Alumna Architect turns Boston’s Industrial Sites into Community Havens

When most people see urban industrial sites, such as sand and salt piles or neglected land under highway overpasses, they don’t think of them as opportunities to serve the local community.

However, Marie Law Adams sees endless possibilities in those spaces. She and her husband, Dan Adams, founded Landing Studio in 2005 to work on sustainable rehabilitation of those underutilized sites for public use.

Architects don’t typically design for spaces like that, but they should, she says: “We work fairly closely with MassDOT to figure out what their maintenance and operation requirements are and look for ways to choreo­graph those in relation to public access.”

One of their biggest ongoing projects has involved an industrial road-salt facility in Chelsea, Massachusetts. The space, which is filled with salt during the winter, has been transformed so that when the salt is gone, it becomes a public recreation site. The park was completed in 2014.

Photo Courtesy of Landing Studio

Photo Courtesy of Landing Studio

“There are places along Boston Harbor where you get dense residential areas...and then also really heavily industrial areas...for a lot of years, those were always very contentious relationships between the local neighborhoods and the sites of global industry. We do a lot of work to figure out how to productively design the relationship between those industrial sites and local urban ­context.”

-Marie Law Adams, M.Arch '06

Adams is also working on repurposing underutilized space beneath an elevated stretch of Interstate 93 where the South End and South Boston meet. The design for the space, which has ample natural light and water, includes a maintenance access area and landscape features that support integrated stormwater management. The site will also include basketball courts, dog parks, and other recreational spaces.

“At Landing Studio, we often find that our work is not always the design of buildings but often industrial operations—seeing how trucks move through an environment and how that creates different kinds of landscape conditions,” she says. “And a lot of the sites we work with change over the course of the year.”

Adams’s studio was a winner of the 2015 Architectural League Prize and one of the winners of the Design Biennial Boston in 2015, which included an installation titled Marginal on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, a re-created wharf made of material salvaged from Boston Harbor.

Adams and her husband live in Cambridge with their two cats and enjoy running.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine. 

UPDATE: The Landing Studio project, Rock Chapel Marine, received a 2017 AIA Institute Honor Award in Regional & Urban Design award.

Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill: Three MIT Graduates. One Eponymous Firm.

One of the Most Influential Firms of the Twentieth Century

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) is an American architectural, urban planning, and engineering firm. It was formed in Chicago in 1936 by Louis Skidmore and Nathaniel Owings; in 1939 they were joined by John O. Merrill. The firm opened their first branch in New York City in 1937, and has since expanded all over the world, with regional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC, London, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mumbai and Abu Dhabi.

With a portfolio spanning thousands of projects across 50 countries, SOM is one of the largest architectural firms in the world. Their primary expertise is in high-end commercial buildings, as it was SOM that led the way to the widespread use of the modern international-style or "glass box" skyscraper. They have designed several of the tallest buildings in the world, including the John Hancock Center (1969, second tallest in the world when built), Willis Tower (1973, tallest in the world for over twenty years), and Burj Khalifa (2010, currently the world's tallest building).

SOM provides services in Architecture, Building Services/MEP Engineering, Digital Design, Graphics, Interior Design, Structural Engineering, Civil Engineering, Sustainable Design and Urban Design & Planning.[2]

Gordon Bunshaft: Iconic Builder

Gordon Bunshaft (1909-1990) has been credited with opening a whole new era of skyscraper design with his first major design project in 1952, the 24-story Lever House in New York. Many consider it the keystone of establishing the International Style as corporate America's standard in architecture, at least through the 1970s. In recent years, it has been declared a historic landmark, New York's most contemporary structure to hold that distinction.

The late Lewis Mumford described Lever House in The New Yorker in glowing terms, "It says all that can be said, delicately, accurately, elegantly, with surfaces of glass, with ribs of steel...an impeccable achievement."

In reviewing the Johnson Library for The New York Times, Ada Louise Huxtable described it as a new form of memorial, saying, "Architecture as art and symbol is one of civilization's oldest games, and Mr. Bunshaft is one of its most dedicated players."

Gordon Bunshaft was born in 1909 in Buffalo, New York. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his bachelor's degree in 1933 and his master's degree in 1935. Bunshaft was awarded both the MIT Honorary Traveling Fellowship and the Rotch Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to travel in Europe from 1935 until 1937. Upon his return to the United States he took a job in the New York with Edward Durell Stone. After a brief stint with Stone, he joined Louis Skidmore of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, where he worked until 1942. One of his earliest assignments was to work on designs for some of the buildings for the New York World Fair of 1939. World War II intervened with Mr. Bunshaft serving in the Army Corps of Engineers and upon his return in 1946 he rejoined SOM, where he remained until 1979.

He was a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art and served on the President's Commission of Fine Arts (1963-72). Bunshaft was elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1958. He received the Brunner Memorial Prize, the Gold Medal from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1984), the Medal of Honor from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, and the Pritzker Architecture Prize (1988).

His last project before retiring from SOM was the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, completed in 1983. At three different levels, on each side of the building are loggias that Mr. Bunshaft called "gardens in the air." He acknowledged, "I think this is one of my best and most unique projects."

Alumnus Profile: William Pederson FAIA

William Pedersen is the founding Design Partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), which he started with A. Eugene Kohn and Sheldon Fox in 1976. Fourteen years later, they became the youngest firm to receive the National AIA Firm Award for design excellence. Since the firm’s inception, it has been Bill's intention to lead only a segment of the firm’s designs, thereby allowing for the parallel development of other design partners and for his continued focus on each project he directs. This aspiration has led to stimulating competition within the KPF design community and has allowed the firm to expand in capacity and dimension while still maintaining design quality, particularly necessary since the advent of our global practice.
Of particular concern to Bill has been the development of what he calls the “fundamental building block of the modern city”: the high-rise commercial office building. Throughout his career, he has systematically sought ways for buildings of this seemingly-mundane type to gesture and connect to other participants so that each does not stand mutely in isolation from its neighbors, but rather joins in an active architectural conversation with them. He regards his accomplishments in this area of architectural pursuit as his most substantial accomplishments. Presently, he is at work on Hudson Yards in New York where his philosophical intentions for commercial buildings are being given the ultimate test.

During his career with KPF, Bill has received seven National Design Awards for work he has directed. Among them are a wide variety of building types: 333 Wacker Drive in Chicago; the Procter and Gamble Headquarters in Cincinnati; the DG Bank in Frankfurt, Germany; the World Bank in Washington, D.C.: the Gannett Headquarters in McLean, Virginia; the Baruch College in Manhattan, New York; and One Jackson Square in Manhattan, New York. In addition to numerous state and local AIA awards, he received recognition from the Council for Tall buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) for the Shanghai World Financial Center as the “Best Tall Building in the World” in 2009. In addition to his architectural work, Bill has designed a series of award-winning lighting fixtures for Ivalo and holds ten design patents for furniture. His most recent “Loop de Loop” series will be coming out this year.

Personal honors which Bill has received include the Rome Prize in Architecture in 1965, the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize from the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the University of Minnesota’s Alumni Achievement Award, the Gold Medal from the national architectural fraternity, Tau Sigma, the Lynn S. Beedle Lifetime Achievement Award from the CTBUH and the Medal of Honor from the AIA of New York. He was also recently elected as a member of the National Academy and was awarded the 2013 International Award by The Society of American Registered Architects (SARA).

Alumnus Profile: Kenneth Namkung M.Arch '03

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World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

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-Kenneth Namkung, M.Arch '03

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Alumnus Profile: Patrick Kennedy (MSRED’85)

Patience, Persistence And A Thick Skin

Patrick Kennedy (MSRED'85) is a real estate developer in Berkeley, California, a place whose citizens were once described by the Wall Street Journal as '…torn between a desire to overthrow the US government and a quest for the perfect croissant'.

Upon moving to Berkeley in 1988, Kennedy found an ailing downtown with empty storefronts, panhandlers and no new rental housing by a private developer since World War II. He set out to 'decriminalize housing development' and began what was initially a single-handed effort to develop mixed-use infill housing in Central Berkeley.

Since that time more than a 1000 new units have been built, 472 of them by Kennedy's firm Panoramic Interests (www.panoramic.com). In the process of creating those buildings, Kennedy set aside 91 units for very low-income residents, as compared to the Berkeley Housing Authority which owns and manages only 75 units.

'Our buildings have contributed to the revival of downtown,' he said. 'The early ones were not architectural masterpieces; the later ones I would be proud to put a brass plaque on.' Not all residents of Berkeley are pleased by such development, however. One local called the Gaia Building – a renaissance revival high rise -- '…a monstrous Stalinist monument to civic corruption'.

'The NIMBYs tend to have a lot of ex-English majors,' he commented. 'And Berkeley activists are not given to subtlety or understatement.'

Development for profit has not been simple in a city known for its social activism and mistrust of capitalism but, then again, SA+P doesn’t prepare its graduates to solve simple problems. 'Four hundred and seventy two units, 1200 Berkeley tenants, the largest number of Berkeley's Section 8 housing units in the city – it all makes for quite a bit of aggravation,' says Kennedy.

'My wife says I’ve been able to do this because I have a short memory and a thick skin. I think persistence, patience and a bit of resilience and optimism (or fantasy) also helped. Not to mention enlisting the help of groups like the Sierra Club and the Greenbelt Alliance who put political pressure on the Powers That Be. I stayed in Berkeley because I thought I could have an impact. I also hate commuting. But I underestimated the amount of time and stress.'

While Kennedy has recently sold his portfolio of apartment buildings for $146M to a Sam Zell's Chicago REIT, Equity Residential, he is nowhere near done.

'It is wonderful to be a former Berkeley landlord – people get burned out managing properties,' he said. 'It’s more fun to be on the creative side than the management side. What I want to do now is build the urban equivalent of Levittown – entry level, urban housing for about $200K each.'

Kennedy sees these buildings as analogous to the Smart Car – stylish, sensible, small and fun. 'I’m working on the next generation of buildings in both San Francisco and Berkeley. They will incorporate universal design and be fully accessible. Dense and transit-oriented, high rise and super energy-efficient. Tenants will be able to monitor their own energy systems over the Internet at any time. This feature alone can reduce energy consumption by 15%.'

Kennedy credits his degree from the MIT Center for Real Estate for giving him the confidence to get started. 'It's like learning golf with videos. You can get down the fundamentals but then you just need to go out and play.' His advice to new graduates? 'Go work for the developer you admire most, even if it's for free. Get on with it.'

PLAN 71
Posted October 2008