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The Summer of New Releases

Spring into summer with these enthralling architecture books
A new crop of architecture, art, and urbanism books have come out just in time to make the summer reading list, and they span the range from biographies to ballparks. Worried about what to read over the long Memorial Day weekend? Check out one of the below books, and remember that any book can be a beach read if you're brave enough. Gropius: The Man Who Built the Bauhaus Fiona MacCarthy Belknap Press (Harvard University Press) MSRP $35.00 A slew of new books and reissues have arrived in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus, but for those craving a bit more personal insight into the life of the notoriously uptight Walter Gropius, Fiona MacCarthy’s biography will be sure to scratch that itch. While Gropius may not have led as libertine a life as his contemporary and Man in the Glass House subject Philip Johnson, Gropius paints a picture of the man as a disciplined collaborator, without whom Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier wouldn’t have been able to reach their full potential. While Gropius himself produced few built works, the book bearing his name argues that his influence can still be felt today. Ballpark: Baseball in the American City Paul Goldberger Knopf MSRP $35.00 Is there a more American sport for the summer weather? Possibly, but as Paul Goldberger argues, baseball has been the most influential (hence the book’s title). The diamond’s shape and regulation size drive the design of not only ballparks, but, Goldberger argues, urban development and culture, as well. Train lines spring up to deliver sports fans to their stadiums, physical infrastructure of the venue changed to accommodate new media, and baseball stadiums continue to evolve alongside contemporary urban planning and design. Aesthetics Equals Politics: New Discourses across Art, Architecture, and Philosophy Mark Foster Gage (Editor) The MIT Press MSRP $34.95 Can a broader understanding of the nebulous concept of “aesthetics” help us navigate these turbulent times? In Aesthetics Equals Politics, Mark Foster Gage and Matt Shaw rally architects, philosophers, writers, curators, and more in an attempt to create, or uncover, the framework on which to base new understandings of art and architecture. Movement, abstraction, and art in the post-digital age are all examined, as is design at the small scale all the way up to the cosmic, in a series of essays from well-known practitioners and theorists. Architecture of Nature: Nature of Architecture Diana Agrest Applied Research & Design MSRP $49.95 Eight years of collected research from “Architecture of Nature/ Nature of Architecture,” an advanced research graduate studio at the Cooper Union, have been compiled into a hardcover edition that lets each case study breathe. Splashy-full page diagrams and renderings complement research on volcanic activity, the spread of nuclear fallout, coral reef regeneration, “unrepressing” nature, and more. Taken together, the projects in Architecture of Nature blur the lines between architecture and nature, revealing the hidden divisions that slice the Earth. Aldo Rossi and the Spirit of Architecture Diane Ghirardo Yale University Press MSRP $65.00 Ghirardo’s new monograph bounces between Rossi's work while never shying away from the personal life of the artist, architect, industrial designer, writer, and Pritzker winner. Biography and Rossi’s reflections on his own work are interwoven with examples of historical precedents to paint a fuller picture of how selected works were conceived and executed. Aldo Rossi examines the foundations of its subject’s work and reassesses (and reinforces) Rossi’s position at the base of the Postmodern movement.
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Horton Hears a Backhoe

Total conversion of San Diego’s postmodern Horton Plaza sails to approval
A land use exemption required to convert San Diego’s Jon Jerde–designed Horton Plaza Mall complex into a technology office campus has passed after a unanimous City Council vote on May 20, as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune. That paves the way for the L.A.-based developer Stockdale Capital Partners to slash the retail square footage and reorient the postmodern plaza’s interiors to support high-tech offices—turning the former shopping center into “The Campus at Horton.” The one-million-square-foot, five-story mall will thus be overhauled to reduce the amount of retail space to 300,000 square feet from the current 600,000 square feet, and 772,000 square feet in Horton Plaza will become office space. Everything above Horton Plaza’s first floors will become office space, with retail being relegated to a ground-level “podium.” Additionally, Stockdale can reduce the retail requirement down to only 200,000 square feet if it lands a tenant willing to take at least 100,000 square feet of office space in the next 5 years. The exemption sought by Stockdale, which the City Council passed 9-0, cuts the amount of required retail on the site down from 700,000 square feet to the aforementioned 300,000 square feet. The postmodern Horton Plaza Mall first opened in 1985 and was conceived as a microcosm of the street grid overlain with the typical shopping center typology, including self-constrained streetscapes and multilevel terraces. That sort of defensive urbanism helped the mall thrive (and bolstered the economic fortunes of the surrounding developments) early on, but the complex has fallen on hard times in recent years. Stockdale’s scheme involves adding a glassy 150,000-square-foot, four-story addition to the top of the former Nordstrom building in anticipation of a single tenant company, building an amenity deck for tenants on the site of the former food court, and redeveloping the Bradley Building. The 10-block Plaza is currently sliced through the middle with a pathway running from Broadway to G Street that’s currently peppered with overhangs and sky bridges, and Stockdale will uncover that “street” and remove most of the infrastructure hanging above. However, the underground Lyceum Theater will remain at Horton Plaza until at least 2035 under a $1-a-year lease terms. Stockdale originally purchased the site from Westfield in August of last year for $175 million, and it anticipates that the conversion will cost approximately $275 million. The first phase of The Campus at Horton is expected to open in 2020.
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Re-Imagining the Modern

New book grapples with ambitious, contentious moment in Pittsburgh’s urban history
Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance Rami el Samahy, Chris Grimley, and Michael Kubo The Monacelli Press List Price: $50.00 In times of cynicism, revisiting more optimistic moments in architecture can conjure mixed emotions. Mid-century architects, designers, and planners exuded the optimistic belief that architecture and design could solve social ills worldwide—a spirit celebrated in recent exhibitions of Latin America and Yugoslavia at MoMA, and new books on Miami’s modernism. In a new book, Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance (Monacelli Press), Rami el Samahy, Chis Grimley, and Michael Kubo paint a vivid picture of the mixed emotions evoked by the changing urban landscape in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a city heralded as a role model of rustbelt reinvention. The book functions as an introduction to a complex moment in the city’s history, looking at Pittsburgh as a case study in a broader moment of urban renewal in many U.S. cities. Pittsburgh was deemed “the Mecca of urban renewal” in Architectural Forum in 1957, and yet Imagining the Modern is the first book to chronicle the city’s modernist history in a comprehensive way. The book emerged from a 2015–2016 curatorial experiment at the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Heinz Architectural Center, overseen by curator Raymund Ryan. Ryan invited the book’s authors, principles of the Boston-based studio OverUnder, to be architects-in-residence in the museum and explore Pittsburgh’s contentious relationship to urban renewal in an exhibition. The trio went to great lengths to dig up photography, publications, ephemera, and other documents around five Pittsburgh neighborhoods and projects: Gateway Center, the Lower Hill, Allegheny Center, East Liberty, and Oakland. The exhibition’s walls were plastered with unsung gems from local archives, and a series of panel discussions affiliated with the exhibition added to the cacophony of voices measuring the legacy of urban renewal and how architects ought to respond. Imagining the Modern distills this rich material in a manageable way, in the spirit of the authors’ reappraisal of Boston’s mid-century concrete, Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (Monacelli Press). Their new book specifically deals with the built and imagined architectural transformations of Pittsburgh in the 1950s and ‘60s, and with even a quick flip through the book one can see the changing urban fabric of the city. Imagining the Modern includes a wonderful array of high-quality images and well-designed diagrams—from archival documents to photographs to city maps, the stunning visual display is captivating and invites the reader to explore “the manifold ways in which the modern was imagined in Pittsburgh.” Imagining the Modern offers several modes of engagement rather than taking a strong position on Pittsburgh’s modern legacy. Scholars Kelly Hutzell, Caroline Constant, and Martin Aurand provide historical context and analysis for the development of Pittsburgh’s urban form and infrastructure. The book includes a series of diagrams entitled “Modern Networks” by Aurand that map the extensive networks of public and private entities that commissioned local modern architecture. The diagrams reflect the complexity of the patronage that funded this “Pittsburgh Renaissance;” one could spend hours trying to decipher the often confusing lines between architects, buildings (both built and unbuilt), commissions, and patrons. At the heart of the book are archival documents, which the authors present as evidence for readers to arrive at their own conclusions. A section of the book is devoted to reproductions of excerpts from two “Visionary Documents” that outlined the challenges for modernist designers to solve—pollution, traffic congestion, housing, parking, urban blight—while also suggesting ways to remedy such issues through architecture and design. Imagining the Modern goes on to show readers how plans for Pittsburgh neighborhoods and infrastructure were marketed, sometimes successfully, to respond to these issues through superlatives and dazzling renderings. Pittsburgh positioned itself as a “Cinderella City,” as a headline put it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 30, 1953: “Ridiculed, scorned and snubbed for over a century and a half, Pittsburgh throws off her pall to become the ‘City of Tomorrow.’” As steel production left the region and factories closed in the 1950s and ‘60s, dazzling buildings of mid-century modern buildings by leading architects rose with a zeal unfathomable today. Harrison & Abramovitz, Mitchell & Ritchey, Simonds & Simonds, and Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), to name a few, all built memorable works in Pittsburgh around this time. Imagining the Modern shows the development of the city’s most iconic buildings alongside ambitious plans that remain unbuilt, including one scheme that proposed filling the Oakland neighborhood’s Panther Hollow ravine with a mile-long research facility to bridge the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Rather than allowing the beautiful architectural renderings and photography to simply seduce the reader—which, occasionally, they do—Imagining the Modern also shows a collection of excerpts from the architectural and popular press responding to these proposals. The book juxtaposes the cheerleading coverage of The Pittsburgh Press alongside the coordinated, albeit unsuccessful, campaign by The Pittsburgh Courier to thwart plans for the displacement of thousands of mostly Black residents of the Lower Hill. The book’s photography also humanizes the actors on both sides of the city’s transformation, with moving images of people designing, building, debating, celebrating, protesting, photographing, and using the new works. Refreshingly, the book complexifies the role of architects in this transformative moment as well. Interviews and works by Troy West, for example, show that architects weren’t only the handmaidens of the powerful—his teaching and collaborative practices, which he operated as Architecture 2001 and Community Design Associates, offered an alternative model to the top-down design and planning approaches that often mar the legacy of postwar design. Instead of staking claims about the history of Pittsburgh’s modernism, Imagining the Modern showcases the debate that optimistic work by designers and planners continue to provoke. At a time when cities across the U.S. are working tirelessly to reverse the effects of urban renewal—understood as a pseudonym for “Negro removal,” as Dr. Mindy Fullilove suggests in her book Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, And What We Can Do About It—this book asks readers to take a closer look at a few urban visions through a mix of historical essays, sexy images, riotous press clippings, enlightening diagrams, insightful interviews, and informative project descriptions that offer everyone an entry into a fraught urban and architectural moment.
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New Rules

How the U.K. forged a path to global BIM standards

During my days as a technology vendor, I chafed at the idea of introducing government standards for technology developed by a polyglot group of stakeholders. Users, software companies, and bureaucrats often sought a “lowest common denominator” between various software, sacrificing innovation and progress for vague notions like “open access.” In the early days of Building Information Modeling (BIM), several such efforts emerged, the most prominent of which were the General Services Administration (GSA) attempts to create a standard and the development of BIM-derived digital permitting submissions in Singapore. Both projects garnered much attention but gained little traction in the form of implemented technologies or operating protocols—at least in their early forms. But they had one important effect: In the loosely organized, disparate network of the building industry supply chain, government could provide a galvanizing influence. At least when government spoke, the industry listened.

In 2011, however, we witnessed a welcome change with the publication of the United Kingdom’s “Government Construction Strategy.” Much of the early theory about industry productivity and need for process integration had long emerged from that side of the Atlantic—for example, Sir Roger Egan’s seminal “Rethinking Construction” report—but there was little action. The David Cameron government, however, saw construction as a critical economic engine, concluding that improving the cost and carbon impacts of building while bolstering U.K. capabilities as a global building leader would drive growth. One pillar of the resulting government policy document was BIM, and the following requirement: “2.32. Government will require fully collaborative 3-D BIM (with all project and asset information, documentation, and data being electronic) as a minimum by 2016. A staged plan will be published with mandated milestones showing measurable progress at the end of each year.”

As upwards of 40 percent of construction dollars in the U.K. are spent by the government, the industry snapped to attention, formed cross-industry collaborations, and established and implemented BIM requirements for all their projects (with logistical and financial support from the government). BIM adoption shot up from 10 percent in 2012 to 70 percent by 2018, and savings on the first prototype projects were estimated at as much as 2.5 percent of the total lifetime cost of designing, building, and operating the project. By my own estimate, that’s as much as five times the fees likely paid to the design team and 25 percent of original construction cost. Not bad for a first effort. And, in typical British fashion, the resulting standards (search online for “PAS 1192”) were clear, rigorous, and implementable.

The success of the U.K. effort has spread across Europe, and EU government leaders have taken similar roles (at least until Brexit) in developing standards for the entire European Union, while also establishing footholds with other global networks, most notably in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Singapore, in collaboration with the U.K. team, has spurred a multiyear effort to create a standards collaboration there. As we approach the end of the second decade of BIM, one can see the slow emergence of a global network of BIM standards leading to a single market BIM, catalyzed by what may be the only cohering force in the building universe: the long arm of the law.

Now that the technology is mature and its use stable, global BIM standards are a good thing. The U.K. effort rightly became the basis of a worldwide standard created by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO; see ISO Standard 19650) and released in early 2019. Based on the now viral PAS 1192, ISO describes its work as “recommended concepts and principles for business processes across the built environment sector in support of the management and production of information during the life cycle of built assets (referred to as 'information management’) when using building information modelling (BIM).” Note the emphasis on business process driving the technology standard; precisely the right relationship for creating a stable platform for the otherwise disparate players in the global building industry.

And there’s an even larger idea here. What’s most powerful about the U.K.’s trailblazing work on BIM standards is the origin point: Rather than start with the prosaic, bottom-up question of lowest common denominator tech standards, they chose a broad organizing principle—improving building through technology is good for the economy and the environment, and doing this in a way that is agnostic to specific technologies or proprietary software drives competitive innovation that helps the entire market.

Driving BIM standards has further benefits to government, not the least of which is transactional transparency. State-run construction is rife with overbidding, conflicts of interest, and corruption. A bedrock principle of “collaborative 3-D BIM” is information clarity—all members of the building team can see and understand the physical and technical characteristics of the project in parametric three dimensions, along with the resulting arithmetic of cost projection—which makes it that much harder to manipulate a bid.

In the early days of the U.K. project there was an appointed Chief Government Construction Advisor with a direct line to high-level policy makers in the Cabinet. The United States’ construction market, roughly five times the size of the U.K.’s, could surely benefit from some policy-driven federal leadership, something that is certainly hard to imagine in today’s administration and go-go economy. But when the inevitable downturn does occur, we’ll know which way to look for inspiration for industry improvement.

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Renaissance Reborn

Palladio and his architecture come alive in new film
A new feature-length documentary from Italian filmmaker Giacomo Gatti exploring the impact of 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio and his architecture is set to screen across the world this year, beginning with showings in Italy on May 20. Taking a roaming, non-linear approach, the 97-minute film, Palladio: The Power of Architecture, features the likes of Lionello Puppi, Kenneth Frampton, George Saumarez Smith, and Peter Eisenman reflecting on their relationship to his historic influence and outsize role in the architectural imagination. The film was shot across both the United States and Europe, with students and scholars at Yale and Columbia talking about Palladio’s legacy intercut with footage of major sites like the Villa Foscari (often called La Malcontenta), Villa Capra (or "La Rotonda"), and other locations in Italy. While the film does consider the more formal aspects of Palladio’s and his imitators’ work, the film is no mere celebration or aesthetic survey. It attempts to unpack the broader sociopolitical implications of the architecture that resonate to this day, no less so than in the United States, where, a favorite of the so-called Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson, Palladio was declared the “Father of American Architecture” by Congress in 2010. (That political body’s own building’s Neoclassicism is itself inspired by Palladio’s aesthetic philosophy, though of course even more recognizably Palladian examples, like the University of Virginia Rotunda and Monticello, exist across the nation, especially in the D.C. area.) The film also wrestles with the place of conservation in architecture and what it’s like to live in a Palladian villa in the 21st century.  
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Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

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A House For Ants?

Fernando Mastrangelo creates a tiny house with cast recycled plastic walls
Brooklyn-based concrete artist Fernando Mastrangelo is no stranger to casting delicately colored, intricately-layered furniture and panels in experimental materials. During the 2019 New York Design Week, Fernando Mastrangelo Studio (FM/S) has cast TINY HOUSE, and will exhibit the micro-space in Times Square until May 22. The 175-square-foot structure was designed with sustainability in mind. The exterior walls, which transition from black at the base to a delicate gray at the gabled tip, were cast from recycled plastic. Once past the narrow threshold, the “house” is delineated into three zones—the first is austere and made from cast-off scrap glass. A blue space (the Terra Room) with cladding the texture of volcanic rock and matching shag carpet follows. Past that, visitors can climb through an oculus to a semi-enclosed courtyard garden for a moment of quiet reflection before leaving the house—though in practice, it was being used as a selfie location when AN toured the installation. TINY HOUSE was optimized to integrate a multitude of fine touches to create an oasis-like feel. The landscaping from Brook Landscape, which also designed the courtyard garden, was curated to frame views of the city while also holding the surrounding chaos of Times Square at bay. FM/S worked closely with Anne-Laure Pingreoun, curator at Alter-Projects, and Steve Lastro, CTO of technology designer 6Sides to select its partners. Delos donated a DARWIN system to monitor and respond to the conditions inside by purifying the air and providing dynamic, circadian sound and lighting. Givaudan and Karen Flinn Creative created the custom scents that waft throughout each zone. TINY HOUSE will be on display in the Times Square Pedestrian Plaza, on Broadway between West 45th and West 46th Streets, until May 22.
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Not Throwing Away His Shot

AN interviews Hamilton set designer David Korins about the show’s exhibition
It has already been a busy year for creative director and set designer David Korins. Hamilton: The Exhibition, which Korins served as creative director of, opened on April 27, bringing an immersive 18-room exhibition to Chicago’s Northerly Island; that same week, the stage adaptation of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, with sets designed by Korins, opened in New York on Broadway. Hamilton: The Exhibition dives much deeper into the life and history of Alexander Hamilton, the person, than the stage show (which Korins also designed the set for) and expands on topics that were overlooked in the musical, such as slavery and Hamilton’s legacy after his death. To help guide fans through the exhibition, an audio guide narrated by original cast members Lin-Manuel Miranda (Alexander Hamilton), Phillipa Soo (Elizabeth Schuyler), and Christopher Jackson (George Washington). The show, which is currently staged in a 35,000-square-foot black “hangar,” was designed to be mobile and will eventually pack up and leave for other cities after an undetermined run time in Chicago. The $13.5 million exhibition actually cost $1 million more to open than the musical it’s based on, but much of that owes to the show’s high level of technological integration and attention to detail. Guests can take an interactive tour through famous scenes from Hamilton’s life, engage with games, and even watch a 3D version of the musical’s opening as it was performed in Washington, D.C., with Miranda at the helm. Tickets for Hamilton: The Exhibition are $39.50 for adults and $25 for children. Korins also served as the creative director of Treasures from Chatsworth, a show at the renovated Sotheby’s New York headquarters that will run from June 28 through September 18. Art from the Chatsworth House in England, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, will be juxtaposed against supersized versions of minute details from the home that could easily be overlooked. AN recently caught up with Korins and asked him to break down how he was able to realize his two most recent projects. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. How did you go about translating a show that works around one set into an exhibit with 18 full exhibition rooms with branching paths and interactive multimedia? David Korins: Well, it was harrowing. Although, the Hamilton exhibition is decidedly not Hamilton, the show. We had way more content to deal with. In a way, using Hamilton, the man, as our through-line and as our lens into early America was helpful because it helps crystallize the story that we're telling. There's enough information about the founding of early America that we could have made an exhibition just on George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson, or James Madison, or anyone. In a way, the stage show, which obviously spans about thirty years across countless locations was one thing. But we had to use a whole bunch of artistic compression in order to make that show a dramatic piece of theater. What we wanted to do with the exhibition museum was to really able to go in to deeper and wider into the entire story of America and really kind of right the wrongs of the dramatic lives that we tried to mimic in the show. It's easy conceptually to say, "let's expand this thing into 18 or 20 galleries" because there's just so much more information. It was nearly an impossible task artistically to try and actually execute it because a stage show has no ceiling on it, there's no fourth wall, there's no wall between the audience and the performers. In this exhibition, every one of these things is a complete room. I know it's more about Hamilton the man, but it does seem like some of the rooms, this writing desk room for instance, tie into songs from the show. How did you balance how much of the musical should be in the exhibition versus how much should focus on history and Hamilton's life? DK: First of all, we're not trying to distance ourselves from the show. We, in fact, have a completely remastered, re-orchestrated, rerecorded score in every one of the galleries. I think if you look at the New York City gallery, it is very reminiscent of the architecture that I designed the stage show with. I would say that much of the spaces employ the use of very abstract, theatrical design, visual vocabulary. Part of that is because I'm the one designing it, creating it. A part of that is because you can't realistically recreate all these historical locations. Nor do I think that that would be necessarily interesting. I think one of the things that we told ourselves in the very beginning of this process was to try and do what only we can do. And then there are moments that are wildly abstract where there are swirling pieces of parchment paper floating up into a work cloud over your head. So we tried all that we could do, and I thought for two years about what I want each one of these rooms to feel like and what story we are trying to tell.
Changing gears to Beetlejuice—that's a movie where the scenery is constantly shifting around. Looking at the photos from the set, it seems like you had to reinvent the same stage multiple times during the show. How did you translate Tim Burton's aesthetic for the stage without reusing it wholesale? It doesn't exactly match the house in the movie, but I see there are references to his other work sort of scattered around.
DK: As far as technical difficulty, I will agree with what you said, and I will tell you that the show is by far the most technically challenging thing I have ever done, and it's by far the most technically challenging show I've ever seen. If the Hamilton exhibition was the biggest and most ambitious project I have ever worked on, which it certainly was by a lot, Beetlejuice was the most complicated one. That show, every single piece of scenery has a light in it, a special effect, a magic trick, a puppet pole, a speaker. Some crazy thing going on inside of it. How do we incorporate the world of Tim Burton? I think that Tim Burton is one of the great visual artists of our time. I think when you are asked to do a Tim Burton project you have to honor it and acknowledge it and try to keep up. Beetlejuice the musical is very different than Beetlejuice the movie. The thing about it is we have a whole bunch of different physical parameters, so we have to take those into consideration as opposed to making a movie. First of all, the play runs eight times a week and we can't cut away, we can't dissolve, we can't have a puppeteer just out of frame or anything like that. We have to make this thing work seamlessly for a bunch of live people in a room. Beyond that, I thought that it would be interesting to honor Tim Burton's kind of overall visual aesthetic, not just the Beetlejuice one. You have Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline—we have tons of references. So we’re storytelling in a very different way. You can't have an actor be in a different costume every single scene. We're telling the story at a much broader, more muscular gesture. How did you design a set that would be so easy to shift in such shorter amounts of time? DK: I guess the short answer is: we're geniuses. Just kidding! I think it was very important that the Maitland's home felt different aesthetically than the Deetz's home. And that the Deetz's home felt different than the Beetlejuice home. So we had to ask ourselves, what could we possibly change in six minutes of stage time, or ten minutes of stage time? And how do we do that? We came up with a really ingenious wall system that we would be able to sub out. The changing of the furniture and the mantles and the window frames and the light fixtures is exactly as you would imagine it. A lot of manpower is back there doing these, like schlepping stuff on and off in a perfectly choreographed ballet move backstage. The wall systems are similar. There are prefabricated sections of wall that click in on top of or below other sections. And they literally have to go in and every single section of wall gets changed out. I see a lot of detail went into even just the small touches in the wallpaper, sculptures, sconces, and all of that. DK: Every single piece of scenery, every single wallpaper, every single piece of furniture, every single graphic was hand-drawn. And I don't mean “hand-drawn” like drafted. I mean, literally hand-drawn, even what we drafted with architectural drawings so that they could build them and engineer them. We then went in and we hand-drew all the wallpaper. We hand-drew all the etching and the lines on all the molding so that everything single thing had a really homemade kind of quality to it.
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SURROUNDS

MoMA exhibit looks back on twenty years of watershed installations
Surrounds: 11 Installations, an exhibition opening at the Museum of Modern Art this fall, will feature a series of immense, whole-gallery installations, each on view in the museum for the first time. The installations, which MoMA collected over the last two decades, represent watershed moments in the careers of 13 living artists: Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Sadie Benning, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Sou Fujimoto, Sheila Hicks, Arthur Jafa, Mark Manders, Rivane Neuenschwander, Dayanita Singh, Hito Steyerl, and Sarah Sze. Among the most memorable works are The Killing Machine, a haunting scene of automated parts, electronic sound effects and flickering screens, and Fault Lines, a mesmerizing live performance by two plainclothes choir boys amid cleaved stone masses. Each installation will be displayed in its own gallery on the sixth floor of the museum, where it can be appreciated as an individual, immersive environment, or as part of a larger exploration of how physical space shapes our experiences. Although they were “conceived out of different individual circumstances,” explained the show’s press release, “the installations are united in their ambition and scope, marking decisive shifts in the careers of their makers and the broader field of contemporary art.” Surrounds: 11 Installations will be on view October 21 through Spring 2020 in the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Center at the Museum for Modern Art. More information on the show is available here.
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Old Times

Design Pavilion brings classic Eastern European kiosk to Times Square
Times Square, always a hub of intense street life, with 350,000 to 450,000 visitors a day and an overload of images, is about to become a site for “design talks, installations, and performances.” Design Pavilion, the centralized public hub for New York’s fourth annual design week (May 10–22 from 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily), in partnership with the Times Square Alliance, will activate five plazas (on Broadway between 45th and 46th streets.) with immersive environments and daily programs featuring the work of leading architects, designers, and artists. New Design Pavilion projects presented this year are by New Yorkers Joe Doucet and Victoria Milne alongside works from Brad Ascalon, Hive Public Space, Louis Lim, DYAD, and Virginia Tech’s winning Solar Decathlon house, FutureHAUS. A highlight will be K67, an iconic Yugoslavian kiosk originally designed in 1967 by Slovenian Saša J. Mächtig. The plastic Kiosk, designed as a reproducible, extendable, and interlocking system was found all over the Eastern bloc countries in the 1960s, but has never been displayed in this country.
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Going Down, Coming Up

Forty-five story jail tower could be coming to Lower Manhattan
The de Blasio administration’s 10-year plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails is ahead of schedule, but community groups are voicing their opposition to some of the proposed replacements. Residents of Tribeca and Chinatown are up in arms over the decision to build a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street, currently the Manhattan Detention Complex more infamously known as “the Tombs.” While the city had originally planned to shift a portion of the island’s projected 5,000 inmates (the administration expects to reach that number from the current 9,000 through bail and sentencing reform) to a 40-story tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, that fell through in November of 2018. Now, the plan is to demolish the two towers at 124 White Street (13 stories) and 125 White Street (9 stories) and replace them with a 45-story, 1.27-million-square-foot tower with 1,440 beds. The entire Rikers replacement plan is currently moving through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and thanks to a $7.7 billion bonus to the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the 2020 capital plan, is expected to wrap up in 2026, a year ahead of schedule. But as part of the ULURP, each of the four borough-based jails are currently facing public feedback as part of the environmental and land use review. Tempers have flared at Community Board 1's meetings over the 125 White Street tower. At an April 8 meeting before the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, residents clashed with social justice activists. Because the proposed tower would be 37 percent larger than what the area’s zoning allows, the jail requires a permit from the City Planning Commission before it can proceed, of which public feedback is taken into consideration. Overall, a number of Tribeca, Chinatown, and SoHo residents raised concerns over the cost (the new jails will require $11 billion to complete); the shadows cast by the tower, which would stretch from West Broadway to Mott Street in the winter and from Church Street to Chrystie Street in the summer, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); the impact of the Tombs demolition on the surrounding neighborhood; and the potential repurposing of the proposed tower into luxury housing if the city manages to decrease the number of incarcerated peoples enough. While that last concern may seem a tad outlandish, the original proposal for the tower at 80 Centre Street did involve a mix of affordable housing units. Architect Alice Blank, who sits on Community Board 1, also raised concerns about the potential history that would be lost if the Tombs came down. Blank pointed out a resolution recently passed by Community Board 3 against the demolition, which states: “The Art Deco/Art Moderne-styled South Tower of the current Manhattan Detention Center is NYC Landmark eligible, and the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building and Prison at 100 Centre Street have previously been determined to be New York State National Registry-eligible. These eligibilities suggest that the proposed demolition and redevelopment would be an inappropriate and significant loss of historic and architectural resources. The 100 Centre Street building, which retains some Egyptian Revival architectural details from the original ‘Tombs’ building, as well as 80 Centre Street and 125 Worth Street constitute a coherent architectural group in Civic Center. The demolition of ‘the Tombs’ would undermine the value of a visible piece of the criminal justice history and the historical development of NYC.” Of course, criminal justice and prison reform advocates have pushed back. In 2017, Rikers was appraised as being so dangerous by the State Commission of Correction that the agency halted transfers of inmates into the jail from outside of the city. At the time, the oversight commission found that Rikers failed to meet minimum safety standards. The Tombs has its own well-documented legacy of violence, and the building’s squalid conditions aren’t helped by the tiny slit windows punched into its monolithic facade. At the April 8 meeting, it was clear that pro-jail tower activists saw the issue as a racial one, while opponents of building a jail tower in Manhattan have argued that renovating Rikers Island would only cost $1 billion and would mitigate all of their concerns. “I’m disgusted to hear that y’all don’t even want to have a new jail when 90 percent of the people who are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections are black and brown Latin people. Not any of you that are opposing this tonight!” a woman shouted at the CB1 meeting, according to The Tribeca Trib. “Having jails on Rikers Island doesn’t solve half of our problem,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office, who offered to comment after AN queried the DOC. “Renovating Rikers wouldn’t do it. The facilities are too archaic and old, and they don’t have the appropriate space or programming. To say that Rikers can be rehabilitated is untrue.” Centralizing the jail population on an island mainly accessible via the Rikers Island Bridge adds an extra level of undue hardship to the jail’s staff, visitors, and inmates who have to meet court dates in their home boroughs—each jail tower has been proposed for a site close to the borough’s courts. It also damages inmates’ connections to their local support networks, added the spokesperson. Building new facilities will allow the city to not only increase the cell size for each inmate and better the light and air conditions, but to add vocational, health, educational, and re-entry programs to each location. When asked whether the city could convert the Manhattan jail tower into market-rate housing down the line, however, the spokesperson was unable to rule it out. They said that it was too early to draw any conclusions about where the prison population would be ten years down the line, especially before the bulk of Mayor de Blasio’s bail reform proposals took effect. Time will tell whether the city alters its Manhattan tower proposal before appealing to the City Planning Commission. The Manhattan Community Board 1 Land Use Committee will be voting on a recommendation for the Borough Based Jails/Manhattan Detention Complex ULURP application on May 13. A full board vote will come later in May, followed by a public hearing held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. After that, the scheme will be voted on by the City Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council. It should be noted that all of the preliminary massings released thus far have been just that, and no concrete design details have been made public yet. Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Rikers Island was reachable by ferry, which is incorrect. While plans to connect the island to the NYC ferry system have been proposed, it is not a stop at the time of writing.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.