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Easy Living on Lake George | Waterfront Plan Is Fiscally Responsible (Albany, NY Times Union)
Keep Dreaming Albany Dreams (Albany, NY Times Union) | New Waterfront Plan (Albany, NY Times Union)
New Places in Older Suburbs
| Officials Praise Police Station (The Miami Herald)

Easy Living on Lake George

SIMPLICITY RULES AT A RUSTIC
RESIDENCE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK

A view of Lake George from the porch. Click to see larger image. Tucked away in the Adirondack region of upstate New York, Lake George seems as clear and crystalline as a mirage, glinting enticingly through clusters of hern-lock, birch and white pine. People have been drawn to its beauty for millennia, from the troquois and other indigenous tribes to, more recently, such notable artists as Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Among its latter-day conquests is a Cuban-born architect named Francisco Ruiz, who, before moving to the north country, had spent a lifetime in points much further south, most recently in Florida.

Ruiz and his wife, Peggy, a lawyer, migrated to Albany, New York, in the mid-1980s. Adopting to life there represented a challenge, at least as for as the climate-think Canada—was concerned. Still, the couple found ample consolation in what Ruiz calls "this glorious landscape" around nearby Lake George; before long, they resolved to buy a summer house in the area.

A view of Lake George from the porch. Click to see larger image. Ruiz envisioned an Adirondack-style camp, such as those adopted by some captains of industry early in the last century— a cluster os rustic, sometimes fanciful, lodges that reflect their rural surroundings. While the best known of these have an unmistakable grandeur, this architect was determined "to keep the scale small. I wanted to keep it humble." The place they found, in the tiny hamlet of Huletts Landing, on the lake's eastern shore, was certainly that. "It resembled a double-wide trailer," Ruiz says. "It wasn't of its place in any shape or form. But it looked as if it could be without too much time or trouble." From this unprepossessing 700-square-foot, two-bedroom structure—a shack, really—he fashioned the compound that came to be called Camp Glimmerglass. "I wanted to evoke something that looked like it had been built in the teens and had evolved over time," he says.

A view of Lake George from the porch. Click to see larger image. Its name alone roots it solidly in place. Ever since the American Revolution (fought in part in this region), there'd been talk about calling Lake George—named for George III, the hated English king—something more benign. According to local legend, a movement once took hold to rename it Lake Glimmerglass after the fictional body of water in some of James Fenimore Cooper's writings. But, alas, nothing ever came of the idea.

The Living Room. Click to see larger image Ruiz's one-man architectural practice has been diverse. "Everything is of interest to me, from urban design down to the smallest residential commission," he says. One thing that all his projects have in common, though, is that they "really respond to the specific setting." And nowhere where, glimpsed through the main house's windows, the lake asserts itself from the moment you arrive. The house was renovated in stages, with two smaller, aneillary structures—a great cottage and a toolshed added only recently. The exedra formed by the three buildings marks the point of arrival at the camp, while also providing a niche for the obligatory flagpole. Most summers, a Revolutionary-era flag flutters here. Across the driveway, there's a totem pole of Ruiz's own creation. The result is convincingly camplike. It's easy to imagine a bugle playing "Taps" nightly over the darkening lake.

The architect relaxes on the porch. Click to see larger image. The facades of all three structures are rustic, incorporating back-covered logs in their design. "I wanted the sense of something very enveloping, a uniformity of material," Ruiz says. "The overall colors are dark, almost black brown, the most recessive color you can paint a house." The red-and-green trim is "quintessentially Adirondack," he adds. The unexpected aqua shade, used under the caves, is actually a primer; when Ruiz saw his painters using it, he vowed to keep it as the final coat. He chose green for the roofs, too—another classic Adirondack touch. His decision to use proletarian roll roofing left the roofers incredulous. But the architect was determined: Shingles, the more predictable choice, "would've been too suburban," he insists. Besides, roll roofing "is almost canvaslike. In a subconscious way it connotes a tent."

The Living Room. Click to see larger image And tents, the sense of camping in the wilderness, are very much a leitmotif. The inverted-hull-shaped living room ceiling has the qualities of a tent, as does the shallow-pitched gable of the main house's reconfigured porch. The rough-hewn, crisscrossed beams beneath it gently frame the view of shadowy, mysterious Bloomer Mountain in the distance.

The interior is pure whimsy. Ruiz tossed in almost anything that seemed to echo the local vernacular or evoke casual summer living or just simply feel right. "I gravitated toward the primitive and the bumptious, to plank chairs and tramp art," Ruiz says. The living room is typical of the house in that it's a place of snowshoes and lanterns, model ships and antlers of all types, including a pair of moose ones above the fireplace.

The architect relaxes on the porch. Click to see larger image. The outmoded, 1940s-style kitchen in the corner was a definite teardown, or so Ruiz thought. With its red linoleum countertops and primitive wood cabinets, it has a look, he says with satisfaction, that is "very homemade." It's a concept that prevails. And yet now and then Ruiz cheerfully undermines it by, for example, placing a distinctly factory-made aluminum cafe chair, bought from a restaurant supply store, in the living room to provide "a sudden infusion of technology."

The Living Room. Click to see larger image In the initial renovation, a second story, known as the tower, was added to the house. Reached by way of some twisting, shallow stairs, the first stop is a cozy space the family calls the Pullman—a much-coveted, curtained sleeping berth. Spiraling farther upward, you arrive at an open space with bunks where the young Ruizes, a daughter and a son, gather with friends "and tell stories into the night." Each child has a silver locker for possessions, stored under a bed. Other than that, "there are no assigned rooms for kids. They go where the social situation dictates."

An Adirondack-style crash pad? It's the kind of risk-taking concept that not every house can pull off. "That's what I love about this place," says Ruiz. "It really is very accepting. It's almost like an aesthetic laboratory. You can introduce something, even the most farfetched thing, and it just might work." And does—amazingly—more often than not.

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Waterfront Plan Is Fiscally Responsible

Thursday, April 27, 1997 - Albany (NY) Times Union "Editorial Viewpoint"
FRANCISCO RUIZ

Allow me to correct — for the benefit of residents of Albany concerned with this city's future — an erroneous caption and potentially misleading information reported in your article of Saturday, April 12, about the master plan we have produced, and have placed before the mayor, for the re-urbanization of this city's Waterfront District.

Your article curiously and prominently attaches the adjective "costly'' to its description of the proposed urban design master plan and even purports to quote me as having said "the plan is expensive and years away.'' In fact, this is not at all the case. The plan represents a quite prudent, indeed responsible, infrastructure investment in the development of Albany as a vibrant, active and meaningful place and anticipates a very attractive ratio of required investment to expected return — the true measure of "cost'' in any project undertaken.

The plan makes 15 acres of Albany's most valuable real estate (directly fronting the river and Corning Preserve) available to Air-Rights as well as conventional on-grade development, and returns this sizable parcel to the city's notoriously dwindling tax rolls. While Air-Rights construction does require a 10- to 15-percent higher investment than conventional on-grade construction, this is more than offset by the anticipated nominal "land'' acquisition cost.

Additionally, this plan will result in a greatly expanded economy for Albany, and for the surrounding Capital Region, beyond any scale conceived to date.

In contrast, other proposals advanced to date, although no doubt well-intentioned, represent a "beautification'' approach that promises a small yield in relation to a comparatively staggering required investment.

The Urban Design Masterplan is flexible, permitting its development through subsequent, market-driven phases, as outlined, which may come to be realized in the coming 21st century. Nevertheless, phase one — which establishes sensible land-use, urban-space and vehicular and pedestrian circulation patterns and requires the development of a relatively modest infrastructure component — is indeed proposed for immediate consideration and short-term implementation.

In addition to transforming the Corning Preserve into an accessible, inviting and well-surveilled park, the plan returns to Albany its historically urban-to-the-water's-edge frontage on the Hudson River, and its very identity as a "port city.''

At the same time, it thoughtfully and effectively relates and re-integrates the waterfront to all contiguous parts of the city, including lower Broadway, Quackenbush Square, and the shopping corridor along North Pearl Street, to which it will be directly and seamlessly linked by the proposed pedestrian viaduct, to run along the north side of Maiden Lane/Pine Street, spanning Water, Broadway and James streets.

As those concerned with Albany's future assess available options at this crucial juncture in this city's history, they might come to regard this plan as presenting splendid opportunities for all sectors of this community and region.

Further, after careful thought, they might come to see the failure to appropriately and intelligently re-urbanize and re-integrate the city's waterfront, falling short of fully exploiting the energy and wealth which it holds, as indeed the "costliest'' of alternatives that might be pursued.

Lastly, to correct the record, although I much respect and admire Columbia, I did not receive my undergraduate education there, as reported, but at Cornell University. Francisco Ruiz is an architectural and urban designer based in Albany.

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Keep Dreaming Albany Dreams

What is one to make of architect Francisco Ruiz's vision for a new Albany? Is it just one more in a long list of grandiose schemes that have been floated, and then forgotten, over the years? Plans for escalators on State Street; plans for marinas and hotels, parks and pedestrian malls. Plans for foot bridges to the Hudson riverfront.

It would be a shame for city leaders to be so blinded by failed proposals that they can't see the promise in new ones. It's encouraging, then, that Mayor Jennings is making clear his enthusiasm for Mr. Ruiz's blueprint. It is flexible and conceived in phases that wouldn't require a huge investment up front for an unknown payoff down the line.

Slowly and steadily, it would reintegrate Albany's waterfront with lower Broadway, Quackenbush Square and, via a pedestrian bridge, the shopping along North Pearl Street.

Some perspective is in order. If Albany hopes to have a vibrant downtown once again, it must do its share to make it an attractive place to live and work. Plans like Mr. Ruiz's are one important step, but other measures are even more essential. The city needs clean streets, for example, and safe streets. It needs a public school system that would be a lure for young families. It needs an equitable tax assessment system. It needs activities and entertainment.

Above all, if there is to be a market for offices and homes, then there must be people working downtown. Mayor Jennings has some sound ideas on how in make that occur.

He has embraced an idea once championed by Lou Vaccaro, the former president of The College of Saint Rose, to establish a graduate studies center.That would bring new vitality to the city. The mayor is also right to try to persuade the state to move many of its offices from the Western Avenue campus to downtown. But Albany needs private-sector companies and jobs as well.

If the workers return, where will they spend their off hours? Downtown Albany long has been all but deserted after 5 p.m., although the popularity of a single brew pub that opened last year appears to have shown what one solid offering can do.

Now, too, there is renewed interest in one of former Mayor Thomas Whalen III's favorite ideas - an entertainment district that would give downtown a 24-hour pulse and complement the events at the Pepsi Arena.

Mr. Ruiz's proposal rightly emphasizes the need to consolidate many different activities and make them accessible -- something that is now all but impossible because of Albany's hilly topography. And he wisely allows for generous parking spaces -- promising welcome relief from the city's nagging parking crunch.

He also has history on his side. During the 1980s, downtown San Diego, Calif., was facing a future as equally bleak as Albany's. Then revival began with an affordable condominium prqject near the water. People were attracted by the low prices -- $69,000 ---and the vista. They started moving back to the city. Jobs followed.

An infrastmeture of boutiques, restaurants and service operations followed the trend. A fast-rate transportation system kept everything moving. Downtown San Diego was alive again.

The key is to take one step at a time. A graduate center for Albany might be the catalyst similar to San Diego's condominium project. Maybe then the cycle of revival will begin.

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New Waterfront Plan Has Albany Moving Up

Saturday, April 12, 1997 -
Albany (NY) Times Union
By Jay Jochnowitz

ALBANY - A plan to connect downtown Albany to its Hudson riverfront envisions a whole new city district rising over Interstate 787 with retail, residential, recreational and office development.

Proposed by Albany architect Francisco Ruiz and admittedly a costly long-range vision, the plan has drawn attention in City Hall. Ruiz' idea is saidto be the most detailed put forth to date and Mayor Jerry Jennings on Friday called it "exciting stuff."

While Jennings in 1993 suggested
burying Interstate 787 to remove it
as an obstacle th the river, Ruiz proposes four million square feet of development be built over the high-
way. The cornplex, which would leave a 16-foot high tunnel for the interstate and rail tracks, would stretch about three blocks where the highway is now mostly at ground level between Clinton Avenue and State Street.

"The idea is really to take advantage of 15 acres of real estate that's just lying unused over 787," said Ruiz, an Cuban-born, Harvard and
Columbia-educated urban designer.

Built in three sections with an office or apartment building rising 25 to 30 stories from each, his plan
includes retail shops and a marina, a hotel, and a string of rowhouses overlooking Corning Preserve.

Beneath the complex would be parking for 3,000 cars. To the preserve's north would be a small harbor for skating and rowing.

The project would connect to downtown in two main ways —with entrances at ground level at Water
Street, and a narrow padestrian bridge stretching from North Pearl and Pine Streets over the highway.

Admittedly requiring a huge construction
investment, such a


project would also involve regrading Corning Preserve to allow it to slope more naturally down from the buildings.

Jennings, after three meetings since January with Ruiz. has asked his Capitalize Albany committee to
look at the proposal. The panel last year released a broad action plan for
downtown and is looking at specific
projects and ways to finance them.

"The key is finding consensus... and to find the big dollars that are necessary to doing these things," said Economic Development Commissioner George Leveille.

Albany is exploring federal transportation and state environmental bond act grants, he said.

Noting that development built
over interstates has been done in cities like Boston and New York, Michael Fleisher, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said the state would be willing to consider a plan from Albany.

Ruiz has no cost estimate but
acknowledged the plan is expensive and years away. "This is not being proposed as a plan for the year 2000. This is being proposed as a plan for
the 21st Century," he said, adding, "This all has to be market driven."

 

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New Places in Older Suburbs

In many ways, the Illinois Village of Glenwood is like thousands of suburban communities. It has tree-lined streets, mostly one and two-story buildings and a prominent water tower with large letters proclaiming the area’s name. But passersby can be lulled by the sameness of “drive-through” suburbs and never take in the colorful histories or commercial offerings of these communities. A well known stopover on the Pony Express a century ago, Glenwood-now in the shadow of Chicago-is a prime example of a community that is struggling to create an identity separate from the other 68 suburbs located only a commuter’s drive away from the ‘loop.’

Virtually surrounded by forest preserves that help define its territory, Glenwood is a quiet, unassuming community of comfortable homes and small neighborhoods. Its Main Street lacks the intensity of buildings found in larger rural towns. But it is also just a few minutes from major commercial arterials replete with first and second generation roadside sprawl (In fact, the design competition was juried in a newly vacated store in the local strip mall.)

The Program

Glenwood Town Center Redevelopment. Click to see larger image Like many of the other suburbs that feel the pressure of metropolitan sprawl, Glenwood needed a stronger self-image-something which would give the community a central focus and boost economic development. To Accomplish this, Glenwood officials embarked on a unique challenge: to create a 7.5-acre village center that gives the community a distinct identity and that accommodates future plans for commercial and transportation development.

Taking a page from other nearby communities which had recently held successful design competitions to create public places-Olympia Fields held a competition to design a park; Matteson sponsored one for its library-Glenwood officials became convinced that a design competition would maximize the number of high quality options.

Glenwood began the competition process early in 1995 when it hired consultants from Design Competition Services Inc., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin to act as professional advisers. At that time, Glenwood officials had decided that a new Village Hall was needed, but were uncertain about other options to promote economic development. One problem with the Village Hall site was that it was more than a block away from most of the village’s commercial activity on Main Street. In discussions with the professional advisers, Glenwood officials decided that a Town Square would complement the new Village Hall and could become the new catalyst they were seeking.

As the programming process continued, other development issues became apparent. Glenwood officials raised the possibility of constructing a train station adjacent to the Town Square and along the existing rail line-a development which would further enhance the emerging village center. However, this proposal would be contingent on approval from the regional transit system(Metra). Due to the uncertainty of this proposal, the competitors were asked to show options-including a train station-as well as other alternatives.

As the program expanded, it became clear that the development of a village center would also stimulate economic development along Main Street. This aspect was now included in the design challenge, and competitors were asked to show options for streetscaping and redevelopment.

It also became apparent that the size of the Village Hall needed to be reconsidered. The scope of the program for the Village Hall was too small for a civic building. Consequently, the building program was expanded to place leasable commercial activity in the larger space.

The Site

The site for the Village Hall and Tow Square is largely flat and undeveloped, with most existing buildings subject to demolition. While this gave designers flexibility, the community of Glenwood wanted to maintain a traditional character. This led to explicit criteria for the jurors that required the design to complement existing architecture, which included a few turn-of-the-century buildings and a high concentration of buildings from the last 50 years. In addition, commercial development was limited to three stories.

With the scope of the project defined, and the criteria finalized, Glenwood was ready to announce its single-stage national competition open to all designers, including planners, architects, and landscape architects.

The Jury

The jury included Ralph Johnson, Vice President of Perkins and Will of Chicago; Milo Thompson, Principal in Bentz, Thompson, Rietow, Inc. of Minneapolis; Steven Hurtt, Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland; and Peter Gergel, local architect and Glenwood Village Trustee. All of the outside jurors had experience in comparable competitions, Johnson and Hurtt having both served on the juries for the recent Williamsburg Competitions. Thompson had also participated as a juror in the competition for a town hall in the historical center of Leesburg, Virginia. Johnson had served on the juries for the nearby competitions for Olympia Fields and Matteson.

In June, the jury met in a vacant store front in a Glenwood strip mall and scrutinized approximately 175 entries. The relative simplicity of the building program and site conditions made this a particularly appealing competition for small architectural firms and solo practitioners who comprised the majority of entrants. Over a three day period, the solutions were narrowed to the top 30, and then, through repeated balloting, to a select few. Toward the end of the judging, the fundamental issue considered by the jury was whether more weight should be given to the Village Hall design, or to the Town Square plan.

The jury noted that the best buildings were not always in the best overall designs. They grappled with identifying the best plan for future development, the plan with the most appealing architecture, and the plan with the best combination of both.

Curiously, some potential entrants had complained that it was inappropriate to include a large number of planning issues in an architectural competition. However, the majority of entrants tackled the issues of priority and strategy, as did the jury. Such issues are not limited to Glenwood, and are repeatedly debated in communities, as well as professional and academic circles.

Ultimately, the jury turned to the judging criteria and concluded that more emphasis was to be placed on the traditional Town Square, and that the site plan for this public space should be the first factor in its decisions.

The Winners

From these deliberations emerged a strong and viable solution. Francisco Ruiz, an architect in private practice from Albany, New York, will be awarded $10,000 for the winning design. The design of Shawn Michael Schaefer, an architect in private practice from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was permeated with the Second Place award of $7,000. The Third Place prize of $3,000 was captured by William Greene, an architect from Brooklyn, New York, who worked in collaboration with Eleanor D’Aponte.

Ruiz’s solution includes a U-shaped Village Hall with an interior courtyard. The Town Square is clearly framed on all four sides with the Village Hall in a traditionally prominent location. The long Stoa-like commercial structure separates the Town Square from the railroad tracks. It creates a functional and visually effective link to the future site for a train station and related development opportunities. The well-crafted street geometry directs a visitor’s line of vision toward a tower and other points of interest. Overall, traffic patterns were well integrated, allowing multiple entries and ample parking without detracting from the strong civic nature of the public places.

Glenwood Town Center Redevelopment. Click to see larger image In reviewing Ruiz’s solution, the jury was particularly impressed with the scale of the design and its well-defined “sequence of easily recognizable public spaces” that can accommodate a variety of community events. The jury felt the plan allowed for flexible growth and offered the potential for a partnership between public and private sectors to develop a civic/commercial district, much like traditional railroad suburbs such as Lake Forest, Illinois. The jury was impressed by a large sheltered space on the upper level of the Village Hall which gives the civic building a “potential landmark character.” The jury also noted that an arched entrance on the Village Hall serves as a symbolic gateway.

Schaefer’s Second Place design also incorporated an effective gateway entrance, according to the jury. However, the jury expressed concerns about “tenuous connections” between Main Street and both the Village Hall and Town Square.

Greene’s Third Place solution included a Village Hall that was “architecturally inventive” as it simultaneously combined traditional and contemporary features. It also portrayed a “compelling Town Square” with intriguing landscape that including potential use as an amphitheater. However, the jury noted that the design did not adequately address future private and commercial development, and “did not show how the square and the Village Hall would work together.”

Outcomes

Typically, in competitions like this, it takes several months to a year to initiate the implementation process. Winning solutions in nearby Matteson and Olympia Fields were completed in a timely fashion. Glenwood is following a similar path, and community enthusiasm is high. As of this writing, the Village staff and Ruiz are beginning contract negotiations. The Village staff has also begun to contact potential developers.

In hindsight, the outcome of this competition is relatively unsurprising. A traditional planning concept was used to reinvigorate an older suburban area. However, from another perspective, this competition reflects a broader change in attitude among communities and designers. The solution to this architectural problem was not an isolated building, but a series of public places in which a civic building served as a cornerstone. While the integration of architecture with its context shows up repeatedly in theory and academic circles, it does not always dominate professional practice.

In most competitions, entrants as well as jurors, typically give priority to the architectural character of the individual building. They usually view the larger public realm as a less tractable problem for which the architect is less responsible. In this case, both the entrants and the jury made a different choice. The quality of the public place was selected as the top priority which, remarkably, was the client’s goal.


Officials Praise Police Station -- Palm Beach Style

Palm Beach Police Station

They stroll by a fountain and reflecting pool lined with palm trees, past a cafe and arcade shops, through an arched entrance to a landscaped courtyard leading, finally, to a door in the heart of Palm Beach.

Brooks Brothers on Worth Avenue? Not quite. This is a police station. Palm Beach style.

Several Palm Beach town councilmen gave rave reviews Tuesday to a preliminary sketch of two Spanish-style, stucco and barrel-tile-roof bulidings housing a new police station, five arcade shops and two townhouses across from Town Hall on South County Road.

The arcade shops would give the station a liveliness that many public buildings in American cities lack, becoming zones of urban decay, said architect Francisco Ruiz of Palm Beach, who presented his design to the town's Public Safety Committee Tuesday.

Police Chief Joseph Terlizzese said he first doubted the plan, but now hails it as a gem that could turn the town plaza Into a world showcase.

"I don't know a police station in the whole world." like it, said the chief.

Terlizzese said the station would be fully functional and separated from the shops. Suspects would be led in a side door on Australian Avenue.

Councilman Robert Grace, a member of the Public Safety Committee, which reports to the council, called it a "wonderful design."

"It's a very refreshing idea." Councilman Paul Iylinzky said.

The Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach Inc., a private, nonprofit group, that formed two years ago to preserve the town's historic character, hired Ruiz after Marion J. Varner, a CalifornIa police station architect the Town Council commissioned, drafted a fortress that didn't fit in the town plaza area/foundation director Richard Kearn said.

"That [Varner's design] looked pretty good." Grace said. "But now this looks better."

The station would be a two-story buliding with police headquarters nestled behind four street-level arcade shops on South County Road just north of Australian Avenue. Another arcade building just south of the avenue would house a corner shop and two townhouse apartments. Both buildings would blend with the Buckley Building just to the south, a town Iandmark of arcade shops built in the 1920s.

Ruiz hopes the buildings would inspire a fulfillment of a 1930 town plan that envisioned the Town Hall ringed by arcade shops.

Grace says the Town Council would have to grant a variance to build the arcade station, then borrow money or sell bonds approved by voters.

The town has been planning a new police station for several years, and bought the two lots east of Town Hall. When the police vacate their cramped headquarters in City Hall, the building department will move there from 45 Coconut Row.

If the Town Council approves a station design "by Easter, we'll be lucky." Grace said.

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