Tacoma Urbanist

Apr. 19, 2013 at 12:01am

TAM Should Be Barred from Erecting Vacuous Blank Walls on Pacific Ave

Pacific Avenue was once a vibrant street thriving with people and commerce:



Then, in the "urban renewal" fever in the 1950s, Tacoma leaders systematically tore down one historical building after another leaving parking garages, empty lots and many blank walls facing pedestrians on Pacific Avenue such as the Wells Fargo parking garage:



Wells Fargo Parking Garage

The Wells Fargo parking garage, North Park Plaza parking garage, Tollefson Plaza cumulatively extinguished pedestrian life, commerce in the middle of Pacific Avenue in downtown Tacoma creating a massive dead zone void of almost any life in the middle of the city.



Proposal for the expansion of the Tacoma Art Museum

Now the expansion for the Tacoma Museum expansion threatens to build another long lifeless blank wall on Pacific Avenue.  Although the TAM expansion will have some windows on Pacific Avenue they will be covered with a screen severing the connection between the street and pedestrians. 

Walking on Pacific Avenue near the insular dark Haub expansion will be a harsh lonely experience for pedestrians notwithstanding the"artist rendition" pedestrians drawn into the drawings to try to make them look them look more vibrant than they will be,

Better Museum Design: Seattle Art Museum:




Tacoma should not try to be Seattle or any other city.  However, the following changes to the proposed TAM expansion to improve the urban design of the building could greatly benefit the museum as well as downtown and people who live, work and visit Tacoma. 

By building the TAM expansion with good urban design principles, TAM would be doing it's part to contribute to a vibrant downtown rather than creating yet another dead zone in the city. 

1) The screens over the windows should be removed so pedestrians can see inside as they would any other building and connect people with the building. The screens are a deliberate attempt to cut off the building from the street yet still make it look like the "glazing" or window requirements are being met.  This is quivalent to placing windows in a building and then covering them up with posters.

2) The color on the addition should be greatly lightened up.  The dark brown color make the TAM expansion look uninviting at the least and possibly even scary and foreboding.

3) The entrance to the Tacoma Art Museum should be much larger and taller so that it is obvious to visitors and makes a statement without having to install "way-finding" red arrows and signs all over the place.

4) The wind swept plaza needs to have a significant piece of art in it, the Tacoma equivalent of Hammering Man. One problem with the TAM expansion is that it look utilitarian and boring.  Not everyone likes Hammering Man.  However, at least it make a statement.

5) 6) 7) What do you think? How could the TAM expansion be improved so it would add more life to Pacific Avenue and he vibrancy of downtown Tacoma?


Send your comments/suggestions on the TAM design here:

reuben.mcknight@cityoftacoma.org

tcook@cityoftacoma.org

www.tacomaculture.org/historic/about.asp

See also :

James Kunstler: How bad architecture wrecked cities

Forward to 6:50 of this video of Kunstler discussing the detrimental result of having blank walls on the main street of a city:





comments [33]  |  posted under Tacoma

Comments

by Erik on 4/19/2013 @ 12:18am
Here are some good examples of museums entrances in urban settings with significant transparent viewable entrances, though admittedly not grand starchitect designs:




by Erik on 4/19/2013 @ 7:06am
Earlier discussion on Feed Tacoma by KFnet in T Town:

The News Tribune shows us a rendering of the new Western American art wing that will be packed full of goodies from that massive Haub donation last year. It will certainly help fill in a dead space along Pacific but does some grass and a big, blank, brown wall help activate that area? Or is there no hope for a space with no parking on the other side of a massive Pacific Ave/light rail track divide?

i.feedtacoma.com/KevinFreitas/new-haub-w...

by Jesse on 4/19/2013 @ 7:29am
Do you realize that between 15th and 21st on the east side of Pacific Avenue, there are only four possible doorways to enter as a pedestrian?  FOUR!  That's six blocks!  How have they pulled that off?  It's actually an impressive amount of deadness on Tacoma's main street.

1. Childrens Museum
2. Tacoma Art Museum
3. Anthem Coffee
4. WSHM

Then from 12th to 15th you only add a few more doors because of the Wells Fargo building, vacant lots, and Devita. Nine blocks with like six possible pedestrian doorways. Amazing! Is it no wonder downtown is dead?

How about some food cart SIZED walk up restaurants built into the structure along that blank wall? Classy roll up garage doors with outside seating would be awesome there. Then when Tollefson Plaza is fixed so kids are encouraged to play in it's child friendly fountain, the family can have lunch there.

by NineInchNachos on 4/19/2013 @ 7:55am
WSHM is terrible design.  what a waste of pacific ave


by Maria on 4/19/2013 @ 8:17am
Here's a good, simple blog post about what is active space: www.softhitpost.com/2012/08/acteeevate/

Activation...refers to creating a space that naturally generates activity, which is more or less measured by the number of person hours spent there.

Basically it's a design goal for public space, that not just the exterior edifices are pretty, but the open space around buildings draws people in, invites participation. For the museum, this is a plus--the creation of attractive edges, the resource of a plaza/entryway that fuels creativity and interest.

Here are some more stellar examples of museums activating the space outside their doors:

1) Metropolitan Museum, NYC (renovation to add seating, lights, landscaping to draw in pedestrians and create social space)

www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/press...


2) Centre Pompidou, Paris (one of the best examples ever--sculptures, fountains, open space--busy, social, energetic space that's almost as creative as the interior)



3) Green Square, Sydney (beautiful modern structure with overhang--both sides of the library plaza have seating, landscaping to create an inviting, open public space)

www.archdaily.com/353875/green-square-li...



4) Speed Museum, Louisville (A classical style art museum adds a very modern wing with adjacent plaza that has WiFi, a sculpture garden and integrated indoor/outdoor performance space. Their edifice is a bit blocky for my tastes, but the outdoor plans are very interesting.)

www.architectmagazine.com/cultural-proje...



5) Mint Museum, Charlotte (Art & Arts/Crafts Museum has an innovative design but still manages to include substantial sections of windows, overhangs and balconies. I love how they call their site "a cultural campus." It shows awareness of their connection to other institutions in the neighborhood! Not only is their beautiful and welcoming outdoor space, there is a ROOFTOP GARDEN!!)

www.aasarchitecture.com/2013/03/mint-mus...




Therefore, dear citizens of Tacoma, and decision-makers at our beloved Tacoma Art Museum: we should use this opportunity of welcoming the Haub collection to create a more expansive feel in the public space. Something that echoes the spirit of the West: open, free, beautiful. Sparse, but able to sustain life and community. Humble, monumental, almost sacred...like the landscapes that sustained tribes for thousands of years, and awed newcomers. Think barn-raising, campfire, village, pueblos--places of communal work and play.

That particular section of downtown really could use some keystone piece of urban planning that ties several blocks together and creates connection, rather than further severing or walling off the byways.











by Erik on 4/19/2013 @ 9:23am
Do you realize that between 15th and 21st on the east side of Pacific Avenue, there are only four possible doorways to enter as a pedestrian?  FOUR!  That's six blocks!  How have they pulled that off?  It's actually an impressive amount of deadness on Tacoma's main street.

Good point Jesse.  Some urban design code mandate a minimum amount of entrances to keep a street vibrant.

Here is another shot of half a block on Pacific Avenue, Tacoma's "main street." No doubt it was constructed with great fanfare and probably won an award of some kind. When blank walls are constructed, however, there are no photoshopped pedestrians present as there are in the architectural rendering.



WSHM is terrible design.  what a waste of pacific ave


WSHM is a nice looking building.  However, they spent all of their resources trying to make the building look good and almost none in the urban design of the building.  The WSHM is huge, yet, it is very difficult to find the side entrance to the building. Then the base of the windows are so high in the retail space where Anthem is that it is difficult to tell if there is anyone in there. (Of course, the WSHM also went a bit crazy in erecting a fence in front of the path to the Bridge of Glass...which has now been thankfully removed after a 5 year citizen effort.)

@Maria: thanks for posting great examples of some museums and some great entrances.As Kunstler explains in the above video, the vibrancy of a space, or lack of, is determined largely by the edges of the space which should be permeable, both physically and visually and have activity.  Thus, if a space has blank walls as edges, the space will almost certainly be dead (life Tollefson Plaza).

by boearc on 4/19/2013 @ 3:21pm
Erik, if you had taken the time to get informed about the proposed design, you would realize that the proposal is to create almost an entire facade of glass along the frontage with moveable louver screens that can adjusted to adapt to seasonal light and depending on the works of art within - while always allowing glimpse of the interior to the exterior (and funny thing, most currated artwork has very strict natural lighting requirements - so opening up the interior to the street is a major plus).  The biggest change is actually at the interior where the main reception lobby is going to move right up to the sidewalk with greater access to the store and cafe (including removing the darth vader black glass) - and will solve the access from the lower level by relocating the vertical ciculation on the site. With a continuous canopy along the sidewalk and a continuous landscape bench - this addition significantly addresses many of the urban design deficiencies of the original building (but alas, there will be less area of the barren concrete wasteland as a sahara chalking canvas).

by NineInchNachos on 4/19/2013 @ 3:28pm
they just needed to photoshop in more people on the renderings.  Anyway  thanks David Boe!


by Erik on 4/19/2013 @ 3:53pm
An improvement has been made to the entrance by making it visible from the street. Still far too small for a significant building, obscure and boring however.

I don't think the proposed hovering awning helps the small entrance at all, instead, it partially obscures it.

The entrance could be designed far better, larger, grander with some art and a sign.

Here is an example which is far better:



Link to the full size of the image:

www.flickr.com/photos/tacoma-urbanist/86...

(From architect Ko Wibowo)

Compare the proposed entrance:



Removing the tint from the windows to the dining area is also an improvement.

However, leaving the new wing with windows covered with slates, dark paint and a huge planter in front cuts off any connection to the street.

If this area of Pacific Avenue is ever going to be something than a 4 block dead zone, the urban design of buildings is going to have to get far, far better.

by boearc on 4/19/2013 @ 4:14pm


So Erik, have you reviewed the whole set of plans developed for this proposal or are you judging the book by the cover illustration and the book flap synopsis?

by Erik on 4/19/2013 @ 4:53pm
@Boe: I can't find any additional drawings online.  If you have additional renderings, please post a link.
From the feedback I have received from the city,  the Commissioners may make a decision on April 25th or a hearing in May in the matter.

by KevinFreitas on 4/19/2013 @ 9:22pm
@boearc Part of the public process is, well, processing. Erik and others are reacting to the info available. It's awesome you provided more detail but I'm happy to see people react with passion than ignore with apathy. No one here is a professional investigative journalist -- just a bunch of people who care.

I'll be emailing the folks @Erik kindly linked to above so that my voice is heard and I hope this conversation prompts others to do likewise. Big or small, Tacoma deserves all our passion and perspectives. I agree with @Erik that, were it not for similar passion and outspoken citizens, we wouldn't have some of the improvements he mentioned. In this case, I believe we/TAM/Tacoma can do better.

Let's aim high and find a compromise that gets the ball further down the field.

by boearc on 4/20/2013 @ 8:36am


"This kills that.  The book kills the building."  Victor Hugo cms.cityoftacoma.org/cedd/TacomaCulture/...

by KevinFreitas on 4/20/2013 @ 5:37pm
Citizens are the book. :)

Good stuff, thanks! I'll post a few images from that to better give folks some detail before this week's meeting. #TheMoreYouKnow

by KevinFreitas on 4/23/2013 @ 8:19am
Here are more detailed images (click for full size) of the renderings provided:















Do these details change anyone opinion?

by Erik on 4/23/2013 @ 8:53am
Thanks for the extra images Kevin.

Here's the one that is closest to how pedestrians will experience the building:



Pretty harsh and disconnecting for people walking on the street.

The design would be fine in a suburban location or one in a more remote area of the city. However, Pacific Avenue is supposed to be Tacoma's "main street" with a preference for "storefront design" as the area historically was.

The design will no doubt perform well internally for paintings hanging in the building and the other insular uses. However, it does little to connect to the rest of area. The design reflects the priority of the designers with almost all of the emphasis on internal uses to show art and almost none on how it will impact street life and the rest of downtown.

Overall, the latest design will have a slight improvement from the current building by making the entrance visible from the street and by making the glass in the cafeteria clear. From an urban design perceptive, the remodel will improve it, IMO from a D to a C.

by cisserosmiley on 4/23/2013 @ 9:00am
Looks like a prison with the bars, tall posts, & brown n grey finish. Maybe it's fitting ???

by NineInchNachos on 4/23/2013 @ 10:22am
very east german!

by cisserosmiley on 4/23/2013 @ 11:27am
I especially love the rectangular walls, glass window openings, & the use of a retail door @ the building entrance. Thanks architects!

by Erik on 4/23/2013 @ 11:35am
These look amazingly similar in color and design:







I am not sure that we want to try to emulate the brutish metal slates on the Wells Fargo parking garage up and down Pacific Avenue.

by Maria on 4/23/2013 @ 12:18pm
I don't have enough time to write about it now, but actually, I think it looks even worse than the initial drawings.

I feel like that design is going to only add to the sensation that pedestrians on that side of Pacific Ave. are being brick-walled / horizontal- and vertical-panelled away from something. It's like a mid-century modernist security fence!

For a museum on Western art, the design feels very claustrophobic. The facade/impression should at least hint at lightness, open space, freedom. People left the East Coast to get away from tight corridors and oppressive blocks of buildings!!!

:(

It's poetry month...I'm feeling very emotional about everything!

by NineInchNachos on 4/23/2013 @ 12:44pm
sliding boxcar doors.  wealthy germans have experience with those


by cisserosmiley on 4/23/2013 @ 1:13pm
I wish the overhang was wildly exaggerated and jut all the way over top of Pacific Ave.

by Mofo from the Hood on 4/26/2013 @ 8:25am

I'd prefer a design that plays on the "Old West" theme.

by cisserosmiley on 4/26/2013 @ 8:30am
I like it

by NineInchNachos on 4/26/2013 @ 8:38am
seconded!


by Maria on 4/26/2013 @ 12:58pm
The News Tribune anonymous columnist the Nose apparently agrees:

www.thenewstribune.com/2013/04/26/2573692/yee-haw-for-new-museum-wing-but.html




by Erik on 4/26/2013 @ 4:02pm
The News Tribune agrees that the design of the Tacoma Art Museum should be improved:

Some of y’all might reckon having a major permanent collection of Western American art in downtown Tacoma makes about as much sense as slapping a cowboy while he’s chewing tobacco.Ain’t we supposed to be a heap of uppity city slickers who hitched our wagon to fancy-pants glass artworks? Ain’t we supposed to be the second coming of Murano, Italy — not Puyallup?

The Nose has no such reservations, though. We let out a rip-roaring “yee-haw!” when we heard Tacoma Art Museum was fixin’ to add a wing to its Pacific Avenue building — an addition that will hold 280 donated pieces of Western art and double the size of the museum.

Truth is, when it comes to mysterious hombres who wear eye patches, we prefer Rooster Cogburn over Dale Chihuly.And our city’s redneck stock is rising, what with Thursday’s announcement that Bass Pro Shops will open its first Washington store in Tacoma.

Can we get a “Yippie Ki Yay!” from the congregation?God willing and the creek don’t rise, the expanded art museum will have both kinds of art – country and western.Maybe a mechanical bull out front?: 

We hear the new wing’s curator, who recently arrived from the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyo., comes with her own natty collection of cowgirl boots and skirts. So she’ll fit right in.

Which is more than we can say about the look of the new museum wing.Last week’s big reveal of the proposed exterior design put a hitch in our giddyap.

The bland, saddle-brown, double-wide trailer of a building says nothing about the free-spirited, open-range artwork that’ll go inside.Did TAM consider hiring the architect who brought class to Parkland, Lakewood and Gorst with his Mattress Ranch design?...

www.thenewstribune.com/2013/04/26/257369...

by pchill on 4/26/2013 @ 5:54pm


I regret to inform everyone that as long as this design meets the minimum requirements of the city planning requirements and building department we have really no strong option to protest.  The City of Tacoma has no design review standards, or policies nor a design review board that places a high standard of exceptional design for our city.  This addition is being reviewed by the highly respected Landmarks Commission. They are our only governing design review body in the city.  I respectfully have to remark that this should not be solely in their jurisdiction. 

by cisserosmiley on 4/26/2013 @ 7:26pm
What do you think feedtacoma is for ???

by Erik on 4/27/2013 @ 10:09am
@pchill: The fundemental problem is that designers of buildings are paid by the developer who focuses mainly on the internal use of the building.  While that is important, it is the general public and the rest of the area who have an interest in having the building integrate well in the urban fabric and add life in the arera rather than creating a dead zone.

There are many regulatory rules, but no lobby for good urban design other than the general public who wants a vibrant downtown.

Tacomans have managed to get a better designed steam plant at Wright Park, have the UWT put retail on Pacific, have a far better designed Safeway and have managed to have the fence removed blocking the bridge of glass.  All we can do is our best and try to have the City of Tacoma implement best practices in urban design when possible.

Here is the letter I sent to Landmark Preservation Commission:
__________________
The Historic Preservation Office
Planning and Development Services
747 Market Street, 3rd Floor
Tacoma, WA 98402-3793

RE:     Tacoma Art Museum Addition Remodel
    Comments

Dear Commissioners,

    Please accept my comments and suggestions for the proposed renovation and proposed additions to the Tacoma Art Museum.

History of Buildings in the area

    The original, and many of the remaining, buildings in the area of the art museum were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

    The buildings were designed with skill in a manner to give vibrancy to the street.  They did so by employing a number of well established urban design elements:

1) Built to the edge of the sidewalk

2) Employed frequent  and visually significant entrances facing the street

3) Contained a great amount of large windows so that pedestrians could see into the buildings and people within buildings could see life on the street.
It is very important that the Tacoma Art Museum follow this historical practices as well as it is located on Tacoma's Main Street of the city in the middle of downtown Tacoma.

The City of Tacoma's failure to observe these historical urban design elements has resulted in many areas of Pacific Avenue becoming dead zones.

The city has razed many of the buildings on Pacific Avenue, constructed lifeless plazas and has allowed many buildings and structures (such as endless blank walls and parking lots) to be erected which have destroyed much of the vibrancy in multi block sections of Pacific Avenue.

In order to try to remedy the notorious problem in this section of Pacific Avenue, one expert after another has been brought in to try to analyze the situation and made suggestions to try to bring life into the area or "activate" this section of downtown with no avail.

Thus, it is important that the renovations and expansion of the Tacoma Art Museum be performed in a manner which restores some of the historical street vibrancy in the area and historical good urban design.  Otherwise, the Tacoma Art Museum will contribute to the lifeless street life in the area around Tollefson Plaza where one design mishap after another has deadened much of Pacific Avenue.

Proposal for the expansion of the Tacoma Art Museum

Now the expansion for the Tacoma Museum expansion threatens to build another long lifeless blank wall on Pacific Avenue.  Although the TAM expansion will have some windows on Pacific Avenue they will be covered with a screen severing the connection between the street and pedestrians.

Walking on Pacific Avenue near the insular dark Haub expansion will be a harsh lonely experience for pedestrians notwithstanding the "artist rendition" pedestrians drawn into the drawings to try to make them look them look more vibrant than they will be,

Better Museum Design: Seattle Art Museum:





Large unobstructed windows and a large grand entrance contributes to the success of the Seattle Art Museum and adds vibrancy to the street.

Tacoma should not try to be Seattle or any other city.  However, the following changes to the proposed TAM expansion to improve the urban design of the building could greatly benefit the museum as well as and people who live, work and visit Tacoma.

By building the TAM expansion with good urban design principles, TAM would be doing it's part to contribute to a vibrant downtown rather than creating yet another dead zone in the city.

1) The screens over the windows should be removed so pedestrians can see inside as they would any other building and connect people with the building. The screens are a deliberate attempt to cut off the building from the street yet still make it look like the "glazing" or window requirements are being met.  This is equivalent to placing windows in a building and then covering them up with posters.

2) The color on the addition should be greatly lightened up.  The dark brown color make the TAM expansion look uninviting at the least and possibly even scary and foreboding.

3) The entrance to the Tacoma Art Museum should be much larger and taller so that it is obvious to visitors and makes a statement without having to install "way-finding" red arrows and signs all over the place.

Originally, the Tacoma Art Museum hid the entrance around a corner so no one could see people enter or exit.  Although the proposed design has not brought the entrance out to make it visible, it is far too small and obscured for a building of this type.

4) The wind swept plaza needs to have a significant piece of art in it, the Tacoma equivalent of Hammering Man. One problem with the TAM expansion is that it look utilitarian and boring.  Not everyone likes Hammering Man.  However, at least it make a statement.

Examples and Design Alternative for TAM

Enclosed area number of examples of art museums with more appropriate entrances which are far larger than the proposal.

For instance, the Seattle Art museum has many more windows on the sides of the building which are completely open and functional. The building has significant and grand entrance. In contrast, the proposed TAM renovations tries to isolate the new wing by making it dark, with slated windows.  

Also enclosed is a proposal for a renovation of the Tacoma Art Museum by Tacoma architect Ko Wibowo, former president of the Southwest Washington Division of the American Institute for Architects.


This design made as a suggestion to improve the entrance to TAM without considering the new wing that is to be built.  Nevertheless, the proposal is still completely relevant to how it creates a far larger entrance which will connect pedestrians, enhance street life and create natural "wayfinding" just as historical buildings in the area did.

Conclusion

By employing the best practices and established examples of good urban design, the Tacoma Art Museum can follow the example of historical buildings in the area by adding vibrancy to the area rather than being an isolated box which extinguishes the street life on Tacoma's Main Street in the city.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.
_____________

Send your comments/suggestions on the TAM design here:

reuben.mcknight@cityoftacoma.org

tcook@cityoftacoma.org

www.tacomaculture.org/historic/about.asp



by pchill on 4/27/2013 @ 3:31pm


Fortunately this design had to go to the Landmarks Commission otherwise there would be barely, if any, chance of public review and response.  Actually if this thing was just on the other side of Hood street it could be built with carte blanch. The design would have been on track to become a reality as is.  That said, we should somehow take great advantage of this opportunity. 

by KevinFreitas on 4/28/2013 @ 3:57pm
Totally agree and thanks for your comments @pchill. Landmarks Commission or not elected officials answers to Tacoma citizens (their bosses) and if they're not receptive can always be replaced if they don't represent people with an open mind.