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Everyone knows the stunning works of architecture that symbolize our city world-wide. We all admire these buildings, but FORM wanted to uncover the hidden gems, “the unusual suspects” that influenced design and were game-changers in architectural discourse. To that end, we convened a jury of true notables: Barbara H. Bouza, FAIA, Carlo Caccavale, Hon. AIA, Anthony Fontenot, Ph. D, Hsin Ming Fung, FAIA, Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter, FAIA, and Kulapat Yantrasast facilitated by Michael Franklin Ross, FAIA.

Needless to say, this task created a heated dialogue. There are numerous beautiful buildings throughout Southern California. Many of them are not included on our list. There are some very famous architects who have designed multiple buildings for LA, but we chose not to include them all. We were looking for the buildings that were influencers. I hope the ghost of Mies Van der Rohe will forgive me when I say we decided that our guide was, “Less is More”.

We decided our selections had to be: Innovative, Groundbreaking, Aesthetically Beautiful, Sustainable, Paradigm Shifting, Iconic, Contextual, and Timeless. The jury agreed that any building designed by a jury member or their firm be removed from consideration and that any building to be considered must still be standing. What follows is an abbreviated discussion. Find out more about these fabulous buildings on our website www.formmag.net.

The Early Years

We agreed to begin with the landmark Bradbury Building (1893). The exterior is a typical nineteenth-century commercial office building. The interior is a light-filled wonder of wrought iron railings, multiple stairs climbing toward a sky-lit atrium. It created a paradigm shift for commercial office design half a century before John Portman.

The twentieth century brought us the elegantly detailed Gamble House (1908) by Charles and Henry Greene. One of the finest examples of California Arts and Crafts, it is also influenced by traditional Japanese design in the carefully detailed interlocking wood members and truly contextual in the way it integrates architecture and landscape.

The Teens

Two very influential architects left their mark on Southern California during this period. Julia Morgan, famous for the elaborate Hearst Castle in San Simeon, was in 1904, the first woman to obtain an architecture license in California. William Randolph Hearst selected her to design downtown Los Angeles’ Herald Examiner Building (1914).

Irving J. Gill completed the design of the Horatio West Court (1919) in Santa Monica, one of the finest examples of courtyard housing. It influenced the development of courtyard complexes throughout Los Angeles.
Nikken Sekkei LTD
Editor's Note: This feature was originally published in the Q3 2014 issue of AECbytes Magazine and it is being republished as it still relevant today. Also, the magazine is being discontinued, and much of the content that was exclusive to the magazine is being republished online to ensure its continued availability.

Earlier this year, I visited Tokyo, Japan, for the launch of Graphisoft’s new BIMcloud offering, and while I was there, I also had the opportunity to visit some of the leading design and construction firms in Japan to find out how they were deploying technology solutions in their practices. One of these was Nikken Sekkei, a 2,400 person firm providing architecture, engineering, planning, and construction management services that was founded all the way back in 1990, giving it a long history in the AEC industry. The firm is headquartered in Tokyo, with additional locations in several cities in Japan as well as in cities throughout the Asia-Pacific region, where most of its projects are located. It is currently ranked as the fourth largest firm in the world.

To date, Nikken Sekkei has completed over 20,000 projects in more than 200 cities around 50 countries, spanning across the entire spectrum of AEC, as show in Figure 1. It has won a whole slew of design awards, hardly surprising given the quality of its architecture, some of which is shown in more detail in Figure 2.

Overview of Technology Use
Being such a large and reputed company with so many on-going projects, it is not surprising that Nikken Sekkei is fairly advanced in its implementation of AEC technology, which includes not only BIM applications but a whole host of additional tools for architecture, structure, and MEP, for design, documentation, simulation, and analysis. The complete map of all the applications used at Nikken Sekkei is shown in Figure 3. These include applications that are well known all over the world such as ArchiCAD, Revit Structure, Tekla, Solibri, and 3ds Max, as well as more regional and local applications such as Midas GEN (a Korean building engineering software) and Cadwell Tfas (a Japanese local MEP application). Some of the applications Nikken Sekkei uses were also developed internally, such as Building3D for structural analysis. I was impressed to find that in addition to energy, lighting and ventilation analysis, which are quite common now, Nikken Sekkei also does acoustic analysis and pedestrian traffic analysis, both of which have yet to see widespread implementation, even in the US. Most of the connections between applications shown in Figure 3 are enabled through the open-standard IFC file format.
SHoP Architects, a young, award-winning architecture firm with an innovative design approach, shares its perspective on AEC technology in this Firm Profile.

What is the history and background of the firm?

SHoP Architects was founded twenty years ago to harness the power of diverse expertise in the design of buildings and environments that improve the quality of public life. Our inclusive, open-minded process allows us to effectively address a broad range of issues in our work: from novel programmatic concepts, to next-generation fabrication and delivery techniques, to beautifully crafted spaces that precisely suit their functions. Years ago, we set out to prove that intelligent, evocative architecture can be made with real-world constraints. Today, our interdisciplinary staff of 180 is implementing that idea at critical sites around the world. We are proud that our studio has been recognized with awards such as Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Architecture Firm in the World” in 2014, and the Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt’s “National Design Award for Architecture” in 2009.

What is the firm's current focus? What are the key projects it is working on?

Since 1996, SHoP has modelled a new way forward with our unconventional approach to design. At the heart of the firm’s methodology is a willingness to question accepted patterns of practice, coupled with the courage to expand, where necessary, beyond the architect’s traditional roles. We are proud to have worked with clients such as Google, Goldman Sachs, and the United States Department of State. A snapshot of our current work includes a 1,400 ft Manhattan skyscraper at 111 W57th Street; the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York; 447 Collins, located in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District; the Botswana Innovation Hub in Gaborone; the Syracuse University National Veterans’ Resource Complex; and Uber’s new headquarter offices in San Francisco (Figure 1).

When did the firm start using AEC technology, and how is it being used today? How important is AEC technology to the firm?

At the heart of our process is set of evolving tools and techniques that have come to be known as Virtual Design and Construction (VDC). In a multi-dimensional environment, VDC is the process of digitally simulating the complexities of a design project under the lens of construction processes. This can include geometric rationalization, systems development/fabrication, logistics analysis and cost estimation, from concept through construction (or fabrication through assembly). The VDC workflow leverages emerging, cloud-based technologies to promote collaboration throughout all phases of design, production and building operation. SHoP has been a long-time pioneer of building information modeling (BIM), bolstered by Virtual Design & Construction (VDC) processes, a focus which has resulted in unparalleled architectural results under challenging delivery environments. SHoP identity has always embraced technology as a means to magnify creativity without sacrificing rigorous quality standards. SHoP views technology as a tool to embolden the rich nature of human collaboration. Some examples of SHoP’s technology implementation are shown in Figures 2, 3, and 4.

Does the firm have a specific approach and/or philosophy to AEC technology? If so, what is it?

For nearly two decades, SHoP has pioneered architectural design, encouraging owners, architects and contractors alike to form strategic relationships and deliver built work. The reason we do this is simple. By demystifying the process of construction, by presenting complex processes in a manner that even non-specialists can immediately comprehend, we can access the knowledge of every stakeholder in real-time. The result is broader, more fruitful, more fluid, and far more equitable collaborations. And that means better-performing buildings.

What are some of the main challenges the firm faces in its implementation of AEC technology?

A major challenge is that the standard AEC toolkit is not robust enough to facilitate the federated way that we should be working. We should have much more control over the pieces, parts and products, and their respective lifecycles, within a portfolio of projects. The platform should facilitate parallel processing as opposed to a linear construction. Our design work, in collaboration with all trades and stakeholders, should result in a digital twin of the project that can be meaningfully leveraged for the delivery of the project. Traditional
Paul Seletsky, AIA, an independent Digital Design consultant who was one of the pioneers in the application of AEC technology in architectural practice, shares his experiences and insights in this Profile.

"...it's human nature to want to choose the winning horse when selecting tools as critical as BIM, but without competition, new software that could truly impact our practice simply won't see the light of day."

What is your educational and professional background?
I graduated with a B.Arch. from Cooper Union in 1982 and then went to Italy, working for two years as a designer for Vittorio Gregotti Associati in Milan. Our documentation back then was done in pencil and ink.

Returning to New York in 1984, I joined Emery Roth & Sons to learn construction drawings. Documentation was produced in ink on mylar, with notational errors corrected using a chemical eradicator. Roth had one of the first CAD systems, McDonnell Douglas GDS, the precursor to Revit. In my role there, however, I did not get to work with it.

In 1987, I joined the Port Authority of NY/NJ, spending ten years in the public sector. In 1990, I did receive the opportunity to work in CAD and learned Architrion, MicroStation and AutoCAD; eventually being named their first CAD Manager. I also began setting up PCs, Mac, Windows and CAD, a small network and a pen plotter—learning "in the trenches." After seven years there, I returned to the private sector.

HLW Architects hired me in 1997 as their IT director. I built a staff of eight people and installed a network of servers and routers across four offices globally. I gradually came to regard this work as too laborious and costly, and falling outside the core competency of an architecture firm. In 1998, Revit came out and they demonstrated their software to us. BIM had arrived and I immediately saw it as a game-changer.

In early 2001, I joined my cousin's startup company to develop an early iteration of the smartphone. Nine months later, I was hired as Director of Technology by Davis Brody Bond Architects. There, I decided to outsource IT, leasing a new phone system, all printers and plotters, and eventually MS Office (but not AutoCAD). My colleagues gently teased me as "Mr. Outsource." In 2003, we began using BIM, trying ArchiCAD on one project, followed by another in what was now Autodesk Revit.

I began to write and lecture about BIM, describing what I foresaw as its impact on architecture and construction. In late 2001, I became chair of the AIANY Technology Committee, and for the next 14 years curated a monthly lecture series about AEC Technology's impact on practice, culminating in a symposium held in October 2012 called Bits+Mortar. The event featured a two hour conversation between Frank Gehry and Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab.

In 2005, SOM New York sought to fill a new position, Digital Design Director, and hired me. A senior partner and I created a new department called the Digital Design Group, recruiting 25 architects as AEC technology gurus and BIM mentors. Over the next five years, we created two student research programs, tested environmental analysis software, created our own massing study tool, and held in-house lectures with AEC Tech luminaries. It was an exciting time.

In late 2010, I journeyed outside New York to work for KieranTimberlake in Philadelphia, then spent a few years selling online AEC software and BIM training. In 2017, I happily moved back to New York. I spent 2018 focused inward, exploring what I wanted the last thirty years of my career to look like, since I don't intend to ever retire.

What is your current role? What are the main projects you are involved with?

I'm currently an independent Digital Design consultant in New York, seeking new clients. I greatly enjoy the environment and interaction of working in an architecture office, so if anyone out there is interested, feel free to contact me at pseletsky@gmail.com.

When and how did you get interested in AEC technology?

In 1983, I was sitting at my desk in Milan, drawing the seating floor plan for a redesign of Barcelona's Olympic Stadium. I was using a beam compass that must have been at least 3 feet long. It was at that moment that I said to myself, "Someday I'm going to be doing this on a computer so I can focus more of my time on design versus the mechanics."

How much of what you do today is related to AEC technology in some form?

Ninety-five percent analyzing client needs and deploying solutions, and five percent lamenting BIM software churning
In his essay “Paris Not Flooded,” Roland Barthes asks us to see the great flood of January 1955 as a creative force that erased roads and sidewalks. It forced Parisians to row to the grocer and priests to enter churches in canoes, “making disaster itself provide evidence that the world is manageable.”

If Barthes were to write “Notre-Dame Not Ablaze,” he might ask us to see the April 15 fire and its aftermath as evidence of something useful like a lesson or a sacrament. It will be a long while before that evidence is revealed in full, but the dangers of faulty wiring, a smoldering cigarette near highly combustible materials, or failed fire suppression safeguards were all causal frontrunners at press time.

French authorities, represented by the Ministry of Culture, are still assessing the damage at Notre-Dame, which is part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage site that includes the surrounding Île de la Cité and, as such, is subject to special preservation mandates. The Ministry of Culture is also receiving advice from a dedicated UNESCO team, which includes representatives from ICCROM and ICOMOS International, according to Paris-based Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

“Notre Dame is like a history book illustrating the evolution of the construction and different approaches to restoration over time,” says Rössler. “The UNESCO team experts were chosen by their institutions for the specific expertise required, especially in risk assessments and knowledge on conservation and rehabilitation, and they are at the disposal of the French authorities.”

President Emmanuel Macron’s promise to rebuild within five years (in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris) elicited strong responses from several observers. Meredith Cohen, associate professor of medieval art and architecture at UCLA, called it “simplistic bravado.” Conservative pundit Anne-Elisabeth Moutet called the promise “the arrogance of an unpopular president trying for wokeness.” (To Moutet’s chagrin, Macron’s popularity gained three points between March and April, which pundits attributed to his post-fire commitment to rebuilding.) But, reading between the lines of Macron’s vague promise, the real question is how much of Notre-Dame’s recovery will be a restoration, renovation, or something else entirely, which seems to be a philosophical question as well as a technical one.

Thanks to advances in digital imaging and virtual modeling over the last decade, we know nearly everything about the measurable aspects of Notre-Dame. The late Andrew Tallon, associate professor of art at Vassar College, reportedly logged one billion data points on the structure in an extensive survey. French video game developer Ubisoft also owns a substantial cache of digital models created for its 2014 game “Assassin’s Creed: Unity.” In addition, Paris-based graphic design consultancy Art Graphique et Patrimoine (AGP) and surveyors Géomètres-Experts (GEA) partnered to model Notre-Dame in recent years; like Tallon’s scans, their measurements detail the cathedral in millimetric terms—a granular level that’s hard for the naked eye to discern, much less remember. These scans, in other words, will be critical to any future effort to rebuild any part of the cathedral.

Will Rourk, a cultural heritage data specialist at the University of Virginia (UVA) Library Scholars’ Lab, specializes in 3D documentation of artefacts and buildings using scanners and photogrammetry. He’s scanned a range of historic buildings, including Thomas Jefferson’s Academical Village at UVA and Monticello, south of Charlottesville, and supplied the data to architects and preservationists to aid in reconstruction or repair. Rourk’s work centers on what he calls infomatics, or leveraging technology to record and remember structures slated for demolition or to re-create elements of them for repair work. That level of documentation, notes Rourk, used to be achieved with a ruler, a profile comb composed of metal teeth, mylar sheets, and ink pens. Now, laser scanners can create data points that combine to form point clouds and then export it all to CAD and BIM software to create 3D models. “That means that if the reconstruction of Notre-Dame was to be faithful to the original,” says Rourk, “then the data could be used to help with this reconstruction, and the efforts towards authentic recon
Eric Luse for the San Francisco Chronicle
Art Gensler, FAIA, FIIDA, RIBA, founded Gensler in 1965 and is credited with turning the design of interiors into a multi-disciplinary global practice with more than 6,000 professionals in 48 offices around the world. Twenty years ago, Byron Kuth and I cold-called Art and invited him to lunch at Mama’s on Washington Square in North Beach. We sought his advice on how to grow our practice. He didn’t know us, but he accepted. He was very generous and helped us to strategize on diversifying project types, which was a challenge given our experience and small practice at the time.

Today, Kuth Ranieri Architects and Gensler are five years into a joint-venture design partnership on San Francisco Airport’s Terminal 1, with the first seven gates due to open in July of this year. We’re also working with Gensler on a second project, the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center in San Francisco, as associate interior architect for the main and theater lobbies, as well as associate architect on the arena’s esplanade, a retail street that wraps its base. For arcCA Digest’s theme for this quarterly issue, “Staying In Business,” Byron and I sat down with Art once again so we could share his sage advice with our colleagues.

—Liz Ranieri

Liz Ranieri: How has the firm weathered the ups and downs of the economy?

Art Gensler: We’ve been through a number of major downturns. We have diversified practice areas. That means that we do retail and hospitality and sports and workplace and office buildings and education. We’re starting to do a little housing. The diversification helps through the up and down cycles of the economy.

We learned that if we’re really good at helping our clients and build long-term relationships, they need us when they’re going up and they need us when they’re going down. We also have master service agreements with about 200 companies, where they just pick up the phone and say, “Do it.” We’ve already negotiated the contract, the deal and the structure.

We have tried to create a firm that will go on forever as a permanent business partnership. We’re not a partnership, we’re a corporation, but for all intents and purposes, we act like a partnership. To accomplish that, you need to have a flow of people that step into senior roles and take on total leadership.

We are in the fourth generation of leadership at the firm. I started it, and four of us actually ran it. Then a group of six was running it, and now five. With transition, people go through two years of training before they take over. They are shadowing the leaders.

We have two co-CEOs, which helps because then it’s not just one person with the whole load. And they can balance each other. You need somebody to talk to.

Nobody likes to let good people go because of a downturn. We’ve learned that if you’re going to do it, do it early so the people can get to other places where they can find jobs.

Another important thing we did was to create diversified locations, so that we’re not all sitting in San Francisco or New York. We’re now in 50 locations. I’m not suggesting that all firms should become multi-office. But diversify the services or the geography. For example, don’t just focus on residential, but maybe on residential and civic buildings or museums. Have at least one secondary market for counter-cyclical markets.

Liz Ranieri: When you wanted to open in a new location, did you wait until you got work there?

Art Gensler: Yes. We would finish one major project there. Then a team is sent in, to make that project terrific and to make a statement in the community. They come to know the building department, the contractors, and all the things that you need to know about a community. Because we don’t buy firms, we have to transfer our own people into those places. And then we hire local people from around the country or world.

We go in on a major project, or a major client says, “I need you here.” We know their standards, their approach, how they do things. We know how they pay their bills and what their contract requirements are and how they work with contractors. And so it’s easier for them to work with us in their far-flung offices.

We think of ourselves as a one-firm firm. That’s a concept that McKinsey & Comp
Valentino Danilo Matteis
The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has selected Venturi Scott Brown's Sainsbury Wing at the National Gallery of London as the recipient of the 2019 AIA Twenty-five Year Award. Designed by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in an international competition, AIA commended the project for its ability to “...make its context better than it found it” - a citation borrowed from Venturi himself.

The award is presented annually to a project that has "stood the test of time by embodying architectural excellence for 25 to 35 years."

The Sainsbury Wing may appear conservative, but was both itself contentious and a part of a raging debate about public architecture when it was introduced. The addition to the National Gallery was initially planned in the 1980s, and was at the time to be designed by Ahrends Burton Koralek, a British practice known for their large public works across the UK and Ireland.

Their scheme however, an example of the British Hi-Tech movement (popularized by Norman Foster), ignited a massive public debate regarding the state of British architecture. In an ad-libbed speech at the 150th anniversary of RIBA, Prince Charles derided the state of the profession, calling out ABK's proposal in particular as "a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend."

The ABK scheme was scrapped, and a competition for the addition was subsequently held to appease the warring factions. Venturi Scott Brown, delivered and ultimately built, in the words of architect and postmodernist expert Adam Nathaniel Furman, "one of the most—if not the most—sophisticated pieces of public architecture to have been built in the Postmodern idiom."

The facade of the VSB addition echoes the architectural rhythm of the main Gallery building, slowly breaking down the historic geometries until the dissolve entirely around a corner. Inside, domestically-scaled galleries create an atypically comfortable gallery experience.

In the citation, the AIA jury noted that: "...Dr. Barnabas Calder wrote that the wing’s presence on the square was 'politely low key and even more so on Pall Mall East.' Many others have noted that visitors may be as unaware of the building as they are of the contentious competition that spawned it, proving that, indeed, Venturi and Scott Brown successfully designed a building that does not outshine its context." For a building in a physical context so packed with masterpieces
The regional expressions of a country’s culture are vital in helping us understand the relation between context and specific conditions of social manifestations. These nuances and singularities inside the realm of construction are translated into what can be called vernacular architecture. Although it has always existed, this universe of local exemplars of architecture with their particular materials, techniques and regional constructive solutions came to be well studied in the second half of the twentieth century in Brazil, in a project that traced national architecture history, headed by Lucio Costa.

It is a type of architecture that, besides being an undeniable knowledge that is passed down through generations, it is usually highly sustainable as it incorporates low energy materials and local techniques with solutions made to be passively adapted to the local climate and conditions.

Just as in most countries, vernacular architecture in Brazil is predominantly residential. Learn more about the different residential typologies, from North to South, that have contributed to forming regional identities in the country.

Oca (or Oga)

A well-known indigenous residential typology, the oca (in Tupi) or oga (in Guarani) is one of the forming units of villages. Usually built with straw and timber, without interior separations, it is a collective living space and also used for daily activities such as cooking and making artisanal objects.


Another example of indigenous living spaces are the malocas, mainly found in the Brazilian and Colombian Amazon. They are also known as “big houses” and are larger than the ocas, besides having interior partings in which different family groups live. Each tribe bestows specific features to the architecture and space organization.


The quilombos emerged as resistance settlements for African slaves and descendants through all American territories. Having occurred in all Brazilian states, quilombos are a consolidated form of settlements in Brazil, from North to South.

Stilt Houses

Stilt houses are houses raised on piles over swampy soil or bodies of water, recurring in areas of high rainfall. It is common to find exemplars of this typology in Brazil, particularly in the North region.