Theaster Gates’ Chicago art incubator breaks ground, design unveiled for Studio Libeskind’s Tree of Life project in Pittsburgh, and more

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Happy Humpday, and welcome to today’s roundup of remarkable news in the worlds of art, architecture, urbanism, and design. It’s been a busy week thus far, so let’s get caught up, shall we…

Work kicks off on $10.35 million Chicago arts incubator from Theaster Gates and the Rebuild Foundation

Shuttered a decade ago, the old St. Laurence Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago is now undergoing its transformation into a multi-faceted space supporting artists and creative entrepreneurs of color. The abandoned building had been slated for demolition until artist and educator Theaster Gates and his nonprofit Rebuild Foundation stepped in and saved it in 2016. Since purchasing the property, Rebuild Foundation has raised more $7.6 million dollars from private funders, partners, and “mission- aligned organizations” to commence the $10.35 million rehabilitation of the building. Once renovation work is complete, the former school will be home over 40,000 square feet of artist studios, classrooms for creative entrepreneurship courses, co-working floors, a laboratory for archival research, and much more, per a press release.

Ground officially broke on the project yesterday, May 3.

“As an emerging artist navigating the creative industries and my own curiosity about process and making, access to resources, space and programs in my own neighborhood would have been vital to developing and refining my practice,” said Gates. “This project strengthens our ability to support artists and artisans with the tools, training and resources that will enable them to experiment and create innovative projects right in their own community. St. Laurence is as much about preserving Black space as it is about giving new life to creative possibilities on the South Side.”

Programming is slated to begin at the transformed space in fall 2023.

Washington, DC again leads the pack in annual ranking of city park systems in the US

The 2022 edition of San Francisco–based nonprofit Trust for Public Land’s annual ParkScore index is out and, for the second consecutive year, Washington, DC has landed in the top spot, scoring particularly high points for park access and equity. Joining access and equity, the three other core ParkScore ranking factors are park acreage, investment, and amenities. Rounding out the top five cities with the best park systems are St. Paul, Minnesota; Arlington, Virginia; Cincinnati, and Minneapolis. Notably, this is the first time that Cincinnati has appeared in the uppermost reaches of the index, which is considered the gold standard for park evaluation. (In total, the park systems of the 100 largest cities in the US were evaluated.) Other high-scorers include Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Irvine, California.

“Investing in natural solutions like trails, shade, and green spaces can cool temperatures by up to six degrees and help prevent flooding. That’s why Trust for Public Land is working with park advocates and municipal leaders across the United States to close the outdoor equity gap and ensure that quality parks are available to everyone,” says Diane Regas, President and CEO of Trust for Public Land. “Parks inspire joy and happiness and help cities meet the climate crisis.”

Relatedly, the Trust found that 85 percent of large park systems have enacted at least one major climate change mitigation effort.

Looking at specific park amenities, Boise held on to its distinction as having the best park system for dogs while Las Vegas scored best for playgrounds. And Boston, as it turns out, is a paradise for splashpads and other water features.

Design concept revealed for Daniel Libeskind’s transformation of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh

After it was announced a year ago that Polish-American architect and artist Daniel Libeskind and his eponymous New York-based studio had been selected by Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation to lead an expansive redesign of its synagogue as part of its Remember.Rebuild.Renew campaign, a building design concept has been made public.

As revealed this week, the building in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood will emerge from its Libeskind-led transformation as a “national institution dedicated to ending antisemitism,” and will house an education center, museum, and memorial. The new institution will simply be known as Tree of Life. On the morning of October 27, 2018, the synagogue was the site of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of 11 worshipers. Six people were also wounded in what was the single deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history.

“My response to the attack on 10/27 is to create a space imbued with Jewish ideals. The design focuses on the key Jewish dimension of bringing light into darkness and creating an open and democratic space within,” said Libeskind in a statement. “The Tree of Life will be a place that affirms Jewish life and sees it as a conduit of healing for the community and beyond.”

Numerous architectural features of the original building, including its limestone facade and stained glass windows, will be preserved as part of the 45,000-square-foot reimagining. A central new element will be a large skylight dubbed the “Path of Light” that will run the length of the building. Oriented along the path will be a museum, a space for reflection and remembrance called the Space of Memory, and a “modernized sanctuary for worship and communal events” according to a press announcement detailing the plans. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers will continue to serve as rabbi for the Tree of Life/Or L’Simcha Congregation, which was one of the three congregations affected by the attack, and the congregation will continue to worship in the building post-transformation.

Local firm Rothschild Doyno Collaborative is working alongside Studio Libeskind on the project.

Meet A Rising Tide, a new organization dedicated to elevating API architects and designers

Last month saw the launch of a landmark new initiative that aims to increase visibility and elevate leadership roles of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) designers. As explained in a press announcement, the core mission of the new platform, called A Rising Tide (ART) is threefold: “to showcase API designers and bring visibility to their work; to elevate API designers to leadership roles; and to connect API designers to potential collaborators, clients, and consumers who are increasingly seeking to support diverse voices.” The founders of ART include leaders from a number of lauded architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design firms including Neri & Hu, Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, Atelier Cho Thompson, Spiegel Aihara Workshop, BIG, and SOM.

“We founded A Rising Tide to be a resource for all: a platform to build a community of API designers seeking to shape a better world, a springboard for API designers just getting established, and a beacon of hope and inspiration for young people,” said Ming Thompson, co- founder of AN award–winning practice Atelier Cho Thompson, in a statement. “Growing up, I didn’t have Asian role models to look up to. Meeting Billie Tsien, one of ART’s founding members, in my first architecture studio changed the course of my life; I saw that Asian women could be industry leaders, and that we could lead in a way that was true to ourselves.”

Programming planned for ART’s inaugural year includes the launch of a first-of-its-kind public Design Directory of US-based practices operated by API designers. Also in the works is a series of online features focusing on API design issues and a community workshop series set to kick off in August with an “intergenerational conversation on API design.”

More information about what’s in store for ART can be found here.

Fentress Architects tapped for California Indian Heritage Center in Sacramento

Fentress Architects has been selected by California State Parks and the California Indian Heritage Center Task Force to design the California Indian Heritage Center (CIHC), a planned cultural destination in Sacramento where “visitors from across California, the nation, and the world will be drawn to this center of statewide significance for cultural preservation, learning and exchange, land stewardship based on Native American values, and a place to engage all visitors celebrating the living cultures of California tribal communities,” per a press release. The 51-acre CIHC complex will be located in West Sacramento near the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers (and just across the river from this recently profiled project.)

Fentress, which maintains offices in Denver and Sacramento, won out of over 22 other firms that had submitted SOQs for the project. Core partners include Amatoollik Studios for Native American architecture consultation and tribal outreach, Dennis Hendricks from Tuolumne Band of Miwok Indians in the role of the CIHC Tribal Liaison, and James Pepper Henry, vice chairman of Kaw Nation and director of Oklahoma City’s First American Museum “ for public engagement, outreach and expertise on museum operation and programming. “

Next steps include launching the public engagement process, which, as mentioned, will include extensive tribal outreach. The CIHC is slated to open to the public in 2028.