Search results for "zoning"

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Upzone City

Seattle makes affordable housing mandatory in upzoned neighborhoods

Architects and developers building across much of Seattle will soon have to meet the city’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements, a set of rules passed with a spate of recent comprehensive zoning changes designed to ensure that “new commercial and multifamily residential development contributes [new] affordable housing.”

The MHA regulations were approved this spring and are expected to add over 6,000 new low-income housing units to the city’s housing stock over the next decade. The changes are part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda, a three-pronged effort undertaken by city agencies several years ago to increase housing supply in order to stem escalating rents and property values across the thriving region. The fiercely contested changes in land use will allow for a greater level of residential density in many of the city’s neighborhoods and will ask builders to either include affordable housing on-site or pay into a general fund that can be used by city agencies to create new affordable housing in other areas.

The new regulations span five categories of development density, from low-rise detached and row house neighborhoods to taller mixed-use districts where buildings will be allowed to rise to a height of 95 feet or more. The efforts will upzone roughly 6 percent of the city’s single-family zones. Single-family zones ultimately make up over 80 percent of the city’s residential areas.

MHA regulations, according to planning documents provided by the City of Seattle, will be pegged to the degree of upzoning that takes place: Under the plan, areas that have been upzoned most significantly will be required to add a relatively higher proportion of new affordable housing. The required fees administered in lieu of on-site affordable housing construction will start at $5.58 per square foot for projects located in low-rise areas outside downtown Seattle and will go as high as $35.75 per square foot for larger mixed-use developments, according to city agencies.

The requirements will necessarily affect the work of architects designing buildings in these areas, but it is so far unclear exactly how.  The MHA requirements are set to go into effect immediately, as the city’s rezoning initiatives are approved on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

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Time for Tech

TECH+ Expo returns to New York to talk the business of building
According to Dr. Andrea Chegut, there is a constant tension between securing capital investment and being inventive in the built environment. It’s something that architects have to grapple with as they make design decisions that will please the client and investors, but also adhere to their creative vision. “This tension is happening in your desktops every day,” she told attendees of AN’s third annual TECH+ conference in New York on June 13. Chegut is the cofounder and director of the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). As the keynote speaker for the tech-focused forum, held in partnership between AN and Microsol Resources, she reminded the architects present that they are inventors and that it’s imperative to stand up for their work because smart design helps make money. Chegut’s role as a financial econometrician is to research technologies that can improve the relationship between investors and designers, advance communication, and turn design features into metrics that investors can feel good about. “Global research and development expenditures are at an all-time high,” she said, “and real estate is shifting towards R&D and scalable business models, too.” Chegut pointed out that last year, global venture investment in technology for the built environment exceeded $20 billion. That’s a major look into the future of the industry, she said. Not only that, but climate change is making the business of building and maintaining buildings even more costly. From 2000 to 2017, the United States spent $2.5 trillion on resiliency planning and recovery efforts, and $117 billion to manage chronic floods. To get ahead of these issues, Chegut believes technology can help architects and real estate stakeholders make smarter decisions about their projects. Think automation, which could transform valuations processes, accounting, and more, or robotics, such as the Mediated Matter group’s FIBERBOTS, a digital fabrication tool that can create sophisticated material architectures. Even as augmented reality advances through the integration of added sensory modalities, it can immerse and nearly alter one’s perception of the built environment. These could make working in the field substantially smoother. It’s not just tech tools still in the research stages that could change the future; there are products that exist now on the commercial market like transparent wood, view glass, as well as digital software such as Humanyze, the WillowTwin, and Skyline AI that are transforming the way architects work. Companies like Envelope City and Katerra are already leading the way in zoning analysis and material manufacturing optimization. Chegut noted that her team, in particular, has been working on a property technology that could benchmark value drivers of design for investors to get behind. Through an experiment they call Wide Data, the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab created a database with information on all buildings in New York City that was used to determine common themes across award-winning structures, specifically commercial office buildings. They found that access to daylight can lead to a direct 6.6 to 7 percent increase on the cost per square foot of a building in Manhattan if it meets the green standards set up by LEED. In essence, Chegut backed up through economic data that the value of daylight adds to the monetary value of not only a building but a company, too. “Give humans daylight and we’ll make money,” she said. It’s dedicated research to tools like this that make technology so important for the work of an architect. Everything from advances in BIM, Revit, AR, and VR to prefabrication and efficient construction techniques means that the business of building is getting better because of technology. The rest of the day’s events at TECH+ zeroed in on these innovations and how certain companies and architecture firms such as Kaiser Permanente, SOM, GeoSlam, SHoP, and Payette, among others, are doing big things with new tech. Other conversations included the unique integration of gaming technology to help tell stories through design, and the use of specific tools that helped create New York’s newest architectural landmarks: The Shed and Vessel at Hudson Yards.
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50/50 Chance

Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities
California needs 3.5 million housing units. That’s more housing units than currently exist in most states. This shortage—California ranks 49th in housing units per capita, ahead of only Utah—developed slowly but has metastasized into a true crisis, with housing costs rising to untenable levels for all but the most well-off Californians. In considering how and where to add a volume equivalent to all of Virginia, a key question is, what state—or, rather, what city—will those new units look like? Will they look like the tract homes of Phoenix? The row houses of Philadelphia? The high-rise apartments of New York City? The triple-deckers of Boston? The genteel mansions of Richmond? Or, perhaps worst of all, the mid-rises of Hollywood? The answers depend in large part on where new housing gets built. A recent bill in the California legislature almost provided the answer—almost. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by San Francisco–based State Senator Scott Wiener, would have mandated increased housing densities around major public transit lines and “jobs rich” areas throughout the state by requiring cities to permit multifamily buildings of up to five stories by right. Wiener contended that California needs more housing and that the best locations are those that enable residents to minimize commuting by personal automobiles. A relatively late amendment would have eliminated single-family zoning, permitting homeowners to build up to four units on any single-family lot, and limited the high-density provisions to counties of over 600,000 residents. California has always maintained a tense relationship with density, often failing to plan for it while suffering its ill effects all the same. SB 50 could be the catalyst to help the state abandon its suburban fetishes once and for all. An updated version of a bill that Wiener sponsored last year, SB 50 nearly made it out of the State Senate until Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino scuttled it with a procedural tactic, refusing to bring it to a vote in committee. The move put an abrupt end to what had arguably been the most heated debates over land-use legislation in state history. SB 50, like many other recent controversies related to development and housing in California, did not inspire neat loyalties. While its core support came from the increasingly influential YIMBY movements and core opposition came from homeowners, the politics were messy at best. Conservatives could love its relaxation of regulations but hate its emphasis on dense urbanism. Liberals were more intensely fractured. SB 50 appealed to values of inclusion and of progressivism, be they socioeconomic or aesthetic. For some, the bill served the cause of equity simply by potentially creating more housing. Other liberals saw it differently. Advocates of social justice feared SB 50 would empower capitalist developers while displacing and disenfranchising vulnerable populations through eviction and demolition. Older liberal activists, especially in suburban areas, put their economic interests first, recoiling from the prospect that increased housing supply might depress their property values. Many of them protested SB 50’s potential to interfere with “neighborhood character.” (Wiener’s antagonist Portantino represents La Cañada Flintridge, a comfortable suburb north of downtown Los Angeles.) Institutionally, the League of California Cities and many city councils statewide condemned SB 50 for trampling on “local control,” asserting that land use decisions have always belonged to municipalities and municipalities alone. Many mayors, however, including those of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, praised SB 50 for giving cities a new opportunity to ease their housing crisis—and to do so equitably statewide, forcing housing-phobic cities to approve their fair share of housing rather than ignore demand and dodge their obligations in the name of municipal sovereignty. By some accounts, a full 97 percent of California cities failed to meet their state-mandated housing goals in 2018. The California chapter of the American Planning Association controversially opposed SB 50, citing concerns about technical aspects of the bill’s language, even though many of its more progressive members favored it. Chapters of the American Institute of Architects did not take a position on it. Design rarely factored into these discussions explicitly, but its influence cannot be overlooked. Fears about changes to “neighborhood character” often accompany prejudices about “undesirable” racial or socioeconomic groups. They also refer to lousy design. Many homeowners recoiled against SB 50 out of fear that modest cottages might be overshadowed by a new triplex next door or crowded by the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Urban activists took aim at even bigger targets. Opponents of growth in Los Angeles in particular have long railed against what they consider oversized, ugly, and excessively capitalistic apartment buildings. Such enormities often occupy full city blocks and rise five or six stories, with wood framing above one-story concrete bases. They have been the mainstay of Hollywood’s decade-long growth spurt and have arisen in many other moderately dense neighborhoods around the state. Revulsion is, often, completely justified. Large but underwhelming, and expensive but unrefined, such developments have poor detailing, clunky dimensions, and, often, antagonistic relationships with the street. They have neither humor nor grace nor character, and they succeed at one thing and one thing only: housing many people. Typically, those people are well off—or at least are pretending to be. While California’s housing crisis has many causes, it’s not unreasonable to say that lousy design is one of them, and it’s not unreasonable for opponents of SB 50 to make apocalyptic predictions about aesthetics. This is the backdrop against which architects should contemplate the revival of SB 50. Wiener has pledged to bring it back next year, and the appetite for major housing legislation remains fierce—before long, some version of SB 50 will pass, and the opportunities for architects and architecture will be profound. The quality of design that follows the passage of the next version of SB 50 will, without exaggeration, determine the look, feel, and function of California cities for at least the next generation. Many opponents of SB 50 criticize it as a "giveaway" to capitalist developers. If architects are to support the next version of SB 50, they should want to be seen as stewards, not opportunists. Upzoning around transit stops will create entirely new transit-oriented neighborhoods. Places that currently consist of park-and-ride lots and single-family homes will rise to five and six stories, with less parking than most zoning codes currently mandate. That’s like taking a cookie cutter to San Francisco’s Mission District or Los Angeles’s Koreatown and depositing the result in bedroom communities and office parks. Of course, California has hundreds of major transit stops and jobs centers (over 200 light- and heavy-rail stations alone), and the whole point of SB 50 is to distribute development statewide so that neighborhoods grow gradually. Even so, some places will be transformed sooner rather than later. In a state where many residents are mortally afraid of density, the choices that architects make will determine whether the new urban California is a dream or a nightmare—they can stumble into the latest versions of capitalist postmodern, or they can reflect on everything we have learned about the benefits of density. Designs have to be thoughtful, attractive, and socially conscious. They have to celebrate density, enhance the public realm, and give California cities a sense of style and character that they have lacked for decades. (Likewise, cities’ design guidelines and review boards will have to get savvier.) If SB 50’s single-family home provision survives (which seems unlikely), it will create a bonanza for residential architects. They will get to re-learn the art of the duplex, triplex, and quadplex—typologies that used to be common in California but have been all but extinct since the Truman administration. But new homes must not realize neighbors’ worst nightmares. They must not loom over their predecessors. They must not be large for largeness’s sake. In short, they must treat neighbors as clients. Whatever lawmakers intend for SB 50, the public will render its final judgment according to how architects seize the moment. Whether they like it or not, architects bear the final responsibility to fulfill the public trust. Of course, the real beauty of SB 50—if it comes to pass and if it works as intended—will be invisible. That will be the opportunity to craft affordable and humane housing for hundreds of thousands Californians.
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House of AOC

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helps launch green affordable housing complex in Queens
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on hand at the opening of a new 67-unit senior housing complex in Corona, Queens—the first affordable housing to be built in the neighborhood in 30 years. In close alignment with the representative's leadership on climate change initiatives like the Green New Deal, the $36 million affordable development is also one of the largest low-income senior housing projects in the country to meet Passive House standards for energy consumption, according to a statement by New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The 8-story senior housing project at 54-17 101st Street was designed by New York–based THINK! Architecture and Design and developed in a partnership between HANAC—the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee—a community organization, and affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners. All 67 units, a mix of 1-bedrooms and studios, are set aside for low-income seniors, with 21 units expressly dedicated to formerly homeless seniors. In addition, the project is a mixed-use development, with a preschool in the building that will serve 60 children and will be administered by the New York City School Construction Authority. Constructing the building 8 stories tall was needed to make the project financially feasible, and required rezoning. But because it is located in a largely low-rise neighborhood of two- to three-story buildings, the architects used a number of strategies to make the project seem less imposing. THINK! broke up the facade into "townhouse-like scales," using different planes and layering materials, window patterns, and colors to vary the surface, according to Jack Esterson, principal at THINK! and the lead architect of the project. The building was also designed so that an upper layer of floors is set back above the first four stories, with a transparent band of windows separating the two layers and making the upper level appear to float above the lower level. This level of windows also fronts an outdoor terrace for residents that connects to the lounge and laundry room. The Corona Senior Residence, as the complex is called, is one of the concrete outcomes of the Willets Point Community Benefits Agreement, a part of the negotiations over the controversial Willets Point Development Plan led by developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities. Funding for the project came from the city, including HPD, the City Council, city subsidies, the Queens borough president's office, Chase, and the low-income housing tax credit, among other sources. "Affordable housing is critical for our most vulnerable New Yorkers, especially our seniors. I am proud to support an organization that strives to provide community-centered, innovative, energy efficient housing," Representative Ocasio-Cortez said at the opening. "With a pre-K on the ground floor and additional programs and services, this is precisely the kind of development our borough needs. I am thrilled to join HANAC on this important occasion as we fight to keep Queens affordable for all." As the representative added on Twitter, "Today was a great example of what can be accomplished w/ a !"
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If it looks like stone

German hotel greets the street with a sintered stone facade
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Completed this year, the Flare of Frankfurt is a seven-story, mixed-use project of hotel rooms, residences, and offices located in the center of the German city. The 260,000-square-foot project, designed by German-Iranian architectural practice Hadi Teherani, is clad in three-dimensional slabs of sintered stone. The massing of the complex matches the cornice line of the surrounding historic building stock and is split in two by a courtyard—offices and hotel rooms to one side and residences to the other. Between the wings is a smoothed facade segment with small punched openings. Window openings for the rest of the street-facing elevations are rhythmic, with the panels overlayed in a form reminiscent of a stretcher-bond brick pattern, albeit oversized and projecting from the structure.
  • Facade Manufacturer Neolith Schüco International KG
  • Architect Hadi Teherani
  • Facade Installer FFM Barczewski
  • Facade Consultant Zentrale Technik for Ed. Züblin AG
  • Location Frankfurt, Germany
  • Date of Completion 2019
  • System Lithodecor Airtec Stone
  • Products Neolith Arctic White Silk
For the design team, the diversity of surrounding structures was a characteristic to embrace and embed within the facade’s design. The project is located on the northern terminus of Frankfurt’s Grosse Eschenheimer Strasse, a north-south axis squarely embedded within the city center. Frankfurt, like much of Germany, was severely damaged during World War II. As a result of wartime damage, the general streetscape of the city is marked by rehabilitated historic structures linked by post-war modern and contemporary infill. “We wanted a strong coherence of the design language throughout the project in order to lead to a compelling address in the city of Frankfurt,” said Hadi Teherani Senior Architect Christian Bergmann. “It takes up elements of the surrounding building which come from a variety of different epochs—bay windows of stone-clad listed houses from the turn of the century and curtained post-war structures from the 1950s onward.” Produced by Neolith, the three-dimensional sintered Arctic White Silk panels measure approximately 10 feet by 38 feet. The panels are produced with the use of three principal resources: granite powder, glass minerals and silica, and natural oxides. To create the slabs, the materials are subjected to extremely high pressure and are subsequently baked in a kiln where temperatures top out at 2200° F—the result is a cladding and surfacing material similar to stone in both appearance and performance. The approximately quarter-inch-thick sintered stone slabs are mounted atop a facade system, Lithodecor’s Airtec Stone, consisting of an aluminum substructure placed along a lightweight concrete base. After the panels were assembled, Lithodecor coordinated with the contractor to transport the system through Frankfurt’s narrow street network to the site. According to Lithodecor’s head of product management, Phillip Wirtz, the panels were “literally hooked onto supporting steel beams, a process requiring a high degree of precision.”
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Going Down, Coming Up

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

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#twinning

Chicago-based start up wants to make a digital clone of a city
In Jorge Luis Borges’s 1946 one-paragraph short story "On Exactitude in Science," a fictional 17th-century individual, Suarez Miranda, tells of a time that the "Cartographers Guilds" made a map of their empire so accurately that it matched it entirely, at 1:1 scale, point by point. Of course, this map was utterly useless. This meditation on mapping and empire seems increasingly prescient today, as every last plot of the Earth becomes represented and possessed in cartography, in satellite imagery, in Google Street View, and through intricate digital models. Enter Cityzenith, the Chicago-based startup where the CEO's reported mission, according to the trade publication Building Design and Construction, is to “replicate our entire world,” one hopes with more utilitarian results than those in Borges’s cautionary tale. Cityzenith’s digital twin technology is part of its Smart World Pro software suite, which pulls together data from builders, developers, building owners, cities, and IoT devices to create hyper-detailed "supermaps" of buildings and cities. As Cityzenith CEO Michael Jansen explained to the BBC, "[a] digital twin is a virtual representation of physical buildings and assets but connected to all the data and information around those assets, so that machine learning and AI algorithms can be applied to them to help them operate more efficiently." With these twins, users—building owners, urban designers, environmental engineers, governments—can both monitor existing infrastructure, and simulate the effects of new buildings or what different conditions like temperature change or congestion could cause for existing architecture and for city dwellers, all from a single digital dashboard. Information from everything from Excel sheets to GIS data to social media posts can be dragged and dropped to help create models, incorporating over 1,000 datasets.  While Cityzenith is not the first company to push digital twins as an option for developers, builders, and planners, it's one of the first to propose using the technology as a way to design a city from the ground up. Cityzenith claims the Foster + Partners and Surbana Jurong–designed $6.5 billion planned city Amaravati, to be the capital of Andhra Pradesh, India, will be the world’s first city “born as a digital twin.” This new capital was deemed necessary after the shifting of state lines left Andhra Pradesh without a capital. The city is being planned from the ground-up as a smart city for 3.5 million people, in part by leveraging Cityzenith’s Smart World Pro software, the latest version of which launched this winter. Data about construction, design, current and projected environmental conditions, mobility and traffic, and climate can be viewed in the desktop interface, and simulations that leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence can get ahead of what’s happening at a variety of scales. For example, if simulations of high-temperature conditions show most pedestrians will be forced to seek shaded streets during rush hour, how does this congestion shape the city? And how can the city be shaped to prevent it?  Permits can be drag-and-drop submitted, and zoning, traffic, and environmental analysis for the entire city is streamlined and accessible from a single window. Builders and developers can get info from a simple web interface. A video from Cityzenith shows a Siri-like natural language search web tool, as well. The company also proposes a “digital twin user ID” for every Amaravati citizen that will let them visit government portals to access tools from their city's digital twin. In an era of big data, simulation, and hyper-detailed mapping, Borges’s 1:1 map doesn’t feel far off. One can imagine a future where we’re better off traveling on our computer screen’s representations of a “digital twin." Or we can just play SimCity instead. For more on the latest in AEC technology and for information about the upcoming TECH+ conference, visit techplusexpo.com/nyc/.
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Put a Cork On It

This Berlin house stays dry under a cork skin
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Timber is an increasingly common building and cladding material, but rarer is the use of timber byproducts. But the Cork Screw House, a three-story residential commission in a Berlin suburb designed by rundzwei Architekten, is clad and roofed with one of the most renewable tree-derived materials: cork. The project is located on a fairly modest lot within a suburban area. Due to zoning and height restraints, the design team had to maximize the total square footage of the building—roughly 3,200 square feet—with a few clever tricks. The massing of the structure bears a loose resemblance to the early 20th-century American Foursquare style, relatively boxy in character and restricted in ornament. The ground floor, a half-basement, is effectively burrowed in an excavated ditch ringed by rammed concrete.
  • Facade Manufacturer Amorim Isolamentos
  • Architects rundzwei Architekten
  • Facade Installer Johannsen Timber Constructions
  • Location Berlin, Germany
  • Date of Completion 2018
  • System Cork cladding of timber frame construction
  • Products Cork slabs custom-fabricated into facade panels
The fabrication process of cork panels is similar to that of other cork products produced by Portuguese manufacturer Amorim Isolamentos. Cork is extracted from the bark of the Cork Oak every seven to nine years, a process that leaves the tree trunk undamaged, allowing for further harvests. "The bark is rinded into granulate and formed into the panel shapes by adding pressure and heat," said the design team. "The heat releases the naturally inherent resins of the cork, avoiding the use of adhesive additives." Once solidified, the cork slabs can be cut using standard timber tools into various cladding sizes. In the case of the Cork Screw House, the standard dimensions of the cork panels are approximately 20 inches by 40 inches. The panels are fastened to the building's structural timber framing with a combination of permeable glue and mechanically fixed screws. Apart from the environmentally-friendly production of cork, the design team also opted for the material due to its weather barrier, thermal, and acoustical properties. Owing to the cork's near impenetrability, the panels serve as an effective rainscreen for the structure's timber framing to prevent mold and water damage—similar to wooden drop siding. The panels are just over an inch-and-a-half thick, providing a significant boost to the building's insulation values while keeping out environmental sound.
 
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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!
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Little Dubai

Welcome to Little Dubai, New York City’s newest neighborhood
In a recent review titled “The Case Against Hudson Yards Diningon Eater, the inimitable food critic Ryan Sutton examined the food and beverage options at the mirage-like, instant Hudson Yards (henceforth Little Dubai), New York City’s newest neighborhood. The dining scene is not a pretty picture, and the food options are just part of the bigger picture, dovetailing with the urbanism to expose the ugliness of 21st-century development culture. As Sutton notes, Little Dubai “is a taxpayer-subsidized development that solidifies Manhattan’s slow transformation from one of the world’s most distinctive urban centers into a nondescript international mall for the wealthy.” His biggest gripe? Rather than representing the wonderful melange of cultures that thrive in New York, the food and beverage programming is a cynical commercialized selection that has no roots in the place it resides. “The only place for pizza—New York’s quintessentially affordable street food—will be a D.C.-based chain where a lunchtime Margherita starts at $11.50. The only Chinese-leaning restaurant will be an ‘East meets West’ spot run by a Dutch guy known for his competent Continental spots in airports, concert halls, and museums,” he laments. The condition Sutton describes could easily be in a number of cities around the world, where international flavors are imported wholesale and in no particular fashion or relationship to the place they now inhabit. This cultural importation is a new ideology: In an era where financial markets and soft power makes national borders less and less important, it makes sense that a new type of immigrant cultural exchange would begin to take hold—one that no longer even requires physical, transnational immigration. Cultural exchange can now take place on airplanes, waves of capital, and wires of data in an age of nearly frictionless globalization. That is how New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai, got its character. As much as Little Dubai’s food selections should shock us, so should the art and architecture. The art follows a similar path as the food with superstar curators—ubercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist is a senior advisor—brought in to inject the place with some kind of pop-up world-class culture, much like what the UAE did at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, where the name and collection were rubber-clone-stamped from the old world of Europe to the open expanses of the 21st-century Gulf, where anything goes. Or consider Rain Room, the phenomenon that had lines around the block at MoMA in 2013. The Sharjah Art Foundation has not only acquired Rain Room for its permanent collection, but they built an entire new building to house it. This kind of cultural exchange—that of international consultants—relies on enormous amounts of capital to lubricate its mechanisms. No longer does it require, however, actual immigration or imperialism to carry culture from one place to the next, as was the case in the 19th and 20th centuries when neighborhoods like Little Italy’s, Chinatowns, Koreatowns, and Little Ethiopias naturally popped up around the world. Rather than streets of mom-and-pop shops, entire campus-like neighborhoods are instantly animated as breathing lungs of cultural import-export, with nothing to stop them. Which brings us to the architecture of Little Dubai. There are several similarities to Dubai at Hudson Yards. The most obvious is that the towers themselves look like those non-descript condos and offices that make up most of the building stock in Dubai. Moreover, the neighborhood was master planned by KPF, who also crank out towers in the Gulf and Asia more generally. The similarities run deeper, from the food to the development patterns to the urban experience. Like any good enclave, the mechanisms that have produced Little Dubai look a lot like those that produced the original Dubai and its urban environment. This is not to say that Little Dubai necessarily comes from Dubai itself. It is not that simple. In fact, New York and developing nations such as the UAE and China are in a constant feedback loop, where the West exports ideas about managerial production systems such as large architecture firms and the corresponding banal corporate aesthetics. As Michel Foucault once noted,
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.
“Firms like KPF and Foster take on these projects overseas where they can grow and practice working as larger firms,” said Todd Reisz, assistant professor at Yale, “Once they get big and good enough, they can bring these ideas about—how to make a city from the ground up—back home.” This is how New York’s Little Dubai came to be. The original Dubai was opened up to private land ownership in 2002 in an attempt to become a stable place post-9/11 for foreigners—especially Middle Easterners, Africans, and South Asians—to park their money. Special economic zones were established that allowed business and development to operate without the strict controls of Shariah that governed the rest of the UAE. In these economic zones, international trade was encouraged by specially crafted civil legal code geared specifically toward port businesses (foreign investment.) For example, a team of international consultants from mega-firm McKinsey advised the Dubai government in 2002 to draft a set of UK-style regulations for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone, a “state within a state” that would operate with a different official currency—the U.S. dollar— and a different official language—English—than the rest of the UAE. It was designed by none other than architectural behemoth Gensler. This international managerial complex was the logical conclusion of some 300 years of colonial urbanization of developing nations around the world, perfected by the UAE government. Companies like Emaar and Dubai Holdings buy and develop enormous plots of land that serve as self-sustaining neighborhoods that don’t need to have much connection to their surroundings. Because of their sheer size, and the scale of the projects they oversee, these massive companies also obscure the relationship between public and private. In New York’s Little Dubai, a similar situation exists. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) acts a bit like the real estate state of the UAE, doing large rezonings and tax incentives to foster these big developments. Nearly 1 billion dollars in tax abatements were given to Related Cos., Little Dubai’s developer, in addition to nearly 4.6 million in infrastructure improvements and other incentives. And often, because of the private nature, DCP has little authority to begin with. Because the development is on state-owned land, there was no oversight from community boards. The parcel became part of a larger economic development strategy that usurps local regulation, leaving the citizens of New York City more-or-less out of the conversation. Little Dubai is regulated by a network of rules and capital that transcends physical territory, just like the “Old World” Dubai in UAE (this model is also being pursued by ultimate cloud-based dark-power-mongers Google in Toronto). This has led to a sort of Free Economic Zone, where Stephen M. Ross, Related’s chairman, is a sort of urban autocrat, pushing through what he wants when he wants. For example, in Little Dubai, Thomas Heatherwick’s 154-staircase monument Vessel was simply ordered for $200 million, shipped from Italy, and fastened together in about 18 months, with little in the way of design review or public process. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises important questions. At 28 acres (0.042 sq miles, or 11 hectares), Little Dubai has the characteristics of an entire neighborhood, with its own circulation paths, central public space, and complete set of programmatic functions from retail, residential, commercial, “cultural,” and leisure/hospitality spaces carefully orchestrated in both plan and section. Dubai is a place where these large private developments have happened so fast that they do not relate to one another on the street-level. The piecemeal nature leaves hotels and malls and gated communities difficult to access because nothing was planned to connect at the street. While Dubai’s infrastructure haphazardly connects these megadevelopments with curls of spaghetti-like roads and onramps, Hudson Yards has similarly managed to bend New York’s infrastructure to its will—the 7 subway line was extended to the northern entrance to Little Dubai’s main plaza. Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.) The process of globalization and the complete control of technocratic consultants has crystallized in spectacular fashion before our eyes in New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai. What remains to be seen is how the local context will absorb this pseudo-neighborhood. What is scary for New Yorkers is that it seems like it is going to fit right into its place at the apex of the Highline.
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Slashing Ceiling Heights

New York lawmaker fights for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions
As New York City's skyline continues to soar, New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is fighting for more aggressive ceiling height restrictions to chop supertall, luxury towers. Curbed reported on Rosenthal’s plan outdoes that of the de Blasio administration and enacts stricter policies over mechanical voids—the hollow, uninhabited spaces in apartment buildings that increase the height of buildings. Current zoning regulations exempt mechanical voids from a building’s floor area ratio (FAR), or allowable square footage. Since there are no height limits on those spaces, luxury developers can currently build excessively tall ceilings to house mechanical equipment as a means of elevating their buildings without officially surpassing their permitted size. By piling apartments above extremely tall floors, developers can mark the units with a higher price tag. To curb the development of these soaring and seemingly unrestricted towers, Rosenthal recently introduced a bill that will penalize developers that build unnecessarily high ceilings—which have in some cases exceeded 150 feet—to hold mechanical equipment. Her legislation comes just one month after the de Blasio administration’s zoning amendments that require mechanical voids over 25-feet-high to be counted toward a residential building’s FAR. Rosenthal’s bill takes the amendment a step further, not only regulating the height of mechanical spaces but also penalizing developers that build any floor with ceilings higher than 12 feet. Her bill has predictably spawned outrage from the real estate development industry, which is desperately fighting to preserve the mechanical void loophole. If approved, Rosenthal’s bill would affect the entire city, unlike de Blasio’s amendment, which only applies to specific, high-density districts. Since the bill was introduced last February, the city has started to take strong action against the misuse of mechanical voids, as well as the construction of one particular tower proposed for the Upper West side, where one floor exhibits massive, 160-foot ceilings. In a race against the tower’s developer, Extell Development, the Department of City Planning has sped up its approval process for the regulations. With a Democrat-controlled Senate and Assembly, Rosenthal’s proposal, which could drastically alter the future of luxury apartment construction in New York City, has a chance of ratification.