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Punch List for the Clark’s Ando: Window Shades and Concrete

Many new buildings have “punch lists”—things that didn’t get done quite right the first time and need to be fixed or replaced. At the new Tadao Ando-designed Stone Hill Center built by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center and the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA, the problems involve the window shades and the building material that Ando is most famous for—concrete.

Here’s what the shades look like now (at the top of the window, pointed out by Lisa Green, the Clark’s director of communications and design):

AndoShad.jpg

Lisa told me that the white pull-down shades (none of which were in use in the public spaces during the recent press preview) would be replaced with inserts that will fit within the window frames, to show off the building’s design details to best advantage. The color of the scrim in these inserts will be gray instead of white, which she said would allow visitors “to see outside more.”

That’s the simple part. There are, as I suggested in my earlier Clark/Ando post, significant problems with the appearance of the concrete, not all of which are as easily changed as window treatments.

Green, who conceded that there were some defects, said that Ando had approved the concrete and had had the option to reject it. Still, I doubt this is the level of craftsmanship to which he is accustomed in Japan:

Concrete1.jpg
pitting

Concrete2.jpg

chipping

Concrete3.jpg

lots of hairline cracks

Concrete4.jpg

misalignment at some seams.

David Adler, a senior associate at Gensler, the firm that served as architect-of-record for the project, after looking with me at these surface flaws on site, observed that Ando-level craftsmanship was “a challenge for the people [i.e., the contractors] who were doing this. It’s not a level they’re used to.” He added that the decision to mold the concrete with acid-etched pine forms, so that it imitates wood panels (unlike Ando’s usual smooth, cast-in-place concrete), was motivated in part by the fact that the wood-grain effect would be “more forgiving to the eye” than “perfect Ando concrete.”

As it happened, while I was approaching the entrance to Stone Hill Center for a second look the day after the press preview, I ran into Emily Rauh Pulitzer, who had commissioned a smooth-concrete Ando building for her architecturally acclaimed Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, St. Louis. She told me that her site superintendent and construction manager had learned much about measuring up to the architect’s standards by overseeing Ando’s first building in this country, the Eychner House, Chicago. “Everyone else had to be taught,” she noted. “St. Louis does not have a concrete building tradition.”

Pulitzer added:

It was a very complicated process. At the end, I asked Ando what he thought of the workmanship, and he said, ‘It’s very good, it’s very strong and it’s very American.’ In Japan, the form [into which the concrete is poured] is the size of a tatami mat, 3-by-6 feet, and it’s thinner wood. The American size is 4-by-8 feet, and it’s more solid. When the concrete is poured, the Japanese forms buckle a little. It’s softer. The American is rigid.

I e-mailed the above images of the Stone Hill Center’s concrete to Reginald Hough, the architectural concrete consultant for the Williamstown project, who has worked with many renowned architects, including I.M. Pei. Hough told me that “cracks are a natural characteristic of concrete,” and said that the defects I had documented were “pretty much normal stuff.”

When I had discussed these imperfections with Green on site, she indicated that some sealant might have to be used over the cracks on the top surface of the concrete railing of the outdoor terrace. But she later told me: “We will continue to watch to see how things are weathering, but right now find that the ‘imperfections’ are all well within the realm of acceptable, and even expected, for architectural concrete.”

One aspect of the concrete that the Clark DOES intend to change is this:

AndoTie.jpg

These unsightly patches speckle the concrete walls. They cover the holes left by the “form ties” that hold together the molds into which concrete is poured. Usually Ando leaves these as recesses in the surface of the concrete. For the wood-grain effect, he decided the surfaces should be flush. Green recently told me, “We are planning on making adjustments to the tie holes so that they blend in a bit more with the concrete.”

Fixes aside, one person who seems completely happy with the new digs is Thomas Branchick (below), director of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center, for which the building was commissioned.

AndoBranch.jpg

And here’s the WPA mural created in 1936-37 by Arshile Gorky for Newark Airport, now undergoing restoration at the new WACC center:

AndoGork.jpg

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