The Hornet's Nest
Facades+ Charlotte will explore the growing dynamism of the Queen City
Eddie Portis: Charlotte has been evolving toward an 18-hour city for several years and the current boom is accelerating this evolution. The improvements occurring within the Stonewall corridor are great examples of this. Over 4 million new square feet of office, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, including a Whole Foods grocery store, and countless new dwelling units are changing the fabric of our city.
AN: Can you expand on the above and focus on Uptown and corridors of transit-oriented development?EP: We are experiencing the era of "convenience" as a result of the densification of our city’s core and the linear growth created by rail. When combined with our busing network, Uber, and even scooters, how we move through the city has undergone a massive, positive transformation. The way we can now move through the city is changing the way we shop, dine, work, and play. AN: What do you perceive to be the most exciting trends, be it in facade design or urbanistically, of this era of development? EP: I see a very positive trend in the downtown area as it relates to the public realm. There is a renewed focus on the ground plane and the involvement of buildings in our community. Large expansive office lobbies are giving way to more modestly-scaled lobbies so that more space can be created for retail of all shapes and sizes. The other factor we see, at least in office development, that is not a current trend but rather a constant pursuit, is daylight and views. The "fifth" facade—that from the view of the building occupant—has an incredible impact on our city. It creates eyes on the street and absorbs the energy of the city; it improves worker performance and enlightens our lives. AN: Little is one of the largest firms in the city. How are you embracing this moment and what novel enclosure practices are being used by your firm? EP: At Little, we encourage exploration and seek to implement breakthrough ideas. One way we do this is through our internal "ReThink" initiative. In this initiative, a team seeks to explore the latest thoughts in the industry and overlay those with design intent. This is demonstrated through a recent, winning design competition project where we worked with San Francisco State University to create a skin concept designed to capture water from the prevalent fog that helped allow for a net positive student housing facility. Another example is a design competition we recently completed through Metals magazine. Our "Living in the Wall" study demonstrated how the curtain wall can become more than a “line on a page," and instead become a multi-dimensional blur between people and the environment, technology, and humanity. Further information regarding Facades+ Charlotte may be found here.
Beginning last Friday, select wifi kiosks in New York now feature scintillating pictures of the city from decades past. It's LinkNYC porn, but for buildings.
In partnership with LinkNYC, the city's wifi kiosk system, the Department of Records and Information Services is displaying dozens of historic photos on LinkNYC screens in the five boroughs. The images correspond to the blocks where they're displayed, so a person at Henry and Clark streets, for example, would see a black-and-white picture of the port in what is now Brooklyn Bridge Park. The New York Times reports that most of the photographs on display date from the 1890s through the 1970s, and the project will be up through the end of the year.
LinkNYC is taking residents' suggestions for where the archival images should be displayed; readers can tweet @LinkNYC to have their voices heard.
The program is the latest in a slate of apps and maps that disseminate New York City history online. This year, Urban Archive geotagged and released over 2,500 images of old New York that users can access on the go. Built in collaboration with Brooklyn Historical Society, the New York Public Library (NYPL), and the Museum of the City of New York, the app pings users with archival images when they're near a historic site in the database, prompting reflection on the changing city. Separately, the NYPL launched the NYC Space/Time Directory, a “'digital time-travel service' that combines the library’s map collection with geospatial tools to illuminate the city’s messy and beautiful development over more than a century." Downtown, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) debuted its Civil Rights & Social Justice Map, an interactive tool that reveals key downtown sites where marginalized people have fought for equity, dignity, and representation.
Beyond the archive, urbanists can now access maps to prepare for L-mageddon, discover the city’s noisiest neighborhoods, learn about future skyscrapers, and find the internet's favorite kind of architecture.
SHoP makes the Brooklyn skyline with a “brooding, elegant, and badass” supertall… There goes the neighborhood?
If you zone it, they will build, and they will build tall. New York–based SHoP, in partnership with JDS Development Group, revealed plans earlier this year to build 9 Dekalb Avenue, a 73-story, 1,066-foot-tall residential tower fused to the landmarked Dime Savings Bank in Downtown Brooklyn. Last month, the design cleared a crucial hurdle when the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the tower’s design and consequent modifications to the bank.
“There’s a sort of brooding Gotham to it,” noted Gregg Pasquarelli, founding principal of SHoP. “There’s a little bit of badass to it, but it’s quite elegant at the same time. Isn’t that what we all want to be as New Yorkers?” The 417-unit building is clad in bronze, stainless steel, and stone, with view-maximizing interlocking hexagonal exposures. Pasquarelli explained that the facade detailing is such so that when two sides of the hexagon are viewed from an oblique angle, it will resemble one face, a sleeker reference to the grand old New York skyscrapers like Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building.
Michael Stern, founder of JDS Development Group, proclaimed: “The tower will be Brooklyn’s next icon. Brooklyn was really missing that one iconic statement that was worthy of the borough. This building will really put Brooklyn on the map.” Drawing from the landmark on-site, the spacing of the tower’s vertical facade elements mirrors the spacing of the bank’s neoclassical columns. The color and materials palette picks up on the bank’s colorful stone interiors, which will be converted to retail, while parts of the bank’s roof will be used for the building’s private outdoor spaces.
“The downtown rezoning of Brooklyn in 2004 has been very successful. This is a place where the city could handle density. It’s an incredible kudos to the city they upzoned that area, that they thought about tall towers,” said Pasquarelli. At the prow of Flatbush and Dekalb, the building will be visible from all over Brooklyn, and its distinctive facade will reinforce its prominent position on the skyline.
He and Stern enjoy experimenting with exteriors. Referencing the terra-cotta facade on 111 West 57th Street and the cladding on the East River–facing American Copper Buildings, Pasquarelli intimated that developers and architects are obligated to build for the public realm. “Some people get to live in these buildings, but we all have to live with the exterior.”
While preservationists sometimes bristle at the modification of an individual landmark, Gina Pollara, executive director of the preservation advocacy organization Municipal Arts Society (MAS), thinks there’s a larger issue that’s expressed in the development of tall towers like 9 Dekalb. “For us, it’s not really about the towers itself. Most of these supertalls are going up as-of-right. Because they’re not asking for any variance or any change, there’s no opportunity for public comment.” This tower was unusual, she elaborated, because it involved a landmarked structure. “These buildings are so out of context or out of scale with the neighborhood, and there’s no space for public comment until developers release their renderings. There’s no discussion of the cumulative effects these towers are having on public space.”
In an interview with AN, Stern said that he could not react to critiques like MAS’s (which he had not heard about), “but I can tell you that the commissioners had comments ranging from, ‘the best of urbanism’ and ‘flawless,’ and the LPC approved the project unanimously, as did the community board. It’s something we’re quite proud of.”
Pollara would like to see a better conversation around the 100-year-old zoning code, and reform beyond Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, the recently codified zoning text amendments. “It’s time to make zoning much more transparent—not just to the layperson, but to elected official,” Pollara said. “We need to get in front of the issue rather than being at the mercy of what is being built around us. Preservation in the 21st century is not necessarily rallying around a specific building, but looking at open space, light, air—all of the elements we want to preserve. We don’t want to live in a city that’s created by default.”
Book it to Brooklyn
Claire Weisz on WXY’s reimagining of the Brooklyn Strand
From a pedestrian perspective, Downtown Brooklyn and its waterfront have an odd relationship. Despite the Brooklyn Bridge’s looming (literally) presence in DUMBO, the area’s potential to become an idyllic promenade and an active space has never quite been realized.
Now, however, New York practice WXY architecture + design—who specializes in planning, urban design, and architecture–is proposing to connect DUMBO, Downtown, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. As part of a public-private scheme, in collaboration with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), WXY’s project, the Strand, sets about creating views within the site, giving it an identity while creating a place that puts pedestrians first.
WXY principal Claire Weisz said that the first thing her practice sought to do was to see what connections needed to be reestablished with a focus on who they should serve. “One of the main priorities of the Strand effort is to privilege pedestrians and cyclists,” said Weisz. “We [looked] at what spaces used to connect and then we sought a way to reimagine and provide resources to the public spaces and places that are valued by the people living, working, and studying in this area.”
Striking a dialogue and creating a “positive sense of journey” was another key aspect of the scheme. Working with Copenhagen artist group Superflex, a responsive and pedestrian friendly scene was established: Here, functional, yet visually inspiring routes were developed, evoking the cultural and historical aspects of the area’s neighborhoods from Fulton to Farragut and the Navy Yard.
Weisz also spoke of new subway connections and the potential to develop sites around infrastructure, adding how the Gateway to Brooklyn action plan concept “demonstrated the importance of approaching access holistically.” In light of this, Weisz proposed connecting Cadman Plaza East with the walkway off the Brooklyn Bridge, thus protecting pedestrians who “have to dodge traffic at Cadman Plaza West.”
Weisz noted how the dominance of car travel has led to the emergence of “unappealing leftover public space.” Here, she explained, a “continuous city fabric where walkable, bike-able, active streets connect Downtown Brooklyn to the Waterfront” is a necessity from an infrastructure perspective.
While improved circulation is a priority, visual connectivity is also on the agenda. Weisz plans to give landmarks visual precedence to celebrate Brooklyn’s history and improve wayfinding throughout the Strand. As a result, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges are allocated framed views from within the Cadman Plaza Park, Anchorage Plaza, and Trinity Park, in order to reaffirm the sense of place throughout the Strand.
“The Strand’s identity is linked to not losing the layers of history that made Brooklyn what it is today but adapting them for today’s needs,” said Weisz, who added that creating a “cohesive” identity was discussed with stakeholders.
“The main challenge of the Strand has been demonstrating the potential of spaces that are currently invisible to the public,” said Weisz. “Whether it be spaces around, over, or under highways [or] a new vantage for accessing and experiencing the Brooklyn Bridge, residents can look forward to a rejuvenated place that realizes the potential for the Strand to better connect downtown Brooklyn.”
Propose Your Plaza
City of Baltimore to open design competition for McKeldin Plaza
The City of Baltimore is hosting a citywide design competition to seek proposals for the redevelopment of McKeldin Plaza in downtown Baltimore. The call follows plans to demolish the existing McKeldin Fountain later this year and the Department of Planning will supervise the open competition.
This follows years of talk about redesigning the plaza, which is currently dominated by the 1982 Brutalist concrete McKeldin Fountain. The fountain stands adjacent to the Inner Harbor area and memorializes former Baltimore mayor Theodore McKeldin, who was instrumental in revitalizing the harbor area in the 1960s.
The Waterfront Partnership recently released plans for “Inner Harbor 2.0,” which will improve the area with new green spaces and pedestrian connections using Brooklyn Bridge Park and Waterfront Seattle as precedents.
McKeldin Plaza is an important fixture of Downtown Baltimore, and a designated free speech zone that was the focal point for the city’s Occupy and Black Lives Matter protests. In addition, the fountain is a historically significant holdout from the Brutalist movement, and its design attracts tourists and office workers from the surrounding area.
The Downtown Partnership of Baltimore supports redevelopment of the plaza into an open space, while many local artists, designers, and architects support its preservation as a public art piece.
The fountain itself has fallen into disrepair, and according to the Downtown Partnership its mechanics are prone to expensive breakdowns that leave it non-functional for months at a time. However, maintenance and enhancements could also go a long way toward revitalizing the plaza while preserving the fountain.
Up until recently the Brutalist design of the fountain matched the nearby Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, which was demolished in 2015. The theater was designed by John M. Johansen and opened in 1967, remaining in use until 2004. After its owners chose not to renew the lease on the building in favor of the newly reopened Hippodrome Theatre, the building fell into disrepair. A new high-rise residential and commercial space is now under construction on the site. Since the demolition of the Mechanic, McKeldin fountain is the only example of Brutalist architecture in Baltimore.
The fountain has its share of defenders, including Baltimore’s City Council president, who introduced a bill to block the demolition last year.
A Change.org petition calls for the postponement of demolition until a new design is approved. Others—including the fountain’s designer—are against the demolition entirely and want to preserve the site.
The Downtown Partnership plans to move forward with the demolition in Summer 2016 pending approval of permits. The fountain and the skywalk across Light Street were recently closed to pedestrians.
The architecture firms Ayers Saint Gross, Mahan Rykiel, and Ziger/Snead will oversee the project and finalize designs. Details about the public competition are still taking shape.
Downtown Brooklyn and the city should ensure that innovative new companies have room to grow through increased—and targeted—commercial office space investment.
The city should learn from the 2004 rezoning of the area, which allowed flexible permissive zoning and land use policies and resulted in a surge in development. The city should avoid trying to achieve narrowly defined policy objectives by enacting overly detailed zoning restrictions and prescriptions.
The city should continue to invest in innovative public space improvements, such as the Brooklyn Strand initiative and completion of Brooklyn Bridge Park, that make Downtown Brooklyn a more attractive place to live, work, invest, do business, and visit.
Developers and property owners, non-profit organizations, and the city need to work together to ensure that cultural institutions, arts organizations, and individual artists can continue to play a vital role in the ongoing transformation of Downtown Brooklyn.
The city needs to address long-standing gaps in the area’s transportation networks, including lack of transit access to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, difficulties in getting between the core of Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront, and the scarcity of good options for travel between existing and new waterfront neighborhoods and growing concentrations of jobs along the East River.