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  1. There's heavy renovation inside and outside of this beautiful old building which now houses Charcos and Smoke's Poutinerie. Condos? Rental? Who knows. At least it's getting a new life. They did a fair bit of demolition to put in windows (and what I assume will be balconies). Here's what it looked like last summer.
  2. January 20, 2009 ARCHITECTURE REVIEW | COPENHAGEN CONCERT HALL For Intimate Music, the Boldest of Designs By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF COPENHAGEN — It’s usually considered an insult to say that an architect designs pretty packages, let alone that he borrows ideas from a dead genius. But Jean Nouvel should be forgiven for resurrecting old ghosts. His Copenhagen Concert Hall, which opened here on Saturday evening, is a loving tribute to Hans Scharoun’s 1963 Berlin Philharmonie, whose cascading balconies made it one of the most beloved concert halls of the postwar era. And Mr. Nouvel has encased his homage in one of the most gorgeous buildings I have recently seen: a towering bright blue cube enveloped in seductive images. It’s a powerful example of how to mine historical memory without stifling the creative imagination. And it offers proof, if any more were needed, that we are in the midst of a glorious period in concert hall design. Like Frank Gehry’s 2003 Disney Hall in Los Angeles and Herzog & de Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie, now under construction in Hamburg, Germany, Mr. Nouvel’s new hall demonstrates that an intimate musical experience and boldly imaginative architecture need not be in conflict — they can actually reinforce each other. The Copenhagen Concert Hall has the ugliest setting of the three. In a new residential and commercial district on the outskirts of the old inner city, it is flanked by boring glass residential and office blocks. Elevated train tracks running to the old city swing right by the building; swaths of undeveloped land with tufts of grass and mounds of dirt extend to the south. Approached along the main road from the historic city, the hall’s cobalt blue exterior has a temporal, ghostly quality. Its translucent fabric skin is stretched over a structural frame of steel beams and tension cables that resembles scaffolding. During the day you can see figures moving about inside, as well as the vague outline of the performance space, its curved form embedded in a matrix of foyers and offices. It is in darkness that the building comes fully to life. A montage of video images is projected across the cube’s fabric surface at night, transforming it into an enormous light box. Drifting across the cube’s surfaces, the images range from concert performers and their instruments to fragments of form and color. This is the intoxicating medium of late-capitalist culture. You can easily imagine boxes of detergent or adult chat-line numbers finding their way into the mix. Yet what makes this more than an advertising gimmick is the contrast between the disorienting ethereality of the images and the Platonic purity of the cube. For decades architects have strived to create ever more fluid spaces, designing ramped floors and curved walls to meld the inner life of a building with the street life around it. The ideal is a world where boundaries between inside and out vanish. Yet Mr. Nouvel’s box is more self-contained and arguably less naïve: its solid form, bathed in tantalizing images, is in stark opposition to the sterile desolation around it. That impression grows once you enter the building, where more projected images blend with real, living people coursing through it. To reach the main performance space, concertgoers can either ride up escalators directly in front of the main entrance or turn to climb a broad staircase. Just to the left of those stairs are elevators that shoot up to the lobby and upper-level foyers, whose ceilings are decorated in fragmented, overlapping panels. As video images wash over the panels, the pictures break apart so that you perceive them only in fragments, like reflections in broken glass. More images stream across the walls. The effect is a mounting intensity that verges on the psychedelic. None of this would be effective, however, without Mr. Nouvel’s keen understanding of architecture’s most basic elements, including a feel for scale and materials. The towering proportions of the lobbies, for example, seem to propel you up through the building. When you reach the upper foyers, you feel the weight of the main performance space pressing down on you. At the same time, views open up from the corners of the building to the outside world. It’s as if you were hovering in some strange interstitial zone, between the banal urban scenery outside and the focused atmosphere of a concert. This complex layering of social spaces brings to mind the labyrinthine quarters of an Arab souk as much as it does a high-tech information network. That’s largely because Mr. Nouvel’s materials put you at ease: elevator shafts and staircases are clad in plywood, giving many of the spaces the raw, unpretentious aura of a construction site. The building’s concrete surfaces are wrinkled in appearance, like an elephant’s skin, but when you touch them, they feel as smooth as polished marble. By contrast, the main performance hall wraps you in a world of luxury. Like Scharoun’s cherished hall, Mr. Nouvel’s is organized in a vineyard pattern, with seats stepping down toward the stage on all sides in a series of cantilevered balconies. The pattern allows you to gaze over the stage at other concertgoers, creating a communal ambience. Because the balconies are stepped asymmetrically, you never feel that you are planted amid monotonous rows of identical spectators. Yet Mr. Nouvel’s version is smaller and more tightly focused than Mr. Scharoun’s. The balcony walls are canted, so that they seem to be pitching toward the stage. A small rectangular balcony designed for the queen of Denmark and her immediate family hovers over one side of the hall, breaking down the scale. The entire room was fashioned from layers of hardwood, which gives it an unusual warmth and solidity, as if it had been carved out of a single block. The result is a beautifully resilient emotional sanctuary: a little corner of utopia in a world where walls are collapsing. And it underscores what makes Mr. Nouvel such an ideal architect for today. Though he is a deft practitioner of contemporary technology, his ideas are rooted in the historical notion of the city as a place of intellectual exchange. His best buildings hark back beyond the abstract orderliness of Modernism and neo-Classicism to a more intuitive — and human — time. Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company Privacy Policy Search Corrections RSS First Look Help Contact Us Work for Us Site Map
  3. C'est comme cool! Source USA Today Sears Tower unveils 103rd floor glass balconies CHICAGO — Visitors to the Sears Tower's new glass balconies all seem to agree: The first step is the hardest. "It's like walking on ice," said Margaret Kemp, of Bishop, Calif., who said her heart was still pounding even after stepping away from the balcony. "That first step you take — 'am I going down?"' Kemp was among the visitors who got a sneak preview of the balconies Wednesday. "The Ledge," as the balconies have been nicknamed, open to the public Thursday. RELATED: Ten tips for Chicago tourists The balconies are suspended 1,353 feet in the air and jut out four feet from the building's 103rd floor Skydeck. They're actually more like boxes than balconies, with transparent walls, floor and ceiling. FIND MORE STORIES IN: Sears, Roebuck and Company Visitors are treated to unobstructed views of Chicago from the building's west side and a heart-stopping vista of the street and Chicago River below — for those brave enough to look straight down. John Huston, one of the property owners of the Sears Tower, even admitted to getting "a little queasy" the first time he ventured out. But 30 or 40 trips later, he's got the hang of it. "The Sears Tower has always been about superlatives — tallest, largest, most iconic," he said. "Today is also about superlatives. Today, we present you with 'the Ledge,' the world's most awesome view, the world's most precipitous view, the view with the most wow in the world." The balconies can hold five tons, and the glass is an inch-and-a-half thick, officials said. Sears Tower officials have said the inspiration for the balconies came from the hundreds of forehead prints visitors left behind on Skydeck windows every week. Now, staff will have a new glass surface to clean: floors. "It's very scary, but at the same time it's very cool," said Chanti Lawrence of Atlanta, adding that she's made her first step toward overcoming her fear of heights. Adam Kane, 10, of Alton, Ill., rushed to the ledge with his friends and siblings, and they each eagerly pressed their faces to the glass bottom. "Look at all those tiny things that are usually huge," Adam said. The balconies are just one of the big changes coming to the Sears Tower. The building's name will change to Willis Tower later this summer. Last week, officials announced a 5-year, $350 million green renovation complete with wind turbines, roof gardens and solar panels. With the ledge, visitors like Kemp said the nation's tallest building has succeeded in creating something they've never seen before. "I had to live 70 years for a thrill like this," she said.
  4. Confessions of a Condo Architect Halanah Heffez Right after completing her Masters degree in Architecture, Alex got a job with a local firm that designs those condominiums you always see cropping up in the Plateau, Rosemont and Villeray. We have all seen these new constructions and shuddered, or perhaps just sighed it could be worse. The blocks are neither offensive nor inspiring: they're mediocre at best. “We’re creating a generation of condos that are really ugly," Alex says,"It’s as bad as the 'eighties. Frankly, I think it’s going to be worse.” She runs through a list of all-too-familiar features: cramped juliettes where balconies should be; basement apartments with dug-out cours anglaises surrounded with bars that end up looking like jail cells; the use of different tones of brick to break up the façade; the random insertion of incongruous colours to add a semblance of architectural variety... As Alex describes it, designing condos is a constant give and take between respecting the building code while maximizing the client's profits that leaves little space for creativity. Here's an example: the City of Montreal requires 80% of building fronts to be masonry and monotone bricks in taupe matt, grey anthracite and Champlain orange-red are inexpensive (how cheap it feels to reduce the urban landscape to colours in a catalogue). The most an architect can hope to do is to add a splash of coloured plexiglass, and only if the borough's CCU lets it through. Within the envelope, the constraints are event tighter: Alex describes her workdays as "trying to shove too much into a space that’s inherently too small.” She recalls debating with a colleague about the ethics of sketching a double-bed into the plans when a queen simply wouldn't fit in the room. "'If you can’t fit a Queen-sized bed in your apartment, then it’s not an acceptable apartment," Alex insists. But most people don't have much experience reading architectural plans so they don’t necessarily realize what they’re getting. The developer, on the other hand, knows exactly what they want: "they come to you and say: this is the lot, and we want 8 condos in it." That leaves room for only a couple two-bedroom apartments, and the rest bachelors, all within the footprint of what was once a duplex or triplex apartment block. "It’s more profitable to sell more condos than to sell more bedrooms,” Alex points out. There's another catch: buildings under three stories fall within part 9 of the building code, which is more lenient in terms of fire safety regulations. But by sinking in a couple basement suites and adding a mezzanine (which must not exceed a certain percentage of the floorspace), it's possible to squeeze five levels into a building that is officially only three stories high. At least there's a sliver of good news: just this year the city stopped allowing windowless rooms. And while we may be in favour of urban density, tightly-packed residential units are not synonymous with density of inhabitants. "All these properties with great potential are being turned into one single type of real estate that is not family friendly: it’s all geared to young professionals without children. They’re not big enough for a growing family and there’s no flexibility in the space," says Alex. Another thing that she laments is that, with the requirement to transform every square inch of the lot into square-footage of floorspace, there's a tendency to lose the individual entrances, balconies and outdoor staircases that are typical of Montreal's urban landscape, and that create a dialogue between public and private space. Of course, being an architect, she also dwells on the aesthetics: “It’s all going to look very 2010," she sighs, "....and not in a good way.” http://spacingmontreal.ca/2011/12/19/the-architecture-of-mediocrity/