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Unstoppable starchitect meets his match in form of octogenarian rain tree
Renowned, remarkably coiffed Danish architect Bjarke Ingels has taken America by storm. But will a massive rain tree put a cramp on his design for a riverfront-revitalizing development in Fort Lauderdale?
Eco-minded it-boy architect Bjarke Ingels is the hottest thing to come out of Denmark since LEGO and Lars Ulrich. Possessing the “swagger of a night club DJ” and the looks a “former boy band star,” the internationally lauded 38-year-old is quite literally a BIG deal.
Following a months-long public review process, Ingels and developer Durst Fetner scored a major triumph earlier this week when New York’s City Council granted final approval to West 57, a tetrahedron-shaped, LEED-aiming residential megacomplex centered around a football field-size interior courtyard. The mountainous, much-hyped development, the first of several North American projects from Ingels, is to be erected in the hinterlands of Hell's Kitchen.
While West 57 may have finally gotten the green-light after relatively minor tweaks in its futuristic design, another Ingels-designed project, a 1,072-unit mixed-used development in Fort Lauderdale named Marina Lofts, is facing a rather formidable obstacle: the proposed removal and relocation of an 127-foot-wide, 60-foot-tall rain tree that’s about 80 years old.
The developer of the tri-towered Marina Lofts complex, Asi Cymbal, believes that the massive tree can be successfully uprooted and replanted about 800 feet away in a planned park near the entrance of the project. This way, it wouldn’t be in the way of one of the planned towers. That’s the tree in its new location in the above rendering.
“I love that tree," Cymbal tells the Wall Street Journal. "It's not my intent to have the soul of an 80-year-old vanquished rain tree following me around." To ensure that all precautions are taken in the tree’s transplanting, Cymbal has hired a team of consultants and Houston-based Environmental Design, a firm that specializes in the relocations of sizable and significant trees such as Washington D.C.’s National Christmas Tree.
Still, fans of the mighty tree and arborists are up in arms, concerned about the tree’s well being during and after the move. “It will die a slow, agonizing death” worries local arborist Charles Livio. After failing to have the tree declared as historic by the Broward County Commission, Livio and other opponents have turned to the City Commission in hopes that they can halt the planned relocation. The commission, which passed a 1987 bylaw declaring the tree protected, will investigate the issue this spring. The commission has final say as to whether the tree, under its protected status, can be relocated.
Currently, the tree sits on a six-acre empty lot behind a chain-link fence.
The proposed relocation project, one that will cost “in the mid-six-figures” according to Tom Cox of Environmental Design, won’t exactly be an overnight operation. He explains to the Journal that months before the move the tree would be pruned and fortified with nutrients, a process “comparable to getting ready for a significant operation.”
The next step?
When the tree was ready, they would wrap its root system in burlap, wire and plastic, insert a grille of metal pipes and I-beams beneath it and lift the entire structure with jacks. They would load it onto an enormous transporter, similar to the kind used to haul the space shuttle, and move it to its new home.
Cox notes that of the tens of thousands large tree relocations that his company has performed, 99 percent have survived. He is confident that this particular specimen will fare just fine. Like Livio, others aren’t so sure.
In addition to the tree relocation drama, not everyone in the area is exactly smitten with Ingel’s audacious, green-roofed Marina Lofts design. Wonders Bob Granatelli, a sixty-five-year-old living in a neighboring building: “Who cares about this architect? He notes that the design "is not so hip" and that it "looks like a wall with a ragged edge." Others welcome Marina Lofts, a project that Cymbal believes will revitalize Fort Lauderdale's riverfront area and promote interest in urban living and design.
Rose Bechard-Butman of the Fort Lauderdale Garden Club is keen on the development but thinks it should be scaled down and built around the tree. “We're not a bunch of crunchy granola fanatics," she tells the Journal. "I'm not saying I'm going to chain myself to the tree though it may come to that."
According to the Sun-Sentinel, a larger rain tree — Albizia saman —in Tobago served as the arboreal abode of the “Swiss Family Robinson” in the 1960 Disney film of the same name. In 1982, the Florida Division of Forestry declared the Fort Lauderdale rain tree as a “Florida Champion” — the largest of its species in the state and most likely the entire country given that they're only found in Florida.
Any Fort Lauderdale residents familiar with the Marina Lofts tree controversy care to chime in? Do you trust that it can be successfully relocated? And what do you think of Ingel’s design for Marina Lofts?
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