Search results for "train stations"

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Byford Goes Bye-Bye

Andy Byford resigns as head of NYC’s subways
Andy Byford, president of MTA New York City Transit, has quit. The British transportation expert was hired to turn around the city’s ailing subway system in January of 2018 after pulling off a similar feat at the Toronto Transit Commission. Now it seems that clashes between Byford and Governor Andrew Cuomo have reportedly led to the former’s departure. The system did improve markedly under Byford’s tenure. On January 20, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) released the latest update on its Subway Action Plan, demonstrating improvements in station and track cleanliness, a 10,000-delay-a-month reduction for the fourth month in a row, and an on-time performance rate of 72.6 percent, the highest in four years. Still, despite all of the tangible benefits of his work, this isn’t even the first time Byford has resigned from the MTA; he briefly quit and then rejoined the agency last October. The friction between Byford and the Governor had reached an all-time high and Byford claims that he was being forced to organize conferences at transportation conferences at the Governor’s behest, rather than doing his job. That came after Governor Cuomo swooped in last January to preempt Byford’s 15-month plan to shut down L Train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn for repairs to the Canarsie Tunnel with his own preferred alternative. According to the New York Times, Byford and Cuomo didn’t speak for four months after that, though relations had seemingly thawed since then. Byford’s announcement that he was leaving came during an MTA board meeting earlier today, and even his staff reportedly only learned it was happening through Politico. Immediately afterward, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took to Twitter to try to woo Byford back, trying to kickstart the “#BringAndyBack” hashtag and calling his departure a crisis. So, farewell to the transportation official that railfans were so enamored with that they nicknamed him the “Rail Daddy.” He’ll live on as long as the MTA continues to run in-station ads for its new OMNY contactless fare system; Byford lent his dulcet voice to an audio announcement about the upgrade that has been running since January 7.
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Get Low, Low, Low

Chicago's Lakeview Low-Line makes infrastructure pop

Location: Chicago Design consultants: PORT Urbanism Decorative stone: Lake Street Supply Crushed granite pathway: Kafka Granite Planters: Planterworx Custom cubbies: Landscape Forms Light boxes: Landscape Forms Fixtures and fittings: Studio 431

PORT Urbanism designed Chicago’s Lakeview Low-Line to be a community art space. When the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce drafted its master plan in 2012, among its top priorities was developing the underutilized right-of-way and Chicago Transit Authority maintenance path along the city’s “L” tracks between the Southport and Paulina stations on the Brown Line. Working with the manufacturer Landscape Forms’ Studio 431, PORT created a series of bright yellow rectangular boxes, or “cubbies,” as a new take on public furnishing.

The carved-out forms of the Low-Line’s cubbies take cues from the interiors of the “L” train cars and the shape of the tracks overhead. The transit system had more than just an aesthetic influence; the cubbies needed to be movable for track repair and the possibility of excavation to rebuild the train structure’s column footings. The custom furniture rethinks durability, access, and comfort while accommodating a range of programs.

The Low-Line was designed to create a lively place for commuters, residents, and tourists to enjoy public art. It includes a picnic table, a vendor booth-cum-bar, and two cantilevered cubbies that frame the entry made of powder-coated steel exteriors and slatted ipe wood interiors. Power is integrated into the cubbies for controlled access by vendors and musicians. Studio 431 also manufactured easily replaceable panels and tamper-resistant fasteners to account for wear and tear. The first phase of the half-mile-long art walk and garden opened to the public in 2018 as a celebration of the neighborhood’s culture and is part of a larger project that aims to encourage use of the L and other mass transit lines as a sustainable alternative to driving.

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Light at the End of the Tunnel

2019 Best of Design Awards winners for Lighting — Outdoor
2019 Best of Design Award winner for Lighting — Outdoor: Lightweave Lighting Designer: FUTUREFORMS Location: Washington, D.C. Lightweave is located north of Union Station in Washington, D.C., in a neglected underpass for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles beneath the tracks of one of the busiest railway stations in the United States. The project stitches two neighborhoods together with light. A woven structure of steel and luminaires creates a serpentine chandelier hovering above the sidewalk. The artwork moves people through the otherwise dark underpass and creates an illuminated, dynamic, ever-changing path for them to traverse. Its illumination responds to the vibration of the train tracks above, giving residents and commuters a sense of the cadence of the infrastructure and a reading into the ebb and flow of urban life. Client: NoMa Parks Foundation Structural Engineer: Endrestudio Interaction Consultant: Maramoja Electrical Contractor: M.C. Dean LED: Neon Flex
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The Emerald City

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson talks Facades+ and the future of Seattle
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On December 6, The Architect's Newspaper is returning to Seattle for the third year in a row in a dialogue of the architectural trends, technologies, and materials reshaping the Seattle metropolitan area. Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a national firm with a significant presence in Seattle, is co-chairing the conference. Panels for the morning symposium will discuss the complex geometries of the Temple of Light, the GNW Pavillion, and The Mark; the longstanding collaboration between Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Su Development, and Morrison Hershfield in the design and construction of residential towers in Bellvue, Washington; and the future of fenestration technology. The second half of the conference occurs in the afternoon and will feature intensive workshops. Participants for the conference symposium and workshops include Arup, Blackcomb Facade Technology, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Eckersley O'Callaghan, Green Facades, Robert McNeel and Associates, Microsol Resources, Morrison Hershfield, Office 52, Olson Kundig, Su Development, Walter P Moore, and ZGF Architects. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, BCJ's associate principal Patreese Martin and principal Robert Miller, the conference co-chairs, discuss their firm's ongoing projects, the symposium panel "Optimizing Residential Design: Pursuing a Housing Model for the Seattle Area," and the overall architectural direction of Seattle and its impact on the conference program. AN: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is one of the leading architectural practices in the United States. What are you currently working on and what can we expect to see in the next few years? Patreese Martin and Robert Miller: Our days are filled with opportunities at widely varying scales with Brio and Yesler High Rise Towers, University of Puget Sound Welcome Center, two fire stations for the Bellevue Fire Department, and even a 200 square foot Studio Cabin in Point Roberts. We are experimenting with methods of documentation, component design, and physically assisting with construction of the tiny studio to train staff and remind ourselves of the nuances of materials and tolerances and the decisions that occur in the field despite anyone’s best efforts to pre-think and document. Through ongoing discussions, we look forward to incorporating lessons learned to improve value and design of larger projects. We believe this attention to detail and mentoring will continue to advance our work on the diverse range of project typologies we are involved with such as makerspaces, high-rises (including Social Good Components/ Urban Interface), single-family residential, and food and beverage. As we continue to find new methods of optimizing processes, such as integrating technologies such as cloud scans, we will leverage current and new technologies to make more specific architecture and experiences for the users. While there is no substitute for intuition and creativity, the balance of rigor and process will result in consistently powerful solutions for our clients. One of the panels, "Optimizing Residential Design: Pursuing a Housing Model for the Seattle Area," focuses on your long-term collaboration with Su Development. What can we expect from this presentation and discussion? BCJ has leveraged collaboration to develop the strongest work possible and unique to each project's circumstance. This team’s collaboration is a stellar example where we were brought into a new building typology with little direct experience and through our strengths in innovation, problem solving, and principles of design we were able to rethink the kit of parts to develop a fresh language for high rises. I believe this will be a fascinating discussion with a client who is the owner, developer, and general contractor. Together we are reconsidering many components of his projects and the window wall exemplifies the benefit of this process. The discussion will focus on our combined experiences of rethinking standard components and processes to achieve iconic creative solutions and superior value. The Seattle metropolitan area continues to experience a tremendous level of growth. What do you perceive to be the most interesting trends in the area today, and how do you perceive the Facades+ program ties into those trends? The unprecedented growth in Seattle has led to increased interest and support for design quality, social quality, and innovation. The diversity of companies locating in the region is also leading to better collaborations across disciplines and within our own. To develop these opportunities further it will require new methods, from liability agreements to effective communication of information including modeling data communicated direct to a shop for fabrication. One intriguing example is the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) which could positively impact the methodologies of programming and information gathering and we have a fascination with its potential. This could become a very powerful tool to find efficiencies in the construction and performance of architectural components such as the facade of a building. Incorporating data regarding environmental conditions, user interfaces, intelligent glass, and cloud-scan information to capture views and context, it is quite possible the power of AI could dramatically alter our abilities to fine-tune the skin of a project. A well-developed AI tool could greatly benefit the advancement of aesthetic, energy efficiency, and occupants' comfort, leading to a whole new frontier of facade development. Further information regarding Facades+ Seattle can be found here.  
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Upstream Publicolor

At-risk teens get critiqued by top architects during Publicolor’s Summer Design Studio
On October 1st, the nonprofit Publicolor hosted its annual Summer Design Studio critique at their Manhattan office. The middle and high school students were tasked with reinventing the hospital experience as their design problem and developed solutions (at a variety of scales) to address the needs of nurses, physicians, patients, and families. The students were joined by a distinguished jury of New York City architects, designers, and artists including Thomas Phifer, Jonathan Marvel, and Kitty Hawks. The Summer Design Studio (SDS) is a seven-week work-study program where at-risk teens focus on literacy and math through the lens of design, while also taking S.A.T. prep classes at Pratt Institute and engaging in community service activities. The goal of the program is to prepare students to return to school in the fall with a head start, as recent research shows that low-income students who don’t have access to organized activities actually lose about two months of reading achievement over the summer. This loss adds up over the course of their education. The projects exhibited ranged from an urban farm to keep patients in the geriatric ward active and healthy, to a fully coded app that free's patients from paperwork by digitally sending your encrypted information ahead of time while you drive to the hospital of your choice. Some proposals were to the scale of an individual body, such as the “the stepper upper,” a pull-out step stool that allows children to step on to reach the sinks in pediatric departments. Others were more at an urban scale, including a medical pop-up in subway stations to aid those who get sick on the train. Eighth-grader Mariana, said of her urban farm design: "We had to do research on incurable diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia and we had found out something called the mind diet, which is basically a bunch of fruits, vegetables, and nuts that have vitamins, minerals, and enzymes that could help prevent the diseases." The group’s project description explains further: the wheelchair-accessible garden allows residents to participate in caring for the garden, feeding the fish, caring for the worms, and making a difference in the lives of all the patients in the hospital. Publicolor’s founder, Ruth Lande Shuman, said of the program’s success, "This was a stellar summer for our 110 struggling students who grew enormously both socially and emotionally, learned a lot of technical and computer skills (including Rhino), and developed the self-confidence to speak with poise about their work." A full list of the critics is as follows:
Thomas Phifer, Architect; Jean Phifer, Architect; Henry Myerberg, Architect; Robert DiMauro, Lifestyle Commentator; Kitty Hawks, Interior Designer; Lily Gunn Townsend, VP Collection, Michael Kors; Michael Shuman, Architect; Tom Geismar, Graphic Designer; Jonathan Marvel, Architect; Tucker Wiemeister, Industrial Designer; Peter Ragonetti, Industrial Designer; Hannah Bruce, Artist; George Ranalli, Architect
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On the Arup

Arup’s new Downtown Los Angeles office is more than an expansion
For over a decade, the Los Angeles offices of multinational engineering firm Arup were housed within a standalone 38,000-square-foot space in Playa Vista, an affluent yet sleepy neighborhood in West L.A. As the years passed, several factors drew the firm closer to the East side of town. “When we moved to Playa Vista,” explained Arup principal and Los Angeles Group Leader Jim Quiter, “many of our clients were on the Westside. Over the years, many of them have moved downtown. It’s also sort of the center of our industry.” In response to the locations of their client base, as well as the growth of their own workforce and a desire to be close to the city’s public transportation system, Arup traded in its Playa Vista space this Spring for the 18th, 19th and 20th floors of the 73-story Wilshire Grand in Downtown Los Angeles. Encompassing 66,000 square feet, nearly twice the amount of its former space, Arup’s move reflected the biggest lease in Southern California of 2018. But Arup decided to make much more of the move than a simple expansion. Designed in collaboration with Bestor Architecture, SmithGroup, and Mata Construction, the new space is full of features to create the optimal working environment for its roughly 290 employees while leaving plenty of room for immersive demonstrations to educate visiting clients about their projects. With all of the working spaces situated along the perimeter of each floor in an open-plan style, every desk receives more than ample sunlight throughout the majority of the working day. The west facade receives so much sunlight that Arup developed, designed, and installed a custom 'interior light shelf'—a drywall device suspended from the ceiling designed to shield workstations from direct sunlight by diffusing it throughout the entire space from above. This and other alterations to the space make electric illumination unnecessary for at least half of the day, as well as drastically reducing the need for air-conditioning. Following a vote among Arup staff members, flexible workstations were developed with an emphasis on ergonomics and personal preference. While every employee has their own personal sit-stand desk, they also have the option of taking their work to the diner-like booths near the core, the smaller, café-like tables near the windows, or even the “living rooms” that occupy a sizable space on each floor. Gender-neutral bathrooms, a fully-equipped Nursing Mothers Room, and a wellness room also go a long way to make Arup’s employees feel taken care of. Additionally, Bestor Architecture designed three unique wallpapers to wrap each elevator core, which were abstractly inspired by the oceans, forests, and deserts of California. Perhaps the office’s most impressive feature is its SoundLab, a fully immersive audio and visual environment sealed off from the rest of the office in a structurally independent box. The walls of the room are embedded with sophisticated audio equipment which can provide accurate simulations of existing or speculative spaces to help engineers and their clients make educated design decisions. A seven-minute demonstration reveals that it can be used to design, for instance, a system for reducing noise in a NYC subway station, a sound buffering wall between a playground and a train track, and even an entire architecture pavilion with an emphasis on sound art. An open house was held on October 1 to celebrate the new space, which included even more design simulation tools, including a Motion Platform, an augmented reality station and a series of virtual reality presentations using Oculus Go headsets.
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Fat Pockets

The MTA proposes its largest capital plan ever
Signal modernization, line extensions, and upgraded subway cars may not sound like riveting headline news, but the recently released blockbuster $51.5 billion Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) budget proposal is targeting the woeful state of New York City's public transportation network. If approved, the MTA’s 2020-2024 capital plan projects a 70 percent jump in funding from the previous budget cycle.  The capital plan was proposed on the heels of major criticisms of the city’s subway system. In 2017, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the subway system after an A train derailed in upper Manhattan. Other common complaints included delayed service, overcrowded cars, and sweltering platform temperatures. Accordingly, well over half of the funds have been allocated for the subway system alone.  The program made major promises to MTA riders, including faster service, 70 new ADA accessible stations, and the completion of the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway. More specifically, the capital plan committed to modernizing signaling for 50 percent of passengers by reaching 11 train lines, and a total of 80 miles in track replacement. The transit system could also see sweeping upgrades like 1,900 new subway cars, 2,400 new buses, and over $4 billion spent for station renewals.  The capital plan would require billions of dollars worth of concerted federal, state, and local funding. The plan asked for $3 billion in federal funds for the Second Avenue Subway alone, which President Trump has already tweeted his support for, seemingly unprompted (Governor Cuomo was puzzled and denied reaching an agreement with the federal government). Another $3 billion is expected each from state and city authorities. While Cuomo has already committed to sending the state funding, the Governor and Mayor Bill de Blasio have notoriously disagreed over who is responsible for paying for the subway’s state of disrepair. The capital plan faces a lengthy approval process, including an upcoming MTA Board review and a review by the Capital Program Review Board. A major portion of the funding, $15 billion, is expected to be generated from the newly approved, but yet to be implemented, congestion pricing in parts of Manhattan. 
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Commuter Consumers

Gare du Nord expansion critics speak out over commercializing the train station
“Indecent,” “absurd,” and “unacceptable”—these are a few of the adjectives used by Jean Nouvel and other architects and urban planners to denounce new plans for the Gare du Nord train station renovation in Paris. Proposed by S.N.C.F Gares & Connextions, the expansion of the largest train station in Europe by 1.2 million square feet would focus heavily on duty-free mall-like commercial development targeting suburban R.E.R commuters.  While the proposed transformation is not very different from other train station trends, from the Gare Saint-Lazare renovation to London’s Liverpool Street Station, the size and scope of this project have hit a sore spot for the French public. Nouvel and others wrote and signed on to an open letter published in this Tuesday’s edition of Le Monde outlining their objections. As a city that prides itself on the beauty and vivacity of its historic monuments, any alteration on the scale of the Gare du Nord prompts scrutiny, as the city fabric becomes more and more consumer and profit-oriented.  Bernard Landau, a former deputy director of urban planning at the city of Paris, told The New York Times that “it all goes into one question. Should we transform all train stations into shopping malls?”  The plans were described as “primarily for the daily commuters, the millions of users of the R.E.R. and the suburban trains,” by Claude Solard, chief executive of S.N.C.F. in the same article. Yet these commuters, who reside in the affluent suburbs of Paris, like Versailles, are often hurrying through, going from point A to B—yet the plans were proposed to be beneficial for those who have more time to use the added “amenities.” The extant Gare du Nord has been criticized heavily in the past for its hour-long delays, and passengers won’t be appeased in the face of cancellations by having more boutiques to browse.  In addition, opponents to the plan have pointed out that the added shops will increase the pressure suburban malls and retail are already feeling, making it more difficult to attract customers.  The open letter is a new chapter in what has been an ongoing debate amongst architects and urban planners in Europe: What should a modern train station look like? A coworking space and fitness facilities are also included in the proposals, which is scheduled to begin construction in early 2020.  As the city eyes the 2024 Summer Olympics, the Gare du Nord is poised to be a major player in moving people from the Charles de Gaulle airport as well as around the city to various events, in addition to being the termination point of the international high-speed Eurostar rail service. It is not a radical idea that station planning should be focused on pedestrian flow, efficient movement, and timely departures. While an expansion and modernization of the transit hub is called for, Parisian planners are demanding that the project's priorities should be shifted and that the designers should “rethink from floor to rafters.”
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New Nexus

WXY and city will reimagine Brooklyn’s Broadway Junction

In an ongoing effort to reimagine the transit nexus at Broadway Junction in East New York and its surrounding built environment, officials in Brooklyn have released preliminary ideas of what the area could look like. City leaders convened the Broadway Junction Working Group for the first time in October 2017 and, working with WXY Architecture + Urban Design, have since assembled a list of recommendations for improvements to the area in terms of transit equity, economic development, neighborhood amenities, and public space. With a series of interconnected subway stations that services the A, C, J, Z, and L lines, the area presents a significant opportunity to provide, as the recommendations suggest, “more good jobs, new retail and services, and active streets and public spaces—with an improved and accessible transit hub at its core.”

Currently, Broadway Junction suffers from a variety of factors that inhibit its potential as a hub of economic and social activity. Poor lighting under the elevated subway structures, as well as numerous parking lots in the immediate vicinity of the stations, make the surrounding blocks particularly hostile to people. With the integration of seating, greenery, public programming, and new infrastructural elements under the tracks, city officials and WXY hope to open up Broadway Junction’s public spaces for use by residents of the surrounding communities.

Overall, the plan calls for a mixed-use district that responds to the needs of the neighborhood without risking the widespread displacement of small businesses and residents that often accompanies major transit-related development projects. With the resources of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) at their disposal, business owners will be able to take advantage of commercial tenant legal services, business training courses, and other services. There will also be an effort to render the streetscape safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike. Improvements to road circulation and various traffic-calming measures will ensure that those who drive, take transit, or walk in the area will be able to interact under less dangerous conditions. The subway stations at the junction will also be retrofitted to be more accessible to passengers with disabilities.

The Broadway Junction Working Group is supported by the Department of City Planning (DCP), the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR), among other agencies.

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Space is the Place

Space Settlements explores what happens when we run out of Earth
Space Settlements By Fred Scharmen Columbia Books on Architecture and the City $24.00 The Earth is finite, and the sky is limitless. So proposed Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill during the convening of the NASA Summer Study in 1975, when O’Neill gathered engineers, architects, astrophysicists, and others to flesh out logistics for the space settlements originally conceived by his students. With fears of resource shortages and overpopulation dominating the 1970s, O’Neill, his students, and prominent science fiction authors proposed massive rotating spaceborne structures that could perpetuate humanity among the stars. Of course, as Fred Scharmen meticulously documents in Space Settlements, that’s easier said than done. How can humans make the leap to living in pastoral orbital colonies when every artificial biosphere on Earth has failed? How would placemaking work in a wholly artificial environment, where every vista must be carefully curated as to not alienate inhabitants? What is the “ground,” normally a constant constraint to push against, in a habitat where even that is constructed? Scharmen’s book starts as a history of the creation and impact of a series of Summer Study paintings from artists Rick Guidice and Don Davis, but it quickly turns into a deeper examination of what it means to exist outside of Earth’s atmosphere. If building vertically allows architects to imagine new spaces unconstrained by the ground plane, as Rem Koolhaas proclaimed in Delirious New York, then building in space presents designers with the ultimate freedom—while ironically constraining them with the most stringent challenges. The images that emerged from the Summer Study are, by design, both familiar and alien. They show pastoral landscapes and familiar building typologies curved around the interior of massive toroidal or spherical spaceships, rotating to create artificial gravity at their edges. While O’Neill emphasized the need to consider these settlements as places with logistical needs and eschewed flashy pop culture depictions of his work, Guidice and Davis knew that illustrating the space stations as occupiable places would drum up public interest for the research. These megastructures, half-a-mile wide or wider with names like O’Neill Cylinders, Bernal Spheres, and Stanford Tori, would be anchored into orbits or Lagrange Points—places where the gravitational pull from the Earth and the Moon were equal, meaning whatever's put there, stays there. That imagery is still powerful 40 years later. With the fears of the ’70s once again resurgent as climate change, resource shortages, and mass migration dominate the headlines, billionaires are looking for ways to leave this world behind and move to the stars. Take the Jeff Bezos–founded Blue Origin, a spaceflight and rocketry company founded by the world’s richest man for the express purpose of eventually moving humanity off this planet. In May of this year, the company released a suite of renderings of spacefaring toroidal colonies, each depicting idyllic countrysides and architectural pastiches protected by a glass-enclosed sky, clear references to the Summer Study images from 40 years prior. The renderings were created to gin up excitement—and financial backing—for extracting resources from the moon as the first phase of launching an extraterrestrial settlement, but exactly what’s depicted has a deeper significance. Scharmen devotes much of Space Settlements to the human considerations of living in space. Humans, like all animals, need certain things to thrive, including open space and greenery, and the opportunity to watch something grow; hence the abundance of agricultural landscapes and wide vistas in Davis’s, Guidice’s, and Blue Origin’s images. However, as Scharmen points out (and landscape architect Marc Miller highlighted in an online article for AN), the renderings are very conscious throwbacks to Hudson River School paintings. These paintings were intended, in part, to encourage white observers to move west and assert their dominance over the North American wilderness. In depicting their landscapes as (artificial) wildernesses to be tamed, Blue Origin is trying to entice a very specific, well-educated population to “settle” these massive structures. Therein lies the rub. Both the Summer Study artists and O’Neill knew that their depictions of leisure were a bit misleading, as all colonists would have to work hard to keep their city-in-the-sky running even with advanced automation. More importantly, the rationale behind expanding into these megastructures in the first place is rooted in an outgrowth of extractive capitalism. As Scharmen and O’Neill both discuss in the book, and as the Earth-bound billionaires of today surely know, space outposts would have to justify their immense cost, likely through extraterrestrial mineral mining. However, go one level deeper, and the implications become even darker. As Bezos and his peers have repeatedly stated, they feel that the only way to “save” humanity from our doomed planet is to expand into space. Bezos frequently claims that he has too much money to spend on Earth and that expanding into space is the only logical next step. "The solar system can easily support a trillion humans,” Bezos told Business Insider. “And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power." To say that entirely artificial and dangerous habitats are the next logical step in humankind’s progression presupposes that this planet, one that we evolved specifically to inhabit, is already full. What was once proposed as a way to foster unique communities in the sky and expand humanity’s consciousness beyond the borders of this world has taken on a nihilist tinge. No one else has summed it up better than Elon Musk, another stargazing tech billionaire. When asked why he wanted to settle other planets in an interview with Aeon, Musk famously replied, “Fuck Earth! Who cares about Earth?”
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1926-2019

George Homsey, giant of California architecture, has passed away
George Homsey, one of the founding members of San Francisco–based firm Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD), has passed away. Widely considered a giant of California architecture, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, Homsey practiced architecture with EHDD for nearly 50 years before parting ways with the firm in 2000 to run his own practice. During Homsey’s storied career, he worked with some of the greats of late-20th-century Northern California architecture, including business partner Joseph Esherick, and collaborators Charles Moore and William Turnbull. Together with these architects, Homsey helped bring to life Sea Ranch, the iconic shingled housing development situated on the rugged California coast north of San Francisco, as well as many delightful and contemplative private residences, schools, and public buildings. Homsey was regarded as the diligent and strong-willed counterpart to Esherick at EHDD, and helped to animate Esherick’s conceptually-driven works with a sensitivity to light, composition, and pragmatic materiality that made Homsey one of the fathers of what some called the “Third Bay Tradition,” a vernacular style of architecture that channeled and updated the Bay Area’s woodsy architectural and environmental influences for a new generation. Homsey, for example, was one of the chief designers of the hedgerow homes at Sea Ranch, a series of shed-roofed and wood-clad abodes that simultaneously struck out from and blended into the site’s scrubby terrain. Born in 1926 in San Francisco’s Western Addition, Homsey grew up in a typical San Francisco duplex where the modest units were separated by a pragmatic light well. The son of an auto mechanic, Homsey trained to become a naval aviator to serve in the military, but the war ended before he could take flight. With this training in hand, Homsey set out to study architecture at the City College of San Francisco and at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Esherick’s fledgling firm in 1952 and made partner 20 years later. Homsey would go on to create the design guidelines for Yosemite National Park as well as comprehensive designs for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit stations. He was awarded the Maybeck Award for lifetime achievement in architectural design by the American Institute of Architects, California Council in 2006 for his work.
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Mapping the Amazon

Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere
For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.