Snøhetta’s vision for an expanded outdoor garden at 550 Madison Avenue—the former AT&T Building in Manhattan’s Midtown East district—was unveiled by developer Olayan Group this week. Set to increase the existing plaza space by 50 percent, the privately owned public space (POPS) will transform what was once considered a dark, narrow plaza stuffed with freestanding retail kiosks into a light, airy, and “welcoming sensory retreat,” according to the architects. Located on the backside of the postmodern office tower between East 55th and East 56th Streets, the glass arcade and four-story annex added in the 1990s will be taken down to make way for the larger, open-air garden. With a delicate glass-and-steel canopy covering the pedestrian space, the overhaul will effectively bring the site closer to the original architects' (Philip Johnson and John Burgee) 35-year-old design intent. Up to 50 new trees will be planted throughout, alongside a wide array of plant varieties including evergreens, and perennials. Ample seating, tables, and low-lighting will be integrated while a cafe with a public restroom will be built adjacent to the building’s west entrance. At just over 21,000-square-feet, the plaza will be the largest of its kind within a five-minute walk. Snøhetta said the overall look for the new POPS is directly connected to Gensler’s newly-released plans for the revamped lobby. “This new garden complements the adjacent tower while drawing upon the vibrancy of the neighborhood and the natural history of the region, offering visitors an immersive respite in the city,” said Michelle Delk, Snøhetta partner and director of landscape architecture, in a press release. Slated to reopen next year, 550 Madison is expected to house as many as 3,000 workers, though when completed in 1984, it was only intended to hold about 800 people across its 37 floors. The Olayan Group, Snøhetta, and Gensler had to go through a controversial approvals process with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission to make sure the updated tower’s exterior—which was declared a New York City landmark in mid-2018—and rear plaza respected the history of the entire site.
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2019 Best of Design Awards winners for Facades
2019 Best of Design Award for Facades: 130 William Designer: Adjaye Associates Architect of Record: HWA Architect Location: New York City 130 William is Adjaye Associates’ first high-rise residential tower in the United States. Rising 800 feet, the 66-story luxury condominium building is an elegant insertion into the dense Manhattan cityscape, carving a distinctive silhouette. Conceived as a vertical micro-city, 130 William includes 242 residences, two retail floors, a health club, a gym, a movie theater, outdoor terraces, a rooftop observatory deck, and a new public park. With this project, Adjaye Associates celebrated Lower Manhattan with a hand-cast concrete facade evocative of the masonry craftsmanship of the neighborhood’s historic high-rises. The rough texture of the custom tinted concrete is offset by the smooth bronze detailing found throughout the building. Honorable Mentions Project Name: 10+30 S. Wacker Drive | CME Center Designer: Krueck + Sexton Project Name: 277 Mott Street Designer: Toshiko Mori Architect Editors' Picks Project Name: 280 St Marks Avenue Designer: DXA studio Project Name: University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute Designer: Perkins and Will
What with the founders of Malin + Goetz, Matthew Malin, and Andrew Goetz, having cut their teeth in the beauty and design industry respectively, it’s no wonder that their products, as well as their retail environments, are conceived with the purest aesthetic considerations in mind. The New York-based skincare label’s minimalist packaging—bright colored lettering against a stark white background—is utilitarian with a modern flourish, a signature style they’ve extrapolated to the brand’s stores. For their new San Francisco outpost, Malin + Goetz called upon Bernheimer Architecture, the Brooklyn firm the duo previously entrusted with the design of their home office in Manhattan and their first Los Angeles store. “Malin +Goetz have always asked us for simple responses,” principal Andrew Bernheimer explained. “A modern and thoughtful approach that allows their products and the design of their products to remain legible.” Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
Last week, the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership and Van Alen Institute unveiled the winning design of the sixth annual Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition in the flesh. The colorful, “kaleidoscopic” Ziggy lights up the plaza with 27,000 feet of iridescent cord and painted rebar while also serving as seating for visitors. Created by the New York-based architecture and design studio Hou de Sousa, Ziggy encourages a rethinking of how we view and interact with others in public space. “Ziggy is a polyvalent creature that strings together gateways, apertures, and seating,” said Josh de Sousa, principal and co-founder of Hou de Sousa, in a recent press release. “This porous wall will welcome folks arriving from all directions while ringing in the holiday season with a flourish of color and light.” It is described on the designer's website as a "moment of respite" and a "kaleidoscopic beacon, designed for the people of New York." The installation is the centerpiece of the district’s “23 Days of Flatiron Cheer” events, as the pavilion's winding form frames the area’s attractions and landmarks (both the Empire State Building and, of course, the Flatiron Building) while creating filters of shifting color, pattern, and light across all its surroundings. “This competition continues to demonstrate the importance of both public art and programming in DOT public plazas,” said NYC DOT art and event programming director, Emily Colasacco. “Hou de Sousa’s interactive larger-than-life-size configuration will bring even more color to the already vibrant Flatiron district.” Ziggy will be on view and open to the public (weather permitting) through January 1, 2020, at the intersection of Broadway, 5th Avenue, and 23rd Street. Throughout the holidays, the Partnership is encouraging visitors to use #ZiggyFlatiron to share images of the installation on social media for the chance to win prizes from local businesses.
Stacks on Stacks on Stacks
Hunters Point Library is being sued over ADA violations
Today, the nonprofit Disability Rights Advocates (DRA) filed a class-action lawsuit against Queens Public Library (QPL), the Board of Trustees of the QPL, and the City of New York over the Library’s newest branch, Hunters Point Library. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the branch in Long Island City has been facing backlash from patrons and community members since it’s opening in September for not being fully accessible to people with disabilities. Despite disability rights laws, the newly constructed building's circulation relies heavily on stairs which limits access and excludes many from accessing the collection altogether. While there is one elevator, it does not stop at certain levels in the library and patrons have complained of long lines and congestion. The reason that was previously given for such an omission was that librarians can retrieve materials for patrons who cannot access the stacks themselves. Plaintiffs Tanya Jackson and the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York are suing to require the library to fix this “unjust and discriminatory situation.” Jackson stated in a recent press release, “It is shocking to me that a brand-new public library would not be fully accessible to people with mobility disabilities like myself. Libraries should welcome everyone, not exclude whole populations of people.” In addition to the three levels which are completely inaccessible to persons with mobility disabilities, there are reportedly numerous other barriers at the library: The children’s section contains a multi-level lounge and meeting spaces inaccessible to children and caregivers with mobility disabilities, the upper level of the rooftop terrace has no access point other than stairs, the framed panoramic views of Manhattan throughout the library are only viewable from the stairs, and designated stroller “parking” areas block circulation from the elevator to other main parts of the library. “The ADA is not a new requirement, and it is not hard to understand. It is baffling that this $41.5 million building is missing these fundamental elements. It’s as though the library didn’t even care about these requirements, or worse, didn’t even consider the needs of these members of the community,” said Andrew Kozak-Oxnard, a staff attorney at DRA. “People with disabilities should be able to browse, relax, and enjoy the library just like everyone else.” The lawsuit alleges violations of both federal and local civil rights laws for disability-based discrimination and hopes to rectify the situation by requiring the defendants to develop a plan that provides equal access to the library. DRA is the leading nonprofit in disability rights in the country and claims to win nearly all of its cases and “knock down barriers for people with all types of disabilities.” Rather than seeking monetary compensation, their suits aim to force reforms to systems and practices of oppression against those with disabilities. Michelle Caiola, managing director of litigation at DRA insisted, “Hunters Point Library was meant to be a model, a state-of-the-art institution designed to serve the needs of the community. The Library’s total disregard for adults and children with disabilities must be addressed.” The Queens Public Library provided the following statement to AN:
"This morning we learned that a disability rights organization filed a lawsuit against the Library and the City of New York alleging that Hunters Point is not accessible to people living with disabilities. It is always the Library’s goal to be welcoming, open and available to everyone, including customers with disabilities. We are taking this matter very seriously."Steven Holl Architects has been contacted for comment and this article will be updated accordingly.
Brought to you with support fromThe neo-Georgian Tammany Hall located on the northeastern corner of Union Square has assumed multiple identities over the course of its nearly century-long existence: It has been the home of the notoriously corrupt Society of St. Tammany, a union headquarters, and a theater and film school. Now, BKSK Architects and BuroHappold Engineering are leading the conversion of the building into a contemporary office space, which will be topped by a bulbous glass dome ringed with terra-cotta panels.
glass dome derives from both international Georgian precedents as well as the historical origins of the Society of St. Tammany—named after renowned Lenape leader Chief Tamanend, whose clan’s symbol was a turtle. According to BKSK partner Todd Poisson, the design team interpreted Chief Tamanend’s tribal imagery “With a turtle shell-like dome rising from this neo-Georgian landmark building, reimagining its tepid hipped roof with a new steel, glass, and terra-cotta base supporting an undulating glass dome.” Austrian manufacturer Eckelt, a member of the Saint-Gobain group, produced the structurally glazed insulated glass units. To reduce solar exposure to the office space below, the outer shell is built of tinted Saint-Gobain Parsol Grey panels treated with a high-performance sputter solar coating. The second layer of the carapace, separated from the tinted panels by a layer of air space, is comprised of clear glass panels. The roof, made of 850 isosceles triangular panels ranging from a 5- to 9-foot base, encompass a total surface area of approximately 12,000 square feet. Rising from the rear of the cornice line, the glass panels are fastened to an undulating steel free-form shell grid fabricated by Gartner. To support the weight of the dome, and to facilitate the straightforward installation of structural members, the entire structural system of the historic building was replaced with a poured-in-place concrete core—effectively transforming the original load-bearing brick enclosure into a freestanding rain screen. The project is scheduled to wrap up in 2020. BKSK partner Todd Poisson and BuroHappold Engineering associate principal John Ivanoff will present the Tamanny Hall project at Facades+ NYC on April 2 as part of the "Adaptive Reuse Challenges in NYC Historic Icons" panel.The design of the
Pier 97, Hudson River Park’s northernmost pier, will be getting a $38 million park designed by !melk. The pier, located off of 57th Street and 12th Avenue, was used as a docking pier until the 1970s and then as a Department of Sanitation parking lot but has most recently been repurposed as an outdoor music venue. The 680-foot-by-120-foot lot will soon be packed with playscapes, a sports field, sun lawn, seating areas, and landscaping, offering coveted outdoor space in a space-strapped city. The West Side Highway and Bjarke Ingel’s triangular VIA 57 West will serve as the park’s backdrop, while an elevated promenade will overlook the Hudson River. “We wanted to give the pier a significant identity because it’s kind of like the gateway to Hudson River Park. What we tried to do was bring a sort of romanticism back, all squeezed into the limited real estate that we have,” Jerry van Eyck, principal of !melk, told Curbed. Hudson River Park, which snakes from West 59th Street down to Tribeca on Manhattan’s West Side, is currently undergoing an extensive $1 billion renovation. The park is comprised of dozens of repurposed piers in various stages of completion and design. The Gansevoort Peninsula across from the Whitney Museum of American Art is slated to get a sports field and beach, while further downtown, Pier 26’s boardwalk is currently under construction. Yet, not all of the piers will be solely park space—Pier 57 at West 15th Street will be home to Google and City Winery offices, stretching Google’s already expansive Chelsea campus from 8th Avenue to the shining pier. Though a designated commercial pier, Pier 57 will have a public rooftop park and esplanade in addition to paying for part of the park operations. Construction on Pier 97 will begin fall 2020, with an anticipated opening by spring 2022.
Whether or not you believe in the abolition of the carceral state in New York City—in its case, 9,400 people in jail are waiting for trial on any given day—the announcement of the start of the Rikers Island jail replacement project may be good news. The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) will start issuing Request for Proposals (RFPs) for early program work later this month, in preparation for four design-build projects to create new jail towers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. The brief will aim to create a new borough-based jail system comprised of smaller, safer, more humane facilities, located within easier reach of courts, families, lawyers, social workers, educational services, and care providers. The jails will be sited: in Manhattan in place of the existing jail complex on White Street (replacing the Tombs); in downtown Brooklyn in a reconstruction of the existing detention facilities; in Queens in place of a decommissioned detention center on 82nd Avenue, and in the Bronx on a city-owned property that had once been a police tow pound. While the towers had originally been planned to reach a maximum height of about 450 feet, those limits were later slashed to 295 feet, as the city revised its estimates of what the incarcerated population would number in 2025. The outlines of this plan can be traced back to the work of former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, which issued a 2017 Justice in Design report produced by Van Alen Institute and led by NADAAA. That report brought together a wide range of stakeholders within the criminal justice system (including corrections officers, families of incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated persons, social workers, psychologists, and other experts) to gather their experiences and insights on how to create a more humane jail system. The de Blasio administration frames the Rikers replacement projects as no less than a historic decarceration plan, which aims to reduce the number of people in jails to 3,300 and vastly expand alternatives to detention and incarceration. The city says it has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in these programs since the beginning of the administration, in a manner reminiscent of Laura Kurgan's Million Dollar Blocks project that argued for replacing jails that cost a million dollars a year per block with the equivalent social services. The housing segments in the new towers are expected to be organized as single cells with no more than 32 people within each housing unit instead of the current dormitory-style cells, according to best practices to promote safety, according to the decarceration plan's outlines. They would provide better space for programming and access to educational and recreational activities, as well as for meeting with lawyers and social workers, and welcoming family members with child-friendly areas. Modern air conditioning and heating, natural light, and more normalized environments will also contribute to more humane conditions for both corrections officers and incarcerated people. The call will seek "vendors with significant design-build experience, with an emphasis on a team’s ability to design facilities that integrate well into surrounding neighborhoods,” DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo said in the press release, which notes that the Rikers Island Jail Complex Replacement Act of 2018 was passed specifically to prioritize design, quality, past performance, and qualifications rather than price. The first two Request for Qualifications (RFQs) are for early program work, including for a new parking garage at the Queens site and demolishing the outmoded detention center, and building a space in Brooklyn for the transfer of incarcerated people to court appearances during the construction of the new Brooklyn facility. The other RFPs are expected in the first quarter of 2020.
The New York City Council voted to approve the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project yesterday, with little opposition from officials. Local councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the affected area, fell in favor of the $1.45 billion project, which will raise East River Park to 8- to-10 feet above sea level with landfill from Montgomery Street to 25th street to protect against future floods. Forty-six members voted in favor, with only one against and one abstention, and the plan now only has to cross Mayor de Blasio's desk, and he's indicated that he'll sign it. The project has experienced strong ongoing opposition from organized community groups, civic associations, and neighborhood parks advocates, who voiced opposition to the extended loss of play areas, removal of trees, and lack of consultation during the design process. A coalition of community groups had drafted an alternative People's Plan, which the final project considered as a part of its community engagement, along with the EDC's Waterfront Esplanade plan and WXY Studio's East River Blueway Plan. The city responded with a plan to phase work over a longer period to ensure the availability of parks during the construction. Others, like architect William Rockwell, who lives in an Amalgamated Dwellings Cooperative building and experienced severe flooding and loss of power during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, voiced support. Among the notable benefits of the design, apart from potentially live-saving flood protection, will be vastly improved pedestrian connections to the East River across on grade bridges spanning FDR Drive. The areas protected from flooding, according to the Scope of Work in the Environmental Impact Statement, fall within the 100-year flood zone and extend upland to meet the 90th percentile projection of sea-level rise to the 2050s. That includes large parts of the Lower East Side and East Village, Stuy Town, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Cove Park, which was built on top of low-lying marshes. Originated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as part of the BIG U Rebuild by Design project—with Bjarke Ingels Group as the lead urban designer in collaboration with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, ARCADIS, and Buro Happold—the ESCR became the northern half of two separate projects, with the other part section, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, extending below the Manhattan bridge. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development originally committed $511 million to the project during the Rebuild by Design phase, with New York promising an additional $305 million. The environmental impact statement (EIS), however, only cites the $1.45 billion cost and $335 million committed by HUD from a federal Community Development Block Grant. An October 2019 independent review of the ESCR by the U.S. arm of Dutch water research institute Deltares noted the lack of publicly available information on aspects of the project, making it impossible to review in its totality. The report argues that "transparency of the decision-making process by city agencies will help rebuild trust and gain [the] support of the community," and recommended establishing a community advisory group and keeping community representatives involved in the later, more detailed stages of project design. It also recommended adding two more feet of fill, coordinating with the green infrastructure program, and studying groundwater patterns in the East Village to evaluate the impact of rainfall on the neighborhood and basement flooding. The implementation is being led by the New York City Department of Design and Construction with AKRF/KSE Engineering as the lead consultant.
Nothing screams excess like a five-story Starbucks. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that it’s poorly designed. Today marks the grand opening of the Seattle-based coffee giant's largest flagship store in the world. Located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, the 35,000-square-foot facility fills every inch of a former Crate & Barrel store originally built in 1990. Designed by an in-house team with added help from Perkins & Will, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago takes cues from the original architecture of the largely-all-glass-and-stone department store. It boasts plenty of natural light within the five-story interior thanks to the building’s existing rotunda and floor-to-ceiling windows. The characteristic materials of a Starbucks project are all there too: Jet black metal cladding cover the walls, both light and dark wooden accents populate the bars and ceilings, while the classic bronze finish found in other Reserve projects clad the railings and machinery. One new touch that defines the Chicago flagship is the ample use of soft green throughout the space, especially notable on the perforated wood panels that line the ceiling. At the center of the space, spanning all five floors, is a towering coffee bean cask made of eight cylindrical chambers. It stretches 56 feet-tall from the ground-floor upward and is surrounded by a spiraling escalator that guests can take to the second floor. From the very top, to see conveyors drop roasted coffee beans in the cask to cool. It’s a curvy interior and it deftly matches Crate & Barrel’s curvy aesthetic. The exterior of the building has been virtually untouched and the Starbucks stamp is minimal. Despite the intervention, the structure still looks like it belongs in downtown Chicago. Among the five other Reserve projects built around the world since 2014, this retrofit has already received early praise for its adherence to the integrity of the city and space in which it exists. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin loved the shop upon touring it and described the architectural appeal of the new "cathedral of coffee" in his review this week: “It’s visually theatrical, crisply designed and carefully tailored to its host city even though it springs from a well-worn corporate template,” wrote Kamin. “The flagship reminds us that modern architecture celebrates the process of making things, unlike beaux-arts buildings that hide such things behind pretty facades.” That must be the general allure of the Starbucks Reserve brand: The company has broken out these shops not as "everyday" places to grab a coffee but more as tourist-oriented theme parks or experience centers complete with merchandise and $15-to-$20 coffees. But this will also be the company's last chance to impress this way. Starbucks has announced the Chicago space will be the final Reserve flagship in its portfolio.
It's a Large World After All
SOM unveils design for Disney's new Manhattan headquarters
Disney is coming to Lower Manhattan’s west side. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill has unveiled its vision for the media company’s new 1.2-million-square-foot headquarters in the burgeoning Hudson Square. Slated for the former City Winery site, the Silverstein Properties project will be located three blocks above the busy thoroughfare of Canal Street. 4 Hudson Square will take cues from the surrounding industrial-scale brick structures that populate the area. It will be comprised of three tower buildings—the largest standing 320-feet-tall—that will all emerge from a 10-story podium. Taking up an entire city block, it will be a massive project with a large floor plate featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and an exterior grid of green terra cotta tile and anodized aluminum panels. The project will mimic the punched windows and facade materials of the other local buildings nearby. A series of setbacks will also define the upper floors of each structure, creating various terraces over a total of 19 stories. Hudson Square, once the printing press capital of New York City, boasts tons of textured and aged buildings that each exude a strong presence—something the team at The Walt Disney Company wanted to embody in its contemporary office space. Set to hold up to 5,000 employees, 4 Hudson Square will be a major addition to the neighborhood when completed. Disney officials estimate its construction will wrap up in four years after the current building is demolished. The ground floor of the project will be outfitted with retail and restaurants and will serve not just Disney staff, but the public as well. Amenity-rich office buildings with ample communal public space are increasingly being pitched as attractive lures for the Manhattan neighborhood, which is undergoing a major corporate-led redevelopment. Many tech and media companies, including Squarespace, Horizon Media, and several design firms have claimed space in the neighborhood. Disney’s move to Hudson Square from their Upper West Side location seemingly cements the area's future as a corporate campus. The headquarters will be one of the first large-scale, ground-up projects in the neighborhood and will be built on track to receive LEED and WELL Standard certifications. Gensler is set to design the interiors for Disney while SCAPE will take on the exterior landscape.
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.