The latest news on New York architecture.

  • End in Sight

    Ian Volner reports for Architect magazine.

    With newfound modeling capabilities and insight into Antoni Gaudí’s vision, the chief architect of the Basílica de la Sagrada Família aims to complete the long-stalled project by 2026.

    As construction deadlines go, 130 years certainly seems like a generous allowance. But in cathedral years, that’s almost a drop in the bucket. After all, Germany’s Cologne Cathedral broke ground in 1248 and wrapped up centuries later in 1880. The still-rising Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan is already 121 years old, with no completion date in sight. Other structures, such as England’s Coventry Cathedral, were generations in the making, only to be destroyed by war, fire, or structural failure and then repaired or built anew. From the nave to the transept to the last finial of the westwork, creating a church fit for a bishop entails a long-term commitment. The fact, then, that the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain, first got underway 13 decades ago would be almost unremarkable but for the particular character of the basilica itself, and of the man who designed it. The massive church—technically not a cathedral by Catholic law, the official seat or cathedra of the bishop being the nearby Catedral de la Santa Creu—is unlike any other house of worship in the world with its well-known, spiky, fanciful, mud-castle-like ensemble of swirling towers and twisting columns. Its architect, Catalan-born Antoni Gaudí, was among the giants of European architecture and a major transitional figure at the moment when 19th-century Beaux-Arts historicism was giving way to 20th-century Modernism. Sagrada Família is the fullest expression of his highly idiosyncratic vision. Since its construction was first halted in 1936 amidst the tumult of the Spanish Civil War, the basilica’s state of incompletion has become part and parcel of its very identity: The cranes, rubble, and half-finished sculptural friezes around the site seem like permanent fixtures of the streetscape. Funding holdups, strikes, and problems deciphering Gaudí’s intentions have led to endless delays since construction resumed in 1939. Many have simply come to assume it will never be done. Toni García, a Barcelona native and culture writer for Spanish newspaper El País, joked that the state of affairs has entered the local patois: “When you want to say, ‘Oh, that’ll never happen,’ you say, ‘Sure—it’ll happen when Sagrada Família is finished.’ ”

    Workers reinforce the project site to accommodate the anticipated construction of new structures, such as the Glory façade at the project’s south entrance, as well as towering additions to the existing structure.

    But now it seems that the proverbial pigs may be taking flight. In 2012, Barcelona-born architect Jordi Faulí assumed control of the project. The Construction Board of the Sagrada Família Foundation, the organization in charge of fundraising and advocacy for the project, could hardly have picked a more qualified candidate. Along with completing a doctoral thesis on the church’s design, Faulí has spent more than 20 years as a junior architect on the team overseeing the church’s construction. Shortly after his appointment as the chief architect of Sagrada Família, Faulí surprised everyone by declaring that the project would be finished far sooner than previously thought. “We anticipate finishing the six central towers around 2020, and completing the overall architectural form of the project around 2026, a hundred years after Gaudí’s death,” he said, adding this not-insignificant caveat: “provided circumstances allow us to follow the current rhythm.” However long it may last, Faulí and the project team, which has comprised as many as 300 workers, stonemasons, sculptors, bricklayers, and designers, have managed to achieve this accelerated pace by establishing a firmer idea of what the building should really be, and what tools they should use to make it possible.

    Realizing the geometric complexity of Gaudí’s vision for Sagrada Família has been helped by the advent of 3D printing and modeling technology. Ultra-precise resin mock-ups made by consultants, such as 3D Systems, have assisted in guiding decisions about the project’s design and structural behavior.

    Last fall, the Construction Board of the Sagrada Família Foundation released a new video showing a time-lapse projection of how construction will unfold over the next 13 years. The 76-second clip uses aerial photography and sophisticated digital imaging to show how new spires will spring up around the perimeter, how the masonry cladding will wrap around them, and how the pointed tympana will fill out the façade. The central dome will be topped by an enormous, apparently openwork, tower, completing the symbolic conceit that had been at the heart of Gaudí’s scheme: 18 individual spires to represent the prime dramatis personae of the New Testament, 12 for the apostles, four for the evangelists, one for the Holy Virgin, and another for Christ himself in the middle. is the definitive vision of the future church, the culmination of years of archival research—including the discovery of a trove of Gaudí documents in the Historic Archives of the City of Barcelona several years ago—to determine Gaudí’s intentions and to help the foundation make tough decisions about what could and couldn’t be done. “We commissioned the video when we had almost completed the investigation of the remaining parts of Gaudí’s design,” Faulí says. “For the first time, we had sufficient material to produce a virtual model.” The video also signals the vast technological leaps that have changed every aspect of the project, Faulí says. “This model couldn’t be produced before, primarily for technical reasons—advances in computer power, precise 3D scanning of the existing building, and 3D prototyping allowed us to work at a scale and a level of detail hitherto impossible to achieve.” Being able to model the building better goes hand in hand with completing it faster: the decorative details that once had to be hewn by skilled artisans are now done by fast-moving CNC (computer numeric control) cutters working from digital patterns; structural problems that would have daunted previous builders can now be solved with the click of a mouse.

    An assortment of study models of the church and its components made over time by architects, modelmakers, and designers fill the model room in the basement of Sagrada Família.

    Even more subjective design unknowns are now under the sway of the new computer-driven approach. Graham Lindsay, European sales director for advanced printing manufacturer and services provider 3D Systems, headquartered in Rock Hill, S.C., has been helping to develop prototype models of specific ornamental and structural units for Sagrada Família for several years. “One of the things that will happen is that we’ll print off a part in three or four different styles,” he says. “Then before they build that section, we’ll send the model to a group of well-known, renowned architects who can give some insight into what Gaudí would have thought, and they’ll discuss which part Gaudí might actually take.” The process helps assuage the concern of those who worry the current band of builders is departing from the conception of their illustrious predecessor. Such concerns do linger, however, and the project remains a contentious one. In particular, there is the tricky question of whether a building so long incomplete even should be finished, or whether Faulí and his collaborators are at risk of turning a beautiful semi-ruin into a half-baked mock-up of Gaudí’s ideal. Or worse: They could fail again to finish on schedule, leaving a mock-up that is still only partially complete. But Faulí, noting the mostly positive reaction of new visitors to the construction site, remains convinced that the final product will live up to expectations. Confidently, the architect is already looking ahead to what will follow after the 2026 deadline. “Although we aim to complete the structure in 13 years,” he says, “there will remain a host of tasks for the many artists and sculptors completing the symbolic narrative that Gaudí set out to provide.” Then, perhaps to hedge his bets, Faulí keenly muses: “Are the great cathedrals and basilicas of the world ever truly finished?”

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  • Squaring up

    World Architecture News. 250 Bowery is a recently completed 40,000 sq ft new condominium building designed in a strategic partnership by Aldo Andreoli of AA STUDIO and Morris Adjmi of MA Architects. The building is located on the east side of the Bowery, between Houston and Prince Street in New York. The Bowery is the street that separates NoLiTa (North of Little Italy) from the Lower East Side. From the Civil War time until a few years ago, The Bowery was still considered the street of the homeless, the prostitutes and the drug addicts and was known for its flophouses. In the spirit of social reform, the first YMCA opened on the Bowery in 1873. Due in part to the presence of the music club CBGB, the Bowery also became known as one of the centres of Punk culture in the 1970s and 1980s. The CBGB was the club that saw the first performances, among other less famous bands, of the "Talking Heads", The "Ramones" and Patty Smith. But the vagrant population of the Bowery declined after the 1970s, in part because of the city's effort to disperse it. Since the 1990s the entire Lower East Side has been seeing a revival. The construction of 40 Bond designed by Herzog and De Meuron and developed by Ian Schrager was the beginning of the gentrification of this area into a hip downtown condo location. Bond Street is now considered one of the most prestigious addresses in town, with the construction of 25 Bond designed by BKSK and 31 Bond by DDG. As of July 2005, gentrification has been contributing to ongoing change along the Bowery. In particular, the number of high-rise condominiums is growing. In 2006, Avalon Bay Communities opened its first luxury apartment complex on the Bowery. That same year, the SANAA-designed facility for the New Museum of Contemporary Art opened between Stanton and Prince Street. A few years after SANAA's project the Bowery witnessed the construction of the new gallery Sperone-Westwater, designed by Sir Norman Foster and located just one block north of the New Museum. Cooper Square, located just three blocks north on the same street, have seen in the last few years, the construction of the new Cooper Union classroom and laboratory building, designed by Tom Mayne of MorphSis. Three Pritzker Prize winners have designed buildings just a few blocks away from the Bowery in the last four years, which sent a powerful message for the architectural potential of this area of downtown. 250 Bowery is located on the western side of the street, between Houston and Prince Streets. A well-known downtown developer purchased this site in 2004. He wanted to build a Condo-Hotel, a formula that was very fashionable before the recession. Problems in the excavation of the foundations delayed the construction, and when the sub-prime mortgages crisis hit the market the building went into default. Boutique condominium The site was purchased in 2010 by two young developers (VE Equities), who decided to build a boutique condominium on the distressed site. The selected architects were Aldo Andreoli of AA STUDIO and Morris Adjmi of MA Architects, who had just formed a new partnership. 250 Bowery as a condominium project was conceived during the recession, and this is the reason why the developers requested the design of smaller units, which are easier to sell in a difficult market. The previous design for a condo-hotel included a façade in Corten steel with slanted windows, a very costly design for a new building to be constructed immediately after one of the worst real estate recessions in the history of the US. The close presence of two landmarks such as the New Museum and the Sperone-Westwater gallery, two buildings designed more for being seen then for efficiency, was another important consideration during the conceptual phase of the design. The program was also calling for the design of four duplex penthouses to be built on the top two floors of the new building. This idea (together with the creation of private terraces on the roof of the building) maximised the return for the sale of these units, allowing the developer to charge a premium not only for the top floor, but also for the one below. As an additional financial consideration, the architects were asked to locate the scissors staircases and the elevator core in the southern portion of the building, in order to keep the commercial space on the ground floor open and column-free, thereby adding to its commercial value. Usually in New York developers don't want to spend additional money on the facades facing the lot lines (as they will be hidden by the construction of neighboring buildings) or the ones in the back of the building (since they are not visible from the street). A square façade Another important aspect was that the size of the building frontage and the allowed maximum height almost corresponded, therefore forcing the geometry of the façade to be squared (85' x 85'). In order to face these challenges the architects decided to choose a façade design incorporating a rigorous grid of squares within squares. The tradition of the Bowery as a commercial street, and its proximity to the iconic cast-iron district of Soho were the deciding factors behind shaping the building to look like a contemporary warehouse. But cast-iron is too expensive a material to use in a new condominium development in 2013 in New York, so in order to achieve the same look, the architects selected Alucobond for the construction of the façade, a versatile composite aluminium panelling system that is available in many custom colors which can be forged in different shapes. The result is a slightly reflective metal appearance very similar to steel. The warehouse look is also emphasized by the design of the windows, divided into nine panes and operable with a tilt. The architects convinced the developers to construct a similar façade on the back of the building, where the views of downtown are memorable and the apartments are quieter than on the Bowery itself. The two architects also have further collaboration projects in the pipeline, such as a 24-storey office building in Verona, Italy and the conversion of a 230,000 sq ft warehouse building in Brooklyn. Both designers enjoy reinterpreting historic forms as a basis to create something modern, while at the same time respecting the relationship to the city and its past.  

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