True Green Cities – Celebrating Four Years – Materials , Mardi Gras, Marfa and the Big Mac

Visitors are encouraged to touch the base of the stainless steel Arch.

Visitors are encouraged to touch the base of the stainless steel 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 four of my anniversary week.

Material Matters

Last week I attended a truly fabulous symposium in St. Louis – Mid Century Modern Structures Symposium sponsored by NCPTT and the World Monuments Fund. Gunny Harboe from Harboe Architects, a preservation architect from Chicago, gave the keynote entitled “Material Matters” which made me think about “materials” in various ways throughout the week.

The United Nations from Long Island City.  Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced?

The United Nations from Long Island City. Is the Secretariat still the Secretariat even though its curtain wall has been replaced? (The Secretariat is the green rectangular building between the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.)

Gunny believes that materials are a really important issue of materiality and modernism. They are a significant component of our collective cultural heritage. Many countries consider material and authenticity in a different manner such as the Shinto shrines in Japan, which are rebuilt every 20 years. Others accept intangible heritage in a way that Americans don’t know how to consider yet. For example, should we be saving our material culture such as the Mardi Gras or the Big Mac?! If so, how do we “preserve” it? I read recently that McDonald’s would soon be eliminating the Big Mac! What?! Now I probably haven’t had a Big Mac in 25 years. But just the thought that if I did start eating meat again I could never have a Big Mac again actually sort of freaked me out. And I thought, should I go eat one last one despite the fact I haven’t eaten meat since 1990? So when Gunny mentioned the Big Mac as an intangible piece of our material culture, which we might want to save or honor in some way, I wasn’t surprised.

Lever House had its curtain wall replaced and maintained its landmark status. Photo courtesy SOM.

Lever House had its curtain wall replaced and still maintained its landmark status. Photo courtesy SOM.

Lever House and the UN Secretariat, both modernist iconic skyscrapers, have both received new curtain walls. Have we lost something with the loss of that original material? Many people suggest that modern architecture is different than traditional. We are sometimes dealing with materials that are experimental or hazardous or even both. Perhaps it’s the concept that is more significant. Gunny did not necessarily agree with that idea. With the Pantheon, the Romans built for the ages – shouldn’t this be our standard too?

If we landmark something, does that mean we are supposed to preserve it in perpetuity. Who should decide what stays and what goes? Lever House was landmarked before its curtain wall was replaced. Does this mean we have an evolving standard of landmarking?

When Should Sustainability Trump Significance?

The FBI Headquarters may not be "historic" in a traditional sense, but why should all this concrete go to a landfill?

The FBI Headquarters may not be “historic” in a traditional sense, but why should all this concrete go to a landfill? Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

Ann Dilcher from Quinn Evans Architects discussed many of their midcentury modern projects. The one that generated the most discussion was their historic significance evaluation of the FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC. In conjunction with the GSA they determined it was NOT eligible for the NR. While I sympathize with their evaluation and I certainly didn’t spend the time they did digging into its history and significance, it did get me thinking that not wanting to send all that concrete to the landfill should be as important a reason to keeping a building as who worked there or what shape the floor plans were. Should we be reconsidering our “landmark” designations? In our new climate change world, can a building be a landmark simply because it “is?”

Art and the Artist

The artillery shed which houses Donald Judd's art. Are the windows art as well?

The artillery shed which houses Donald Judd’s art. Are the windows art as well? Photo courtesy The Chinati Foundation.

James Parks, an engineer at Simpson Gumperz Heger, presented an engineering analysis of art and the artillery sheds housing of Donald Judd’s art in Marfa, Texas. The sheds house art that was created to fit within it. Judd designed and installed the windows himself which brings up a significant question – can the windows be retrofitted or replaced to improve energy efficiency and protection of the art work in the buildings or are the windows themselves also considered art?

We are finding that considering how to restore modernism and how to define modernism is as exciting and intellectually stimulating as originally designing modernism must have been.

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True Green Cities / Celebrating Four Years – Oh That Glorious Gateway Arch

Sunrise at the Gateway Arch.

Sunrise at the 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 three of my anniversary week.  And it’s Earth Day, a fine day to celebrate this glorious memorial.

The Gateway Arch at the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial 

The Arch frames the Old Courthouse Museum, now the Arch's Visitor Center.

The Arch frames the Old Courthouse Museum, now the Arch’s Visitor Center.

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 best parts of the symposium was spending our days adjacent to the Arch. Our conference space in the Drury Plaza Hotel in the former American Zinc Building looked out over the Arch.  For years I have been obsessed with the Space Needle in Seattle ( a contemporary of the Arch) and since my first visit to the Arch in 2010, I have hoped to get back here.

The Gateway Arch, looking up or down?

The Gateway Arch, looking up or down?

We heard from many professionals involved in managing, maintaining, and evaluating the Arch. We heard from architectural historians about the Arch’s place in St. Louis and modernism. And while I was thrilled to have this insight into all these important aspects,  there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like walking around the Arch (even with its landscape under construction as it is brilliantly remade), looking up at it from every possible vantage, and being encouraged to touch it. If you have never been there, please figure out a time and way to visit. The era of Modernism was a time of great hope and optimism, and these structures from worlds’ fairs (like the Space Needle) and memorials to our great founders (like Jefferson with the Arch) demonstrate how we can eloquently use modern materials and forms to express that hope and optimism.

Why an Arch?

Heading to the Arch past the Old Cathedral.

Heading to the Arch past the Old Cathedral.

Much has been written about the competition for the Arch and father and son Eliel and Eero Saarinen competing for its design. Designed in 1947/48, its construction did not begin until 1962 (and Eero Saarinen had just died unexpectedly). It opened in 1965. If you would like more details please peruse the National Park Service’s website. For an incisive architectural evaluation, Helene Lipstadt’s essay entitled “Co-Making the Modern Monument” in Modern Architecture in St. Louis is a great place to start.

There is a nice brochure available at the Arch bookstores entitled “Building The Arch: The Improbable Dream.” I will excerpt a piece about its form that is quite interesting:

A certain uneasiness mingled with anticipation in the autumn air over St. Louis as the days of October 1965 ticked away. The Gateway Arch stood one section from completion, two colossal tusks aching to touch 630 feet in the sky. The gap between them was an arm’s length, two and one-half feet. The section that had to fit it was eight feet long. Hydraulic jacks, exerting 625,000 pounds of force, would have to pry the arcs farther apart. Such a thing had never been done before.

The catenary curve of the Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

The catenary curve of the Gateway Arch looks different from every vantage point.

This wasn’t like building a pyramid, a dome, an obelisk or even the world’s tallest office building. Architect Eero Saarinen had taken a mannerism of nature – a catenary curve, the arc of a chain suspended from two points – turned it upside down, and left it to an army of engineers and workers to figure out how to build it. The Arch had to be reinvented twice – first in Saarinen’s imagination, then for real beside the Mississippi River. (copyright 2010 Jefferson National Parks Association)

The Arch is Not Concrete

So maybe you will laugh at me, and some have. But others have agreed with me. Prior to my first trip to St. Louis in 2010 as part of a summer road trip, I had never really researched or read much about the Arch. I always admired both Saarinens, and have visited the soaring airports, their churches in Columbus, Indiana and their Kleinhan’s Music Hall in Buffalo – all masonry or concrete buildings. Until I actually saw it, I had always thought the Arch was concrete, or even possibly limestone. But I had never really thought about it. As we were driving over the Mississippi and I saw the Arch for the first time I screamed, “EXPLETIVE, the Arch is stainless steel!!!” My companions thought it was hysterical that I didn’t know it was stainless steel. But I dare you to open your mind and look at it in photographs and even in person at certain times – tell me it couldn’t possibly be concrete!  Who would have designed it out of stainless steel?!

Clouds framing the Gateway Arch.

Clouds framing the Gateway Arch. The tiny dots at the top are the windows at the observation deck.

With that said, to see this structure, touch it, and photograph it is to witness the wonder of its stainless steel. For the past 15 years the National Park Service has been evaluating every component of the Arch – from its landscape and access to its structural capacity, its life safety and fire safety, and its need for maintenance and restoration.

We heard from Al O’Bright, the National Park Service Historical Architect for the Arch, that it has taken 15 years to evaluate just the stains and markings on the Arch because cyclical inspections and routine inspections were not considered in the design. Its reverse catenary shape makes it very difficult to observe and access the exterior stainless steel, in which all of the panels are welded together. Ultimately, specialized rock climbers ascended the Arch to make actual observations and take detailed photographs.

Yes, the arch is made of stainless steel.

Yes, the arch is made of stainless steel.

We heard from Steve Kelly, an architect and structural engineer who has studied the Arch for 10 years. He and his former firm, Wiss Janney Elstner, reviewed precedents to assist in determining if the Arch should be or needed to be cleaned. They looked at similar stainless steel monuments and buildings which had been cleaned including the Chrysler Building built in 1929 (light detergent), the Unisphere at the NY World’s Fair built in 1964 (blasted with water), the Inland Steel Building, American Zinc Building, and the relatively new Air Force Memorial.

We heard from scientist Catherine Houska of TMR Consulting that some of the staining was from de-icing salt and that de-icing salt can travel up to 1.2 miles. Given that a major highway has run adjacent to the Arch for decades, this is not surprising. She also reminded us that stainless steel is stain-less NOT stain-free!

All roads lead to the Arch in St. Louis.

All roads lead to the Arch in St. Louis.

We heard from preservation architect Anne Weber and fire protection engineer Jennifer Wiley that their use of performance based analysis with 3-D modeling suggests that if there is a fire at one base or side of the arch, visitors at the top should have more than enough time in most cases to descend the staircase to safety on the other side.

And we heard from Mary Reid Brunstrom, an architectural historian from Washington University, that the arch has become an indispensable symbol of St. Louis, which is often called “Parabola City.” Everything in St. Louis references or points to the Arch. Happy 50th Birthday to one of the great architectural wonders on the planet, the Gateway Arch, designed and envisioned by masterful modernist architect, Eero Saarinen. And Happy Earth Day too!

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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.

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