Collected TRENDS & STRATEGIES from Volume 8, Number 12.

Israel Considers Building Artificial Islands

A British newspaper reports that Israel plans a chain of artificial islands along its Mediterranean coast that could eventually accommodate 20,000 people.

The islands would cost roughly $1 billion each; plans for the trio of half-mile square outposts would be used for tourism, residences and business. Planners say discussions have been going on for nearly a decade.

Environmentalists have opposed the scheme, saying their installation could destroy the country’s real beaches and obstruct present sea views. Present plans show the islands linked to the mainland by bridges and to each other by a network of underwater tunnels. They would lie off the coast of Tel Aviv, Haifa, Herzliya and Netanya.

A spokesman for Israel’s Institute of Technology, which has carried out research for the project, told BBC News Online the islands would provide an alternative to building towns in the desert.
“Parts of Israel can’t be used for residential and tourism purposes because of the sands and rock substrata,” said Tony Bernstein. “This is going to become more limited in the future. Israeli media say a government-appointed panel will submit a report on the project within the next two months before a final decision is made.

Habitat for Humanity Building High-Rise Prototype

While Habitat for Humanity has been a godsend for thousands of families, the houses themselves have on occasion been criticized for their plainness, and in at least one instance other homeowners have sued to keep the houses away, alleging it would hurt their property values. Also, the organization has concentrated on single-family dwellings, making urban environments a near impossibility. But the San Francisco chapter began volunteer work Nov. 12 on a high-rise project that the group hopes will become a prototype for low-income housing in expensive urban areas. The 5-story, 8-unit building was designed pro bono by Berkeley architect Marcy Li Wong. The building is on Mission Street on land donated by the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency. Habitat’s partner is the ACB Housing Partners Foundation. Ground was broken last summer on the building, which will be the tallest new Habitat structure built anywhere in the world. The building features ground floor parking, and two units on each of the four upper floors. Construction on the $1.6 million project is expected to take 14 months.

Seagram’s Art Collection to Sell

The Seagram Building’s incredible $15 million art collection—including Picassos, Miros and Steichens—could soon be on the auction block. The news that Vivendi, the French corporation that purchased the building and collection from the Bronfman family two years ago, was greeted with dismay from leading architects including Robert A.M. Stern and Philip Johnson, who designed the Park Avenue headquarters with Mies van der Rohe in the late 1950s.
“I consider (the Picasso) an integral part of the architecture. It’s also very delicate and could get damaged if it were moved,” Johnson told The New York Times.

“The company has defined assets it no longer considers strategic in its portfolio,” Anita Larsen, a company spokesperson said. “And the art collection fits in that category along with planes and real estate.”

While it’s hard to name the highlight of such a storied collection (which the family collected over three decades) several critics have mentioned the 22-foot mural Picasso painted in 1919 for the ballet “Le Tricorne.” It has hung in the Four Seasons restaurant since the building opened. A Goya-inspired tapestry, the painter completed the work in three weeks.

The collection also includes more than 700 photographs, among them Stieglitz and Walker Evans. Three Miro rugs also greet visitors to the restaurant.

BART Readies for January Airport Link

San Francisco’s BART system is preparing for the capper to its $18-million, 22-month overhaul and extension work for the Bay Area’s venerable mass transit system. The district’s 8.7-mile, four-station extension to San Francisco International Airport opens in January. Some 70,000 passengers per weekday are expected to ride the SFO extension, with stations at South San Francisco, San Bruno (Tanforan), and Millbrae, a shared, cross-platform with Caltrains.
In October, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) joined BART Director James Fang to show off new, state-of-the-art equipment that is part of an even longer haul. BART’s 10-year, $1.2 billion renovation program is now 90 percent complete and includes 439 refurbished BART cars from the original fleet, new automatic fare equipment, ticket vending machines, bill-to-bill changes, add fare machines and fare gates, and enhancements and expansion of all four BART maintenance facilities. Lantos helped to secure the federal government’s $750 million Full Funding Grant Agreement that is paying for half the $1.5 billion BART-SFO extension and stations.

Fireproofing: not a Priority for Homeowners

Fire may be a homeowner’s greatest fear, but most are unwilling to pay for a fail-safe method of preventing it. According to a former dean of an Australian architecture school and RAIA award winner, the means to build homes to survive that region’s bush fires are available, but most people would rather spend money on luxury, rather than safety.

“It’s really a matter of prioritization,” said Professor Lindsay Johnston. “Most people would rather have a big whiz bang entertainment system than have a house that’s going to survive a bushfire. They will happily spend $15,000 on an air conditioning unit or $7,000 on a plasma television screen but they won’t get the work done to fireproof their homes.”]

Building a fire resistant home is relatively simple, according to Johnston, who has designed and built his own home and four tourist lodges in Watagans National Park in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

The Four Horizons home was originally designed to be a low energy environmentally responsive house, he explained. The house won the 1997 RAIA Environment Award.

Johnston said that the primary strategy for homes in bushfire prone areas is to stop the fire from getting inside the house. Four main areas in design can prevent it. The first is the floor. “We have a concrete floor so the fire can’t get in from underneath,” Johnston said. Secondly, a double roof using corrugated iron provides thermal comfort and eliminates the risk associated with tiles and felt.

Then, the walls&#151at Four Horizons, they are concrete-clad steel. “Part of the strategy I’ve used for thermal comfort is what I call reverse engineering where you put the concrete blockwork on the inside and clad the outside,” Johnston said. “There is some wood on one side of the house for aesthetic reasons but even if it catches fire it won’t burn the house down.” Finally, consider windows. Johnston used fire shutters made of a substance commonly used for acoustic ceilings. Patio doors are made of toughened glass to make it much more difficult to break from the heat of the fire, he added.

Four Horizons also has a ‘safe haven’ bathroom, with concrete floors and walls, a metal roof and shutters on the windows. “There are two exits and a water supply&#151the idea is that when the fire has gone through, you come out and put the fire out.”