Refurbishing a Boston Landmark

Very quick sketch here from a few photographs of an existing building, the old Filene’s Department Store, by Daniel Burnham, 1912.

digital photoshop sketch  of Filene's Boston by Jeff Stikeman Architectural Art

Filene’s Boston, 1912, by Daniel H. Burnham Architect, of Chicago. An Idealized Sketch of the Building Following a Proposed Future Refurbishment (click for a larger version)

Downtown Crossing, Boston, is a hot topic at the moment, and most of the discussion revolves around the proposed development of the Filene’s Site, of which this building is a part.  I worked on the Filene’s project/site about fifteen years ago, on the opposite side of the block backing up to the Burnham building. The mid-50s Brutalist Concrete building (since demolished) by Raymond Loewy,  was being considered for expansion and a ‘facade-ectomy’.  Nothing came of it (the project succumbed to the recession of the early ’90s).  That project however also included some measures for restoring the existing Burnham Building, cleaning and stabilizing its granite field, and deep-green glazed terracotta columns. The full restoration did not take place at that time, but there were measures taken to stabilize the terracotta, and replace some that had been lost or excessively damaged.  Those pieces now read in a different shade of green, having weathered the couple decades not as well as the century old glazed terracotta of the original. As part of the comprehensive development of the site (including a high-rise tower), some amount of work will need to be visited upon the flagship building.  Additionally, the window glazing which has been painted out for many years is shown here as reopened, allowing us to see into the building a bit. In this daytime view, we see only a few hints of the light fixtures at the ceiling level, but there would be a visual connection between inside and out. In the evening, the interior would be illuminated and warm, rather than blank and dark as is has been for decades.

Enlarged Detail of a proposed Corner Retail Entry and Glass Canopy, for the Original Filene’s Building at Downtown Crossing.

This image is only one concept, and will certainly be supplanted by further studies to be sure.  But in this exercise, the charge was to show the building facade refreshed, the ground floor as reopened, with a corner retail entry, new glass canopy, an entrance to the T, and perhaps a hint of an office entry mid-block, just past the T entrance. The view is Idealized, too. It’s not entirely possible to see wthis much of it from the location I’ve sketched it from.  But more about experience than specifics. I wanted you to understand the building, the intersection, the crowd, and the experience of stepping from narrow Winter Street into the light and under that great facade.

The crowd at downtown crossing is an interesting mix of office workers, tourists, young students, and residents. They are what give the area its energy.

A Detail showing a proposed entrance to the T (Subway) on Summer Street beyond. The lunchtime crowd depicted here reflects the energy one can expect to find at Downtown Crossing on a typical day.

As with most concepts, none of this is cast in stone.  That’s the challenge with a sketch like this. We need to represent what actually exists, couple it with what might exist, be specific about it without being too specific (because it isn’t resolved yet), and communicate some idea of the nature of the place.  Downtown Crossing is a vitally energetic part of the city, a literal and figurative crossing (hence its name). And for the last hundred years, a grande dame, the Filene’s building, has been holding court.  She’s a little tired after all that time, but with a bit of attention will again be a beautiful backdrop to the hurrying, shopping, ever-changing never-changing crowds below. That was the idea behind this illustration.

I’d posted this detail out of context a while ago. It’s clear now we’re looking at a touristy dad with kids in tow. His daughter has lost a balloon.

…here it is, diagonally across the frame, heading up, and soon to be lost around the corner of the building at right.

A last detail… There’s always the sound of music somewhere at Downtown Crossing. A sax player, drummers, a guitarist…. often overlapping, always echoing as you walk through the narrow streets on the brick paved streets  among the buildings.

I worked from an existing photograph, which is entirely typical when the subject is extant. No sense reinventing the wheel.  The deadline was also about a day of working time, with some good amount of conversation with my client beforehand, and some minor editing after. The work was performed in February of 2012. Joseph Larkin, of Millennium Partners, was the client.

The photograph which was used as a basis for the above work.

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Park Plaza Boston: Roof Top Bar

I showed a couple small details of these back in June, but can now show them in their entirety.

In June I received a call from Robin Brown, with whom I worked on the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, of Boston.  I was the senior designer of that project while at CBT Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., architects.  In fact, it was perhaps the last building built of those that I designed before I left architecture and started my illustration studio. As with many projects, what I designed, and what was built, had a divergence.  But enough of it is still there of my work that I count it among my projects.  Here’s an very old study I did for the Mandarin, during the public approvals process, ca.2001.

Entry Study for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Boston …one of my first experiments with photoshop. Can you tell that I had discovered the ‘gradient’ tool?

While working on it, I got a comment from someone that computers were really amazing, because otherwise it would have been impossible to figure out the shadow from that arching glass canopy.  …I wasn’t very successful at explaining to them that it was 2d, not a model, and that Photoshop did not ‘calculate’ anything related to shadows, but I did.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Robin had been investigating the idea of developing a roof top deck and bar at the Park Plaza Hotel.  It’s an enviable location, with roof-top views of the Public Garden, the Arlington Street Church, Old and new John Hancock Towers….

Today, the roof is a mix of rooftop equipment and high parapets.

Existing Condition of the Roof Top, with extensive HVAC components, and tall parapets

I walked through the interior space, and outside along the roof top, with Eric Peterson of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates of Cambridge.  They and design architects Arquitectonica are studying the feasibility of the concept. There were, at the time, only rough indications from their model of a furnishing plan for tables, and defining the extent of the roof deck.

A quick model shot provided by the architects, showing approximate extent of the roof deck.

There was not much else available to work from at that point. “Just see what you can come up with.” Robin wanted something that would speak to the energy level of the project, that captured the fantastic location, and which maybe conveyed what it would be like to be under the sky at night in the middle of Boston with such a vantage point.

digital photoshop illustration of a roof deck for the Park Plaza Roof, Boston

Looking West, down St. James Street, from a Proposed Roof top Bar at the Park Plaza Hotel

Sometimes, with an existing space, you can grab a few well-considered shots and simply sketch right over them quickly.  And Robin needed these quickly (day and a half, two days max.).  But this time it looked like a tall order to grab a few photos and just sketch away.  And we wanted the finals sketches to be taken at night, too. I took a few panorama photographs, doctored them a bit, removed the equipment, and painted away.

Looking North, over the Public Garden, Boston. Zakim Bridge at upper left, and the Dome of the State House middle right. Proposed tensile structure and bar at right, beyond.

These suffer from the restrictions of a blog, only 550 pixels wide.  In reality, they are about 12×18 and 300 dpi.  And so, some details.

Looking West, down St. James Street, with the old and new Hancock Towers at left

Instead of four-top tables, I went with groups of upscale seating, sofas, low coffee tables, and plantings of boxwoods and cedars in zinc planters. The deck is shown as Ipe or Teak.

Another Detail, Looking West, with the old New England Mutual Life Insurance Company beyond.

Necessarily, there isn’t a lot of ‘there’ there.  Just messy indications and highlights, more sketchy than specific.  Here’s a shot enlarged to the point where it falls apart.  The idea isn’t to zoom in and see detail, it’s to imply detail when zoomed out.

An enlarged detail, past full size. Really nothing here beyond a few strokes and indications of color and highlights. My favorite is her apple-tini.  Nothing there but a green triangle and three highlights.

Here are a few details from the view looking north.

The idea was to place groups of seating which defined an area for small groups of people, with enough open area beyond for a small function or cocktail reception. Note the State House beyond.

The parapets of the existing condition were chest high. Assuming the deck was built to be elevated about much of the existing piping, it became clear that the parapets could be brought to below eye-level, vastly improving the view. Instead of looking into a brick parapet, you’d be overlooking the Public Garden.  I introduced a continuous boxwood hedge and glass rail, lit from below, with the seating in front of that. This kept us back from the parapet, reducing any potential vertigo (we don’t want anyone looking over to the street below) and gave a better sense of enclosure while still preserving the view.

Numerous seating configurations scale the roof top down to more intimately sized areas, a glass rail preserves the view, and is set back from the parapet by a low boxwood hedge, lit from below. The Zakim bridge is beyond, left.

An existing penthouse of brick is to remain, and will contain the elevator lobby, bar, and service areas.  The industrial nature of the older original equipment will be cleaned and restored, left in place, with perhaps a tensile structure appended in a way that covers the doors out onto the roof terrace.

An existing Penthouse will remain (at right) with a new tensile structure expressing the connection out to the roof terrace.  And no,  That’s not Tom Brady….

What I enjoy about being able to share these in greater depth on a blog, is that I can explain how they are developed, and convey what the REAL effort can often be.  It’s not enough to simply paint a picture of something from information provided.  It’s sometimes more about synthesizing many things: incomplete designs; verbal descriptions; and quirky design complications; and delivering something which expresses the designers’ and the clients’ ultimate intent and which speaks to the big idea.

All work was done in Photoshop CS5, about 12×18, 300dpi.

copyright © jeff stikeman architectural art 2012

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New Work: March-June 2012

Well, I thought February was busy….

Haven’t really had any time to update, which is the very thing that will end up killing a blog.  Literally haven’t had a day off since February began.  That’s both good and bad, obviously.  Nature of the business is that you take work as it comes.  I’m looking for a little break during the typical summer slow-down. And I do have a week of planned vacation coming up.  …can’t believe the year is almost half over. But I could use a break.

Again, most of the work has been confidential.  Most projects coming out of a recession are of course start-up.  Not doing many marketing renderings (for finished/built work), instead, it’s mostly concept work, or schematic design level work.

I did execute a couple more formal images for Powers/Schram of Fort Lauderdale, of a mid-century modernist waterfront home.  I worked with Rick Powers a couple times when he was here in Boston as an architect at Tsoi Kobus, and it was nice to reconnect and work with him again.

Street View of “Sunrise Key”, Fort Lauderdale; digital paint with pencil, 11×17

View from the Water of of “Sunrise Key”, Fort Lauderdale; digital paint with pencil, 11×17

Before executing the two images above, we studied a few black and white camera tests.  These two are my favorites from among those we discarded.

Camera Test, for Sunrise Key, Water Side

Camera test, Street Side

I was partial to the lower camera station of the camera test from the water-side, but the intricate and rich landscaping plan begged for a higher camera angle, and it was decided to raise the camera to a point where the pool and landscape could be more clearly seen.

Some details of the final version of the Water Side view, at near-full resolution:

And details of the Street View:

As has become a recurring refrain here, most of the work I’ve done the past few months is confidential.  Following, though, are some details from work which I’m allowed to share, though many are necessarily cropped to remove any telling information.

11×17 Pencil Rendering

Detail of same

…a portion from a very quick, chalky/gouachy little sketch, about 11×17

A detail from the same sketch

A detail from a 9×14 pencil sketch, flicked with digital hi-lites and paint, on brown kraft-paper.

…another chunk from the same sketch, a private home, in Newport Rhode Island

A tightly cropped detail from a very quick, very loose digital sketch, for a proposed roof deck bar. This detail only about 2×2 from an 11×19 sketch

A detail from the second sketch in this pair of fairly loose, sketchy digital pieces.

In looking back at these, it strikes me that each image is entirely different than the next.  Rather than all pencil, or all digital, there is (I think) a healthy mix of differing approaches to the issue at hand.  Rather than reflecting what works for me, I think it better illustrates that my work is about answering the client’s need.  What do you need, when do you need it, and what do you have for me to work from?  And most important; who is your audience?  These are the questions which, for me anyway, determine what kind of image we end up with, how long it takes, what the final piece feels like…

I’ll try to be a bit better about timely updates.  With the economy the way it has been, there’s a tendency to keep working, never sure when the shoe might drop.  If the work keeps coming in though, that can make for a long run of heads-down work. All work and no-play, and all that.  We shall see what summer holds.  Since it seems to be when my clients, and their clients, take their vacations, that means it’s generally my vacation too.  Have a good summer yourself.

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Busy? …or vanished?

Busy.

Haven’t updated the blog very much, but not for lack of trying.  Been busy.  Have four formal interiors due next week, did a couple pencils over the weekend, and am playing hooky right now in the middle of a quick pencil I need to do as a favor.

But I really need to try to keep up the blog.

....lost balloon. A detail from a semi-formal digital piece done recently. About half size

Part of the issue is the confidentiality.  I did take most of December off, but pretty much everything between then and now has been somewhat confidential.  All I can show here are some details which are obscure enough to keep the particulars from being clear.

It’s been pretty varied.  Watercolor sketches (a pair), some pencils, and a little ‘sloppy’ digi-paint.

Some cropped details…

2x4 inch Detail from a watercolor sketch. One from a pair.

Study for a stone carving. About half-size.

Part of a digital study done for the restoration of an historic home

Cropped chunk of sky and trees, from a simple pencil sketch. February 2012

Here's a crop from the same image as the balloon (from the top of this post). The brothers are low-left in the image, with the little girl's lost balloon floating away at the top-right.

 

From the same digital piece. A sax player appears opposite, in the lower right corner of the rendering.

I hope to be able to share more of these, in their totality.  But for now the little clipped details will have to suffice.

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A Quick Sketch for a Private Garden

Private Garden for a Federal-era house in Boston

I got a call last month from Michael Weishan, with whom I worked on the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Suite a couple years ago (see here).  He was looking for a quick impromptu sketch, nothing too involved or specific, which would help a client of his understand something they had been studying together extensively in plan, but which was difficult for his clients to imagine spatially.

It seems the existing physical space didn’t really permit a full-scale mock-up of the idea, and barring that there’s only so much hand-waving and word-picture painting one can get away with.  It quickly became clear though that just a simple sketch would be enough to allow his clients to understand the idea and decide if all was headed in the right direction.

Michael provided a concept plan with the structures defined and plantings roughly indicated, and he was ‘brave’ enough to include his rough sketch for my reference. He modestly poo-poohed it, but the reality is, designers and architects can all sketch pretty well on their own.  …of course, I don’t tell them that, or I’d be out of a job.

I modeled it up, roughly and quickly, using his plan as the ‘texture’ for the ground on which I built the stone walls and other structures.

A screenshot of the model, kept simple, with no textures other than the plan as reference.

I rarely produce models for quick sketches.  But there were some elliptical stairs , and a wide-angle which would flirt with distortion, so I wanted to keep the perspective in check. Accuracy was preferable too, since I was also expecting to take this to full formal-pencil.  More on that in a bit.

A quick render…

Model Shot from Camera 02

And then I simply sketched over it in Photoshop.  This was to only be a camera test, one of a few test views for Michael to pick from.

My camera tests are very quick digital sketches done over a digital render of the model, with comments and questions written all over them, so that a client like Michael can decide which view works best.  Then I take the selected view and develop it more fully in pencil (or watercolor, digital paint, whatever…), producing the final rendering. The first round of camera tests (often three or four at a whack) is less about drawing and more about “What do you think of this view angle, or this one?” and “I have some questions and comments I need feedback on.”  Like these examples, from some previous jobs:

Typical Camera Tests

There’s a freshness to camera tests brought about by the speed with which they are done, the small audience (me, the client), and because they are less critical.  You don’t have to get everything right.  Heck, you don’t have to get ANYTHING right.  These are essentially story-board sketches.  They serve a brief thumbs-up/thumbs-down check on the direction we are headed with the image.  And then they get redone entirely, finessed, and made more formal.

Except this one.

The freshness of it hit me, and I realized there was no need to gild the lily.  I didn’t think it needed anything more to tell the story. Sure, pencil would be nice, but what were we trying to do ultimately? Well, to communicate an idea, quickly, with atmosphere and a little inspecific ease.  It was doing that for me, so I sent it off to him and, shooting myself in the foot, fee-wise, I said “This might actually be all you need, let me know.”  We’d assumed I would do it in pencil, but both of us liked the simple test enough that we recognized ‘it’ when we saw it.  No need for Michael to double or triple his expense if this sketch would answer the need, and I had work that was looming which needed starting… And so that was it…  Pencils down, everyone.  I sent it off to Michael at a higher resolution, and we called it a day.

Detail at full resolution. Sure, there's not much 'there' there. But there didn't need to be. And it worked all that much more because of it.

You may know Michael Weishan from his time with the PBS’s “Victory Garden”, from National Public Radio, his books, or from his numerous appearances on the ‘Today Show’ and  ‘Early Show.  Michael is currently working on a new program for PBS called “Garden Earth”, scheduled to run in 2012.  He founded Michael Weishan & Associates in 1986. See more of Michael’s work at michaelweishan.com

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…Back to School

And work.

Detail of a loose prismacolor pencil linework sketch, on orange-brown kraft paper, with gouache-like color added digitally.

At the end of June, having been on a treadmill of production since September previous, I decided that I was going to give myself a break and take some vacation.  As a sole proprietor in a profession where there are no guarantees of work (especially in this economic environment), and where work rarely appears on the horizon much more than a month in advance, taking time off often feels risky.  A week not working is a week you don’t get paid.

The impulse is great to just keep working, because you don’t know when it will end and you have a nagging fear that you’ll find yourself without any work. But the risk is also that you never take a break.

After nine months of steady work, I needed some time off.  The kids were just out of school, weather was promising, and so I took a figurative pen and drew a line straight through the months of July and August.

The kids will only be young once, and I am certainly not getting any younger myself, so I really knuckled down and made a commitment to keep the two best months of summer for myself and my family.  For the most part, it worked.  I did take a couple emergency jobs for a client with whom I have a long relationship, and we did about a dozen images for two separate jobs at the end of August.

In addition to some camping and beaching it, we went as a family to New York City.

statue of liberty from below

The Staue of Liberty, from below.

We’d been planning the trip since March, and my wife was savvy enough to reserve four of the tickets to the statue’s Crown that were available that day.  Of the 20,000 people on average that visit the statue each day, only about 200 are allowed in the Crown.  Tickets need to be reserved a few months in advance.

Only there for a couple days, we visited Times Square, the Empire State, Rockefeller Center, and the Statue of Liberty.  We cruised through and along Central Park, scoped the Brooklyn Bridge, and sought out the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” (to no avail, alas). The boys, who are too young to remember September 11 2001, wanted to see the Trade Center.  We visited the site of the rebuilding effort, and stopped in next door at the firehouse.  Both of them were finally able to at least understand where the Trade Center was, and to begin to understand the scope of the events.  They may not understand it all (who does?), but they do now understand where the towers stood in relation to the city and our hotel, how at once large and somehow small it all is, and that it is all ‘real’.

I finally got a chance to do some painting, too.

10x20 detail from a 20x60 canvas

Detail, about 5x8, from "Black on Red", 20x30

I had some other painting to do, too.  Spent a few weeks, mostly full time, building a porch I’d designed about a year and a half ago.  I never had time to do it, as I never set aside any.  This was a big reason for carving out time this summer from my illustration work. Here’s a shot of it primed, before finish painting in white.

This summer's magnum opus. A new porch about 12x14, clad inside and out with 1x10 vertical grain cedar claps, mitered. Decking of 1x4 mahogany with basket weave at the corners.

Day trips were the goal, and so we  camped in Vermont, with a day boating on the lake as we’d done the previous year. We spent a day at Canobie Lake Park in New Hampshire, where dad begged for someone to ride the Yankee Cannonball with him.   Went as a family to the Cape for a couple nights, where the kids indulged in seemingly limitless pool time. And we visited a cousin in New Hampshire for the day, on his boat, and relaxed at his beautiful place which overlooks an incredible view.

Wakefield, New Hampshire

The trees already had a hint of change to them then, and only a couple weeks later, the boys headed back to school.

There’s business to tend to now, including updating my website, and hopefully a little more time spent keeping up with the blog now that I’m back in the studio. Time to get back to work…

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Charlesview Residences, for The Community Builders

A groundbreaking was held the 16th of May at the site of what will be a new 22-building neighborhood called The Charlesview Residences, comprising 240 mixed-income rental units, 100 home ownership units (affordable and market rate), 14,000 square feet of retail ground floor, community spaces, and parks.

I was commissioned by Jeff Beam, of The Community Builders, to do a small suite of four sketchy renderings in order to provide the press and attendees with an atmospheric impression of the overall project as proposed.

Charlesview at Brighton Mills, Allston-Brighton

An Aerial View of the Project, middle ground. Digital, 11x17 and 300dpi

Aerial Detail of Charlesview

A detail from the Aerial, about twice full-size

Another Detail of the Aerial Sketch, zoomed in to about three times full size

The project had been in development by the non-profit development corporation The Community Builders for the past eight years or so, with CBT/Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., of Boston, as the architect.

A view South Down Antwerp Street

The View South Down Antwerp Street; digital 11x17, 300dpi

Detail, at about Full Size, showing a portion of the Josephine Fiorentino Community Center, on the Eastern Side of Antwerp Street

Detail from Center, with a small hint of the Home Owenership Housing and the Park, Beyond

Sidewalk, West side of Antwerp Street

This substantial development will include the relocation of residents from the original Charlesview residential complex, built over 40 years ago on a five acre parcel just a few blocks away up Western Avenue.  Harvard University is providing the parcel for this project, almost twice the land area of the existing complex, in exchange for the smaller parcel where the original complex is currently located.  Harvard will also be providing a substantial  payment to cover the relocation costs of the residents, who are represented by the neighborhood organization Charlesview Inc.

Park at Antwerp Street, Charlesview at Brighton Mills, Residences

A half-acre Park will be created on Antwerp Street, between the taller Multi-Family Residences along Western Avenue and the smaller-scaled Ownership Housing to the South

A Detail of the Park Sketch, with a portion of a Community Center, beyond

Along the Park, a mix of Black-eyed Susans, flowering trees, and a large specimen Copper Beech

The project is expected to create more than 600 union construction jobs, and is partially financed by the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, along with financing by MassHousing, private debt, and tax credits.

View across Telford Street, at the intersection of Western Avenue, looking west.

Enlarged Detail of same

To visit the Project Page on The Community Builder’s Website, click here: >> The Charlesview Residences

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© Jeff Stikeman and jeff stikeman architectural art, 2009-2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jeff Stikeman and jeff stikeman architectural art with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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