning of our labor force to “green collar jobs” primarily retrofitting existing and historic buildings, this new focus of his encourages the use of our labor force for technology. The economy needs to embrace the green fields from all vantage points and identifying and creating opportunities to achieve true racial and economic justice with a green economy. 

Our students (and faculty) were thrilled to be part of this dialogue.  We are accepting applications for the program through March 15th and would love to welcome you if you’d like to change the world through your design research.

And if you’d like to “subscribe” or follow my blog, True Green Cities, please sign up through the “Subscribe” button at the bottom left of this page. You’ll receive a daily recap when new blogs are posted. Or Sign up for the Feed.

© Copyright Barbara Campagna – True Green Cities - 2011-2013