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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Predock Building Doomed

Image from Tom Zasadzinski and The Architect's Newspaper.  All Rights Reserved.
The iconic Antoine Predock-designed Classroom Lab Administration building on Cal Poly Pomona's campus is slated for demolition. Built in 1993 and featured in a number of movies and television productions, the building appears to be little loved by its users on the Cal Poly campus.  The Architect's Newspaper reported the news, including direct responses from Antoine Predock:
In recent weeks, it has become clear that Antoine Predock’s iconic Classroom Laboratory Administration (CLA) Building on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona is likely to meet every building’s nemesis: the wrecking ball. The university claims it is structurally compromised and poorly designed for education. While demolition is not yet scheduled, on September 21 the California State University Board of Trustees voted to construct a new building in its place.

Meanwhile, Predock fired back in an interview that the CLA is not only structurally sound but an “irreplaceable” part of the campus. “In their haste to find a quick solution to common structural problems, university officials have chosen to raze this important visual landmark and, by doing so, will demolish a vital part of the university’s identity,” he told AN.

Designed in 1993 to be what Predock called “the new campus gateway” and “a pivotal, landmark building,” the CLA is composed of an eight-story triangular tower and an attached seven-story rectilinear structure. The tower, with its soaring form, is visible from the I-10 freeway and also doubles as a wayfinding device on campus, helping visitors move through a school that university president Michael Ortiz calls “difficult to navigate.” The structure has been featured in numerous films and television spots, and is even integrated into the university’s logo. Its presence will not be easily replicated.

While Ortiz admits that “the removal of the CLA will leave a void in the skyline,” he contends that “those who have to interact with the structure on a daily basis are not as fond of the structure.” The building, he and other administrators argue, is confusing to navigate, cramped, and plagued with problems. According to Mike Sylvester, Cal Poly’s vice president of facilities, the university was forced to pursue “a latent defect claim for design and construction deficiencies” shortly after the building opened, due to extensive water damage. That damage, he said, has still not been completely fixed.

Renovating the building would mean updating it for new seismic codes, among other things, and the university says it would cost $80 million, the same price they have estimated for a new building. 

Predock, who completed his plans for the building under the supervision of a California State University review board, is understandably upset by the news. “It is devastating,” he said, “to imagine that this iconic structure, one of the most important of my designs, might be demolished, creating a void in the Cal Poly campus fabric, an irreplaceable loss.”

Responding to the administration’s charges, Predock staunchly defended the CLA’s structural and figural integrity, calling his building “a project of which I am extremely proud…not to mention the fact that the structure survived both the Northridge and Chino Hills earthquakes unscathed.” He added that the school itself signed off on the building’s design. “During the construction drawing phase, the project underwent intense scrutiny by the university and its peer review panel,” he said, “continuing into the construction phase with a team of university inspectors.”

Cal Poly’s Sylvester differs with Predock about the university’s oversight of his work, revealing some underlying tension. “Although there were reviews during the development of the project, the liability for design and construction is the architect’s, engineer’s, and contractor’s professional responsibility,” he said.

Around campus, reaction to the impending loss seems surprisingly ambivalent. University message boards have been quiet, while local preservation groups have been mum. Said Sylvester: “There are many people in the university community that are disappointed that the building may be demolished, but overall most people agree with the university’s decision and are looking forward to a new replacement facility.”

According to Cal Poly’s Office of Public Affairs, construction on the CLA’s successor is estimated to begin in 2013, and will take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete after groundbreaking. An architect has not yet been named.
From the article, it appears to be a classic example of an aesthetic approach clashing with user needs, but it is hard to tell how much Predock's design or perhaps proper construction is really lacking in this situation.  Certainly the building satisfied a number of larger programmatic needs on campus, including wayfinding and identity, but did not function to the satisfaction of its daily occupants on a practical level.  Right or wrong, the design will be replaced, and it will be interesting to see what fills the void. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Riverside County Gets World's Largest Solar Array

The LA Times reported today that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved a proposed 7,000 acre solar project for Blythe, CA backed by Solar Millennium, a German-based corporation.  The 1 gigawatt installation would be the world's largest solar installation, at the same time effectively doubling the United State's entire solar production potential:
What’s the sunny equivalent of “when it rains, it pours”? Because that’s what’s happening in Southern California, as yet another massive solar plant cleared the permitting process Monday.

This time, it’s the Blythe Solar Power Plant, backed by German company Solar Millennium and planned for more than 7,000 acres in Riverside County. The project would be the largest solar installation in the world, doubling the amount of solar electricity the U.S. can produce.

The Blythe installation is the sixth in recent months to be approved for public land. Several proposed solar plants have been fast-tracked through the permitting process as they race to meet the December deadline for federal stimulus funds. One of those, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, is breaking ground Wednesday near Primm, Nev.

Winning final clearance to start construction from the Bureau of Land Management on Monday, after getting the go-ahead from California authorities last month, makes Blythe the first proposal of its kind to be approved for federal public land.

The installation will deliver 1 gigawatt of power using parabolic trough technology. The process involves curved mirrors that gather the sun’s rays, heating liquid that creates steam to run generators.

The multibillion-dollar Blythe project will consist of four separate, 250-megawatt sections that together would be able to power more than 300,000 average homes -– even up to 750,000 residences by some estimates.

The groundbreaking should happen by the end of the year, Solar Millennium said. But first, the company is in “advanced discussions” with the Department of Energy as it attempts to land $1.9 billion in government debt financing for the first two portions of the project, as several other solar projects have done.

Construction is expected to create more than 1,000 direct jobs, as well as thousands more throughout the supply chain, the company said. Once built, the plant will support nearly 300 permanent jobs.

The project, however, will have its share of impact on the environment. So, to mitigate any potential damage, regulators are requiring that Solar Millenium cough up funding to support more than 8,000 acres of habitat for native species such as the desert tortoise, the Western burrowing owl, the bighorn sheep and the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.
Certainly the announcement is great news, but also sounds a note of caution.  The plant is a great opportunity for the US to deploy solar technology in a large-scale capacity, and will hopefully promote desperately needed economic gains within the region via a green technology. But, the sheer scale of the plant also underscores the impacts all energy production technologies, whether traditionally oriented or renewable, impose upon the surrounding environment.  Each imposes a true physical cost to the landscape that may vary in scope, but does not waver in its lasting impacts. It will be interesting to see what mitigation measures are implemented, and how successful they are in offsetting impacts to habitat in highly sensitive landscapes.  Above all, I guess we can consider the  experiment known as the solar-era officially underway in Southern California, and hope that the promise of renewable energy rings true. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Long Beach Turf Rebate

Image from LA Times.  All Rights Reserved.
News flash - rebates and outreach work.  Or, at least they do in Long Beach, whose recent turf reduction rebate program has been a rousing success.  As Emily Green from the LA Times reported a few weeks ago, the first two rounds of the program, which offers a $2.50 per square foot rebate for lawn converted to low-water garden, are complete, and have produced a number of compelling and interesting outdoor spaces for residents of Long Beach:
It stands to reason that clean-ocean advocates would appreciate how important it is to check the stream of pesticide and fertilizer pollution that runs into the Pacific from lawn-sprinkler overflow. But what has dazzled everyone familiar with the Beautiful Long Beach Lawn-to-Garden Incentive Program is how citizens of this beach city have been so ready to do their part. The first day that the Long Beach Water Department began accepting applications, conservation specialist Joyce Barkley said, “They were gone in 45 minutes.”
Hopefully these great results will not only further such programs but pay dividends in making LA a more sustainable city.  Some great photos and stories of homeowners taking advantage of the rebate can be found at Green's column.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Santa Monica Glow

"Intersection" by Freewaves & SuperExpo
This post is a few weeks late in coming, but I had the chance to attend the 2010 Santa Monica Glow festival this year, and was duly impressed by the scope and scale of the event.  Glow showcases a number of light artists and light-focused installations for one-night in downtown Santa Monica, and on Santa Monica Beach around the Santa Monica Pier.  Typically the installations feature interactive components in addition to light-based art, and the event draws as many as 250,000 attendees every year.  As you can tell from some of the pictures, the projects vary from the whimsical to the reflective.  Because of the sheer scale of the festival, I wasn't able to see all of the projects, but probably my favorite was an interactive projection installation titled "Sandbox" by Spanish artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.  Sadly, I did not get any photos of it, but the official description provides a taste of the project:
Visitors are are invited to dip their hands into two sandboxes, which are alive with the small 'ghosts' of the Glow audience projected onto their surfaces.  As visitors play in the sand, real-time images of their hands are transmitted into an 8,000 square feet area of the adjacent beach, radically enlarging human scale to the gigantic. 
- "Sandbox", Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
The result was a fantastic, slightly creepy, but wholly mesmerizing installation that captivated people's imaginations in a unique and compelling way.  Some other interesting projects included an architectural installation titled "Luminous Passage" by Predock & Frane, an interactive project called "La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy, a video piece titled "coast lines" by Steve Roden, and "shapednoise" by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot.  As the pictures and videos show below, "La Bella Luna" featured a floating orb with the projected faces of volunteer karoke singers, creating a disembodied, YouTube-esque display and icon on the beach.  "shapednoise" had perhaps the best, wonderously bizarre aspect to it of the evening, as a lifeguard tower was slowly consumed by foam.  All in all, an impressive group of projects that not only provided some interesting art, but also energized Santa Monica Beach as a mass public space for a night.  More descriptions of all of the projects at available on the Glow website

"La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy

"La Bella Luna" by Anne Herlihy
"Luminous Passage" by Predock-Frane Architects.
"shapednoise" by Celeste Boursier-Mougenot

Friday, October 8, 2010

CicLAvia this Weekend!

10-10-10 CicLAvia Route Map.  From CicLAvia.  All Rights Reserved.
CicLAvia hits the streets this weekend, taking over a large stretch of LA roadways on Sunday from 10am-3pm.  All of LA is encouraged to participate by taking to the streets, literally.  Streets will be closed to vehicular traffic for 5 hours, allowing LA residents to use the streets as pedestrian oriented open spaces to bike, walk, run, play, or generally make use of space usually not reserved for them.  And, in a city like LA, that is a lot of space.  Should be an interesting opportunity for LA to reimagine itself, even if it just for a few hours. A full list of activities is available on the organizing website.  Go CicLAvia!