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Spark Something

Portman Architects starts new era with Atlanta's CODA at Tech Square
A 755,000-square-foot tech facility in Atlanta embodies the latest evolution of the city as a hub for innovation and creativity, and also stands as a symbol for the changes happening at the firm behind it. John Portman Architects, newly dubbed Portman Architects, designed CODA at Tech Square in collaboration with Georgia Tech to be a tech hub with one of the largest data centers in the Southeast. It’s no surprise that as the firm transitions into partner-based leadership and new work in tech-centric architecture, it also pushes forward an evolved identity. CEO Jack Portman, son of the late John Portman, told AN that this project is the next big step in the company’s 66-year story. “Each evolution of our firm has been a motivation to create anew,” said Portman. “My father created the super atrium, then modern mixed-use developments, and he was the first to move his firm and work overseas in China. CODA is one of these evolutionary points in our firm’s history. We’re back in Atlanta and looking to advance the future of design.” Portman Architects is currently working on three projects in Midtown Atlanta—north of downtown and east of the university. CODA is the first building completed in what will be the city’s T (tech) Zone. At 21 stories, the glass-clad, L-shaped building features room for 3,500 tech employees, as well as students and faculty, and is designed around a series of six, three-story vertical atriums that connect various wings. One of its defining design moments is the white spiral staircase—the tallest freestanding, helical stair in the world—which links the building’s “Collaboration Core.” According to Luca Maffey, vice president and design director of CODA, the piece of interior infrastructure allows views past the end of the city and it only takes a few minutes to climb to the top. The staircase, which is located right near the facade, also overlooks the grand piazza that cuts through the center of the site. Maffey said this outdoor living room-like space is already attracting people to the building. “Atlanta is known for great, internal and insular spaces, largely thanks to Portman himself,” he said. “CODA really opens up to the public and the streets with this plaza and with its transparency. It’s now a reference point for not only navigating Midtown but it also is a destination in and of itself.” Portman Architects integrated almost 40,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space on the ground floors in order to enhance that indoor-outdoor connectivity. A surprising exterior column that resembles a martini glass extends from the lower levels of the building and punches the plaza below. The entirety of CODA’s lower half also sits in dialogue with a historic, 1920s building on the site. Major design moments such as this elevate what could have been a boxy office structure with a glass curtain wall. Instead, these moves activate the efficiency of the site both in a sustainable aspect and in its circulation. Developed by Portman Holdings (the development company also started by John Portman), CODA is the first project Portman Architects has ever done for Georgia Tech, the largest tenant in the building. Other tech companies are starting to fill in the rest of the spaces, while others are finding a way to be next to CODA, Jack Portman says. “The 1.5 million square feet of expansion happening at tech square is the result of the excitement created by the design of CODA,” he said. The firm recently started construction on the adjacent Anthem Technology Center, which features a cluster of four towers connected at the core. Unlike CODA, not all the atriums will be connected, but the buildings will circle around a staircase that goes up to the top floor. Overall, the architecture is quite different—sections of the structures feature varied materials and textures, while CODA is pinstriped, calm, and elegant, Maffey said. “On the bottom half of the building, we wanted something that was more active and played with the light more,” he said. “The cladding has small folds of silver metal that will interact with the sun as it changes throughout the day.” Portman Architects is currently designing a “sibling” for the Anthem Tech Center which includes another building with three, interlocking facades. All of these high-profile local projects in Tech Square coincide with major changes happening at the firm. “Ten years ago, my father started to think about how his firm would continue to evolve once he stepped down,” Portman told AN. “He then created a partnership that better represented our motivation for working as part of a team, giving credit to everyone involved. The name change also helps differentiate buildings that we design now versus what he worked on.” Along with a new name comes a new visual identity for the firm as well. Portman Architects’ new logo is a six-point star, or a spark, which pays tribute to Portman’s old signature. Maffey noted the spark also alludes to the company’s history sparking change in the field of architecture. He now believes the firm is positioning itself to ignite more innovation in the future. “The firm’s evolution has also been in this crescendo mode,” he said. “Right now the energy in our office is higher, the average age of our employees is younger, and we’re pursuing new technologies to create our architecture. There’s also no singular approach to the way we work, and we’re more collaborative than ever. Everybody here is a Portman Architect.”
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Pop Architecture

Björk enlists Arup engineers to design musical chamber for her latest tour
When I visited Arup’s New York offices, I was taken from the sunlit open areas on the fifth floor, down some stairs, through dark corridors, and into a windowless room with painted dark walls. There was a projector screen, someone by a computer, and a person in all black sitting off to the side. In the center of the room was a black leather swivel chair, semi-orb shaped and raised high. I was invited to sit. I said that the whole thing felt ominous, like I was being interrogated, but given that I was the interrogator in this situation, maybe it should’ve felt more like I was some B-movie villain, looking over some empire through digital screens. But this was no evil lair—this room was Arup's SoundLab, one of many across the firm's global offices, each varying in design but all with identical sound systems and sonic experiences. “Basically, you are currently sitting in a room that uses what's known as an Ambisonic sound system,” explained Raj Patel, the person in all black and a global leader of acoustics. "What the Ambisonic sound system does is it allows you to simulate sound in three dimensions. There's also a measurement technique that allows you to go and measure an existing space, capture its acoustics in three dimensions, and play it back here." It was in rooms like these that experiments were done to create a new sort of architectonic instrument in the form of a reverberation chamber for none other than Icelandic superstar Björk. “[Björk] often described two different voices that she uses for singing,” explained Arup associate and acoustic designer Shane Myrbeck, who had Skyped in from San Francisco to join the meeting. “One is the one she uses on stage, that's through the microphone, through the PA, and that's a specific emotion for her. And then there's the other voice that she uses when she's singing by herself or in a nice acoustic room.” She wanted to bring this latter experience to the stages she’ll be performing at as she travels on her Cornucopia tour, which is organized a bit like a series of theatrical residencies and began with sold-out shows at The Shed earlier this May. While Arup and Björk had been in conversation at multiple points over the past few years, the reverberation chamber was imagined just last year and was designed and built in under six months. “She was very focused on it sounding right first,” Myrbeck recounted. “We often work with architects, so there's a form to study or a palette of forms to study. In this case, our initial question, was ‘Okay, what do you want it to look like?’ And she was like, ‘Don't think of it that way. It needs to sound good first.’” Myrbeck said, “She wanted it to be as reverberant as possible…We kept using words like chapel or alluding to the cathedral-type sound.” However, cathedrals derive their distinctive sound in large part from their sheer volume, something that obviously couldn’t easily be toured across the world and mounted on any given stage. Still, “there are some precedents out there in the world,” explained Myrbeck. “Before they had digital reverbs, they would literally just have these concrete rooms in the basement and put a loudspeaker down there and just send the sound down to these chambers and record that. That was the old reverb effect. And those are pretty small rooms.” Another reference was the large-scale sculpture Tvísöngur, located on Iceland’s east coast. Opened in 2012 and designed by the German artist Lukas Kühne, the installation comprises five large concrete domes that echo the incoming wind at various harmonies. However, both of these examples were made of concrete, an unrealistic material to make a relatively large, but still easily transportable, chamber for stage out of. “[The reverberation chamber] needed to be something that she could tour with,” said Myrbeck. “A lot of the simulations that we did were materials studies.” The team used Rhino models with acoustic software that simulated the known resonances, derived from nearly a century’s worth of data, of different materials, like concrete, acrylic, plaster, and others. Inside these simulated environments the team at Arup used a sample of an isolated vocal track Björk had recorded for them and sent her the various ways it would sound in spaces of various materials and shapes, which she listened to on headphones in her own studio, and later, in a SoundLab. “One of the other things about a small room is that, just due to the size of acoustic waves, you get these very specific resonances in different places,” Myrbeck said. He compared it to the weird sonic effects of singing in your shower. In rooms like the SoundLab, where we met, one of the central design challenges is to minimize those effects in order to create a sort of neutral room that can simulate any space—whether an amphitheater, a train hall, or a small lobby. In the case of designing Björk's reverberation chamber, “it was just about embracing [those resonances] and trying to make them as evocative as possible so that Björk could experiment with those different resonances in the different places that she could stand in the chamber." Rather than eliminating all this sonic unevenness, the goal was to give the singer the power to "activate" it. In the end, Arup and Björk decided on an 16.4-foot-high, just-under 10-foot-wide octagonal structure with flat sides and a vaulted roof of molded plywood. There is one central microphone, while a few others are placed around the top perimeter. The design is modular and can easily be dis- and re-assembled. It also uses common materials: plywood and a plaster composite, about an inch thick, that has a similar density and resonance quality to concrete. These are materials that are easy to repair on the fly (while the roof is molded, the walls are just standard plywood sheets). The automated door and the transparent cutaways are acrylic, about an inch thick, while the floor is plywood and is slightly elevated so that it has its own resonant properties. The reverberation chamber has simple bolted connections that allow it to “be as airtight as possible while still allowing her to breathe freely,” protecting it against acoustic leakage. Björk will even invite inside the shows' flutists, whose own bodies reshape the resonant qualities of the compact chamber. “It's very much an instrument,” Myrbeck said, and serves as a way to literalize emotional shifts in the performance. “I think that one of the exciting things about the design process [with Björk] was her really sophisticated blend of the acoustic and natural and almost ancient tradition—there's not much more ancient than singing; it's one of the oldest forms of expression—and her embracing of the very futuristic, state-of-the-art digital technology," said Myrbeck. "The design process expressed that as well.”
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Re-Imagining the Modern

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

Sister City brings unpretentious hospitality to New York's Lower East Side
"Distilled" is the operative word when describing the new Sister City hotel. The latest offering from the Ace Hotel empire, this new lodging takes on a sober and functional yet comfortable aesthetic that harkens back to simpler times; a welcomed respite from the hustle and bustle of the gritty Lower East Side neighborhood that surrounds it. Though the design of this new boutique hotel draws inspiration from as varied a source as Finnish saunas, Japanese bento boxes, prehistoric rock-cut cliff dwellings, and deconstructivist musician John Cage's seminal and silent 4'33" composition, Sister City's use of lattice-wood wall structures, planes, and build-it furniture pulls it all together. Sharp terrazzo, geometric tile, indoor plants, and white-wall accents make for a striking mise-en-scene. For the full story, head over to our new interiors site, aninteriormag.com.
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1951-2019

John van Duyl, specialist in architecture public relations, passes
John Edwin Temple van Duyl died at home on Friday, May 10, 2019, two months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 67 years old. John was born in Sharon, Connecticut, on October 2, 1951. John’s mother, Winifred “Wini” van Duyl, was an accomplished violinist and painter. She was born in Indonesia to Dutch parents and grew up in Java, in California (for a year as a young girl), in Holland, and in Germany where she studied music and taught violin in Berlin. She spent World War II with her partner, Ellen von Stackelberg, in southeastern Germany after which she emigrated with Ellen to northwestern Connecticut, where they lived on a farm outside Salisbury. After parting ways with Ellen, Wini and John settled in Salisbury, living in the apartment above Thornhill, the unique flower shop that Wini owned and operated for many years. John went to Rumsey Hall School and Salisbury School, studied at Pratt and Vassar, and received his degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. He created and developed a highly successful career with his own public relations firm, Media Sky, promoting architects and interior designers to get their work published. He established productive working relationships with much of the print media for architecture and interior design, and he produced a book, Natural Houses, with Princeton Architectural Press for one of his clients. John was passionate about writing and attended a number of workshops where he began work on a memoir about his mother and his impressions of the remarkable life she and he lived, a life that had a profound effect on him. In his late teens, John learned that his father was Werner von Kuegelgen, an Estonian aristocrat descended from Russian royalty who had been best friends with Ellen Biddle von Stackelberg’s husband. John had an amazing eye for design and art and collected many exquisite paintings and drawings, a number of which were by his mother. John loved classic cars of the 1950s and ‘60s, in particular, American station wagons. He had a collection of original brochures and would incorporate the grand-sounding names of these cars into passwords for his online accounts. He loved jazz, R&B, and folk, and was a serious connoisseur of high-quality audio equipment. John lived in Berkeley, California, for over 40 years before moving to Los Angeles in 2015. He loved his life in California, and he also had a deep fondness for the Northeast, in particular for his home town of Salisbury. Every year he would spend time visiting friends in New York City, the Hamptons, and Connecticut; he often thought about moving back to Salisbury. John shared warm memories about growing up there and of the influential families in his youth. He inherited his intellect, curiosity, and creativity from his mother; his education was in large part made possible by the generosity of families in Salisbury who had great regard for his mother and who recognized John’s potential. John traveled frequently both for business and for his own pleasure; Australia was a favorite destination. A lightning storm early in his childhood launched his life-long fascination with weather and storms. Over a 10-year period, he went on at least a dozen professionally organized storm-chasing tours in the Midwest and witnessed, from a reasonably safe distance, the power of Mother Nature. A legion of friends and business associates will miss John’s spirited engagement in life, his curiosity about the world, his easy generosity, his impeccable courtesy, his great sense of humor, and his deep loyalty to those around him. Through the years John had several serious and important personal relationships. Ken Alan who survives him was a kind, dedicated, and loving partner for John’s time in Los Angeles, and was a tireless caregiver in the last months of John’s life. Friends will organize events celebrating John in the next several months. If you wish to honor him you are encouraged to do so by donating to a cause or charity important to you.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Screen

SHoP’s Pier 35 folds industrial materials into an East River habitat
Pier 35, the latest addition to Manhattan’s waterfront and yet another nod to the industrial heritage of the city’s waterways, is now open to the public just in time for spring. SHoP Architects, together with landscape architecture studio Ken Smith Workshop, have dropped a folded, zigzagging landscape intervention on the eastern edge of Lower Manhattan, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. The pier-park’s most striking feature is the 35-foot-tall, 300-foot-long metal screen that both backdrops the park’s landscape as well as hides the Sanitation Department shed at the adjacent Pier 36. As the screen moves eastward and approaches the water’s edge, it rises on weathered Cor-ten steel panels, ultimately bending to create a raised and covered “porch,” complete with swings. A wavey esplanade runs alongside the landscaped lawns and a series of artificial dunes up to the porch, mirroring the sinuous curves of the screen. The underpass of FDR Drive connects with the pier at “Mussel Beach,” a micro-habitat that SHoP and Ken Smith designed in collaboration with ecologist Ron Alaveras. The urban “beach” seeks to recreate the historic conditions of the East River and foster mussel growth, similar to the work being done by the Billion Oyster Project. The 65-foot-long beach’s precast slopes and outcroppings are exposed and submerged as the East River rises and falls, mirroring the tidal conditions that mussels require “in the wild.” Mussel Beach was made possible through a grant from the New York Department of State’s Division of Coastal Resources, as it’s a prototypical environment that, if successful, could be replicated elsewhere. Although Pier 35 was launched with a soft opening in mid-December, the canopy and plants have sprung up just in time for Earth Day 2019.
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Make Way for Ducklings?

Slow streets proposed for New York's Financial District
Now that the New York State government has decided that the busiest areas of Manhattan will have congestion pricing to discourage auto traffic (scheduled to take effect in 2021 for areas below 60th street), there are efforts to provide even more incentives to leave the island to bikers, mass transit, and pedestrians. One prominent example is a study commissioned by the Financial District Neighborhood Association (FDNA) titled “Make Way for Lower Manhattan.” This historic Dutch area of the city has long needed a sensible plan to control traffic on its narrow streets and lanes, but the city’s previous efforts (in 1966, 2010, and 2018) did not come to fruition. FDNA President Patrick Kennell hopes that this time things will be different. His study notes that the area has grown in population, owing mainly to the conversion of office towers to residential uses after 9/11. There are now 75,000 residents of the downtown area and over 300,000 daily office workers who regularly commute to and from the financial district. In addition, tourism has exploded, with more than 14 million visitors per year filling the small streets and waterfront. The new plan proposes a “Slow Street District” extending east-west from Broadway to Water Street and north-south from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park. Using bridge-traffic diversion, wider sidewalks, lighting, and other measures successfully implemented in cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Barcelona, the planners believe that vehicular traffic can be significantly reduced and pedestrian traffic increased. The plan’s before-and-after illustrations portray cobblestone streets full of tourists enjoying cafes and shops while people watching. Will such measures, along with less on-street parking and increased late night garbage collection, finally make lower Manhattan safe for pedestrians and the occasional feathered flock? Stone Street and Maiden Lane have seen many changes, and they can wait for a few more.
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Move It Move It

The Shed opens this Friday—take a sneak peek now
After 11 years and two mayoral administrations, The Shed (now just the name of the administering arts center, with the physical structure housing the organization having been renamed The Bloomberg Building) is nearly ready to open. On April 5, this Friday, the public will finally get to venture inside Manhattan’s newest, and largest, cultural institution. As Hudson Yards welcomes the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group–designed multidisciplinary arts center, much has been written about the building’s central, inescapable feature. The 120-foot-tall outer shell, clad in ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) “pillows,” can extend out from the base building when needed for larger performances, covering the public plaza and creating the 17,000-square-foot, climate-controlled McCourt space. When the shell is rolled back, the 20,000-square-foot outdoor plaza can be used for open-air performances. Art is even part of the very ground below, as artist Lawrence Weiner has embedded IN FRONT OF ITSELF in 12-foot-high letters using colored pavers throughout the plaza. As Elizabeth Diller and David Rockwell have repeatedly described, The Shed was conceived with maximum flexibility in mind. The comparisons and claims of inspiration from Cedric Price’s unrealized, constantly changing 1964 Fun Palace have been overt, whether rightly or wrongly. Either way, there’s no contesting that the space represents a blank space for artists to call their own. “I see the building as an ‘architecture of infrastructure,’ all muscle, no fat,” said Diller, “and responsive to the ever-changing needs of artists into a future we cannot predict. Success for me would mean that the building would stand up to challenges presented by artists, while challenging them back in a fruitful dialogue.” Four stories of programming live inside the eight-level base building. Floors two and four hold a combined 25,000 square feet of gallery spaces without columns and with 19-foot-tall ceilings. From April 6 through June 2, the second level gallery will display Reich Richter Pärt, a combination of choir songs from composer Steve Reich set against tapestries and wallpaper, some of them room-spanning, from artist Gerhard Richter. Swinging glass doors on the eastern walls of each gallery can open them up to the McCourt, allowing the venue to add additional seating when necessary. The sixth floor holds the Kenneth C. Griffin Theater, an 11,700-square-foot black box space with a 500-seat capacity. The theater can also be split in two to host smaller shows. On the top floor are the Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights, a wide, multipurpose section that affords one of the few views towards the rest of Hudson Yards, including a prominent view of Vessel. The open area features 9,500-square-feet of flexible event space, the 1,700-square-foot Tisch Lab for local artists, and a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space. The two namesake skylights provide the entire floor with plenty of natural light, making up for the difference in ceiling heights found throughout the rest of the building—the eighth floor’s ceiling is noticeably lower. Hints of the building’s superstructure and its transforming shell are ever-present. The Bloomberg Building’s central set of scissoring escalators run parallel with the glass curtain wall and affords ample views of the shell, and the bent seam where the shell meets the adjoining tower. Inside the McCourt, the steel diagrid underpinning the ETFE facade reveals itself, creating a vastly different experience than viewing the building from outside. The High Line runs level with the windows on the second floor, reinforcing the connection to the park, strangely minimizing the feeling that the building is part of Hudson Yards proper. The Shed opens on April 5 with Soundtrack of America, a five-night concert series conceived and directed by Steve McQueen that celebrates the worldwide impact of African American music. The full lineup is available on The Shed’s website, here.
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Will We All Float on Alright?

OCEANIX and BIG unveil a floating city of the future at the United Nations
The UN has just unveiled a floating city. Or, at least a framework for how floating cities will be built. Throughout the 2010s, a certain set of statistics found their way into every article about urbanism. You know them. They said that a certain percent of people would live in cities by a certain year; “68% of the world's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050,” according to a recent UN statistic. However, it’s barely the 2010s anymore! The new hot stat for the 2020s was used today by the UN to switch gears and justify exploring the possibility of building floating cities:
By 2030, approximately 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities that are exposed to grave economic, social, and environmental pressures. Further, approximately 90 percent of the largest global cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels. Out of the world’s 22 megacities with a population of more than 10 million, 15 are located along the ocean’s coasts.
Serious stuff, all discussed at today’s high-level round table in New York hosted by UN-Habitat, the UN’s coalition on affordable and sustainable housing, along with the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, the Explorers Club, and OCEANIX, a group investing in floating cities on this new marine frontier. Bjarke Ingels of BIG—architects of the "Dryline" around lower Manhattan—unveiled his design for a prototypical floating city today, which would be made out of mass timber and bamboo. This proposal would be “flood proof, earthquake-proof, and tsunami-proof,” according to Marc Collins Chen, co-Founder and CEO of OCEANIX. The renderings show a series of modular hexagonal islands with a productive landscape, where bamboo grown on the “islands” could be used to make glulam beams. BIG envisions the cities as zero-waste, energy-positive and self-sustaining. The necessary food to feed the population would be grown on the islands. BIG has put toether a kit of parts for each part of the man-made ecosystem: a food kit of parts, a waste kit of parts. Each island would be prefabricated onshore and towed to its location in the archipelago. What would living on one of these islands be like? "All of the aspects of human life would be accommodated," according to Ingels. They would dedicate seven islands to public life, including a spiritual center, a cultural center, and a recreation center. "It won't be like Waterworld. Its another form of human habitat that can grow with its success." Oceanix City, as it is called, features mid-rise housing around a shared, green public space where agriculture and recreation co-exist. Underground greenhouses are embedded in the “hull” of the floating city, while in the sky, drones would buzz by with abandon. The systems on each city would be connected, where waste, food, water, and mobility are connected. Because the cities are towable, they can be moved in the event of a weather event.  Land reclamation (creating new land by pouring sand in the ocean) is no longer seen as sustainable, as it uses precious sand resources and causes coastal areas to lose protective wetlands and mangroves. Could floating cities be the way forward for expanding our cities as we deal with the consequences of climate change and sea-level rise?  According to the coalition, “Sustainable Floating Cities offer a clean slate to rethink how we build, live, work, and play…They are about building a thriving community of people who care about the planet and every life form on it.” Doesn't this sound a lot like the Seasteading Institute, the infamous group of libertarian utopianists who want to break away from land and society altogether? For Collins, his floating infrastructure is less ideological, and more about infrastructure technology. These floating cities would be positioned near protected coastal areas, less ocean-faring pirate states and more extensions of areas threatened by rising sea levels. "These cities have to be accessible to everyone. We can't build broad support for this without populist thinking," said Richard Wiese, the president of the Explorers Club. The first prototypes will start small, even though they are thinking big. The 4.5-acre pods will house 300 people, while the goal is to scale the system by repeating the unit until the city can hold 10,000 people. Can floating cities be more sustainable and affordable than building on land? Would they only be for the rich? Would they be self-sufficient? Would they prevent climate gentrification and curb climate migration? Or, as has been the case in the past, will the idea prove too expensive to actually build?
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New UFO

Artist and designer Leeroy New brings his aliens to New York City
Filipino artist and designer Leeroy New has created a fluorescent installation in Pintô International's new gallery space in New York City's East Village. After a two-week residency in February 2019, New created the sculptures along with multi-colored costumes that performers have donned while traipsing around Lower Manhattan. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony has a sort of psychedelic, fungal look, as though prosaic objects had somehow mutated into funky new lifeforms. Both the sculptures and the costumes are made of cheap plastic home goods and fabrication supplies like zip ties and fiberglass strips. The photos of performers on the street are part of the artist's broader Aliens of Manila project that "speaks to the wider experience of cultural displacement but is profoundly informed by the artist’s own familial experience with the phenomenon of what he refers to as 'OFW'—Overseas Filipino Workers." The photos show people in the costumes popping against the backdrop of day-to-day activity in New York City. Pintô International is the new space from the Phillippines-based Pintô Art Museum, a museum that collects and exhibits the work of many prominent local artists. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony marks the launch of a quarterly exhibition schedule, an artist residency, and a monthly Pintô Sessions event series. Aliens of Manila: New York Colony Pintô International 431 East 12th Street, New York, New York Through May 27, 2019
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Hope for Better Things

Utile envisions a grand, new future for Detroit's Eastern Market
Detroit is often referred to as an example of a city in which citizen effort and innovative design in certain areas have increased the standard of living, despite the city's overall struggles. The Eastern Market district is an example of such uplift. In the five long, 19th-century "sheds" along Russell Street, cafés, local farmer-vendors, jewelers, and Coney Island–style hot dog stands now flank the corridors. Murals on brick brighten up the exterior walls. Jazz musicians and Motown singers play music for guests every Saturday when the markets are at their liveliest. Outside the sheds, there are local coffee companies, clinics, restaurants, and grocery stores. In recent years, the space, a 24-acre plot in the heart of Detroit, has been dramatically revitalized. The bustling marketplaces reflect this. However, it is clear that more effort is needed to make the most of the possibilities the district offers. Today, the Eastern Market's historic core requires both structural and environmental updates. Additionally, an increasing number of visitors means the sheds and surrounding businesses require expansions. In a group effort by the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, the Eastern Market Corporation, and the Nature Conservancy, Boston-based firm Utile, Inc., and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) have been commissioned to lay out a comprehensive framework for the district and the surrounding neighborhood. In doing so, the district hopes to become a larger center for food distribution. Further goals involve becoming a high-tech hub in order to present more opportunities for employment. Tim Love, principal at Utile, spoke to The Architect's Newspaper about the challenges, plans, and aspirations for the project. The Architect's Newspaper: What were the guidelines for the project and the issues present that the client wants to solve?  Tim Love: The project has two separate but related focus areas: the historic core of the market, centered on the market sheds, and an area targeted for the expansion of food industry businesses to the north and east of the existing market district. The expansion of the market is necessitated by new federal food regulations triggered by the 2011 Food Safety Modernization Act and the desire by the City of Detroit to retain and expand the job opportunities provided by the food industry. The plan for the market expansion area required the thoughtful integration of an industrial real estate development strategy with a centralized stormwater management plan. As a result, the Utile/MVVA team needed to test alternative food business building prototypes and the network of open spaces that threaded between the buildings. The design problem was complicated by the need to provide truck access to the food businesses while screening the truck aprons from non-industrial uses on the boundaries of the expanded food industry district. The final recommended urban design strategy, conceived at the block scale, weaves together industrial buildings, stormwater greenways, truck aprons, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets, and live/work building types. The net result is an urbanism that acknowledges the need for large-footprint, truck-dependent buildings, but organizes them in a way that makes for a more environmental-friendly and walkable district. The plan for the core market area meets related but slightly different goals. In this case, the preservation of the market sheds and the funky building fabric on the blocks to the east and west of the sheds were identified as a cultural as much as a historic resource. As a result, a set of design guidelines were developed that encourage developers to preserve the existing buildings while allowing for penthouse additions of three to four stories above. To reinforce the existing ad hoc character of the district, we decided to embrace the mismatched stacking of contrasting architectural expressions rather than encourage a more canonical restoration of the historic fabric. Along the Dequindre Cut and Gratiot Avenue, where less of the historic fabric survives, dense residential mixed-use development is proposed. An increase in the local residential population will enliven the public realm, especially in the evening, when Eastern Market is mostly deserted. The twist, in this case, is that fabrication and light manufacturing spaces are encouraged on the ground floor rather than retail. The goal is to encourage smaller-scale food and fabrication businesses that complement the larger-scale facilities being planning in the market expansion area. In addition, favoring fabrication spaces over retail will help steer retail businesses closer to the market sheds, where food-focused retail already benefits from the busy public market. Our team is still working with the city to determine how our plan will be implemented, both in the short- and long-term. Certainly, zoning regulations will be one tool that will be used to shape future private investment. AN: What is the current state of the Eastern Market neighborhood, and where does your team envision it being when your design has been implemented? How will your team’s designs impact Detroit on a city-wide scale? TL: Today, Eastern Market neighborhood is an island of walkable urban fabric within a larger landscape of vacant parcels and auto-centric uses. The economy of the market core is defined by symbiotic relationships between food production, distribution, and retail businesses in close proximity to one another and in connection with larger supply chains. Our goal is to extend the district to accommodate the needs of the modern food industry while introducing a mix of uses that reinforce the public realm and increase both the daytime and evening population. The expansion of the market district will also increase the number of food industry jobs, important in a city where the largest areas of job growth have been in the customer service and retail sectors. The industrial buildings that surround the historic market sheds are not suitable for modern food processing and fabrication. Their floor plates are too small, and their ceilings are too low. And even if they were adequate in size, modern food safety codes make the buildings prohibitively expensive to renovate. To answer the need for modernization, a market expansion area was identified directly to the north and east of the core market where new larger state-of-the-art industrial building can be accommodated. As existing businesses move or expand into new facilities in the expansion area, the core market buildings can be renovated to support a mix of uses, including retail, commercial-office, loft residential, and smaller-scale food startups. New multi-floor rooftop additions are allowed per the design guidelines developed as part of the plan. The additions will increase density in the district and will cross-subsidize the rehabilitation of the lower floors. The expanded market area will both keep existing businesses from leaving the area and will attract new food industry businesses to Detroit. Preserving and enhancing the economic engine of Eastern Market not only creates jobs and generates revenue for the city, but also a strategy for maintaining an authentic working market district. AN: How has the community been involved in the design process? What are some of the features of the final design that allow for and encourage community engagement? TL: We partnered with the City of Detroit and City Form Detroit, a local urban design and planning firm, to craft a comprehensive engagement strategy. The process included well-attended open houses hosted by the city that included short presentations, informal break-out sessions, and visual survey activities. As a sign of the city’s ownership of the process and emerging plan, representatives from the city and the Detroit Economic Growth Council gave the presentations and not members of our team; the first time one of our public agency clients has owned the content early in the planning process!