Monday, November 29, 2010

Rio Slum's Colorful Facelift Enough?

Dutch artists, Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas, seem to have given Rio de Janeiro's Santa Marta slum a bright and colorful make over transforming the main square into a kaleidoscope of color. The artists elicited the help of many of the local residents as well as "Coral," the Brazilian paint company in completing this painting project.

"We suddenly had this clear vision that it would actually be great to transform their living environment together with them into something artistic that would install pride in their life," an excited Urhahn told CNN and residents have also shown similar enthusiasm about the new image of the community. "It gives the community life!" said Edimar Marcelinho Franco, a resident who helped paint the thirty-four buildings. "People who come to the favela today say, 'Wow, how pretty.' It doesn't have that image of an ugly favela," he said.

Outside of all the excitement the bright colors have caused, I can't help but feel that this is very poor window dressing. Raw sewage runs down foot paths in the area, residents still live in abject poverty,there are still shootouts between drug gangs and the police and all the painting in the world will not change this. The residents need basic amenities like clean running water and electricity as well as job opportunities not a free paint job. Maybe if some of the youth had some other means of earning money, there might not be a need to enter the drug world and it is amazing that the Brazilian authorities have continued to over look this.

A quote I found particularly interesting is from Carlos Piazza, AkzoNobel's communication director for Latin America who reacted to the painting project with the following statement to CNN: "Color brings status...What divides the city, the formal city, from the informal city? Painting, that's it." Really? So now that the Santa Marta residents have some color on their walls, they are just as well off as the wealthy on the other side of town? So if we just paint East Oakland it will be just as affluent a neighborhood as Oakland Hills? I don't think I agree.

Images and information obtained from

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Out of the blight comes Affordable Housing

With the crash of real estate all over the country, the city of New York recently unveiled a program to "convert vacant and stalled high-end projects for middle income families." This $20 million program, known as HARP- Housing Asset Renewal Program, is geared to clean up the blight littering the five boroughs and at the same time create much needed affordable housing for the city.

“Private developments that sit vacant or unfinished could have a destabilizing effect on our neighborhoods, but we’re not about to let that happen,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “This program holds out the promise of addressing the unintended blight caused by vacant sites, while transforming what would have been market-rate buildings into affordable housing for working class New Yorkers.”

Speaker Christine Quinn introduced this option in February 2008 during her State of the City address and the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development was brought on board to flesh out some of the details that need to be worked out before implementation.

The entire process is set to work thus: the city will issue a request for funding applicants—a sort of RFP with a rolling deadline—in July that is expected to run through December. Applicants will be judged on three criteria: those who offer the deepest discounts, require the least amount of subsidy, and provide the most “stabilization” to the neighborhood. For instance, a single building in need of subsidy in a ten block radius would be more likely targeted than 15 buildings in need within a five block radius, according to Andrew Doba, a council spokesperson. -

I think this is a great idea to not only open up financing to complete the construction on these projects but to also provide affordable housing for the public. Also, this will greatly help to clean up the blight and make the neighborhoods safer by removing these spots which could harbor potential predators in the dark.

Images obtained from:
Article details obtained from Matt Chaban's "Harping on Affordable Housing"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Increased Demand for Green Buildings

In light of work in the private sector having fallen off the map for architects, it seems like the increased demand for energy efficient and environmentally friendly buildings is helping to bring more business to architects during the current lull in the building industry. But has this been a necessarily good thing for the building industry or environment?

In the last year, more clients become more familiar with the LEED ratings system, and the potential advantages of sustainable buildings and as such have begun to request that their projects meet the criteria to be at least LEED certified. So ultimately, the more LEED accredited professionals within a firm, the better positioned they are to tap into this market.

Although this has been hailed by many of my peers as a good sign, I am not as optimistic. I think what has happened now, is that the word "green" has become a label developers seek to apply to every ugly little box they want to market to the public as unique. I recently worked on an apartment complex in Southern California that the developer wanted to have meet the LEED certified criteria and provided the necessary strategies needed for the project to achieve this. Now, the building is still a piece of junk aesthetically and has many issues to be ironed out but the developer could care less. He feels that since he is applying the LEED "label" like some kind of beauty lotion, the project will magically transform into something potential occupant will fall over themselves to rent.

Having said that, I must add that I am appreciative of the revenue these projects are bringing in which help keep many of us working but I have noticed that these days, having a LEED certified building does not necessarily mean that you have an environmentally friendly building by any means.

Image obtained from:

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Worst Building in the World

I had my doubts about how bad this building could possibly have been when I heard about it. I mean we all know that architecture is very subjective and not everyone is going to agree about the aesthetic qualities of any building but when I saw an image of the Ryugyong Hotel in North Korea, I had to admit that this was the one exception to the rule. It's truly awful!

The one-hundred-and-five-story, world's 22nd largest skyscraper broke ground as far back as 1987 by Baikdoosan Architects but construction was stopped in 1992 when it was rumored that the state ran out of money to continue. Now, more than twenty years later after North Korea poured more than two percent of its gross domestic product into this eyesore, construction has resumed though I can't understand why. The Ryugyong Hotel dwarfs and stands out so much from its surroundings, it looks like it was just dropped there from outer space with no care for site integration. Also, the government themselves think it is so bad that they airbrush it out of official photos of the city skyline, pretending that it isn't there.

Even by Communist standards, the 3,000-room hotel is hideously ugly, a series of three gray 328-foot long concrete wings shaped into a steep pyramid. With 75 degree sides that rise to an apex of 1,083 feet, the Hotel of Doom (also known as the Phantom Hotel and the Phantom Pyramid) isn't the just the worst designed building in the world -- it's the worst-built building, too. -

I think like most people do, that the Ryugyong Hotel is horrid but again we really can't judge the entire process of its design and construction as it is within a communist country we do not understand or have much access to. This building clearly would not have even gotten approved anywhere in Europe or the United States nor would so much money have been poured down the drain on a project the government and community clearly seem to despise.

Images obtained from:

Friday, June 12, 2009

Zaha Hadid Wins Cairo Competition

The 1,530,000 sq ft Cairo Expo City near the airport will comprise a major international exhibition and conference centre with business hotel. A further office tower and a shopping centre are also proposed.

According to Hadid, the undulating design was inspired by the natural topography of the Nile Valley.

‘As the exhibition spaces require the greatest degree of flexibility, we wanted to ensure that all the public spaces and formal composition of Cairo Expo City relate to the surrounding Egyptian landscape.’ said Hadid. ‘Along the great rivers of the region, most particularly the Nile, there is a powerful dynamic - a constant flow between the water and the land - which extends to incorporate the neighboring buildings and landscapes. For the Cairo Expo City design, we worked to capture that seamlessness and fluidity in an urban architectural context.’

Work to start clearing the site will begin in October. Hadid will be working together with engineering consultants Buro Happold. -

Though I think this is a very beautiful design, I am a little skeptical of it's feasibility structurally and financially. I think that Zaha has created, like she always does, another site intervention to stick out and proclaim her apparent greatness.

Images obtained from:

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Reality of Building Integrated Wind

With the recent push to move away from our dependence on oil, and into an era of energy generated from clean and renewable sources and an added 30% tax credit for more incentive, many misconceptions have been generated about wind energy and turbines.

For starters though they are usually very beautiful when integrated well with the building design, they often do not produce as much power as advertised because they can't overcome the major problem of "turbulent airflow." For turbines to work optimally, they need strong "laminar winds," in which all the wind flows from one direction but on top of tall buildings, where they are often mounted, the winds come from many different directions. Bob Thresher, director of the National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, explains that as wind flow comes over the edge of a roof or around a corner, it separates into many different streams.

Ron Stimmel, wind technology expert at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), added to this thought saying that, this turbulent flow confuses a wind turbine, affecting its performance. “Even if it feels really windy on top of a building, it’s probably more turbulent wind than steady wind,” he said.

Another issue is that of noise and vibration, contrary to common assumptions that turbines are generally quiet. The vertical-axis machines indeed are much more quiet than rotator blades but the vibration they cause on non-concrete buildings is generally detrimental to the general comfort of the occupants.

In one of the only extensive surveys of actual performance of building-integrated wind turbines the Warwick Wind Trials Project, the only turbines able to generate close to their projected electricity output were mounted on high-rise apartment buildings. And these wind turbines remained switched off throughout most of the test period because of complaints from the residents about noise., The-Folly of Building Integrated Wind

Another problem is that of the actual measured performance Vs the projected measured performance of the turbine. Manufacturers are constantly guilty of showing slightly elevated power curves for their products than what they can actually achieve which makes the process of figuring how much energy a set of turbines on our building is going to generate. The usually leaves designers and clients very disappointed in the end. For example, the vertical axis turbine (left) is nominally rated at 10kw but tests by Madison Gas and Electric showed that it has so far never produced more than 600 watts even though it is installed at a height that might be typical for a rooftop application.

So although they look nicer and sleeker as the years go by and they make a very bold and energy efficient statement for the building design, they do not help much practically for what they are meant to do. Of course if you are looking for a sculptural element to enhance a piece of your building, wind turbines do the job well and you might as well get something out of them but keep in mind that it will be minimal.

Images obtained from:
Article info obtained from: Alex Wilson's "The Folly of Building-Integrated Wind"

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cheese Grater Gets Built in Dubai

New York based reiser + umemoto has decided to really push the design envelope with their very unorthodox building, 0-14 which has just been topped out in Dubai. The skin of the building is of self-consolidating concrete cast over the perforated reinforced steel. Though this is one of the few buildings that is actually environmentally innovative, aesthetically, this is one design that seems like it would have been better off remaining on paper.

Structurally, the seemingly termite eaten facade acts as an exoskeleton allows the exterior of the building to practically column free, acts as a double-skin facade and uses the stack effect to channel the stifling hot air of Dubai up out of the cavities and at the same time cooling the walls and windows.

Dubai as we all know is the one place where you can find the most outrageous designs that have no consideration for the environment but though I think the facade is not in the least bit "easy on the eyes" I am pleased that this one does try to be aware that when you build vertically in places like Dubai, the higher you go, the more you begin to create micro climates within the building itself. This is a huge strain on HVAC equipment adjusting to the different temperatures. The perforated skin will allow more light and air into the building and at the same time provide some shading form direct sunlight.

Images and article details obtained from:
and from Lynn Becker's "Dubai Swiss cheese grater becomes a reality."

Monday, June 8, 2009

4 Most Creative Cities In The World

Fast company has just released its list of the top 13 most creative and innovative cities in the world, most of which are within the United States which I must admit is a little surprising. In a statement, Fast company explained that criteria used was to determine and rank cities with "initiatives that can help our communities go greener, be safer, live smarter, and invest for the future."

No 1: Cleveland
From being a city scarred by urban blight and foreclosure, Cleveland, Ohio is putting together an impressive urban plan "to create acres of tree nurseries, oases of native plants, and community gardens." Also, empty lots within communities are to be used as mini solar farms to power homes in the community. "A solar array in a previously empty 3-acre lot, for example, will provide enough power for 200 homes."

No 2: San Francisco
This seems to be just about the "Bank on San Francisco" program, a public-private partnership established by the city and county of San Francisco and several other financial organizations. This program ensured that the 17 participating banks accepted not only United States issued IDs but Mexican and Guatemalan IDs as well to enable Latino immigrants working in the city to safely deposit their money in the bank and hang on to the 5% of their annual income they would have spent on check-cash services. Other than the banks having more money to lend, I'm not sure what good this has done.

No 3: Tucson
This comes due to the initiative to make the city as "healthy as possible." The program which started in 2003, has created "700 miles of bike ways and 72 miles of shared-use paths" with more than $80 million planned to be spent in the future. With all the new access and increased circulation within the city, the crime rate has greatly been reduced, more than 20% since 2006 and has seen a "45% reduction in crystal-methane availability since 2006."

No 4: Taipei
Taipei, Taiwan has been working hard over the years to achieve "zero landfill, total recycling" by 2010, 30 years ahead of the UN's trash targets. The city has managed to slash their garbage volume by almost 60% by introducing a new system of kitchen waste disposal that turns food waste into pig feed.

Article info obtained from:

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Zaha's New Shoes

London based architect Zaha Hadid is known for her very conceptual, unique and curvilinear designs with her new project being no exception. The project set to take off this July "explores futuristic vessels of movement in relation to the human body" ie she is designing a new pair of shoes!

Zaha is collaborating with French apparel company LACOSTE to produce this new prototype to feature unisex calf leather boots that wrap and "encapsulate" the foot from sole to ankle to leg in an continuous and fluid manner. The shoe design for lady's is more expressive of this apparent "leg wrapping" as it reaches up to the calf (top left) while the men's hugs the upper ankle. “The design expression behind the collaboration with LACOSTE footwear allows the evolution of dynamic fluid grids,” said Hadid, according to a official statement from LACOSTE. “When wrapped around the shape of a foot, these expand and contract to negotiate and adapt to the body ergonomically. In doing so a landscape emerges, undulating and radiating as it merges seamlessly with the body.”

The limited edition of only 850 pairs of Zaha's new LACOSTE shoes will be available this July in high end boutiques in Paris London and Milan in black and purple for women and black and navy blue for men.

Contrary to my initial assumptions, this is not Zaha's first crack at the fashion world as she has already designed a pair of "Eco-friendly" rubber shoes with Brazilian label MELISSA in the summer of 2008 but this has not been very successful to date. These were overpriced at about $500 a pair and extremely horrid to look at but she seems to have done better with her new designs which according to sources came from exploring "digitized interpretations” of the LACOSTE crocodile logo. I'm not sure what these cost but it will be safe to say that will not be in the window of your neighborhood Macy's any time soon.

Article info and images obtained from:
For more info on Zaha's MELISSA's designs, check:

Ghery Officially Off Barclay Center Designs

The Barclay Center, which is to be the Nets new basketball arena had originally intended to be the main focal point and anchor of Frank Ghery's sprawling 22-acre Atlantic Yards complex located in central Brooklyn. Now it seems that though Ghery will be master planner for the site, the "starchitects" firm had been replaced by Ellerbe Becket as designer of the arena itself.

One reason that seems very likely is that Ghery's proposal as usual would end up being way to pricey and indeed Forest City Ratner, the developers said in the statement. “The current economic climate is not right for this design, and with Frank’s understanding, the arena is undergoing a redesign that will make it more limited in scope.” So what happened to his magic "Digital Project" software? According to the Times, the arena is now expected to cost $800 million, down from a projected $1 billion.

So as the situation stands right now, Ghery's initial design (topmost) will be replaced with the Ellerbe Becket design (below) which bears a close resemblance to their Conseco Fieldhouse, arena of the Indiana Pacers.

I am a little disappointed that in light of the current economy, Mr Ghery was not able to find a way to create a design that is a little more affordable to the city.I guess he hasn't been using his own software he tauted could help him come in under budget for any project.
Still, I know as architects we don't particularly like to downgrade a design to make it cheaper but what was a no-no a few years ago is workable today if you want to have work.

Images obtained from:
For more info check: