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Build it Back

New York City Council approves controversial East Side flood protection plan
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 XYZ 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.
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Just Don’t

Los Angeles is at a crossroads—don’t let it become New York
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.
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Must-See Not-TV

Here are fall's hottest architecture, sustainability, and social theory events on the East Coast
AN has assembled another collection of exhibitions, lectures, and conferences in the coming week that feature artists, architects, policymakers, and thinkers reflecting on aesthetic, social, ecological, and design strategies for the modern world. If you're in or around New York City, stop by and enrich yourself. Check out the events below: Rashid Johnson, The Hikers at Hauser + Wirth Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street Opening reception: November 12, 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. November 12 through January 25, 2020 Rashid Johnson's The Hikers show includes ceramic tile mosaics, collaged paintings, a large-scale bronze sculpture sprouting plants, and an installation of his latest film shot in Colorado, using the combination of mountain landscapes and body movement to express the psychological consequences and challenges of the modern world and its injustices. Johnson asks: "What are the movements like when a black man is walking past a police officer? Or when a black man is suffering from agoraphobia?" Urban Thinkers Campus: Accelerating the SDGs in Cities Kellogg Center, Columbia University, SIPA 15th Floor November 13, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. GSAPP, Wood Auditorium, 1st Floor 420 West 118th Street, Room 1501 November 14, 10:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. The Urban Thinkers Campus is a UN Habitat framework for critical exchange between stakeholders and partners to promote sustainable urbanization. Columbia University's Center for Sustainable Urban Development is hosting Accelerating the SDGs in Cities, promoting the Paris Climate Agreement's Sustainable Development Goals as a tool to evaluate projects on the basis of the 193-nation agreement. Emphasizing the urgency of meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, it shepherds academics, professionals, and participants of civil society to generate ideas for action and methodologies to expedite action on the SDGs. The event will also include a complementary gallery of 100 local projects from more than 30 countries, considered according to how they meet the goals.

Creative Time Speaking Truth | Summit X

The Great Hall, Cooper Union November 14 through 16, various times Kickoff Event: November 14, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. LOLA, 169 Avenue A, New York The tenth Creative Time Summit, Speaking Truth, continues the public art organization's discussion of social, political, and aesthetic questions through keynote presentations, group discussions, workshops, and performances. Traveling to DC, Toronto, and Miami in recent years, it returns to New York City to the Great Hall at Cooper Union and sites around the East Village, asking whether the long-time activist cliche of "speaking truth to power" can rescue us from disillusionment. Maybe not, but some of the usual suspects of socially engaged art will be mixed with new faces to challenge whether art can be more than another sideshow of collapsing civic life, politics, and media culture. Francis Kéré: Work Report Yale Architecture Hastings Hall, 180 York Street, Basement Level, New Haven, CT November 14, 6:30 p.m. Kéré's lecture at Yale promises an update on his recent projects, with an emphasis on his communal approach to design and commitment to sustainable materials and modes of construction, drawing on the social and physical particularities of localities. Based in Berlin, Kéré Architecture's current work includes the Burkina Faso National Assembly, the Lycée Schorge Secondary School, the Léo Surgical Clinic & Health Centre, the 2017 Serpentine Pavilion, and Xylem, the recently opened pavilion for Tippet Rise Art Center. The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly Queens Museum New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens November 17, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Advocates, organizers, and elected officials—including a rumored appearance by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her district—will gather for this conference jointly organized by the Buell Center at Columbia GSAPP with the Queens Museum, AIA New York, the Architecture Lobby, Francisco J. Casablanca (¿Quién Nos Representa?), and Green New Deal organizer and architect Gabriel Hernández Solano. Following the drafting of a set of general principles for how to equitably redress climate crisis in House Resolution 109 and Senate Resolution 59, The Green New Deal: A Public Assembly includes morning workshops and an afternoon series of discussions to encourage invited guests and the public to think systemically and across scales. Alphonso Lingis, "Irrevocable" The New School GIDEST Lab at 63 Fifth Avenue, Room 411 November 22, 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. The philosopher Alphonso Lingis lectures on the "irrevocable" at the GIDEST Seminar, the New School's weekly discussion at the Graduate Institute for Design, Ethnography & Social Thought. Author of a series of books on places of alterity and social cohesion, including The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, The Imperative, Dangerous Emotions, Trust, and Violence and Splendor, Lingis's work draws from continental philosophy, phenomenology, and engages in philosophical-ethnographic travel meditations, often focused on bodily experience.
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We Live, We Die.

WeWork is imploding. What happened to its plan to redesign the world?
“Everything we do at WeWork should be done with intent and meaning for maximum impact,” said Adam Neumann, the recently ousted CEO and cofounder of WeWork, in a 2018 blog post. “This starts with every space for every member and scales to every building in every city. In 2018, we want to have an impact on the buildings we occupy. In 2019, it will be the neighborhoods WeWork is part of, and by 2020, the cities we live in.”  This bombast was characteristic of the businessman known equally for his tequila-fueled screaming bouts and Kabbalah-enhanced executive meetings, whose oversized persona in many ways came to define the company. To meet the megalomaniacal goal of a WeWorld as well as the more quotidian needs of making flexible office spaces, the We Company amassed a large team of architects, designers, and technologists through both hiring and acquisitions. The company was itself cofounded by an architect, Miguel McKelvey, who WeWork’s former director of research claimed rather hyperbolically in a 2015 interview in Architect built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands.” McKelvey remains WeWork’s chief culture officer. This cultish blind faith is—or was—characteristic of WeWork acolytes. In the wake of a botched attempt to take the We Company public, exposés on Neumann’s excessive spending, unpredictable behavior, and self-dealing, and revelations that the company was more or less out of cash and has little prospect of turning a profit in the near future, confidence has flagged, even among true believers. Once valued at $47 billion, and after an infusion of cash from SoftBank which included an unprecedented $1.7 billion “golden parachute” for Neumann to leave his post, the We Company is now worth "just" $8 billion.  WeGrow, the company’s foray into for-profit education led by the former CEO’s wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (cousin to Gweneth Paltrow), will close at the end of the academic year. The fate of its other numerous side projects, such as Rise by We, a gym, and the housing initiative WeLive( which is currently under investigation in New York City for possibly illegally operating as a hotel) are uncertain. WeWork is also likely to divest from the high-profile conversion of the former Lord & Taylor building in midtown. But perhaps most distressingly, the company is expected to lay off as many as 4,000 people this fall, according to some estimates, with untold more to come. But even those plans have been hampered: the company can’t afford to pay severance. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look like we’ll all be living in WeCities in 2020. With WeWork shedding its properties and staff and finding itself on less steady ground day by day, what does that mean for the company’s architects? Uncertainty reigns.“It’s been disheartening to find things out through media instead of the company itself,” said one WeWork employee to AN (the company declined to comment on whether those layoffs might include architects and other design employees). Designer Dror Benshetit, who was hired for WeWork’s “Future Cities Initiative” in partnership with Di-Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze, has been sacked along with his team, according to current and former employees. Fashion designer Adam Kimmel, former chief creative officer, has just stepped down. Most of the architecture and technology higher-ups from Case, the design tech company that WeWork acquired in 2015, have departed in the past several months, including Federico Negro, WeWork's former head of design, and David Fano, former chief growth officer, who left in October. That said, architects inside the company who were willing to speak to The Architect’s Newspaper reported feeling relatively secure in their positions. Creating workspaces is WeWork’s core enterprise, and employees have noted that at conferences given by executives, the work of the architects at the We Company has been largely praised. However, the constant uncertainty and erratic nature of the business has driven many to leave the company in advance of any possible layoffs. Others are staying, some with the hope of cashing in on severance deals, not of keeping a job in the long term. “I find it sad that the person who made this business happen was an architect, but it was his business partner who ruined it,” lamented one WeWork employee, speaking of McKelvey and Neumann, respectively. Building WeWork Founded in 2010, WeWork’s design ambitions became clear in 2015 when the company acquired Case, a high-tech Building Information Modeling consultancy. This made sense: WeWork is more or less a real estate company masquerading as a Silicon Valley-style startup. It owns very little of the buildings it occupies, including the much-talked-about Dock 72 that just opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which The New York Times reports is still largely empty. Instead, it leases spaces, then redesigns them and offers them up as flexible rentals to other businesses—from brand new startups to tech giants like Facebook and IBM to legacy publications like the Atlantic The biggest news was, well, BIG. In 2018, WeWork named Bjarke Ingels its “chief architect,” an unprecedented move for a company like WeWork. But it spoke to its ostensible high-minded design goals. Ingels’s firm BIG did design the Manhattan WeGrow, as well as other projects. However, current and former employees who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal reported that most of Ingels’s actual architectural responsibilities had been delegated to Michel Rojkind, the architect who serves as WeWork’s senior vice president of architecture (Rojkind could not be reached for comment). “It wasn’t anything more than a marketing thing,” said one former WeWork employee of Ingels’s appointment. Ingels reportedly receives no salary, having opted instead for compensation in equity alone, a regrettable move in light of recent events. (Representatives for Bjarke Ingels and BIG declined to comment for this story.) It wasn’t just notable names—WeWork hired architects, lighting designers, project managers, and other design professionals by the dozen. “There was a lot of hand-wringing early on about how many architects were leaving the industry to work at WeWork, and there was a fear that WeWork was sucking up the best architectural minds,” recalled one former employee. The company also formed another architectural spinoff, Powered by We, which brought its know-how for designing workspaces to external corporate clients, like the Swiss bank UBS. Insiders report the division has yet to turn a profit. But despite all the present-day disorder and uncertainty, many employees are happy to stay. “I don’t want to work at a normal architecture office,” said one architect who spoke on condition of anonymity. “ As tumultuous and crazy as the year has been for the whole company, I think it’s a good thing that they disrupted architecture practice; it’s an industry that needs some disruption.” “At an architecture office you’re not encouraged to try other projects or make it better; it’s just, ‘This is the system, this is how we do it,’” the employee added. But WeWork lets architects ask, “How do we make things better rather than just following traditions?”—something they didn’t feel able to do in traditional architecture offices. WeWork’s ability to “disrupt” architecture is due not just to some vaulted startup ethos nor its ability to pay higher salaries. Another meaningful difference is who the designers work for; WeWork is its own client. While it may work with architects of record and contractors, for the most part, WeWork’s architectural labor supply chain is vertically integrated. Everyone from the lighting designer to the architectural software engineers are on staff.  There is also a hope that former WeWork architects might bring this new perspective with them when they return to the industry and that the industry might respond, for example, by putting technology on the same level as other aspects of design. “Architects have a lot to offer, but it’s time to take risks. We need to learn to want more for ourselves and for the industry.” Buildings = Data  Beyond all the hype surrounding the company, at least one of its divisions was living up to the Silicon Valley unicorn moniker that investors had ascribed to it. A former WeWork employee described the architectural software arm of the company as “One of the more technically advanced offices in the entire AEC [Architecture, Engineering, and Construction] sphere.” The employee went on to say, “We’ve got a pretty intelligent system around BIM, around data, around workflow and processes.” These developments happened relatively behind the scenes, though hardly secretly. WeWork regularly published blog posts about its use of 3-D laser scanning, machine learning, and data collection.  This architectural brain power, along with easy access to new BIM and parametric technology, did, in fact, give WeWork an edge in its core business: designing office spaces. It’s as a design practice that WeWork could truly be understood as an innovator. To be clear, it isn’t in the often-mimicked design aesthetic of its office spaces—with its exposed brick, neon signs, midcentury modern knockoffs, and formaldehyde-expelling phone booths. What is new is how WeWork has been able to design with tremendous efficiency at scale in part thanks to its voraciously collected user data. Similar to the way social media companies harvest untold amounts of data on their billions of users, WeWork was swimming in data on the workers occupying its office spaces around the world. In February, some WeWork employees had begun wearing shirts that said, “Buildings equal data.” The largest office leaseholder in New York City was using data to shape everything from what buildings to rent to how to lay them out. Through a variety of tools, WeWork was harvesting its tenants data the way Facebook exploits its users—as unwitting sources for generating new, targeted services to generate even more revenue. WeWork embedded sensors in conference rooms and phone booths, tracked “user behavior” on its app, and tested out computer vision and location beacon systems. “Imagine a conference room that can tell you how it feels, that understands what the inhabitants might be feeling,” said a company blog post that asked, “What would the Google Analytics of buildings look like?” Last year, WeWork used virtual reality headsets and EEG brainwave monitors to see how people responded to different “vibes.” For example, “Spaces with more natural light and brighter finishes are associated with significantly higher levels of focus and interest.” While WeWork wanted to collect users' general emotional response—one test subject described wearing the headset as “empowering”—its central interest, of course, was creating environments ideal for work. Of course, WeWork, along with tech companies and creative firms, has created a new sort of standard which other companies want. “A lot of corporate America works in environments that are stifling and boring,” said one Powered by We employee. “Retaining and hiring young staff has been hard for them. [Powered by We] is a way of changing a workplace by changing the interiors.” With this data, WeWork claims it was not only able to make the design and building management process more efficient and targeted, but also able to introduce new custom automation into its design of its mass-produced office spaces. They are often created from a sort of kits of parts—which included pre-determined selections of wallpaper, kitchen fittings, furnishings, etc.—inside the many buildings the company has leased, or less frequently, owned. WeWork had also developed custom software to help the company’s designers automate desk arrangements throughout their spaces. More desks means more money, after all. Recently, in the Avery Review, philosopher Mathew Stewart referred to WeWork’s space layout algorithm as “One tool in the now endless surge of automated BIM options that aims to make the bureaucratic processes of architecture more efficient, calculable and less labor-intensive.” He added, “This produces a mystified process that hides the social and political character of design decisions. The contemporary production of architecture is a complex global web of supply chains, logistics, labor, and legal and political infrastructures.” Some former WeWork employees disputed this characterization. In a company blog, former senior researcher Andrew Heumann said that they just want to get rid of the “tasks that are the most tedious and repetitious.” However, design at WeWork was arguably a relatively simple problem, one in which automation could easily be introduced without tremendous technological innovation. Offices may be different shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re relatively consistent spaces. One Powered by We architect suggested that “WeWork Classic” architects weren’t “challenged.” “I would assume their job is quite boring,” the employee said. “It’s just based on efficiencies.” Multiple things can be true at once. While WeWork likely overstates its technical prowess in order to boost its legitimacy as a “startup,” and while other companies also use data collection to inform design, building, and usage in their offices, its proprietary BIM tools and automation technologies may have unforeseen, significant impacts on how architects design, especially as more and more well-qualified architects, designers, and tech professionals exit WeWork to create their own startups or work at other companies or traditional firms. If expanded beyond the simple constraints of aesthetically-unified office design, new automation tools could free up designers to do more interesting, innovative things beyond building mechanics and interior layouts. Or, as so often happens under a capitalist logic consumed with “optimization” above all else, they may just cause a flattening of design difference, ushering a new Algorithmic Realism in architecture. Perhaps WeWork will take over the world after all. At least there’s happy hour.
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Park, the Gathering

Tulsa's Gathering Place aims for reconciliation
What goes into a park? We dug into the parts and pieces of landscape design to explore and illustrate the forces, material histories, and narratives that hide beneath the surface. This article is the first of three such deep dives, which includes Tongva Park in Santa Monica, California, and Hunter’s Point South Park in Queens, New York. All illustrations were done by Adam Paul Susaneck.

Gathering Place park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the product of a dream of 77-year-old billionaire philanthropist George Kaiser and of several decades-long experiments by the landscape architecture team at Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). What Kaiser originally intended to be a series of riverfront “gathering spots” to activate the city has become a singular, whimsical, and lush 66.5-acre landscape that has attracted over 2.8 million people since opening last year. AN spoke with Scott Streeb, Matt Urbanski, and Michael Voelkel at MVVA about designing the park and sourcing materials both locally and globally for “the most complex topography [they] have ever done.” Taking cues from fanciful and innovative European playgrounds, their goal was to turn several desolate plots of land into an inclusive, truly one-of-a-kind environment. By many accounts, they succeeded; this summer, TIME listed the park as one of the greatest places in the world.

Beyond its ambitious design agenda, Gathering Place has also aimed to unify the historically segregated city. Tulsa was formally settled in 1836 and by the 20th century had earned the nickname “the Oil Capital of the World.” Money from the energy business flowed into the city, bringing with it a serious construction boom during the Art Deco era. Despite growing prosperity, race relations were tense. In 1921, white crowds rioted for 16 hours in the affluent neighborhood of Greenwood, then known as Black Wall Street, killing local residents and destroying black-owned businesses and buildings. It was one of the worst attacks on African Americans in U.S. history, and Tulsa still hasn’t fully recovered.

Gathering Place is being marketed as a space where the region’s diverse communities can come together. A decade ago, in talks between MVVA and the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), key decisions were made to engage Tulsans in their vision for the future 100-acre landscape and to raise expectations of what 21st-century parks can do.

Funding

Over 80 philanthropic and corporate donors, including GKFF, funded the entirety of the $465 million park. Though built with private dollars, Gathering Place is a public park: GKFF donated it to the River Parks Authority, the city and county agency in charge of public riverfront parks, in 2014, through Title 60, a public trust law. River Parks now owns both the land and the park and oversaw the five-year construction effort.

Land

Gathering Place takes up four disparate, flat parcels of land along Riverside Drive, the adjacent four-lane commuter highway, that were purchased in 2009 by GKFF for $50 million. At the northern end was once a 35-acre estate owned by oil entrepreneur B. B. Blair. The historic Blair Mansion, built in 1952, was torn down in 2014 after a failed attempt by its previous owner to relocate the building. Two large-scale apartment complexes south of the site, totaling 494 units on 14 acres, were also demolished and its residents displaced to make way for a construction staging area. GKFF offered to pay for those affected to receive mental health services. Phase 2 of the park’s design will be built out in this location, south of the skate park (shown below) and will include a $45 million children’s museum by local firm KKT Architects, as well as a $24 million pedestrian bridge by MVVA.

Playground Equipment

MVVA and German playground manufacturer Richter Spielgeräte designed the park’s custom swings, water-play and sensory equipment, elephant slide, and four fantastical wooden castles that stand 30 feet in height. Danish design company Monstrum shaped additional wooden playscapes to look like the great blue herons (pictured here) and paddlefish found along the Arkansas River. The 160 playground structures and their installation cost about $11.5 million.

Plantings

In 2011, two years before construction began, MVVA began tagging around 600 existing trees on-site, some up to 200 years old, in an effort to monitor their health, and preserve and restore them. The firm then brought in 5,789 new trees sourced from over a dozen nurseries, two in Oklahoma and others in Tennessee, Missouri, Georgia, Illinois, and New York. The cohort includes over 90 species of evergreen and deciduous trees. Nearly 120 species of shrubs and over 200 species of perennials were selected as well and had to be stored in a greenhouse for up to three years before planting.

Buildings

There are three buildings on-site by Atlanta-based Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects. The ONEOK Boathouse features a roof canopy made of 130 fiberglass-reinforced plastic panels in the shape of flying sails. The rest of the three-story building, which includes a steel and concrete frame, has floor-to-ceiling glass panels that Vitro Architectural Glass created using raw material and sand from Mill Creek, Oklahoma. Williams Lodge, the 25,000-square-foot structure that serves as an entrance to the park, blends into its surrounding landscape with native sandstone from Haskell County. These massive boulders integrated into the design range from 1,000 to 5,000 pounds.

Hardscaping

There are over 20 different surface materials used at Gathering Place, including eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas sandstone in various hues. In total, the walkways used 4,500 cubic yards of fill excavated from just across the Arkansas River. The stones that flank the entrance paths are also from an in-state quarry, similar to those found in the Four Season Garden, a series of rock towers, pictured below.

Terraforming

MVVA took 450,000 cubic yards of silt from the Arkansas River to create the 40 feet of grade change in the park necessary to bridge over Riverside Drive. Ohio-based engineering company Contech fabricated a set of precast concrete arches off-site in Broken Arrowhead, Oklahoma, that support the two 300-foot-long land bridges that help the park seamlessly connect to the waterfront.

Transit

Riverside Drive was shut down in July 2015 and reopened in September 2018 after construction ended. The City of Tulsa spent $40 million to widen and reconfigure the busy highway and for other infrastructure improvements, such as stormwater drainage and replacing sanitary sewers and water lines surrounding the site.

Because Gathering Place is located just five minutes south of downtown Tulsa and immediately west of the wealthier Maplewood Historic District, accessibility is an issue for nonsuburban communities. This summer, the park began providing free shuttle transportation to underserved neighborhoods in North Tulsa, scheduled to operate every other weekend.

Water

Because of the oppressive Tulsa heat, water plays a big role in the park, and its nearly-6-million-gallon central reservoir, Peggy’s Pond, serves as a source for irrigation. To create it, MVVA had to dig down to groundwater level, integrating 70 feet of grade change within the landscape. Wetland gardens at the northern end of the park work as a biofilter to clean the water that’s pumped out of the pond. Parking lot and highway runoff is also filtered through the gardens, and then through two large cisterns and below-grade, natural filtration basins. Wells throughout the site pull up clean water and redistribute it through the pond.

Maintenance

Half of the money raised went to capital investment and the other half created a $100 million endowment for the continued operations and maintenance of the landscape for the next 99 years. GGP Parks, LLC, is a subsidiary of the River Parks Authority that operates out of GKFF and coordinates the over 450 volunteers that help the park run every day. So far, both individuals and groups have completed 11,300 hours of volunteer work. There are also 200 full-time and part-time employees who specialize in horticulture, programming, community engagement, food service, and more. An underground maintenance warehouse spanning nearly 1 acre was built to house facilities management off-site.

Labor

Columbus, Kansas–based construction company Crossland took over the build-out efforts from Manhattan Construction in 2015 when initial preconstruction, utility, and dirt work was done. Since the park’s groundbreaking, any day sees upward of 150 to 500 people laboring across 27 work zones and 12 play areas. A total of $10.3 million was paid to both contractors, and 3.7 million man-hours were worked on-site.

Security

Over the last year, Gathering Place partnered with a local charity group, John 3:16, and the Mental Health Association of Tulsa to help employees and security teams better understand how to engage with the city’s homeless community. The park is open to all and does not operate fully in the late evening or early morning, but does welcome the homeless throughout the day.

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The Ole Two-Step

Hunter’s Point South Park completes a Queens coastline years in the making
What goes into a park? We dug into the parts and pieces of landscape design to explore and illustrate the forces, material histories, and narratives that hide beneath the surface. This article is the first of three such deep dives, which includes Tongva Park in Santa Monica, California, and The Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. All illustrations were done by Adam Paul Susaneck.

The transformation of Hunter’s Point South in two phases from a contaminated strip of coast in Long Island City, Queens, to an ecologically sensitive 11-acre park was 11 years in the making. Stretching along the East River south of Gantry Plaza State Park and Steven Holl’s Hunter’s Point Community Library (see page 16), Hunter’s Point South Park sits on a conveniently sited piece of land that was neglected for decades before the park opened at the end of last year.

The park was designed by Thomas Balsley Associates (TBA; the firm became SWA/Balsley in 2016) and WEISS/MANFREDI to be a sustainable storm buffer and public green space for the new Hunter’s Point South development, a 5,000-unit housing complex on the southern shore of Long Island City.

The idea for Hunter’s Point South Park had been percolating long before plans for it officially started coming together in 2007. Thomas Balsley told AN that back in 1990, when Gantry Plaza State Park was being planned, he envisioned a whole-coast master plan that would stretch from Anable Basin in Long Island City (the site of Amazon’s failed HQ2 bid) all the way down to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (now home to a wastewater treatment plant known for its iconic “biodigester” eggs). To Balsley, Gantry Plaza State Park was supposed to be the start of a line of parks running down the Queens–Brooklyn shore. Design on Hunter’s Point South Park began in 2009, and Balsley and Weiss/Manfredi’s early sketches are remarkably close to what would be built nine years later.

The linear park provides views of the Manhattan skyline and has an amphitheater-like arrangement that also blocks noise from the busy Queens streets to the east. Because of tight siting requirements, budget constraints, and the harsh microclimate that the park has to endure, SWA/Balsley filled the site with resilient native salt-marsh plants. Besides acting as a natural flood buffer, the plants don’t require active irrigation, meaning none was built into the site. The plants also filter and clean the river, a job that Balsley likened to “acting as the park’s liver.”

Lighting

Arup was also responsible for specifying the park’s lighting fixtures. Most of the fixtures used were New York City Department of Transportation/Parks Department–standard pedestrian- and street-lighting poles and Holophane helm fixtures. Linear lighting by Wagner was used to illuminate the benches and overlook handrails and as uplighting. Step lights by Bega were integrated into the wooden furnishings and concrete walls. The nonstandard lighting features were all intended to be as minimal and unobtrusive as possible, so as not to detract from the landscape and views.

Structures

WEISS/MANFREDI was responsible for designing structures for both phases of the park, with Galvin Brothers serving as the general contractors. In Phase 1, that meant the 13,000-square-foot bent-steel pavilion that houses Parks Department offices, restrooms, and a COFFEED cafe at LIC Landing, the park’s ferry dock. Fabrication of the structure and canopies was done by Powell Steel Corporation of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which permanently closed in 2013. Stainless steel cladding came from Westfield Sheet Metal Works in Kenilworth, New Jersey.

For Phase 2, the towering steel overlook structure (below) was fabricated by Newport Industrial Fabrication in Newport, Maine, while the freestanding precast panel walls were fabricated by Bétons Préfabriqués du Lac (BPDL) in Alma, Quebec.

Furniture

The custom wood–slat lounge chairs and banquette seats and custom precast concrete benches were designed in-house by SWA/Balsley and WEISS/MANFREDI, with galvanized steel framing and Kebony USA–provided Kebonized southern yellow pine. Steel benches with aluminum seat dividers were provided by Landscape Forms and manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with raw materials mined from within 500 miles of the facility to reduce environmental impact.

Transportation

The park is easily accessible despite its coastal locale. It can be reached via the 7 train’s Vernon Boulevard–Jackson Avenue station; by the Q103 bus via the Vernon Boulevard/49 Avenue stop; by the Long Island Rail Road, which stops at 49-13 Vernon Boulevard; by numerous street-level bike paths; by car; and via the Hunter’s Point South ferry landing.

Vegetation

Plant species were selected for their hardiness and nativity and include juniper trees and a variety of shrubs and grasses for the park’s bioswales. Besides cutting down on maintenance costs, the flora used by SWA/Balsley can thrive on the edge of a briny river, and hosts native fauna.  Plants were sourced from nurseries in New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Infrastructure

Arup, which was responsible for the structural, civil, and bridge engineering of both phases, oversaw the installation of 7,500 feet of sanitary and storm sewers and 3,700 feet of water main.

Infill and hardscaping

Prior to the park’s construction, the site had been used in the 19th and 20th centuries as a dumping ground for soil excavated from rail-line construction sites around the city, and many portions of the site had since grown wild. To build out and sculpt the shoreline, existing infill was repurposed and moved to the water’s edge. Around the shore, board-formed and precast concrete walls were used to create the harder edges, while Jet Mist and Stony Creek granites mined from Stony Creek, Connecticut, were used for the riprap (below) and to fill in steel gabions.

Art

Because this was a city project, the NYCEDC was tasked with appointing an artistic consultant. After a search, Suzanne Randolph Fine Arts was chosen, which in turn picked Nobuho Nagasawa to create a site-specific installation. Seven photoluminescent sculptures resembling different phases of the moon were installed in 2017 in the winding, peninsula-like amphitheater forming a piece titled Luminescence. Each “moon” in the series was cast from Hydrocal, a mixture of plaster and portland cement.

Funding and Labor

In 2009, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) selected the project’s developer, TF Cornerstone, and TBA, which brought on WEISS/MANFREDI as collaborators. The project was split into two phases from the beginning. Phase 1 broke ground in January 2011 and opened in August 2013, after the NYCEDC spent $66 million for the 5.5-acre park and an accompanying 3,400 feet of linear roadway. Phase 2, which began construction in November 2015, opened at the end of June 2018, at a cost of $99 million. This 5.5-acre section, which came with another 3,500 linear feet of new roadways, was funded through the NYCEDC as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan, as the park fulfilled the green space requirement of the adjoining housing development and is intended to mitigate flood damage there in the event of a storm surge.

The NYCEDC shepherded the project through two mayoral administrations and hired the LiRo Group to act as construction manager for the build-out, which then subcontracted the actual construction to the Great Neck, Long Island–based Galvin Brothers. The standard design-bid-build process was used for both sections. Park maintenance is handled by the NYC Parks Department.

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Morty's Home

Tongva Park in Santa Monica is Californian through-and-through
What goes into a park? We dug into the parts and pieces of landscape design to explore and illustrate the forces, material histories, and narratives that hide beneath the surface. This article is the first of three such deep dives, which includes The Gathering Place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Hunter's Point South Park in Queens, New York. All illustrations were done by Adam Paul Susaneck.

Santa Monica’s Tongva Park is a true product of Southern California. It certainly has a physical connection to its context—its hills and outlooks are packed with soil from construction sites in the area; its irrigation water sourced from the local runoff recycling facility; its plants were grown in regional nurseries—but in less tangible and more sociopolitical ways, too, the park bears the mark of the Golden State.

Tongva, which opened in 2013, was funded under California’s now-defunct tax increment financing (TIF) laws. The first of their kind in the U.S., California’s TIF laws went into effect in 1952 with the passage of the Community Redevelopment Act, which set a precedent nationwide for how infrastructure might be financed. Many states have since imitated the approach to establish the funding mechanisms behind massive—and often controversial—projects, including Chicago’s Navy Pier and New York’s Hudson Yards. Tax increment financing lets municipalities borrow money for developments in areas designated as “blighted” with the assumption that the developments will generate higher property-tax revenue as land values rise. Critics have argued that TIF programs have been abused to subsidize luxury developments that do little to improve the quality of life for local residents, and in 2011, while work on Tongva was well underway, then-governor Jerry Brown dissolved California’s TIF program, making the park part of the state’s final wave of TIF-backed projects.

The park benefits from Southern California’s crazy-quilt approach to urbanism, where the wealthiest communities of the Los Angeles region have remained independent cities, enabling areas like Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Santa Monica to invest tax revenue within their borders without sharing with the city of Los Angeles that surrounds them. Cities where the median home price is less than Santa Monica’s, ($1.6 million, more than twice the median home price for Los Angeles) may not be able to spend so lavishly on their parks.

California comes through most tangibly in the park’s siting and the aesthetic decisions by the park’s designer, James Corner Field Operations (JCFO). JCFO incorporated several beloved trees that were already on the site into an arroyo-inspired plan that orients visitors toward spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and a beach that stretches out casually, with an air of West Coast chill, just across the street.

Funding

The park was entirely publicly funded using TIF. The City of Santa Monica bought 11.6 acres of land from the RAND Corporation; besides the park, housing was built on the site and Olympic Drive was extended through it. The city spent $53 million on the property and another $42.7 million to design and build the 6.2-acre park, which includes a small area across Main Street in front of Santa Monica City Hall.

Plants

Tongva hosts more than 30,000 plants of more than 170 species, and more than 300 trees from 21 species, most grown in seven nurseries across the state; the farthest is in Watsonville, less than 300 miles up the coast. Some trees traveled even less distance: Morty, a Moreton Bay fig tree, and the Three Amigos, a group of ficus trees, pictured below, along with several palms, were preserved and rearranged on the site to fit into the new landscape. The park mixes native and non-native drought-tolerant species in zones modeled on three California ecological communities (coastal scrub, chaparral, and riparian), creating a landscape that feels familiar but avoids cliché.

Buildings

The steel cocoon-esque pavilions, pictured below, and play structures were fabricated by Paragon Steel in Los Angeles.

Furniture

Custom furniture was designed using Forest Stewardship Council–certified jarrah wood, a variety of eucalyptus usually grown in Western Australia. Off-the-shelf benches from Landscape Forms were also used.

Art

Weather Field No. 1, by Chicago-based artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, comprises a field of 49 stainless steel poles with weather vanes and anemometers attached.

Hardscaping

Aggregates in the hardscaping came from pits in the nearby San Gabriel Valley. Walls have California Gold rocks.

Water

Plants are irrigated by water from the Santa Monica Urban Runoff Recycling Facility. Stormwater from the park is also collected in bioswales, and water features recirculate potable water in closed systems.

Transit

Tongva integrates into regional transit in some of the usual West Coast ways—there are bikeshare stations and scooter access—but it’s also just a block away from one of the Los Angeles area’s biggest transit initiatives: the LA Metro Expo Line expansion. The nearby Santa Monica Station opened three years after the park and was a part of a broader regional plan, whereas Tongva was part of a separate Santa Monica–specific urban plan.

The region’s ubiquitous car culture is also present. Tongva sits at the southern tip of the picturesque Pacific Coast Highway, which extends up the shore to Big Sur, San Francisco, and beyond, and Olympic Drive, a local three-lane street, was extended along the park’s southeastern edge.

Land

The site was previously home to the RAND Corporation headquarters, which have since relocated to a neighboring block. Housing developed by the Related Companies was built on the opposite side of the Olympic Drive extension.

Infill/Terraforming

Before being cleared for Tongva, the site was dominated by the RAND Corporation’s parking lot. To create the park’s lookouts, which rise in points to 18 feet and provide views to the Pacific Ocean, infill soil was taken from construction sites around the city, tested to ensure safety, and sculpted to create accessible slopes for the site.

Project Delivery

JCFO was selected through an international competition in which 24 teams participated. After JCFO won, there were five community workshops over six months, and the scheme was presented to six review boards and commissions before site work began in 2011. Although the scheme began as a design-bid-build project, the city turned it into a design-build project midway through the process to try to speed delivery after California revoked its TIF laws.

Maintenance

The City of Santa Monica spends just under $100,000 annually on basic maintenance, plus about $20,000 annually on tree work and $10,000 annually on custodial work.

Security

Although there is no operational security technology in the park, Santa Monica has used some unorthodox activity-based surveillance strategies. After squatters set up informal camps on the park’s western corner, city agencies arranged for a food truck to occupy that area, which has since discouraged people from living there. And on top of regular maintenance costs, the City of Santa Monica spends about $330,000 annually on “ambassadors” who staff the park, answering questions from visitors and keeping an eye on activity.

As is standard in many U.S. parks, Tongva closes at night; its hours are from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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National Park, No Service

Gateway National Recreation Area among top endangered places in U.S.
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) has released its Landslide 2019: Living in Nature report, which highlights 10 landscapes across the United States currently in danger due to climate change. One of those threatened places is the Gateway National Recreation Area (GNRA), otherwise recognized as the entrance to the New York Harbor which spans from Jamaica Bay in Queens to Staten Island and Sandy Hook, New Jersey.  Nearly 27,000 acres of islands, ponds, marshes, meadowlands, and historic structures make up the GNRA, which was designated by Congress as a U.S. National Recreation Area in 1972 and is managed under the National Parks Service (NPS). Ten million people visit the area each year to swim, hike, camp, boat, bird watch, and fish, making it the fourth-most popular national park. It’s no secret that the coastline of the New York metropolitan region, which was severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, has long been located in the way of potentially perilous weather. Particularly susceptible to flooding and sea-level rise, the GNRA, and residential neighborhoods around it, have suffered due to lack of, or slow, planning for the effects of climate change.  But that’s recently changed. After the storm hit exactly seven years ago, there have been significant reconstruction efforts and moves to buffer the city's shoreline from future catastrophic events. In August, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) would build a $616 million seawall along Staten Island that will double as a multi-use elevated promenade. The project is a result of the ACE’s on-going study of coastal storm risk management in the New York-New Jersey Harbor. An interim report on its initial findings was released last February.  Despite this state-backed effort, it’s possible that there will be little support from the federal government in combating climate change. On Monday, President Trump announced he would pull the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. And last week over 400 local elected officials, including 13 from New Jersey, pressured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass legislation that prioritizes top deferred maintenance issues within the National Parks Service’s looming, billion-dollar maintenance backlog. If passed, the Restore Our Parks Act and the Restore Our Parks (S. 500) and Public Lands Act (H.R. 1125) would invest up to $6.5 million over five years in national parks across the country—effectively bolstering them in the face of future inclement weather.  As the AH Herald reported, the GRNA alone currently suffers backlogged problems amounting to $123,286,570. Because of its size and unique makeup—connecting two states and three separate “units” as they’re called—the challenge of upkeep is monumental. In Brooklyn, the GRNA extends from John F. Kennedy International Airport to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge to Shirley Chisholm State Park, which is currently under development and will be the largest state park in New York City by next summer. Floyd Bennet Field, the former airfield listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is also included in the Jamaica Bay Unit, alongside Canarsie Pier, Fort Tilden, Breezy Point on the Rockaway Peninsula, and Jacob Riis Park, the beach and boardwalk outpost built by Robert Moses.  In the Staten Island unit of the GRNA, Fort Wardsworth, Miller Field, and Great Kills Park on the southeastern shore of the borough are at risk, while in the Sandy Hook unit in New Jersey, Fort Hancock, and Sandy Hook with its seven well-used beaches, salt marshes, and holly forest, are also in need of repair. 
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Weekly Alloyances

AN visits Alloy, the architect-developer reshaping Brooklyn
One of the most talked-about towers in Brooklyn is being designed—and built—at the hands of Alloy Development, the 13-year-old company responsible for residential structures like 185 Plymouth Street and One John Street in DUMBO. Led by CEO and founder Jared Della Valle and president AJ Pires, the firm has its sights set next on two projects along Flatbush Avenue in Boreum Hill—one of them which would become among the tallest skyscrapers in Brooklyn. These major developments are advancing their goal of shaping the real estate conversation in New York towards a more design- and community-centric outlook. They’re literally restructuring the skyline of the city’s most populous borough one project at a time, for better or for worse.  But getting the chance to take on an 860-foot-tall building like the one Alloy is putting up at 80 Flatbush didn’t just happen overnight. When Della Valle and Pires first started Alloy in 2006, there were hardly any companies sporting the title of architect-developer. Architects stayed in one lane and developers stayed in another, but that didn’t stop Alloy from stepping into unknown territory.  When the firm completed its distinctive 459 West 18th Street on the High Line, an 11-story residential structure with contrasting black-and-white, angular facade, both the design and real estate communities started to take notice. It wasn’t easy for Alloy to secure the millions of dollars needed for that in-demand site, but its success gave the company—then under the name Della Valle + Bernheimer—the confidence to do even bigger projects. “We chose to pursue development as a way to have more agency over the process of design and to take control of the outcome,” said Della Valle. “When you can define program and priorities because you are taking on the risk and assembling all the capital, you get more design agency from every single perspective.”  In mid-2016 alongside co-developer Monadnock, Alloy completed One John Street, a glimmering, 12-story, 42-unit sustainable structure on the DUMBO waterfront just north of the Manhattan Bridge. The team considers it a major turning point for the company because of its integration into the local community. Though it’s a luxury residential property, it housed an outpost of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum for the last three years, and soon a Brooklyn Public Library annex will open in its stead.  From a design standpoint, One John Street was also a major step forward for Alloy. The firm teamed up with Brooklyn-based SITU Studio to create the one-of-a-kind sculptural panels made of concrete textured after fragments of fiberglass, pellets of beeswax, and salt granules that wrap the building’s lower core. In addition, because of the building’s noisy location next to an elevated train line, Alloy scaled up the windows and floors, decreasing the sun exposure at the same time.  Challenging themselves with innovation at One John Street also gave Della Valle and Pires the authority to cement their names alongside New York’s top developers, and its completion gave them a seat at the table.  “I find it hysterical that now we are on the same panels as the very big guns of real estate in this city like Related and Extell who have existed for a long, long time,” said Della Valle. “On the architecture side, we’ve received a lot of admiration because we’ve made design a core value of our developments. We’re not interested in repeatability.” Della Valle said that he’s met with plenty of famous architects who grill him on how Alloy makes it work. As a development company full of architects, he says the quality of the architecture and its impact on the community is most important. “We have to have economic output to achieve our work, but it’s not our reason for being.” Alloy’s office is located at 20 Jay Street, a hotspot for many Brooklyn-based architecture firms because of the old building’s large floorplate. A small firm with just under 20 employees, the team has been based in the same space since 2001. On any given day, they’re only working on one or two projects at a time and don't have to answer to any clients—ever. Things will continue to stay this way, according to Pires.  “Jared and I both live 100 feet from the office,” he said. “We’ve gotten to know every single landowner in DUMBO and there’s an intimacy of knowledge here that, when you connect it back to the risk equation, is very valuable. We’ve often had a leg up on other developers in this neighborhood because we’ve been here for so long.”  Alloy’s investment in DUMBO has long been clear and will continue with their upcoming three townhouses and 46 apartments at 168 Plymouth Street. Their proposal to take two, neighboring, century-old warehouses and turn them into condominiums was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It will be one of the last loft conversations in the area once finished next year. However, the East-River adjacent community isn’t the only part of Brooklyn that Pires and Della Valle aim to influence.  80 and 100 Flatbush will be the duo’s first attempt at a true high-rise development. The mixed-use skyscraper at 80 Flatbush will feature 200 units of affordable housing while the proposed 482-foot-tall tower at 100 Flatbush will include a 700-seat elementary and high school (designed by ARO) for Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first English-Arabic public school in the United States. Two historic buildings will also be preserved on the site. Demolition began in October.  To go after such a massive property—the block is spread across 61,000-square feet—Alloy had to work with the city’s Education Construction Fund in planning all that the future site would entail. It’s an overwhelmingly complex project, but Della Valle and Pires see it as another decisive moment in Alloy’s own development. They’ve been able to reach this point, Pires said, because of that innate attraction to risk and their constant reliability.  “The exposure we’ve received on our past work gives us a lot of credibility,” he said. "We truly believe you have to be optimistic to be in development. The associated risk actually boosts our creativity and forces us to be more clever." 
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Above and Beyond

NOMA Conference 2019 prepared architects to engage with a more diverse future
It was the first time Malaz Elgemiabby had attended the annual conference of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA). But it turned out to be like going back to her childhood in Sudan, being surrounded by architects, designers, and builders who looked like her, and who cared as deeply as she does about community participation in design. “In Sudan, architects are women,” Elgemiabby told AN. “So I used to build buildings when I was a kid. As women [in Sudan] your responsibility is to build the houses, to design, to assess the needs of the community.” Elgemiabby went to architecture school at London Metropolitan University, seeking out its program for its emphasis on community participation in design. She first went to work in the Middle East, where she also earned a master's degree in interdisciplinary design from the Qatar campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. She moved to Cleveland three years ago to work as an architect. After doing some projects that she’s quite proud of in the city, Elgemiabby launched her own firm, ELMALAZ, earlier this year in Cleveland. But it’s also been a bit lonely at times, being an architect on a mission to bring communities into the design process. “[In Cleveland] I’m one of the few who are advocating for this type of approach to architecture,” Elgemiabby said. “I come [to this year’s NOMA conference] and I find not only a lot of black and brown architects, but I also find people who are excited about the same mission. This was really great. It’s always nice to grow your tribe.” Growing that tribe, of course, has been NOMA’s goal all along, ever since twelve African American architects founded the organization during the 1971 AIA National Convention in Detroit. This year’s annual conference, in Brooklyn, attracted a record attendance of over a thousand participants for five days of programming, including service outings, seminars, keynote lectures, student design contests, and the usual networking and socializing. Overall, NOMA membership has grown 30 percent in 2019, under the leadership of NOMA president and HOK principal Kimberly Dowdell. The organization now has more than 1,400 members, organized under 30 professional chapters and 75 student chapters across the country. Under Dowdell, this year NOMA established a new tiered corporate membership program for large and small firms that wish to support the organization—and also gain access to discounted consulting from NOMA’s curated pool of experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Dubbed the “President’s Circle,” founding members include AIA, NCARB, Enterprise Community Partners, Cuningham Group, Shepley Bulfinch, Gensler, HOK, and Perkins & Will. But growth and progress for NOMA still come in the context of the Sisyphean task of making architecture more representative of the communities it serves. Out of 115,000 or so architects licensed in the U.S., only an estimated 2,299 are black. That context was made even more somber this year with the loss of one of NOMA’s giants, Phil Freelon, who passed away in July. NOMA renamed its annual professional design awards in his honor. Zena Howard worked with Phil Freelon for well over a decade. So it was fitting that this year’s NOMA conference programming included her delivery of the J. Max Bond Lecture, organized annually by the New York Chapter of NOMA and the AIANY Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Howard’s talk focused on the notion of “Remembrance Design,” which emerged over the past few years through her work with Freelon and others. Now principal and managing director of the North Carolina office at Perkins+Will, Howard used some of her firm's recent projects to illustrate remembrance design in action. The examples varied in scale and scope from the 1.1-acre Sycamore Hill Gateway Plaza in Greenville, North Carolina, to a 30-acre design process covering Miami’s Overtown neighborhood, to a 1.3-mile “linear museum” along the Crenshaw Boulevard transit corridor in Los Angeles. All were historically black neighborhoods, typically scarred by racially-discriminatory redlining and later the era of urban renewal and the construction of the interstate highway system. In short, remembrance design is a way of using architectural discovery as a healing process to unearth, unpack and honor painful histories in neighborhoods that have traditionally been disinvested and neglected—or worse yet, bulldozed and paved over—by the worlds of architecture, urban planning, and real estate. “It’s about engaging people who have historically not been engaged,” Howard said. “First engaging with these communities, there’s a lot of hurt. I once thought to myself you have to go get a psychology degree or something. It’s difficult sometimes to hear. But over time, you realize that the pain a lot of people have, they have to release that, you sort of have to provide an outlet for it. A lot of it at first is just listening.” Howard spoke about how that deep listening process turns architecture into more than just a design process; it elevates architecture into a healing process. It can even make the architect’s job a little easier in the end. Once you move past the pain, Howard said, some participants from the community will actually feel inspired enough to start sketching themselves. “Even if you can’t get people really to talk about something, they can sketch something, they can draw,” Howard said. “It becomes therapeutic in a lot of ways. Once you get passed that threshold you really start moving fast towards design solutions that they’re a part of.” That depth of community engagement resonated with many NOMA members, from Elgemiabby to NOMA National Board Member and SOM senior urban designer Tiara Hughes, whose childhood neighborhood in St. Louis is now a baseball field. “I understand what [Howard] was referring to that there’s trauma and feelings and emotions that we have to deal with collectively as a group,” Hughes told AN. And it certainly resonated with Dowdell, who was partly inspired to become an architect by growing up among vacant homes and boarded-up commercial corridors in Detroit. “The kind of engagement that Zena [Howard] and her team has done or is doing, I think that’s probably standard practice for a lot of architects here [at the conference],” Dowdell said. Dowdell is hopeful that more and more of those kinds of projects will come up as the U.S. and especially its cities become more and more diverse. The U.S. Census Bureau predicts people of color will become a majority in the U.S. by 2043. Dowdell views NOMA’s work as preparing architecture for that future. “We all have to be more conscious of the fact that more and more clients will be people of color, more and more government officials—people with more power,” she said. Of course, in bringing good design to more diverse places that have historically been neglected or harmed by earlier periods of development, the conversation naturally turns to how good design can risk putting new pressure on market conditions, pushing up property taxes or rents and pushing out the very residents who participate in these design processes. Howard brought up the example of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, British Columbia, as one where the residents and elected officials are looking to a community land trust as a policy intervention to protect those residents the project had in mind as end-users. “The thing [Howard] also mentioned, rightly so, was the thing that design can’t solve: the political and economic conditions that need to be grappled with to effectively prevent gentrification and the negative effects of gentrification,” Dowdell said. “I think reinvestment is fine, but I think when it starts to displace people who have had a stake in that community for years, decades, generations, that’s going to be problematic.”
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Goodbye History, Hello Hamburger

Fringe Cities is a poignant study of urban renewal, and its aftermath, in the small-American city
The narrative of mid-century urban renewal is not unfamiliar; under the guise of slum clearance, vast tracts of America's architectural heritage were razed with entire communities (often of color) displaced and warehoused in deleterious expanses of public housing. There is no dearth of imagery or literature stemming from the era, ranging from Jane Jacobs's grassroots campaign against the all-powerful Robert Moses to the implosion of St. Louis's infamous Pruitt-Igoe tower blocks. However, often missing from dialogue on the subject is the integral role that federal policy and financing played in the reshaping of the American city, specifically outside of major metropolitan centers. Opened in early October at New York's Center for Architecture, the MASS Design Group-curated exhibition Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City, is an impressive historical and photographic survey examining the scope and rationale of urban renewal efforts across 100 "fringe" cities—defined as a small urban area with under 150,000 residents located at least 30 miles away from a major metropolitan center, which, are in many circumstances, still attempting to ameliorate conditions cemented by mid-century planning. The exhibition opens with a broad outline of federal urban policy over the course of the ongoing century, roughly beginning with programs associated with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, then the plateau and decline of national funding and policy following Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, and present day's irregular growth cycles, facilitated by lopsided regulation. Strengthening the linear narrative of the timeline is a collection of renderings and illustrations produced by contemporaneous architects and designers depicting idyllic post-clearance scenes, tools to convince a skeptical public of the supposed extensive benefits of urban renewal. The strongest curatorial tool at the initial juncture of the exhibition are aerial images of 42 of the MASS-identified "Fringe Cities," overlaid with blotches of red that highlight areas slated for demolition and reconstruction in the strain of automobile-centric developments and zoning. This method—which is similar to cartography appraising the damage of World War II bombing campaigns—effectively conveys the disproportionate scalar impact such efforts placed on small urban centers, which in many circumstances altered them beyond recognition within the span of a few years. For the purposes of the exhibition, MASS honed in on four specific case studies: Easton, Pennsylvania; Saginaw, Michigan; Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Poughkeepsie, New York. "Being urban in form but offset from more diverse economic centers, these places were particularly ill-equipped to design, administer, and implement meaningful redevelopment strategies, and they were less resilient economically to rebuild in its wake," said MASS Design Group associate Morgan O'Hara. "Urban America was not always as polarized as we see today, and it is an important narrative to understand these changes, and the role of both policy and design decisions in contributing to the disinvestment of these Fringe Cities." If the first floor of the exhibition is geared towards a top-down perspective of urban renewal, the second-half of Fringe Cities brings the topic to street-level with a collection of historic photographs of long lost downtowns juxtaposed with desolate contemporary scenes. One significant inclusion is that of Iwan Baan's extensive imagery from Poughkeepsie. More importantly, MASS effectively dives into the work that grass-roots organizations have done, in lieu of federal, state, or even municipal funding, reversing or at least halting the economic and demographic decline that the selected cities have experienced for decades. On this final note, MASS presents the current urban moment as both a challenge and opportunity for architects and designers that requires community engagement to avoid the pitfalls of heavy-handed planning. O'Hara concluded, "In order to accomplish this, it is imperative that designers reach beyond their precise contracted purview to create effective community partnerships, as an outgrowth of this critical understanding: that designers cannot understand or attend to the full range of local needs without embedded, long term community decision making." Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City Center for Architecture 536 LaGuardia New York, New York Through January 18, 2020
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Midtown West

CetraRuddy's ARO undulates in Midtown with composite aluminum and glass
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New York-based architectural practice CetraRuddy is no stranger to designing residential skyscrapers in Manhattan, with a body of work differing from typical contemporary glass stalagmites thanks to the inclusion of significant swathes of stone and metal. ARO, a slender 62-story tower located in Midtown West that wrapped up this year, continues this trend with a facade of undulating and shifting floorplates clad in a skin of aluminum composite panels and enclosed with tinted float glass. The 540,000-square-foot tower rises from the center of the site to further the distance from the adjacent properties to the east and west, a measure taken to maximize the building's allotted zoning height and overall daylight penetration. DeSimone Consulting Engineers handled the tectonics of the project's structural system. "To adequately support the slender building," said the structural team, "the tower's structural system is comprised of steel columns at the foundational level, reinforced concrete shear walls with flat plate concrete floor slabs, and reinforced concrete columns. Overall, construction utilized 34,000 cubic yards of concrete."
  • Facade Manufacturer BVG Glazing Systems Guardian Glass Alcoa
  • Architect CetraRuddy
  • Facade Installer Ecker Windows
  • Facade Consultant BuroHappold Engineering
  • Structural Engineer DeSimone Consulting Engineers
  • Location Manhattan, New York
  • Date of Completion 2019
  • System Custom system fabricated by BVG Glazing
  • Products Guardian Crystal Grey SN68 Alcoa Reynobond
The structure is just one of the visibly outward elements of the overall design and the floorplates protrude as a series of undulating ribs from the narrow vertical form. Across the four elevations, the structure is key to the articulation of the six different curtain wall modules with differing ledge depths corresponding to the placement of the glass modules. Eighteen-inch-deep, white Reynobond aluminum composite "fenders" cap the floorplates, soffits, break up the floors as thin rectangular columns, and act as integrated solar devices. "The sun is a friend of this building; the sky is reflected in its glass and the metal fender protects from undesirable solar gain and glare," said CetraRuddy. "The projecting undulation captures the sunlight, giving the facade pleasing depth and visual interest." As a result of the tower's shifting floor plates and undulations, the glass modules shift in their alignment from being stacked directly atop one another to a quasi-stepped appearance. Each panel is approximately four feet wide and 11 feet tall, and are fastened to the floor plate with steel embeds. The glass, a tinted float glass produced by Guardian Glass with a remarkably lower heat coefficient than typical coated clear glass, was custom assembled by systems producer BVG Glazing Systems. John Cetra, Founding Principal of CetraRuddy, is co-chairing The Architect's Newspaper's Facades+ NYC conference on April 2 & 3 and will present the ARO in the afternoon panel "Optimizing the Form."