Architecture’s Second Looks, and Second Acts

In 2006, Joshua Ramus, a 36-year-old protégé of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, left Koolhaas’s hugely influential firm, Office for Metropolitan Architecture, to go off on his own. In the kind of power play more typical of Hollywood talent agencies than architecture studios, he also took O.M.A.’s entire 35-person New York office with him.

What made the episode especially surprising was that Koolhaas, hardly known for a sentimental or softhearted streak, agreed to speak to The New York Times for an article announcing the split. While generously giving credit to the younger architect for the work he’d helped lead in New York, Koolhaas made sure to draw a bright line between Ramus’s designs and his own: “My interest is to clarify, so we don’t get a blur between what is the work of Joshua Ramus and what is the work of O.M.A.”

Was this last sentence, much parsed in design circles, Koolhaas’s way of saying, “Good luck, kid — you’re gonna need it”? Whatever the case, Ramus stumbled in the first few years guiding his new firm, which he named REX and directed with another young Koolhaas veteran, Erez Ella. A plum project inherited from O.M.A. fell through, another was canceled and Ella left the office in 2008.

But Ramus kept plugging away, and this fall his firm will see a major return to prominence. In fact it is a double comeback: REX’s design for the Perelman Performing Arts Center, known as PAC NYC, will open Sept. 15 at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, the final major piece of the master plan for rebuilding at ground zero to be completed, while the firm’s Lindemann Performing Arts Center at Brown University plans an opening celebration Oct. 21. It is rare enough for a midcareer firm to see two projects of such significance open within a few years of one another, to say nothing of a few weeks.

Both buildings, in Ramus’s term, are “transformers,” with boxy, opaque exteriors hiding performance spaces that put a premium on flexibility and draw on the architect’s experience working on the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in Dallas. PAC NYC is wrapped in translucent slabs of Portuguese marble, allowing the building to glow at night and suggesting an updated version of Gordon Bunshaft’s 1963 Beinecke Library at Yale; inside, thanks to movable walls, floors and seats, the auditoriums can be arranged in more than 60 different configurations.

The Lindemann Performing Arts Center at Brown University, also designed by REX, will open Oct. 21. Like PAC NYC, it has flexible performance spaces that can be reconfigured.Credit…Warren Jagger for Brown University

At Brown, the Lindemann cloaks itself in an extruded aluminum rainscreen and features a central performance space that can accommodate chamber music, opera, musical theater, amplified music and even large-scale art pieces. The effect inside is something like a sleek Erector Set version of La Scala.

The wild card in both cases will be acoustics. Many classical musicians, in particular, will tell you that by rejecting a fixed, immovable design — the kind that lends reliably clear sound to concert halls as otherwise distinct as Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles — an architect is tempting the acoustical gods.

However those spaces wind up sounding, Ramus’s double-barreled return seems an appropriate way to headline a fall preview for the design world. Second chances, second lives, a second look: the season ahead is marked above all by the reconsideration or rehabilitation of buildings, sites, streets, design movements and — not least — architects we thought we knew. Call it the autumn of the double take.

Sphere at the Venetian Resort, Las Vegas

Sphere, a new venue at the Venetian, is covered in a super-high-definition LED screen.Credit…Sphere Entertainment

Plenty of drivers have been circling back for a second glance at the newest architectural attraction along the Las Vegas Strip, designed by the firm Populous for Madison Square Garden Entertainment. The arena comes wrapped in an LED screen called the Exosphere, covering 580,000 square feet, making it one of the largest in the world. Even a brief test run for the screen over the July 4 holiday, which saw the sphere morphing into super-high-definition versions of a basketball, an eyeball and the moon, was enough to stop social media in its tracks — and to raise the question of analog architecture’s ongoing ability to compete with digital wizardry for popular attention. The building will open to the public Sept. 29, for an 11-week residency by the mega-band U2.

Kresge College, University of California at Santa Cruz

An update to the 1973 dormitory complex at U.C. Santa Cruz adds four new buildings with glass facades to complement the previous white stucco walls.Credit…Studio Gang

The 1973 U.C. Santa Cruz dormitory complex by the postmodernist architects Charles Moore and William Turnbull Jr. and the landscape architect Dan Kiley — a self-styled Mediterranean village tucked in a redwood grove — has received an update set to welcome students this month, with final phases finished later in the academic year. The expansion, led by the Chicago architect Jeanne Gang and her firm, Studio Gang, with landscape architecture by Joni L. Janecki & Associates and Office of Cheryl Barton, adds four new buildings that complement Kresge’s white stucco walls with new glass facades. It will also extend into a looped path the complex’s car-free pedestrian spine, whose design reflected Moore’s admiration for Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. The degree of transformation may give pause to fans of Moore’s witty, quixotic work, but students may be encouraged; generations of them have turned complaining about Kresge’s small bathrooms, noisy common rooms and other practical shortcomings into something of a competitive sport.

Lever House, Manhattan

A rendering of the updated Lever House, whose renovation is set be completed in October.Credit…Brookfield Properties

Post-pandemic, with the market for commercial space still deeply unsettled, what will it take for the most dedicated fans of working from home to give the office a second chance? They might be more amenable to the idea if the office in question looked anything like Lever House, from 1952, the modernist commercial tower par excellence, which has been newly renovated by its original design architects, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, in collaboration with Marmol Radziner and the landscape firm Reed Hilderbrand. (Bunshaft, who helped shape the New York skyline, was a lead designer for S.O.M., with Natalie de Blois, on Lever House.) The updates, which come two decades after S.O.M. restored the tower’s curtain-wall facade, are set to be complete in October; the client is Brookfield Properties and Waterman Clark, which acquired Lever House in 2020. In addition to hidden improvements to the mechanical systems, the renovation is concentrated in the lobby and on the third-floor terrace, site of the new Lever Club, which offers some of Park Avenue’s best views of another midcentury classic, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, across the street.

Destination Crenshaw, Los Angeles

A rendering of Sankofa Park, the centerpiece of the Destination Crenshaw Project, which will feature newly commissioned artworks.Credit…Perkins&Will, via Destination Crenshaw

When Los Angeles County transit officials announced a new light-rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard, long a center of Black culture in L.A., some locals worried that the route could act as a magnet for outside investment, pushing up housing prices and accelerating the exodus of longtime residents. This is no small issue given an overall decline in the Black population in the city of Los Angeles since 1980 of more than 25 percent.

“Folks were concerned about the train changing the dynamic in the community, so that people were forced out,” the City Council member representing the area, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, said in an interview in his Crenshaw Boulevard field office.

In response, he teamed with the Los Angeles office of Perkins&Will to develop an ambitious plan for a 1.3-mile-long, open-air museum celebrating Crenshaw’s significance to Black Los Angeles and running along the aboveground section of the transit route. Now overseen by a dedicated nonprofit arm, Destination Crenshaw will include more than 100 new artworks as well as landscape elements (by Los Angeles’s Studio-MLA) and paving that will draw on African motifs. The centerpiece, Sankofa Park, will feature a raised overlook of the neighborhood, as well as newly commissioned works by Kehinde Wiley, Maren Hassinger and other Black artists.

Isla Intersections Supportive Housing and Annenberg Paseo, Los Angeles

A rendering of a new affordable-housing complex in Los Angeles built from recycled modular containers.Credit…via Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects

One byproduct of Los Angeles’s housing-affordability crisis, which grinds on, is that pieces of land long overlooked or thought near-impossible to build on are by necessity getting a second look. That is the case for the site of a new affordable-housing complex designed by the Los Angeles firm Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects, with landscape design by Agency Artifact. The 54-unit project, built from recycled modular containers, occupies a traffic island and a former railroad right of way practically in the shadow of the giant interchange where the 110 and 105 freeways come together; the residents will be recently homeless individuals and families. Along the western edge of the site, Athens Way is becoming the Annenberg Paseo, a “shared street” built with support from the Annenberg Foundation to boost safety for pedestrians and cyclists and landscaped to reduce freeway noise.

Victor Horta and the Grammar of Art Nouveau,” Brussels

Tassel House in Brussels, designed by Victor Horta. A survey of his career will explore links “between Horta’s Art Nouveau and Leopold II’s Congo Free State.”Credit…Maxime Delvaux

A nationwide reassessment of Art Nouveau has been underway for several years in Belgium, with a focus on the material and political connections between that movement and the country’s lucrative and violent occupation, beginning in 1885, of what King Leopold II named, with cruel irony, the Congo Free State. That reconsideration will take a major step forward on Oct. 17, with the opening at the Center for Fine Arts, known as Bozar, of a critical monographic survey of the career of Victor Horta (1861-1947), who did more than any other Belgian architect to popularize the style in built form. The show promises to explore links “between Horta’s Art Nouveau and Leopold II’s Congo Free State.”

“A Permanent Nostalgia for Departure: A Rehearsal on the Legacy of Zaha Hadid,” Cincinnati

A different sort of reassessment, this one of the trailblazing Iraqi-born, U.K.-based architect Zaha Hadid, who died in 2016, will open Sept. 22 at Hadid’s first U.S. project, Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, to mark its 20th anniversary. (When it opened in 2003, the New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp called it “the most important American building to be completed since the end of the cold war.”) Curated by Maite Borjabad López-Pastor, of the Art Institute of Chicago, the exhibition will feature artists from the Middle East and Europe using a range of media to revisit and reimagine details of the museum building and other aspects of Hadid’s work. It will also display a selection of paintings by the architect herself.

Domino Sugar Factory, Brooklyn

A rendering of the update of the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, which keeps the structure’s outer shell and inserts essentially an entire new office building.Credit…via Two Trees Management

The most consequential kind of double take in architecture, especially when it comes to grappling with the climate crisis, is adaptive reuse: the reconfiguration of existing buildings to give them new lives without wasting the embodied carbon of their original construction. New York’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism (PAU), the landscape firm James Corner Field Operations and the developer Two Trees Management have stretched the definition a bit, retaining only the original outer shell of the 1884 Domino Sugar Refinery on the Williamsburg waterfront, once central to the Havemeyer sugar empire. (The building was the backdrop for one of the longest strikes in New York’s labor history, stretching from 1999 to 2001.) Inside that historic wrapper, PAU has inserted essentially an entirely new office building, covering 425,000 square feet and sheathed in glass, with a barrel-vaulted form that echoes the silhouette of the original window openings. Along its perimeter runs a 12-foot gap between new architecture and old, open to the sky, into which are slotted walkways and trees.

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