Monthly Archive: March 2015

Charred Cedar Wraps A Stunning Minimalist Addition in Norway

Ankersvingen Annex Burnt Cedar Addition in Jar, Norway

A simple black box in many ways, the Ankersvingen Annex succeeds with its simplicity; it adds space without subtracting from the surroundings. “It was a really neat connection between the house and garden, which was totally lacking with the existing architecture,” says architect Thor Olav Solbjør of SAAHA. “We took the stunning views of the fjord as the starting point.”

Image courtesy of Are Carlsen.

Architect Thor Olav Solbjør doesn’t see wood as just another material choice, he sees it as a way to “communicate with the surroundings.” Tasked with building a 750-square-foot addition to a country home in Jar, Norway, set amid pine forests, his team at SAAHA turned to charred cedar, a traditional Japanese building material created with charcoal, to create a simple, striking extension.

NYC Councilman Wants to Preserve Central Park Sunshine

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

New York City Councilman Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, is trying to keep some sunshine in Central Park. Capital New York reports that the councilman will introduce legislation to create a task force that will assess the growing (literal) shadow the city’s skyscrapers are casting over city parks.

Though Levine doesn’t intend to go as far as the way of San Francisco and Boston, where “sunlight ordinances” are implemented to ensure height cap for buildings that line parks, Levine’s proposed legislation is only in the early stages of attempting to form a conclusive answer to the shadow of the “Billionaire’s Row” described in a 2013 New York Times op-ed.

“The shadows of the larger of these planned buildings would jut half a mile into the park at midday on the solstice and elongate to around a mile in length as they angled across the park toward the Upper East Side, darkening playgrounds and ball fields, as well as paths and green space like Sheep Meadow that are enjoyed by 38 million visitors each year,” wrote Warren St. John in the op-ed.

The high-rise buildings under development around Central Park include One57, a 90-story condominium criticized for both its height and its 421-a tax abatement, which is designed to incentivize affordable housing. One57’s units are selling for millions of dollars.

Levine believes regulating building height and keeping park space out of the shadows is a move that favors developers who should want parks to “remain vibrant places” — for the sake of real estate prices at least. Levine’s proposed task force would meet biannually to assess new developments that could potentially cast shadows and recommend methods of mitigating the issue.

Lancashire Insurance Group, London, by EDGE


Project Info
Lancashire Insurance Group
Architect: EDGE
Size: 3,054 sq m
Cost: Confidential
Duration: Eight months

Words by Emily Martin.

Photography by Gareth Gardner.

20 Fenchurch Street has been a topic of conversation since construction began in 2009, and with building works completed last year the ‘Walkie Talkie’, as many know it, has dramatically altered London’s skyline.

The building offers spectacular city views, but its greatest advantage for tenants is the enlarged floor space when compared to some of London’s other commercial buildings.

And this was a deciding factor for the Lancashire Insurance Group, which has taken up occupation in the latest landmark structure.

A variety of seating, including bar stools by Muuto, has been provided in the Forum design concept to provide a social space that conveys the characters of both companies

It has dedicated more a third of the floor plate to front-of-house and break-out areas while retaining comfortable and spacious work zones.

‘The floor plates throughout 20 Fenchurch Street are larger than many of the other London skyscrapers,’ explains Michael Fern, project principal and executive director at EDGE, which completed the new interior space for the Lancashire Insurance Group. Located on level 29, the gross internal area is 3,054 sq m.

A freestanding reception desk greets visitors
A freestanding reception desk greets visitors

‘This allowed the company to occupy only one floor and yet at the same time keep to its density requirements,’ says Fern.

With the space shared with Cathedral Insurance Group, another insurance company underneath Lancashire Insurance Group umbrella, EDGE was briefed to create a ‘next-generation design’, with the practice establishing the ‘common elements shared by both businesses’. Fen explains: ‘We needed to work out how to affiliate the two companies’ employer brands to form a unified space that complimented them both…EDGE’s big idea for the space was to create “The Forum”: an open and honest community celebrating the unified spirit of Lancashire and Cathedral.’

Key materials were selected to represent the two brands
Key materials were selected to represent the two brands

A principal challenge for EDGE was integrating the two businesses – or what it describes as ‘two cultures’ – to create a unique employer brand while maintaining individual identity. Ferns says the resulting design promotes interaction and transforms the Lancashire and Cathedral ways of working into a more collaborative and productive method. ‘The new office is the first integrated workplace for both companies, which in effect do the same thing. But the space needed to reflect their separate cultures while allowing them to share spaces, such as reception, visitors’ lounge, meeting rooms and staff facilities. The project promotes interactions, so answering a key brief requirement with social design.’

Using ‘impact’ as the scheme’s principal vision, EDGE has created an uplifting journey for visitors and staff from entry to workspace.

And being located on the 29th floor the practice wanted to capitalise on the spectacular views. ‘We wanted to do justice to the London skyline by ensuring the design provided great visibility throughout,’ says Fern.

‘As the lift doors open and you step out into the space you are greeted with a circular reception desk, the shape of which frames the panoramic backdrop of the city skyline.’

 A pic ‘n’ mix vending machine is a quirky addition to the visitor’s lounge
A pic ‘n’ mix vending machine is a quirky addition to the visitor’s lounge

The Forum design concept features a dedicated client and staff social/entertainment area, occupying a third of the floor space. Featuring orange bar stools that offset a statement black and white tiled bar – key colours of the Lancashire branding – the space is used primarily for staff events. In discussing how the space could further reflect the characters and work ethics of Lancashire and Cathedral, EDGE decided on a few statement pieces using materials that ’emulated the honesty’ Lancashire wanted to convey.

Concrete benches, which stand as a statement of ‘integrity’ for the businesses, mixed with a timber theme to represent Lancashire/Cathedral as ‘honest and open businesses.’

One of the more quirky features seen in the design is the installation of a ‘pic ‘n’ mix’ station in the visitors’ lounge. This, along with some retro vending machines stationed on one of the lounge walls, creates a playful environment where clients and staff alike can relax and feel at home. In merging the personalities of the two companies colour quickly became significant and the bold black and orange branding of Lancashire was integrated into the design scheme to create a welcoming space.

These accent colours, also used in some seating and wall panelling, are mixed with more muted tones to provide warmth, as well as with more subtle tones of Cathedral’s branding.

 Space-efficient ‘trader booths’ fit in with the open-plan style of the design
Space-efficient ‘trader booths’ fit in with the open-plan style of the design

With a large part of the overall space being used for client and staff entertaining, EDGE considered how to maximise the efficiency of remaining space for meeting rooms and work areas. The more traditional booths of insurance firms’ underwriters were replaced with more space-efficient ‘trader booths’; a more open-plan style of booth. EDGE say that they also fit with the relaxed office environment taking away the formality of an enclosed room.

This open-plan style is a feature of the workspace, encouraging not only space efficiency but also the desired ‘family feel’ as wished for by the client. For quiet work space EDGE has created ‘focus booths’ as part of the scheme, which are interspersed throughout the open-office space, and feature transparent sliding doors to keep with the theme of openness while providing privacy.

Fern comments: ‘The dramatic, branded interior breaks new ground for what is normally a staid and “traditional” industry, positioning the client as change makers within their sector by creating a new “corporate cool”.’


Fritz Hansen
Walter Knoll
B&B Italia
James Burleigh



Anti-Growth Lawsuits Are All the Rage

A lawsuit contends that bike lanes created under Mayor Michael Bloomberg are harmful to the environment. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Do New York’s bike lanes harm the environment? According to a lawsuit filed several weeks ago, they may. The suit comes from a former Libertarian Party candidate for state attorney general, Carl Person, and contends that because former Mayor Michael Bloomberg never completed an environmental impact report (EIR), a number of his lanes and pedestrian plazas are illegal and should be scrapped. According to New York Daily News, Person charges the roadway additions with “significant” environmental harm because they slow everyone down, which wastes gas.

His reasoning might sound like it belongs in the comments section of a regional newspaper, but he’s not the first person to use cherry-picked environmental concerns against a project with clear potential for decreasing vehicle emissions. And he’s not the first person to take those concerns to court, citing state and national EIR laws.

Last year, a San Diego-based group filed a suit with a nearly identical argument: that a road-diet re-stripe could stall traffic and threaten public safety. As Streetsblog’s Melanie Curry pointed out, that case resembled a 2006 suit from San Francisco. And back in New York, the infamous Prospect Park bike lane lawsuit made comparable claims.

Jennifer Hernandez is a San Francisco-based environmental lawyer who’s written extensively on the policies governing EIRs — and the ways they’re abused. She says that environmentally flavored lawsuits against infill and public transit projects are all the rage these days.

“You have a real, partly generational battle being played out right now,” she says, describing many of the suits’ instigators as anti-growth groups defending “the character of our neighborhood” and decrying the lost parking and upped density of transit-oriented development. Central to many of these scuffles are differing understandings of exactly what “environmental” law should do: decrease reliance on cars or, in Hernandez’s words, protect homeowners’ “private view from their bathroom windows.”

She associates the latter particularly with the Golden State’s EIR law, CEQA. A member of the statewide alliance advocating CEQA reform, Hernandez co-authored a 2013 report for the law firm Holland & Knight, where she is a partner, examining 95 cases from 1997 to 2012 (the report looked at plaintiffs who questioned an EIR’s validity, not whether an EIR should have been done in the first place, which is Person’s argument). Of all the projects that could be labeled either “greenfield” or “infill,” nearly 60 percent were infill. Public, not private, entities proposed nearly a third of the challenged projects.

Last year, Hernandez also co-authored an in-depth look at lawsuits under CEQA’s national counterpart, NEPA.

“Everywhere you have people trying to preserve the status quo, but do they go to court and win?” she asks. “In New York, agencies win all the time.”

But in California cities, they very well might not. Agencies in the Golden State win about 53 percent of the time, Hernandez says, while challengers win about 47 percent of the time. Plaintiffs have a good shot at slowing the development of environmentally iffy projects — big box stores, industrial polluters — but also neighborhood libraries, high-density housing and mass transit.

According to Michael Teitz, a professor emeritus of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, the laws that mandate and govern EIRs are still important.

“The environmental community sees CEQA as an absolutely essential line of defense,” he says. “And there’s some truth to that — without CEQA it would be very difficult to defend against really egregious ways of plundering the environment.”

But as a paper he co-wrote in 2005 examines, the law’s piecemeal evaluation strategy (project by project, EIR by EIR) can encourage short-sightedness, particularly in the area of mitigation.

“[L]owering a residential project’s density might help mitigate traffic congestion or open space problems at the local scale, but when viewed regionally might only compound the problems if development is pushed to outlying areas,” the paper states. “If, instead of being displaced, the development fails to occur, then the so-called mitigation may compound housing shortages.”

In the years since Teitz co-authored that paper, California lawmakers passed SB 375, which does help streamline regional planning, and enacted a few minor CEQA reforms. In New York, a progressive DOT is busily re-striping city streets-, and in San Diego, an aggressive climate action plan calls for a transit remake.

Still, environmental litigation under EIR law remains. And in California, it’s still, often, successful.

Indy Councilman on State Law: “It Makes Us All Look Like Backwater Hicks”

Protesting RFRA at the Indiana State House (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has called on the Indiana General Assembly to either repeal or add protections to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which many believe would enable discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Indianapolis Star reports that Ballard criticized the law for both its economic and cultural implications: “Our city thrives because we have welcomed and embraced diversity,” Ballard said. “RFRA threatens what thousands of people have spent decades building.”

Senate Bill 101 was signed by Governor Mike Pence last week, to be implemented July 1st, and has since ignited an onslaught of backlash. RFRA states government cannot intrude on an individual’s religious freedom unless it can provide a compelling interest — the example of the Amish not having to switch to fluorescent lights on horse and buggies is one example being thrown around a lot. Local Indiana protestors and big businesses have publicly decried the act, however, because it could essentially legalize the option for businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers.

Though gay marriage became legal in Indiana last October, no statewide law protecting gay individuals from discrimination has been formally put in place. Though RFRA has been implemented in other states, they are typically tempered with statewide bans on discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender and religious identity.

Publicly traded companies such as Angie’s List and Salesforce have threatened to reduce their investment in Indianapolis, while major public figures from Hillary Clinton to Apple’s Tim Cook came out against the bill.

“The real harm … is that it makes us all look like backwater hicks,” said City Councilman Zach Adamson to the Indy Star. “Indiana is losing jobs and young professionals like crazy. How much more can our state government make Indiana uninviting?”

Indianapolis has its own anti-discrimination ordinance on the books, which could potentially differentiate it from the rest of Indiana, but city leaders fear Senate Bill 101 would overrule those guidelines.