Obviously, we think architecture makes a difference, but we often ask, "How can we articulate it?" On September 6, 2014, there was an article by Michael Kimmelman in the New York Times that really caught our attention. It's about a small and unassuming public space in a 50 year old Palestinian refugee camp. It's not accidental. It is designed*, deliberate, and, according to the article, has stirred profound debate in the community about the role of women and the right of return. To quote: "Public space like the plaza in Al Fawar is mostly unheard-of in Palestinian camps across the West Bank. Architectural upgrades raise fundamental questions about the Palestinian identity, implying permanence, which refugees here have opposed for generations. ...Camps were conceived as temporary quarters. The absence of public space was then preserved over the years to fortify residents' self-identification as refugees, displaced and stateless. So construction of even a small public square is something unusual....The Square has given children in the camp a place to play other than in crowded streets. Families have begun to use the space as a gathering spot. Young couples are getting married in the square. Mothers who rarely felt free to leave their homes to socialize in public now meet there twice a week to talk, study a little English and weave, selling what they make at a market that they occasionally open in the square, an enterprise that one of the mothers told me 'gives us self-esteem and a sense of worth, like the men have.'"
The plaza is designed like a house with no roof, and while some of it is stone, some is rough concrete, like the adjacent residences. It is radical and modest at the same time: something we greatly admire.
To read the full article and see pictures, go to http://nyti.ms/1qECgyg
*by Palestinian architect, Sandi Hilal, and her Italian architect husband, Alessandro Petti
This photo shows the structure after demolition. The center, which used to be a solid, locked chemistry room with a classroom above, is now an open atrium. The original heavy timber structure will be left exposed, so that its tent-like geometries are legible and instructive.
This 1980's condominium overlooking Cheesman Park was a challenge of unalterable existing conditions (lighting, sprinklers, venting, HVAC) vs. design ideas. The existing interior finishes and selected walls were removed, hallways were widened and openings placed in walls to visually connect rooms, new light troughs were placed in corners to mimic skylights, wood paneling was introduced to create "pockets-of-use" (art walls, door recesses, benches, shelving) and visual connectedness throughout the unit. All this was done to simplify the experience and focus attention on the exterior treescape that living on the 5th floor offers. Outside the living room window lives a specimen 100' tall Honey Locust as well as other fully mature trees. The windows now capture the view and simplified colors and finishes let the outdoors participate in the experience. No longer are you focused on the pickled crown molding and beige tile floor. The process was one of rigorous as-builts, constant change and adjustment and full participation from everyone associated with the job. Joan Brennan, Julie Fletcher, Guy Obermeier, Kevin Sebern and A4 worked together to come up with solutions that balanced existing realities, earlier decisions and opportunities. It was a fully participant project accessing everyone's talents and skills.
We produced multiple plan ideas, scope variations for pricing and layers upon layers of perspective sketches all responsible in making the final design decisions.
A4's renovations to the New Castle Branch Library are complete and the public explored their new community hub at the Grand Opening on April 14th. Usable square footage more than doubled from 5,000 to 11,000 square feet, the number of public computers nearly quadrupled from 6 to 23, and new community and study rooms will improve the diversity of uses in the library. The $2.4 million project also includes a living room style reading area anchored by a fireplace, a dedicated children's section, a new accessible public entry, greatly expanded staff work areas, and 9.3 kW of solar photovoltaics on the roof. The project is currently being evaluated for LEED certification.
A4 has been working with Colorado Rocky Mountain School for a while now on refining their campus, including designs for two new dorms and a music studio and rehearsal space. During their current interim week, CRMS students are creating a chandelier for the reception room of the new North Dorm. Working together, the glass blowing and blacksmithing classes designed the metal and glass piece, starting with a small scale model shown below. Now they are in their separate studios making the glass and steel portions of the structure, which will later be fit with LED lights. While the North Dorm is still just a building shell, the students are already anxious to move in.
The 5° Seating line of site furniture for the Basalt Regional Library plaza was designed by A4 to compliment the library building. These benches and bike racks are built out of steel and ipé wood with longevity and ease of maintenance in mind. The first bench prototype is currently being manufactured by local craftsmen and will be on display for First Friday.