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Community Architecture Across The World

Community means everything to us at Optima, which is why we bring thoughtful design to each project, committed to supporting and uplifting every resident. Historically, architecture has been a dominant tool for many to build and sustain communities, and recently, community architecture has taken on a more prominent role in the discourse surrounding living environments. Learn more about community architecture and some of the practice’s most visionary examples below: 

What is Community Architecture?

Community architecture is a collaborative building experience between both an architect and the users of the built space. The movement originated in the mid-20th century when architects across the world began to see that people wanted more say in shaping what they lived in and how they lived. 

Because it was such a radical idea at its inception, some architects who took charge of the movement experienced ridicule. Minette de Silva, in particular, was unsupported in her efforts to build Sri Lanka’s first Public Housing Project in collaboration with its residents. The result, however, was a triumphant success, like many other community architecture projects across the world. 

The interior of the Losæter Bakehouse during a community event

Losæter Bakehouse, Oslo

What originated as a mere art project in 2011 has turned into one of the world’s most functional community-built projects. The intricate design behind the main building, the bakehouse, operates as a place of creative production and a gathering space for communal interactions. 

The structure appears still under construction or repair, but the wooden skeleton and window-filled walls intentionally mimic the past. Both the structure’s versatile purpose and its boat-like canopy design are odes to the country’s rich history, reflecting on the cultural significance of Bakehouses and maritime history. 

The exterior of The Momentary

The Momentary, Bentonville, Arkansas

From serving as a hunting ground for the indigenous Osage nation to being transformed into a cheese factory, the land on which The Momentary resides in Bentonville, Arkansas, has a long, rich history. Today, however, the land is home to the adaptive reuse art museum. The original structure – which is still 80% preserved – was completed in 1947, and, with the help of Wheeler Kearns Architects, the newly constructed museum finished construction in 2020.

Instead of trying to gloss camouflage the branches of history rooted in The Momentary’s land, they intentionally embraced them, designing an accessible hub that supports community members through cultural programming, education, engagement and enjoyment. 

The interior of The Night Ministry’s headquarters featuring a vibrant mural, Photo courtesy of Kendal McCaugherty, Hall + Merrick Photographers

The Night Ministry, Chicago

In 2020, The Night Ministry – an organization encompassing health care, housing, outreach and other social services – welcomed its new home, also designed by Wheeler Kearns Architects, in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood. The former manufacturing facility became transformed into the organization’s headquarters and is home to their overnight shelter, The Crib. 

Parts of the original manufacturing facility were repurposed to reduce waste when constructing the new headquarters, including flooring, windows and heavy timber. Vibrant murals around the interior alongside multipurpose programming spaces and a communal kitchen and dining space also help to reflect the collaborative nature The Night Ministry displays. 

The best architecture attracts people and allows them to feel a true sense of ownership of their living environment. And, because more and more architects are discovering the importance of doing just that in their projects, community architecture shows no signs of slowing down. 

Arcosanti: Creating a City

Known for his unique approach to architecture, Paolo Soleri brought the philosophy of arcology to numerous of Arizona’s most stunning environments. In Cosanti, he welcomed his otherworldly construction elements to the surroundings of Scottsdale. Today, we’re spotlighting another of the architect’s treasures, which embraces all of Soleri’s design principles on a much grander scale, Arcosanti

Inception of Arcosanti

Following the completion of his first build, Cosanti, Soleri began to explore more behind the meaning of arcology – a word he coined himself to label if design philosophy. What he began to discover was just how significant ecologically sound human habitats were to the ideology. 

In 1970, following the release of his book Arcology: The City in the Image of Man, in which he detailed the concept of cities embodying the fusion of architecture and ecology, Soleri began developing his own planned city, Cosanti. The project – found roughly 70 miles North of Scottsdale – was built to exhibit how urban environments can be elevated while minimizing negative impacts on the surroundings. 

Arcosanti’s ceramics apse, one of two that reside in the planned city

Arcosanti is built on 25 acres of a 6.25 square mile property, and though originally planned to house 5,000 people, the community is home to a population that varies from 100 to 150 throughout the year. Because the planned city is ever-changing, construction and development continue today due to the many students and volunteers who call it home. 

Architecture

The magnificent community currently consists of 13 major structures, ranging in size and purpose and featuring diverse design features unique to the town. One particular feature is the site-cast tilt-up concrete panels used to support various buildings, expressing similar patterns to the earth around them, some even cast in embedded art. 

Other attentive design features include the southward orientation of most buildings designed to capture the most natural light and an apse – similar to Cosanti’s – built to house the community’s bronze bell-casting space. 

The city also features essential builds intentionally placed to help the community thrive, including two barrel vaults, apartment residences, an outdoor amphitheater, a community swimming pool, an office complex and a lush greenhouse. 

Arcosanti’s two barrel vaults with art embedded concrete walls

Today, Arcosanti continues to fulfill Soleri’s vision as an educational center for upcoming architects and philosophers. Scholars from across the world choose the community to attend advanced workshops and classes on everything from experimental design to architectural agriculture.  

Nearly 40,000 tourists visit the unique community annually to witness Soleri’s philosophy of arcology in person. Visitors can take guided tours through the sweeping campus or stay overnight in one of its lavish guest accommodations. To plan your trip to the historic community, or learn more about its events and programming, visit Arcosanti’s website here.

Chicago’s Lincoln Park & Its Spring Offerings

Just two blocks east of Optima Lakeview lives Chicago’s largest recreational area, Lincoln Park. Throughout the year, the beloved park is host to a plethora of unique events and activities, but Spring is one of the best seasons to witness the more than three square miles of greenery come alive and enjoy all of its enchanting affordances. Here are our favorite activities we believe you should take advantage of this season:

While the park is widely known for being home to the cherished Lincoln Park Zoo, Conservatory, Chicago History Museum, countless other treasures line the seven-mile stretch of greenery. As the weather gets warmer, one of the best ways to experience Lincoln Park is by taking a stroll through one of its various paths. 

One of the most familiar, the Lincoln Park Trail, is perfect for those interested in observing some of the park’s most iconic monuments, sculptures and murals. The five-mile stretch offers views of Self Portrait, Chevron, the You Know What You Should Do mural and the Alexander Hamilton Monument.

The park is also home to great eateries and restaurants that provide amazing views of the vast greenery and not-so-distant skyline. The Patio at Cafe Brauer, North Pond and Bacino’s Italian Grill each bring their unique flavors to the park, promising visitors unforgettable eats and refreshing atmospheres. 

Another easy stop for food and entertainment is at Lincoln Park’s Theater on the Lake. Found at the end of Fullerton Avenue on Lakefront Trail, Theater on the Lake is one of the steadfast champions of Chicago’s off-Loop theater community. With special events and shows happening throughout the season into the summer, it’s one of the greatest treasures in the park. 

Along with being home to the Waveland Tennis Court, Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course, Lincoln Park Archery Range and countless other recreational activities, the park hosts various free and unique excursions. From yoga to farmer’s markets, Lincoln Park provides visitors with a handful of unique events throughout the Spring, all of which can be found on their website here.

Cycle the Arts in Scottsdale

Thanks to the city’s deep appreciation for the arts, Scottsdale is home to some of the most visionary public art in the country. And, with warm weather here and summer approaching, there is no better way to experience the city’s inspiring works than on a bike! Here is our guide to Cycle the Arts Scottsdale 2022:

Cycle the Arts Scottsdale is hosted by Scottsdale Public Art and the City of Scottsdale. The annual cycling event is back for the first time since 2019 to showcase some of the city’s exciting public art displays and sculptures. And because this is the event’s first time back in more than three years, participants will be able to hear about some of Scottsdale’s newest public art additions. 

The leisurely 9-mile bike ride is free and perfect for the whole family. It kicks off on Sunday, April 3, and check-in is at 8:30 a.m. at Scottsdale’s Museum of the West. While the event is expected to last until noon, the ride on Scottsdale’s award-winning bike paths will only take about two hours. 

Industrial Pipe Wave, Christopher Fennel, 2015, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art
Industrial Pipe Wave, Christopher Fennel, 2015, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art

The event includes 17 works from the city’s public art collection, including Jack Knife, Industrial Pipe Wave and Terraced Cascade. Each stop will include information about the art provided by Scottsdale Public Art staff and board members and possibly feature the artists themselves.

Made for both bike riders and art enthusiasts, Cycle the Arts Scottsdale is the perfect event for those looking to explore and learn more about the vibrant community. If you plan to participate, please bring your own helmet and water, and RSVP on Scottsdale Public Art’s website here.

New Book Release: Reflections on the Career of David Hovey Sr., FAIA

Hot off the press is the spectacular retrospective of the 40+ year career of David Hovey Sr., FAIA, Optima’s CEO and Founder. David Hovey Sr., released by Images Publishing, is a collector’s item that arrived on bookshelves in January 2022. The monograph opens with a beautiful introductory essay by the late luminary architect Helmut Jahn, who wrote about their decades-long friendship and Hovey’s “staggering” influence on architecture. Entitled “Living Beautifully,” Jahn explains:

“The best thing that can be said about the work of David Hovey Sr. in his chosen field of multi-family and single-family housing is that he builds unique and inventive dwellings for people to live beautifully. That he chooses to play not just the role of the architect but also that of developer, contractor, construction manager, sales and leasing agent, and building operator makes the achievement even more remarkable. As his own client and CEO of his company, Optima, Hovey demonstrates that it’s possible to successfully execute the very different skills of an architect and a developer by applying tremendous knowledge and tenacity and assuming great responsibility. Many who have tried to work as an architect-developer have failed because they did not find the right balance. David Hovey expanded the role of the architect to the level of a master building and in this, he is without equal in his generation.”

A sketch of Optima’s Sterling Ridge

In the words of friend and chronicler, Jahn talks about the arc of Hovey’s career:

“Hovey’s built work is a testament to constant refinement and improvement, each project a step along a path to take on new and bigger challenges, never being afraid of making a mistake by doing something new. The achievements of an architect become more evident with the passing of time. The good buildings become more important, the others will be forgotten.”

In Jahn’s reflections on Hovey’s deep understand of the complex issue of climate change, he shares his thoughts this way:

“David Hovey’s work should be recognized for more than its architectural design. This is particularly evident in his desert buildings where he addresses the important issue of climate change that challenges architecture today. Authorities measure energy consumption as the primary factor in building construction. Looking at energy efficiency alone is the wrong measure. We don’t have an energy problem, we have an emissions problem. Carbon dioxide is the principal culprit in climate change and the building industry contributes a considerable amount of it to the atmosphere.

Optima’s Biltmore Towers

“In Hovey’s buildings, there are strategies that address climate issues. This is demonstrated in the use of many prefabricated lightweight materials for load-bearing or non-load-bearing, enclosing parts. This extends to the use of recycled steel. Hovey regularly employs effective sun-shading devices. His strategies include LED lighting as well as energy-saving heating, air conditioning, and ventilation systems. Sustainability is assured by design and not through additional equipment or devices, which don’t pay off over time. Here, the mind of the architect and developer in one person can best design and build buildings where nothing can be taken away to come closer to perfection. Only through knowledge, determination, and a deep sense of responsibility can these energy goals be achieved, as the buildings show.”

Stay tuned for other inspiring excerpts from David Hovey Sr., along with stunning images of completed structures and his extraordinary sketches. For those who wish to purchase the book, it is available through a number of booksellers online.

Exploring the Scottsdale Arts District

Since the early 2000s, Optima has called Scottsdale home. The one-of-a-kind desert city offers a little bit of something for everyone. Golf lovers can enjoy the sprawling championship courses, foodies have access to some of the country’s finest dining and chic boutiques provide shoppers endless entertainment. We are proud of our contributions to this vibrant city with the amazing communities of Optima Camelview Village, Optima Sonoran Village and Optima Kierland, and equally proud to see the city continuing to expand its cultural offerings to residents and visitors alike. Today we’re exploring one of the city’s most treasured locations, the Scottsdale Arts District

The arts district consists of an entire neighborhood found in the heart of Downtown Scottsdale, running along Main Street for roughly six blocks. Celebrated art galleries sit next to amazing art installations. Around them, retailers, boutiques and acclaimed restaurants ensure that visitors to the district are fully immersed in the best of everything. 

Some of Scottsdale’s most cherished pieces of public art – like the commanding sculpture Jack Knife – reside in the district, along with a number of the city’s museums and cultural venues including Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, Scottsdale Center for Performing Arts and Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts, the home of Knight Rise.

Throughout the year, the arts district embraces its warm surroundings and friendly culture with its weekly ArtWalk. Every Thursday from 7 PM – 9 PM, buildings lining Main Street open their doors to the individuals enjoying the Scottsdale ArtWalk. In addition to this weekly tradition, ArtWalk hosts a themed Gold Palette series event every few weeks to offer even more exciting entertainment and showcase only the best of the best works of art. Live music, complimentary food and wine tastings, and extended gallery hours are just some of the few extra features that come along with the special event. Upcoming Gold Palette events include Western Week on February 3 and Native Spirit on March 3.

Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art found in the Scottsdale Arts District, Courtesy of SMoCA

As we continue to develop our vibrant culture here in Scottsdale, particularly with the expansion of the Kierland community, we look forward to discovering new opportunities to enjoy the city’s rich cultural and entertainment programming, unique retail experiences and fantastic dining values, where there is truly something for everyone.

Scottsdale Public Art: Knight Rise

One of the many reasons we love Scottsdale is its appetite for some of the country’s most thoughtful architecture and art installations. Found in the Nancy and Art Schwaim Sculpture Garden at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, a very short drive from Optima Sonoran Village, is one of those extraordinary displays, Knight Rise by James Turrell.

This inspiring work of art frames the dynamic colors of Scottsdale’s sky through an oculus or skylight. The skyspace is situated at the peak of a concrete dome with concrete benches encircling the room. Knight Rise gives guests their own unique experience with every visit. As the sky overhead changes constantly, so do the perceptions of light and color being framed through the skyscape, inviting visitors’ imaginations to run wild. In a simple, physical act of viewing the sky purely as light, hue, and texture, the artwork completes itself. More specifically, an engaged visitor completes the experience that is Turrell’s artwork.

Part art, part science, the skyspace is an unparalleled creation, and only 14 others are open to the public across the country. Those who experience Knight Rise find it to be meditative and inspiring; a space where one can find tranquility and peace within the confines of the concrete space.

Vibrant sunlight coming in from Knight Rise illuminates the concrete surface of the installation’s interior
Vibrant sunlight coming in from Knight Rise illuminates the concrete surface of the installation’s interior

Knight Rise was completed in 2001 by Turrell, known as a “sculptor of light.” He is an artist of international acclaim considered to be one of the most significant and influential artists working in the world today. And while many artists use paint to replicate light, he uses light itself — sometimes manmade, sometimes natural — to create visual effects. Turell has been creating skyscapes across the United States for nearly five decades, mastering his craft along the way. Inspired by legendary artists from Monet to Mark Rothko, Turell tangibly employs color as the focal point of his practice. 

Knight Rise is a permanent installation located in the Nancy and Art Schwalm Sculpture Garden at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. To experience Knight Rise, visit the Museum anytime from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Chicago Skyscraper History: the Merchandise Mart

Chicago has earned its place on the architectural map with endless distinctions, including being home to the tallest building in the world for 25 years and to numerous acclaimed architects like Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marion Mahony Griffin and Jeanne Gang. But did you know that it’s also home to the world’s largest commercial building? Today, we’re taking a look at the history of the city’s beloved Merchandise Mart

How It Came to Be

As dated infrastructure (like the abandoned railroad yards in the downtown area) proliferated in the early decades of the 20th century, more and more land development opportunities opened up. In hopes of beautifying the frontage along the Chicago River, Marshall Field & Co. announced their purchase of one of the largest available sites, at the junction of the River’s branches. The company began construction in 1928 and when the Merchandise Mart opened in 1930, it achieved the company’s dream of becoming a dedicated wholesale center for architectural and interior design vendors and trades serving the entire nation. And, with 4 million square feet on 25 floors under a single roof spanning two city blocks, it became the largest building in the world.

Merchandise Mart, Courtesy of Jeremy Atherton

TheMART was imagined as a city-within-a-city. Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the architects behind the structure’s streamlined look, took inspiration from traditional Art Deco architectural elements, including ribbon piers to define windows, setbacks and pavilions atop each corner to disguise the bulk of the building. Marshall Field himself was involved in the building’s design; his love for art inspired him to employ Jules Guerin to create 17 murals on the interior lobby’s frieze. Each mural details trade throughout the world and depicts the products, transportation and architecture of 14 countries.

TheMART was also a monumental experiment in state-of-the-art engineering and modern materials. At a cost of $26 million, it took advantage of construction techniques normally used in the building of big dams and employed nearly 5,700 workers at the height of the Great Depression.

theMART in the Modern Era

Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, theMART faced a handful of modernization projects. One was designed by Helmut Jahn to connect the building with the Apparel Center located across Orleans Street with a pedestrian bridge. The building was LEED Certified Silver in 2007, followed by LEED Gold Certification in 2013 and in 2018.

In recent years, as the contract furniture industry has evolved from a focus on a wholesale hub and independent manufacturer showrooms, the Mart has repositioned itself as a destination for innovation, creativity, technology and entrepreneurship. Rebranded “theMART,” the building remains the world’s largest commercial building, and has become home to a host of changemakers, including Motorola Mobility, 1871, Yelp, PayPal and MATTER, as well as Fortune 500 companies Conagra, Allstate, Kellogg, Beam Suntory, and Grainger.

Art on theMart, Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition, Monet and Chicago, April, 2021

Today, theMART continues to celebrate an appreciation for architecture and art. The building now hosts a digital art display popularly known for “Art on theMART,” to showcase the work of prominent artists on the south façade of the structure. 

With our love for all things “forever modern” at Optima, we are proud to have this magnificent example of design innovation and tireless reinvention in our midst.

Scottsdale Public Art: Water to Water

Scottsdale is a diverse community with a deep appreciation for its environment, its history and the arts, which are some of the many reasons we love it. Home to the Scottsdale Arts District, the city recognizes the significant benefits that public art provides to neighborhoods, a value we share in our Optima communities. Today, we’re exploring one of Scottsdale’s most unique public works that highlights an essential aspect of life, Water to Water.

Water to Water was completed in 1999 by Christine Tanz in collaboration with Paul Edwards. Edwards is a renowned designer who received the Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute Design award in 1990. Both artists are recognized in Arizona for their impressive contributions to public art, including their instrumental involvement in developing a public art plan for Metropolitan Tucson.

Located 15 minutes north of Optima Kierland Apartments, Water to Water sits at the entry of the Scottsdale Water Campus, one of the leading water recycling plants in the world and Arizona’s first potable water reuse facility. While Water to Water is acknowledged as a public art display, it operates as a kind of performance, highlighting the water’s importance to Arizona and its encompassing deserts.

Visitors first witness a pierced metal façade, mirroring the walls in our kitchens, bathrooms and gardens, through which many of us have access to water. Once sensors around the display recognize movement, the installation comes alive, and water sprays from the showerheads and faucets that line the metal wall. 

The “interior” of Water to Water revealing its extensive network of pipes
The “interior” of Water to Water revealing its extensive network of pipes

The unique fountain takes advantage of the freshwater stream that stretches across the campus. After the water travels through the extensive network of pipes that lives behind its metal wall and retreats through the various spouts on its other side, it returns directly back into the facility’s stream – a fully-sustainable process. The skeletal framework of the work provides visitors with new understandings of water, a natural element that many take for granted, and tells a powerful, physical story about how life prospers in its barren surroundings. 

Scottsdale Water Campus, where Water to Water resides, is located at 8787 E Hualapai Drive and is open from 6 to 5 most weekdays. The art can be viewed at no cost to visitors.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and His Role in the Chicago Skyline

Mid-Century Modernism defines the Chicago skyline. Organic forms rise from Chicago’s foundation and cast shadows across the Lake while innovative use of glass reflects waves of light onto the city streets. The Willis Tower, Marina City, the Aon Center are all notable examples of the mid-century modern masterpieces towering over the city.

Chicago’s mid-century modern skyline would not be complete without the exceptional contributions of architecture titan Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Born 1886 in Germany, Mies emigrated to Chicago in the 1930s due to the rise of Nazism in Europe. Already an esteemed architect, in Chicago Mies accepted the position as head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology). At IIT, Mies was commissioned to design buildings for the campus which still stand today. These buildings include Alumni Hall, the Carr Memorial Chapel, and S.R. Crown Hall, some of Mies’ many masterpieces. 

860-880 Lake Shore Drive
860-880 Lake Shore Drive

Mies aspired to create architecture that represented modernity with clarity and simplicity. In 1951, Mies completed the two residential buildings of 860-880 Lakeshore Drive which are considered Chicago Landmarks and are listed as National Historic Places. Initially, the towers were viewed critically. However, with time the buildings became the prototype for steel and glass skyscrapers around the world.

Mies also designed Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza which is composed of three buildings; the Everett McKinley Dirksen courthouse building, the John C. Kulczynski building, and the Post Office building. The three buildings situate themselves around a plaza with Calder’s red Flamingo sculpture at the center. The plaza serves as one of the main gathering points in the Loop, Chicago’s commercial center. 

Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza
Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza

Not too far away at 330 North Wabash sits the former IBM Plaza and Building, one of the last American projects designed by Mies. Built in 1973, the building was designed with advanced technology in mind and became well-known for the several atypical features it included as an office space at the time. Today, the Chicago Landmark is known as the AMA Plaza and includes the Langham Hotel, often regarded as one of the best hotels in the nation.

The Promontory, situated at 5530 S Shore Dr, stands 22 stories over Chicago’s Promontory Point and extensive shoreline in the Burnham neighborhood. Mies built the structure with a “Double T” design in which horizontal cross-bars join and the stems of the T’s form wings to the rear. Mies would employ this design in many of his future buildings. 

The Farnsworth House
The Farnsworth House

The Farnsworth House, designed as a vacation retreat for Dr. Edith Farnsworth, is located just outside of Chicago in Plano, Illinois. Though the Farnsworth House is not a grand skyscraper, it has left a lasting impact on the Chicago architectural landscape. The house was an exploration for Mies in the convergence of humans, shelter, and nature. Consisting of a glass pavilion raised six feet above a floodplain beside the Fox River, the house has been described as “sublime” an “a poem” and is now a public museum.

Today, Chicago’s skyline has completely transformed from what it was more than 50 years ago when Mies passed. However, even as it continues to evolve with every new development, Mies iconic buildings still stand out as striking, inspiring architectural masterpieces.

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