NORWALK, Conn. – The tube-laden design for The SoNo Collection’s parking garage facade has been refined but still isn’t getting rave reviews from the Norwalk Zoning Commission.
“I think you’re definitely attempting to grapple with this issue and I appreciate that, it’s just that we don’t really understand it,” Zoning Commissioner Roderick Johnson said to RTKL architects Vice President Robert Berry at Wednesday’s public hearing, toward the end of an extended period of questioning.
The issue is a desire to make the garage look attractive while not screening the views from inside the garage. Berry originally presented a design of irregularly spaced silver vertical tubes going up to the top of the garage. The latest incarnation of design has shorter, bronzish colored, tubes between the silver ones, rising and falling in a curvy pattern – to echo the curves of the neighboring Oyster Shell Park, Berry said.
Zoning Commissioners asked more questions about this than any other facet of the proposal.
Berry referred to some of the tubes as “fins” and spoke of a “dynamic layered screen” with “subtle curves” in “response to the organic shape of Oyster Park.” The “vertical delineation of these tubes respond to the treatment of the anchor store,” he said, and the LED lighting will create a “twinkling moiré effect” for vehicles passing on Interstate 95.
Drivers will always get “a slightly different perception” given the “receding nature of the geometry,” he said, responding to comments from Commissioner Michael O’Reilly about the view from Exit 16.
Zoning Commission Chairman Adam Blank said he didn’t know if it was possible, but perhaps there were glass fins that could be used, or “more like sails that stuck further out from the building.”
There had been a discussion of fins as canvas, Berry said.
“We feel it’s somewhat of an open interpretation,” Berry said. “We didn’t go the nautical route for this because we don’t really have a nautical theme. It was more of a theme to respond, again, to the composition we had as well as the materiality of the anchor next to it.”
The secondary layer, the bronze tubes, “mimic the grasses riding out of the dune,” he said.
“I don’t think it has to look like it’s a building and not a garage,” Blank said. “I think there’s a lot of benefit from the inside of the garage to be able to have nice views out. But I think it’s still a little rough on the outside.”
“So you haven’t actually done this but this is your vision?” Commissioner Nate Sumpter asked, probing for a model or rendering
“It’s very hard to appreciate, you almost need a model,” Johnson said.
Blank asked if Berry had done anything like this before.
Berry said he hadn’t been involved with a design himself but there were two examples he could think of. A parking garage in Miami tries to simulate bamboo through an applied screen, he said.
He had designed a garage in Baltimore, similar to the size of this garage, but had applied a screen, he said. That was right for that situation but would not accomplish the goal set out in Norwalk, as those screens are almost opaque and would not allow for the views of Long Island Sound, he said.
He was asked about a green wall.
“We discussed it,” Berry said. “As an architect, people hear green façade and they get very excited about the design opportunities for that. It has to be oriented the right way and it has to be the right project. Those types of facades are extremely difficult to maintain over the life of the building. If you set up an artificial language that is predicated on that and you don’t achieve it, you end up with the same thing. You end up with a dead green wall that doesn’t accomplish, probably, the long term goals of what you are attempting to achieve.”