Search results for "zoning"

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The big apple

John Cetra of CetraRuddy talks recent projects and Facades+ New York
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On April 2 and 3, Facades+ is returning to New York for its largest annual conference, which is split between a full-day symposium followed by the second day of intensive hands-on workshops led by dozens from across the country. Co-chair John Cetra, founding principal of New York-based practice CetraRuddy, collaborated with The Architect's Newspaper in the curation of panels themes and speakers. Panels include; “Materiality & Fabrication: Bespoke Facade Solutions,” “Scaling up Passive House | For the Greater Good,” “Optimizing the Form,” and “Adaptive Reuse Challenges in NYC Historic Icons.” UNStudio founding principal Ben van Berkel and WXY principal-in-charge Claire Weisz are leading the morning and afternoon keynotes, and Jesse Reiser and Nanako Umemoto of Reiser + Umemoto will dive into their spate of recently completed projects. Prior to the conference, AN sat down with Cetra to discuss architectural trends reshaping New York City and the firm’s recent body of work. AN: Over the last thirty years, CetraRuddy has successfully navigated New York's real estate landscape to deliver scores of projects across building scales. What lessons have been learned and what advice would you give young firms today? John Cetra: We’ve learned a lot of lessons over the past 30 years. One of the most salient is that to successfully navigate the New York real estate landscape, architects need to understand the unique context we have to work in and in particular, the zoning resolution and its nuances. In our practice, an advanced understanding of the requirements has allowed us to create unique buildings forms like One Madison and ARO. This applies across the board, whether in contextual zones, landmarked districts, or not. We value context and history, but we are also open and receptive to new thinking, and we like to weave the two together through design. At Fotografiska, we created a new multi-use event space on the top floor of an 1890s-era building by exposing the structural beams holding up the roof. This is an entirely new space—but it celebrates the original materiality and design of the building in a very respectful way. One of the panels will include your recently completed ARO. Can you explain the significance of the project from the perspective of facade design and engineering? ARO’s facade is crucial to its design—it enhances and clarifies the building’s massing, and works in harmony with the tower’s shape. The signature fenestration pattern is comprised of a glass curtain wall with a light metal net that creates a singular graphic overlay or a ‘second skin.’ This net employs 18-inch-deep “fenders" that act as an integrated solar device, reflecting light as the glass areas absorb light. In this way, the sun is a friend of this building—the sky is reflected in its glass and the metal fenders protect the interiors from sunlight at high angles. As the light changes throughout the day, the articulation of the facade creates depth and visual interest, responding to the time of day and weather. From a technical perspective, the unitized curtain wall system required the design team to minimize the number of custom panel sizes and conditions. Even though the massing undulates and projects forward in cantilevered sections, there are only six different shapes and unit sizes that made up the entire facade. You worked closely with AN to co-curate the upcoming conference. What do you hope will be the primary takeaways of the conference? I think the conference will show that there are no set, universal rules, and that building facades can be of very high quality because of the tools we as architects and designers have at our disposal. Digital technology combined with architectural creativity, a thoughtful understanding of context, and understanding of program can result in beautiful buildings that are sustainable, a pleasure to live or work in, and thoughtful additions to our built environment. Additionally, in terms of contextuality, façade design can successfully contribute and respond to the local built environment. The technology exists now to create site-specific, context-aware facade solutions that are also really attractive and, most importantly, climate-responsive. This is a heartening advance that will be discussed in detail at the upcoming conference. Further information regarding Facades+ New York can be found here.
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Third Time's Not the Charm

California fails to pass contentious S.B. 50 housing bill
For the third year in a row, a controversial bill to increase home building in California has failed to win approval in the state Senate, according to the Los Angeles Times. Senate Bill 50 was intended to help curb the housing shortage and cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars while boosting density in developed areas near transit hubs. But vocal opposition over gentrification, affordable housing, and of course, up-zoning changes in wealthier neighborhoods, trumped all of those benefits.  Only three votes stood in the way of the measure passing in the state Senate last week. That same number of votes was missing last year when Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored the bill back in 2018, reintroduced it on the senator floor. With support from California’s Governor Gavin Newsom in his ongoing promise to fix the state’s housing crisis, it seemed like this year would Wiener’s winning attempt. But S.B. 50 failed again. The measure couldn’t pass all these years, according to the senate opponents, because S.B. 50 failed to adequately address the state’s growing need for affordable housing. The bill would have allowed developers to build more mid-rise apartments near mass transit and job centers in the state’s most populous cities. But community advocates for low-income areas worried that the idea would eventually out-price people from those neighborhoods, while activists in suburban areas argued against densification. Each year that Weiner introduced the bill back into the conversation, he revamped it with changes intended to address the concerns raised in previous attempts. Despite efforts to appease all sides and a move to allow local governments the chance to develop their own sets of standards similar to Senate Bill 50, the proposal failed for the final time. The L.A. Times reported a major divide in votes between lawmakers in metropolitan Los Angeles and the rest of the state. Nine local senators voted no or abstained from the vote while only one voted yes.  Similar to the split in the senate, ordinary Californians appear conflicted over the bill too. Senator president pro tem Toni Atkins wrote on Twitter that although the bill failed, she will work towards producing another piece of legislation that will pass this year. 
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Mullion Free

REX and Front's 2050 M Street stands lightly with fluted glass
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Set to open in mid-March, 2050 M Street is a novel commercial project located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. REX, an architecture and design firm based in New York, is the design architect for the project. In contrast to the imposing massing of Beaux-Arts, Brutalist, and droll mid-century Miesian bootlegs that dominate the capital, the project presents a subtle and refined approach to the office block typology with its array of fluted glass panels. Founded two decades ago by Joshua Ramus, REX has led an impressive array of completed and ongoing projects, including the Ronald O. Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center, Brown University's Performing Arts Center, and the retrofit of 5 Manhattan West. An instrumental collaborator in over thirty of their projects is facade consultant Front Inc., with whom they share an office space in DUMBO, Brooklyn. “Both companies share a mutual understanding of the other’s values, aspirations and skillsets with each practice leveraging the other to create opportunities for innovation within real and tight project constraints,” said REX founding principal Joshua Ramus and Front Inc. founding principal Marc Simmons. “REX and Front also share a rigor and discipline during an always iterative design process but also as pertains to creative procurement, in close cooperation with owner and construction manager, and focused quality review during the shop drawing, prototyping, testing, assembly and installation phases of the work.”
  • Facade Manufacturer Fabbrica Tianjin North Glass AGC Asia Guardian Glass Gastaldello Sistemi YKK
  • Architect REX
  • Facade Installer TSI Wall Systems
  • Facade Consultant Front Inc.
  • Developer Tishman Speyer
  • Structural Engineer LERA Consulting Engineers
  • Location Washington, D.C.
  • Date of Completion August 2019
  • System Custom flush-glazed curtain wall system
  • Products Guardian SunGuard SuperNeutral 68 low-E coating Guardian UltraClear low-iron glass AGC Stopsol Supersilver Gastaldello Sistemi aluminum framing
Tishman Speyer is the developer of 2050 M Street, whose construction was overseen by the managing director of design and construction, Rustom Cowasjee. The non-concrete block structure construction began in March 2018 and facade installation wrapped up in August 2019. The massing of the twelve-story office building is rectangular and boxy, a common trait in D.C. to maximize square footage within the city’s zoning constraints and height limitations. For REX, one of the challenges of the project was to establish a lightness and verticality for what is an overwhelmingly horizontal project. To heighten the sense of verticality of 2050 M Street, the design team turned towards the architectural technique of fluting; a feature stemming from antiquity, where shallow vertical grooves were largely applied to columns and pilasters. In place of detailed masonry, the enclosure is composed of approximately 900 curved IGUs, their outward-facing concave surfaces treated with a pyrolytic coating, and form a high-relief facade with a striking kaleidoscope-like impression of the surrounding streetscape and weather features. Each floor-to-ceiling panel measures 11'-3" by 5'—those at the top two floors are 12'-10" and 12'-13" tall and form a quasi-cornice above the top slab edge—and have a 9'-6" radius formed through a heat roller tempering process. The project is topped by a separate row of 4'-tall panels that serve as a parapet.  The curvature of the panels also plays a critical role in the office building's remarkable degree of transparency; the compressive strength of the curves allowed for the panels to be mullion-less, and only supported by brackets anchored to the floor slab and laterally restrained at the head to allow for differential movement. As an additional measure to heighten the lightness of the facade, the structure’s perimeter columns are set back over 12 feet from the glazing to permit nearly undisrupted outward views. Following REX’s design intent for 2050 M Street, Front Inc. developed a comprehensive system with prescriptive specifications for all aspects of the glass assembly. The design and analysis package was the basis for the facade bid package for prospective fabricators and sub-contractors—Tishman Speyer funded full-scale mockups from each bidder for on-site evaluations by the design team. Ultimately, two firms were signed on to handle fabrication: Tianjin North Glass handled the fabrication of the IGUs cut from Guardian Glass and AGC Asia glass sheets, while Fabbrica managed the aluminum-and-glass modules at their Connecticut facility and handled shipment to Washington, D.C. “The engagement with the glass fabricators started during schematic design and continued even after the last piece of glass was shipped to the site,” continued Ramus and Simmons. “The actual design of the panels remained unaltered when we received manufacturer feedback; the focus was confirming the viability of cost, quality and schedule of fabrication.” REX founding principal Joshua Ramus, Front Inc. founding principal Marc Simmons, and Tishman Speyer managing director of design & construction Rustom Cowasjee will present 2050 M Street at Facades+ Washington, D.C. on February 20 as part of the "Curved and Pleated: Advanced Applications of Glass" panel.
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Into the Void

Snøhetta's Upper West Side luxury tower approved despite large mechanical void
Yesterday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) approved Extell Development’s contentious residential tower on the Upper West Side, according to Gothamist. After years of back and forth over the height, the Snøhetta-designed 50 West 66th Street is set to rise at 776 feet tall—the tallest building in the neighborhood—and will keep its significant mechanical void space at the core of the tower's chiseled frame. The project was under threat as recently as last month, when preservation organization Landmarks West claimed that Extell was inflating the building’s height with its 192-foot-tall mechanical void in order to charge a higher premium for top-level units. As AN has previously reported, the Billionaire’s Row developer has pulled this move before, side-stepping zoning regulations throughout the city and ignoring caps on maximum floor areas.  Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the appeal's loss, which occurred in a 2-2 vote tie since one of the BSA members abstained from the process, was major and signals a problem for future similar developments. Opponents have been worried that real estate giants like Extell could use this as a precedent to design large voids in other tower projects in order to boost their overall size. A similar claim was levied against the Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed 249 East 62nd Street when it was first revealed.  Back in early 2019, Extell almost lost the project entirely when it was forced to rethink the tower’s 700-plus-foot height (it was originally pitched at 262 feet). Brewer said construction permits would be revoked, despite approval by the Department of Buildings if Extell failed to change the arrangement and height of its mechanical spaces. The outcry, from both public officials and local residents of the Upper West Side, resulted in a study by the Department of City Planning that detailed how, in New York City, mechanical floors had been excluded from the zoning floor area calculation. In late May, the New York City Council voted to prevent developers from further exploiting this loophole by limiting the height of mechanical voids to 25 feet.  Because 50 West 66th Street was passed before the amendment was made to the zoning law, Gothamist noted the luxury tower will now hold a mechanical void space that totals 176 feet in height—a 16-foot reduction to appease Brewer’s request, but it will now be split into three sections: two 64-foot-tall mechanical areas and a 48-foot-tall void.  Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmarks West, told Gothamist that the appeal rejection wasn't as shocking as the way the vote played out. “I think it’s ridiculous that even in the case of a tie, the community loses.” Critics of the project now have the opportunity to file a court appeal as a last-ditch effort to stop it from moving forward. AN has reached out to Snøhetta for comment.
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Only If It's Built

Only If builds practice through research and context
The following interview was conducted as part of “Building Practice,” a professional elective course at Syracuse University School of Architecture taught by Molly Hunker and Kyle Miller, and now an interview series on AN. On September 26, 2019, Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain, students at Syracuse University, interviewed Adam Frampton and Karolina Czeczek of the Brooklyn-based practice Only If. This interview has been edited by Kyle Miller and AN for clarity. Stewart Tillyer and Aditya Jain: Was starting an office something that you always planned to do? Karolina Czeczek: Yes, definitely. I’ve always wanted to run a practice. Adam and I were working together at OMA when we decided to leave and start our own practice. Without the opportunity to have a partner, I don’t know that starting a practice at that moment would have happened. Adam Frampton: I worked for about seven years after school before we started this practice. There was a real advantage to working in one place during that time and having the opportunity to make meaning[ful] contributions to multiple projects. The experience built some confidence in my ability to start and run a practice, but nothing really prepares you for the challenges of having your own office. Does your experience working at OMA influence your work today? Karolina: Definitely. In particular, how we approach projects is something that is inspired by our time at OMA. We try to understand the broader issues of each project. We’re not always able to solve that issue solely through building, but our position is embedded in our design. What was also impactful about spending time at OMA was the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility really quickly. We were just not executing sketches of more experienced architects. It was an office environment that encouraged the newest and youngest employees to insert themselves from the start. This collaborative, relatively non-hierarchical environment is something we try to maintain in our office today. We’re not simply handing off sketches to our employees, but are promoting a collaborative effort. Who would you consider to be the primary audience for your work? Is it colleagues and other professionals, the general public, or someone else? Karolina: Other architects, no. Of course, they are an audience by default, but we're not designing for architects, we're designing for a much broader audience. It's important to keep that in mind because we have to understand the issues and needs of the general public. We have to understand the economic and political context in which we work to respond more appropriately through design. Adam: An architect’s obligation is to the public. Even with projects for private clients, there is a responsibility to imagine how a project engages society and an audience beyond who commissioned it. And I agree with Karolina. We do not explicitly design for other architects, but we take pleasure in working on disciplinary issues through drawings, collages, and models… everything that precedes the building. How does the location of your practice affect your work? Karolina: We’re based in New York and I think this requires us to focus on New York right now. We’re dealing with the issues that are specific to this context, such as housing, and it takes a lot of time, effort, and expertise to understand and navigate building in New York. We don’t want to pretend we know everything about everywhere, but at the same time, some specific issues we’re working on now in New York could also apply to other areas. Expanding where we practice is on the horizon. Adam: Having an office in New York as young architects almost seems to entail working on local projects in a very hands-on way. It’s very different from what we experienced previously, where large projects or budgets enable global collaboration: everybody in the office was from a different country, traveling constantly, and working on projects scattered around the globe. But starting an office requires commitment to the place where the office exists. Eventually, we’d like to take on much larger projects, and projects outside of New York, but we’re enjoying working on smaller projects in New York right now. We can be on construction sites, work directly with contractors, and watch projects evolve on a daily basis. Is your built work more meaningful to you than your unbuilt work or vice versa, or do they hold equal value? Karolina: We’re definitely interested in building and executing buildings. That being said, we also find tremendous value in working in a more speculative manner on urban-scale projects. We understand that you have to engage projects at a variety of scales and with vastly different objectives in order to execute one project. For example, the Narrow House came out of research on overlooked and irregularly shaped narrow lots in New York City. The research at an urban scale was ultimately realized as the Narrow House, at an architectural scale. Adam: We know there is value in research and in developing masterplans and working the scale of the city and even the region, but these types of projects can take a long time to be implemented. They afford us space to think and design in a more speculative manner, but in the end, often get passed to others to execute or become smaller scale projects only slightly related to the initial conception. We enjoy the smaller scale projects right now because they can be executed and have an impact quickly. Do you approach smaller projects differently than larger projects? Adam: Our approach is different at different scales. Each scale has its own degrees of indeterminacy or looseness. When you put dimensions on the drawing, there are some dimensions you omit because there are always deviations in construction. In small projects, there might be tolerances of an eighth of an inch. In urbanism, there [are] other degrees indeterminacy that need to be built into the project, but the techniques are very different for doing so. Every scale has its own techniques and approaches. We’re also interested in developing ideas for one scale and applying them to another. For example, in a competition for temporary installation, we thought about urbanism playing out within a very small interior. We developed an idea about how a city grid hosts events and activities that unfold over time. The architect or planner cannot choreograph or script everything happening in the space of the city, but they can setup a system or structure in which activities take place. This scenario became the basis for our entry. We like the idea of applying approaches developed for one scale to drastically different scales.  You’ve stated that you view Narrow House as a prototype for confronting unused narrow lots in the city. What are the qualities of Narrow House that transcend its site? Karolina: Of course, we do not imagine this to be a copy-paste prototype, because every narrow lot is slightly different, with different zoning regulations and different existing conditions and contexts. The notion of “prototype” corresponds more to a development approach that challenges existing models of building in the city. We are thinking in terms of strategies young architects can employ to be more proactive when it comes to development and construction. We mapped over 3,400 of these narrow lots scattered throughout the city. 600 of these lots are city-owned and also not suitable for development relative to existing financial models. But they are suitable for development if other priorities take the place of simply earning profit, such as helping to ameliorate the housing crisis or inventing new forms of housing. In that sense, we're thinking about methods and policies that will enable us and others to work in these types of sites. Adam: Working on Narrow House has allowed us to think about a broader approach to designing in other narrow lots. What’s critical for these sites is not the outward expression or form of the building, it's about interior circulation and how to deliver light into a very deep floor plan. The strategies we’ve developed in Narrow House to solve these issues can certainly transfer from lot to lot. We’re also excited to now be working with New York City to help develop 23 of these city-owned lots for affordable housing. What have been the biggest highlights and challenges that you’ve faced during the design and construction of Narrow House? Adam: Those are two different things, right!? Well, the biggest highlight will be getting it done! Karolina: It's going to be our first completed ground-up project as Only If—definitely a highlight on its own. When we conceived of the project, we didn’t even know if it was legally or logistically possible. I'm not going to go into detail, but we had to prove certain things to show that it's possible to build on the site within the existing zoning. Receiving the permit was a highlight! With construction, the biggest challenge is getting out of the ground. The specific conditions of the site constrain the staging area as well as space for construction. Adam: There are hundreds of challenges. The zero-lot condition, where you're building one structure right up against another one requires layers of legal agreements, seismographs for construction, vibration monitoring, surveys for optical deflection of movements, etc. I'll share one specific challenge... in New York City, all of the natural gas comes from the Marcellus Shale. It comes through pipelines in an area where it's becoming more and more challenging to build pipelines. There's actually a pipeline that the utility company is trying to build right now under Rockaway Beach, but they can't build it and there's no more natural gas in Long Island. I was on the phone recently with a gas company asking them where to put the meter when I learned about this. All of a sudden, we have to redesign the building without natural gas, which is a good thing because we’ll be able to transition the building off [of] fossil fuels. It's a challenge that will ultimately have a positive impact in the design. All things considered, it's been a very long and challenging process. What type of projects do you hope to work on in the future? What do you see as the trajectory of your firm going forward? Karolina: Housing is definitely on our mind and we want to work on housing at a variety of scales… single and multi-family, affordable, senior, etc. It's something that we're planning on working on for a long time. But, of course, we have other interests. We understand that housing is not the only component of the city. We've been looking at public amenities and infrastructures that also constitute the city. Adam: Working on public and cultural projects is an ambition. But we’d be happy to do parking garages, too. We’re not thinking of the future of the office solely in terms of typology. We want to work with really enlightened, ambitious clients who see the value of design. How do you allocate resources for research? Does your research generate revenue or are you using revenue from other projects to fund your research? Adam: To be honest, we’re not terribly successful in managing time or money in the office. It's difficult. We both teach and are very fortunate to be supported by academic institutions. We're not an office that has “bread and butter” work that we don't publish and that we're just doing to make money. A lot of offices do that. Our time is very valuable, and we can’t imagine working on something that we’re not invested in simply for financial gain. Karolina: Research also has potential to create other projects for us. We don't see it as research for the sake of research. It's always combined with something that we're teaching or that we're personally interested in. Adam: Maybe not connected to your question, but looking at all the practices that are being interviewed as part of this seminar… everyone is teaching. We have mixed feelings about the role of teaching and academia in our practice. On one hand, teaching and being connected to and supported by an academic environment facilitates and enables research. But on the other hand, teaching takes a lot of time. It's rewarding on many levels, but it sometimes feels difficult to devote enough time to both ends, as a teacher and scholar in the academic world and as architect, striving to make significant contributions to the built environment. What's been the most rewarding moment in your practice thus far? Adam: Architecture is a very difficult profession. We find pleasure in the act of design, as simple or complex as it may be. Having an opportunity to work on projects is incredibly rewarding in and of itself. We are not motivated by the outward accomplishments. It’s simply the ability to work on complex design problems, struggle through them, find a resolution… when everything clicks, it’s very rewarding.
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Wavy Aluminum

Studio Gang's MIRA Tower twists with alternating window bays
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Located just south of San Francisco's Financial District and blocks away from the bay, MIRA Tower is a housing development that grabs your attention with a highly detailed geometric form. The project joins a spate of recently completed and under construction towers in the Transbay Development Zone, including Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects' Salesforce Tower and the Heller Manus Architects' 181 Fremont. Designed by Studio Gang Architects in collaboration with facade consultant Heintges and fabricator Permasteelisa, the tower presents a spiraling aluminum-and-glass facade arranged in a panoply of bay windows and terraces. Developed by Tishman Speyer, the size of the project is formidable and consists of both a tower and a terrace of townhouses—with a footprint of 50,000 square feet and spanning 700,000 gross square feet. To comply with FAR constraints and rules set out by the district zoning guidelines, the initial design reached a height of 300 feet. Following a request to the city government, the allowable height of the tower was raised to 400 feet with the inclusion of 156 below-market-rate apartments, or just under half the total number of units.  
  • Facade Manufacturer AGC Interpane Alucabond Euro Sabbiature Ductal Permasteelisa
  • Architect Studio Gang Architects
  • Facade Installer Permasteelisa
  • Facade Consultant Heintges
  • Location San Francisco, CA
  • Date of Completion 2020
  • System Custom aluminum curtainwall system
  • Products AGC Interpane Planibel Clearlite with Ipasol Shine 59/32 & Planibel Clearlite ACM Panels by Alucabond L01 UHPC Ductal Panels
Studio Gang turned towards the architectural vernacular of the San Francisco-area for the overall form and massing of the tower and townhomes, reinterpreting classical bay windows into a contemporary gesture. There are ten different bay geometries: each is an isosceles triangle 14-feet wide and with differing spandrel and glazing dimensions, and with a maximum depth of six-and-a-half feet. Thirty bay window units are found at each level, adding up to, in total, over 1,000 across the tower. Shifting the bay geometries was not the initial direction of the project but a discovery during the design phase that, through offsetting and repeating a set of variations every 10 floors, a profound level of detail could be added to the project without causing undue complications in fabrication and construction. Through the inclusion of bay units across the facade, each residence is afforded daylight from multiple directions and sweeping views of the city at large. Facade consultant Heintges joined the project during the early schematic design phase to both conceptualize the enclosure design and develop a facade system with sufficient waterproofing and compatibility with locational seismic requirements. “In this system, the windows act like a freestanding window wall, loaded at the sill and allowing movement at the header,” said the Studio Gang design team. “The spandrel panels, on the other hand, are rigid enough to take the wind loads and transfer the window loads down to the slab.” The resiliency of the tower is further strengthened by a heavy central core that allows for exterior pieces to move independently of another during seismic events. For the longterm maintenance of the facade (specifically window washing at great heights) Studio Gang and Heintges incorporated a number of intermittent stabilization anchors across the bay units. In collaboration with building maintenance consultant CS Caulkins and cleaning device fabricator Sky Rider, the design team developed a custom platform capable of being lifted between the bays by integrated attachment points. The project broke ground in late 2017 and topped out in mid-2019; Permasteelisa handled the fabrication and installation of the facade panels and typically fitted out each floor in four days, completing the job at the tail end of 2019. The bays were fastened directly to the slab edge from within the building, a measure that, along with the division of spandrel and infill, reduced the use of a crane on-site and in turn lessened energy consumption and neighborhood disruptions stemming from site logistics. “Three-dimensional aluminum spandrels cover the slab edge and are anchored to the post-tensioned slab with steel embeds that extend vertically,” continued the Studio Gang design team. “Behind the aluminum panels are stiffeners that resist wind loads, reduce deflections, and control flatness. In order to realize the steps between bay geometry variations, there is always a horizontal portion of the panel which either faces up as a sill condition or down as a soffit condition.” Studio Gang principal Steve Wiesenthal and Heintges senior principal Karen Brandt will present MIRA Tower at Facades+ San Francisco on January 31 as part of the “Twists and Stacks: Assembly Innovations” panel.  
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Welcome to Pelliland

San Francisco's fourth-tallest tower inches closer to approval
San Francisco’s Planning Commission has approved a new 61-story, 800-foot-tall mixed-use tower at Transbay Center. Designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects for a group led by developer Hines, if approved and built as currently planned, it would be the city’s fourth-tallest building. Located at 542-550 Howard Street, the currently vacant site is known as Parcel F and sits across from the Transbay/Salesforce Transit Center and Salesforce Tower—both also designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli. Anticipated to be the last major high-rise in the Transbay district, the proposal incorporates a 189-room hotel, nearly 300,000 square feet of office space, and 165 market-rate condominium units. Additionally, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s design calls for just under 9,000 square feet of retail space and a 183-car below-grade garage with bike parking. The scheme also includes an elevated pedestrian bridge that would connect to the PWP Landscape Architecture-designed Salesforce Park atop the Transit Center. Like its taller neighbor, this latest glassy, 935,000-square-foot building is not without challenges and controversy. The development has already been through several rounds of refinement since the initial design reveal in 2016, with a reduction in the number of hotel rooms and residential units, as well as the size of the proposed commercial and retail uses. The office space is already fully leased to Salesforce. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the proposal has also faced challenges related to an annual citywide cap on new office space and has met with resistance from community groups in neighboring Chinatown, who are concerned about potential shadows cast over the popular Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground. Similarly, although 546 Howard Street’s developers would foot the bill for 337 units of off-site affordable housing, seen as vital in a city with dramatic and seemingly intractable housing shortages, as per the Chronicle, activists have expressed fears that these homes will not be affordable enough for area residents. Despite these setbacks, the San Francisco Planning Commission approved the project, and now 542-550 Howard Street’s final approval rests with San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.
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West by Northwest: Oregon Ways

The mythologies of Oregon’s utopian seekers still informs its design and architecture today

A few months back, while casually scrolling through some feed or another, I was struck by a series of images for a Portland-based boot company, Danner. Kicking up a faint cloud of dust with measured, deliberate steps, a lone photovoltaic maintenance worker moves across the image between parallel sets of solar trackers in a 64-acre facility in the high desert landscape just outside of Bend, Oregon. Emblazoned in bold over the image, the word “STRONGHOLD” conjured the work-boot family and the attitude of the region from which it springs. In what could pass for a Green New Deal campaign lifted from only the most heroic of WPA posters, other images from the commercial shoot evoke the photovoltaic maintenance process—a delicate operation involving technical expertise, careful stewardship, the right boots “built for comfort and stability,” and a Dodge Ram with plates reading “1932,” Danner’s date of establishment prior to relocating to Portland, where it would supply loggers with caulked boots during the Depression. From those origins spring the current slate of boot categories: work, hike, lifestyle, hunt, military, and law enforcement, producing an uneasy space where aesthetic cohesion and mythologizing coagulate in an open wound of mixed messaging between bright green and militarized versions of the future. The Danner website declares: “The Future Is Strong.”

Scenes like the above are a renewable resource in the Pacific Northwest, underwritten by a low-key utopian sense that’s as much about a “way” of doing things as it is about place. Oregon is of the American West, but not exactly the center of its mythos. In the estimation of the 1940 Federal Writers’ Project guide to the state, Oregon’s position at the “end of the trail” leveraged terminus into an exceptional charge that “inspire[d] not provincial patriotism, but affection”: “The newcomer at first may smile at the attitude of Oregonians towards their scenery and their climate. But soon he will begin to refer to Mt. Hood as ‘our mountain.’” Here, the “dismal skies” and rains of winter were merely the “annual tax” one paid for the privilege of inhabiting a state of “eternal verdure”—a cozy picture that excludes the desert land east of the Cascades mountain range and a whole host of volcanic and seismic activity lying in wait and prone to violent outbursts.

For its part, the city of Bend has recently been deemed a commuter town for Silicon Valley and is an increasingly expensive playground where brewpubs, rec centers, inner tube flotillas on the Deschutes River, and extensive parkland make their own kind of lively stronghold at the base of the Three Sisters Mountains. As in Portland just on the other side of the Cascades, there’s a rolling collision between earlier imported and newly imported visions of an affluent good life in nature that are just complementary enough to exist in tenuous détente while other narratives vie for recognition.

Upon arriving in Portland by way of a westward drive through the Columbia River Gorge, it was hard for me to escape the impression that this working landscape had been staged as an advertisement for the achievement of a kind of augmented reality just removed from the usual roiling of time. The B Reactor at Hanford, Washington, and the still-toxic ghosts of the Manhattan Project were out there somewhere, as was a Lamb Weston facility that processes 600 million pounds of frozen potato products annually, but here in this gash through the Cascades was a vision of forward movement in balance. Flanked by wind turbines running along the hill crests and with Hood’s emblematic peak directly ahead, rail and moss-lined roadways delivered a parade of works and features, from dams, locks, and spillways to waterfalls and elevated viewpoints. Some of these projects, like the Bonneville Dam, have been held up as pivotal but imperfect New Deal–era models of public hydropower administration, while The Dalles Dam is known more for its erasure of Celilo Falls, once a critical center of indigenous cultural and economic life. Such erasure and fragmentation, however, are far from the exception, as white nationalists have also long found refuge in Cascadia’s crevices and realty boards since the state’s founding in black exclusion. Here, too, the American Redoubt and various Cascadian secession movements pick up where Ernest Callenbach’s more countercultural 1975 novel Ecotopia left off with utopian search/seeking, be it for an ecotopia or a white nationalist stronghold.

As a perverse addendum to the theme of exclusion, however, Oregon’s urban growth boundaries have made for a compelling regional planning model, containing sprawl to preserve the "natural" playground and its biodiversity. In all things a kind of balance. Runaway utopian-as-utilitarian dreaming was, after all, the villain of California-born author Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 novel, The Lathe of Heaven, a fable of Portland’s exceptionalist attitude and the relative wealth of its natural inheritance. In this corner of the country, there was the possibility, for some, of a more comfortable—or less uncomfortable—future. Still, the novel’s status as a critique of progress or a privileged and resigned version of the same remains difficult to discern.

Storied weirdness aside, Portland is one of several metropolitan centers with the self-designation, “the city that works.” And it does, though critiques of the “sustainable city” are rolling in from those willing to cast a more critical eye toward the externalities and displacements produced through progress of this sort. Persistent NIMBY-ism and the ongoing battle over a proposed I-5 expansion amid new reports that Portland’s carbon emissions reduction progress has flatlined since 2012 suggest that the city’s climate policies are still far from where they need to be. On a more positive note, Oregon HB 2001’s move to effectively dissolve single-family zoning was the kind of course correction one would come to expect in the wake of new evidence of housing need. As with other improvements over its history—UGBs, public ownership of the coast, mass timber innovation by firms like LEVER and Hacker, ecodistricts, hydropower, cycling culture, and transit-oriented development—in paving the way for a proliferation of duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes, Oregon again models a quietly progressive version of a future.

Exemplary care-oriented building projects also come to mind, like the Seven Corners Collaborative in Southeast Portland, where Waterleaf designed a new, fully accessible colocation center for local nonprofits that provide support services for people with disabilities, along with an assistive technology lab for training, consultation, and public interface. Elsewhere, in the Lents neighborhood, a shelter in the repurposed shell of an old church forms the heart of a new “family village” campus by Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, Carleton Hart Architecture, and Corlett Landscape Architecture that’s furthering the use of trauma-informed design and concentrated service delivery for families experiencing homelessness. Also in Lents, the new Asian Health & Service Center by Holst provides a venue not only for much-needed affordable healthcare services for the area, but also a well-appointed infrastructure for community social events, all granted a generous view of Mt. Hood from the top floor. SCOTT | EDWARDS ARCHITECTURE’s Portland Mercado fulfills a similar social function for Portland’s Latinx community through a modest adaptive reuse and landscape strategy that ties an existing structure together with a series of food carts, covered outdoor space, and copious seating. Led in part by the efforts of the latter two firms along with Ankrom Moisan and organizations such as Home Forward and Central City Concern, recent supportive housing projects in the city, such as Bud Clark Commons, the Beech Street Apartments, Garlington Place, and the Blackburn Center, are also demonstrating how architecture can operate and innovate through a lens of care and playfulness rather than singular virtuosity or brute force.

This ethos also comes out in Portland’s new and renovated green spaces, such as the collaboration by 2.ink Studio and Skylab on Luuwit View Park in East Portland. The park stands as a microcosm of the city’s celebrated urban landscape innovations, complete with community gardens, dog park, skate park, event shelter, public art, stormwater treatment area, and bilingual signage to acknowledge and accommodate the diversity of new residents in the neighborhood, as well as trails aligned with distant landmarks like Mt. St. Helens, or “Luuwit,” as named in the Cowlitz language. Likewise, with Cully Park in Northeast Portland, 2.ink explored similar design elements on the site of a former landfill in an underserved neighborhood, including significant habitat restoration, a fitness course, and the city’s first Native gathering garden. Developed by the community nonprofit Verde in partnership with the city, the project engaged neighborhood residents throughout the process with outreach, employment, and education programs. 

More broadly, a host of design and planning-based initiatives work to translate reparative sociopolitical agendas into spatial terms, such as the Portland African American Leadership Forum’s 2017 People’s Plan and the more recent Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability publication on the Historical Context of Racist Planning in the city. Blocking pipeline projects and filling streets in the name of climate action, Sunrise, XR, and 350PDX also stake active claims on the city and its future, while newly constructed works like FLOAT’s Portals in Southern Oregon stage direct action pipeline resistance, countering fossil fuel extraction logics with an expansive meditation on architecture’s capacity to support multispecies reciprocity. Further, initiatives and organizations throughout the region like Columbia Riverkeeper, Sightline, Wisdom of the Elders, the High Desert Partnership, and the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project engage in environmental care and land management through advocacy and cross-scalar collaborations, while efforts by the Friends of Trees and the city’s Green Street Steward Program involve volunteers in urban greening and bioswale maintenance. On the academic front, Portland State University’s Center for Public Interest Design was founded in 2013 to respond to the needs of underserved communities in the city and abroad and has since paired design-build work with robust community engagement processes, while the University of Oregon has launched a multidisciplinary fellowship initiative in Design for Spatial Justice, which mobilizes theory and practice in foregrounding narratives, experiences, and modes of design, political action, and biodiversity conservation long marginalized or excluded by fields responsible for the built environment.

How this expanding constellation of projects and practices might fare in an escalating climate struggle is a crucial question. With even cursory estimates of climate-induced in-migration to the region due to sea level rise alone projecting numbers in the hundreds of thousands over the next few decades, the challenge for utopia would initially seem to be one of scale. The war footing rhetoric of the GND, like that of the New Deal before it, anticipates such scales of action in the work of justice and infrastructural investment. A war footing for scaling care, however, is perhaps a more fraught and paradoxical charge, particularly as the goal would be to move beyond a narrow definition of relief as an improvised response toward the construction of more durable and equitable systems merging care with justice.

In a dysfunctional climate regime, what does it mean to position oneself as a stronghold or a refuge, or a model city? When PG&E issued its now-infamous directive to its California customers to “use your own resources to relocate” when the utility company unilaterally shut off power to nearly a million people back in October, it signaled that climate change survival would become a matter of self-reliance if left in the hands of those with no obligation for care. Against this backdrop, even a modicum of external accountability would come to appear as care and competency. As Holly Jean Buck writes, “There are plenty of scenarios where we deal with climate change in a middling way that preserves the existing unequal arrangements…[where] even muddling through looks like an amazing social feat, an orchestration so elaborate and requiring so much luck that people may find it a fantastic utopian dream.” In a global theater of sociopolitical and ecological degradation, it becomes difficult to assess the utopian potential of projects that work well within familiar registers, leading in some cases to a privileging of expediency and the reenactment of functioning models. 

But, even with the relative risk aversion, what bridges the perceived cultural gulf between the measured and occasionally errant strands of progressivism in the Pacific Northwest and the most fanciful Silicon Valley fever dreams is the recurring belief in some level of remove as a precondition for positive transformation and mastery. The right person in the right boots in the right geography, and a comfortable future is assured. The inclusion of photovoltaics in that picture is a welcome addition, but what is the future of an image like this in a present where what’s demanded is both a dissolution of the concept of human mastery over the environment and a dramatic mobilization, reorientation, and upscaling of progressive instruments closely aligned with the tools, attitudes, and systems that delivered the environment to the brink of collapse in the first place? Its violence veiled as much as romanticized, the story of a pioneer harnessing the productive power of a landscape was one promise of “the West.” As many of Oregon’s latest projects begin to suggest, there are and should be others, and the next steps are critical in defining the kind of refuge the region will become.

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Cost and Cost and Cost versus Benefit

New York's original offer for Amazon HQ2 included an extra $800 million
Nearly a year after Amazon abruptly canceled plans to build its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, new information has surfaced revealing that New York officials offered $800 million more in incentives and grants than initially disclosed to lure the tech giant to the state. Documents revealed from a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) by The Wall Street Journal showed that the $2.5 billion deal also included reimbursements for construction costs, additional tax credits and grants, and even the potential for the state to pay some Amazon employees' salaries.  After the company's much-publicized courting process to find a (suspected) home for HQ2 in 2017, the decision to split the project and place one headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and the other in Queens was met with immediate pushback from New York residents and as local politicians. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district borders the potential HQ2 site, strongly opposed the deal to give away billions to the tech giant, while others worried that the influx of thousands of tech workers would raise housing prices and displace locals. Yet, New York’s deal still seem to pale in comparison to other offers—New Jersey topped the list at $7 billion in incentives.  State officials defended the inflated offer, citing initial expectations of a larger HQ2 in Queens. “Throughout the negotiating process, we sharpened our incentive package and ultimately secured a better return on investment for the state and the biggest economic development opportunity in New York’s history,” Matthew Gorton, a spokesperson for Empire State Development, told the Journal. The new information reignites debate about the cost versus benefit of Amazon’s nixed plans. Supporters claim that the revenue and investments from the online retail giant—over $27 billion in 25 years by some estimates, as well as thousands of jobs—would have made the initial subsidies a small price to pay. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes, because it would be a great economic boost,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo jokingly told reporters during the bidding process. Criticisms over the state’s eagerness to appease Amazon at whatever cost, however, ultimately prevailed. 
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A House Divided

Where do the Democratic frontrunners stand on housing?
Although the 2020 election is a year out at the time of writing, and the first Democratic primary in Iowa is two months away, the battle to become the Dem frontrunner is becoming increasingly brutal. As the campaign field is winnowed on what seems like a daily basis, and a once sprawling cast has been cut back to a handful of mainstays and self-financed billionaires, we've aggregated the housing views of the top six Democratic contenders. Whoever wins the next presidential election will have the ability, and mandate, to reshape the American housing landscape; and in turn, how our cities develop. (For brevity's sake, President Trump's housing plans have not been included, as they will likely remain the same. This may change over the course of the presidential campaign proper.) Of course, because housing, urban development, and construction are issues intertwined with livelihood, race, climate, trade, and a myriad of other issues, each candidate's approach can't be examined from just one angle. Joe Biden While former Vice President Joe Biden has not released a housing plan writ large, he has announced a goal to house all formerly incarcerated people as a part of his Plan for Strengthening America’s Commitment to Justice. His announcement promises to direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to require all contractors to allow formerly incarcerated people in their facilities. This implies that HUD is building much at all at this point, whereas the reality is that so much funding has been drained away from the department over the years that what is created through federal grants is a paltry drop in the bucket. The department's total budget is $42 billion; more than half of that goes towards rental assistance, $3.3 billion for Community Development Block Grants, and $2.78 billion for public housing capital projects. Not only is this figure inadequate for the housing needs of people of low-to-moderate means in general, it wouldn’t even meet the needs of the formerly incarcerated. Biden’s plan also argues for more funding for transitional housing, something previously cut by the Trump administration. However, by addressing such a narrow part of the general problem of housing, Biden tends to inadvertently suggest how little he is conscious of the actual problems of housing in the U.S.; as the New Republic put it, based on what he has plans to do, Biden should be president for five minutes. That doesn’t mean that Biden’s policies might not indirectly improve housing conditions for those in need of assistance. His Plan for Rural America for instance, talks about improving the middle class and investing in rural places. But the details are more about improving trade policies to help farm exports, which might benefit large agribusiness more than small farmers. Biden also talks about providing microloans for beginning farmers and aiding sustainable farmers with access to markets by having federal programs buy from them directly, which are so small-bore and marginal as proposals as to reinforce the notion that Biden has awfully few ideas when it comes to rural housing initiatives. Perhaps the most promising areas of Biden’s policies that could be relevant for housing are his Plan to Invest in Middle-Class Competitiveness, which is essentially an infrastructure bill, and his Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice, which is essentially a policy in support of the Green New Deal resolution. Biden talks here about directing HUD to increase the energy efficiency of low-income housing, which wouldn’t expand the housing stock; however, it would increase the federal energy standards for appliances and building equipment, accelerating the adoption of stricter building codes. The knock-on effects of these could hold real promise for improving the quantity and quality of housing, if legislated well, but there are huge gaps here in terms of addressing the incentive structures that cause the housing stock to remain unaffordable to half of American households. Biden mentions increasing the funding of the New Market Tax Credit (a tax incentive to build in low-income communities) to $5 billion to support Community Development Financial Institutions. This is still a drop in the bucket for a nationwide program and totally insufficient to support the needs of small-and-medium-size cities—for instance, it's estimated that the New York City Housing Authority could need up to $68.5 billion in repair costs alone by 2028. Elizabeth Warren As one would expect from her “She’s Got a Plan” motto, Warren has a relatively substantial set of policy proposals for how to create affordable housing. Her Safe and Affordable Housing plan hits back at a number of factors causing distortions in the housing marketplace to the detriment of lower and middle-income earners. The plan sets a top-line goal to reduce rents by 10 percent, but her argument is initially premised on the mistaken assumption that prices are a function of supply and demand. In the very next line, Warren correctly acknowledges the contrary: Market incentives are producing higher-end housing that is more profitable but doesn’t meet the needs of at least half of the population. In response, Warren has introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act in the Senate, legislation that would invest $500 billion over ten years to build, preserve, and rehabilitate up to 3.2 million units affordable to lower-income families. This goes a long way toward injecting capital into a part of the housing market that banks don’t lend to and that has been starved for access to federal loans and grants for decades. Some of the smaller aspects are relatively minuscule but may be marginally helpful, such as providing capital to black communities and underwater mortgages, trying (again) to force banks to lend to low-income communities in line with the long-ignored Community Reinvestment Act, and offering incentives to municipalities to loosen restrictive zoning that limits lot sizes and requires parking, driving up costs. At the same time, Warren has put forward a plan to protect and empower renters, a group largely ignored by the American dream of homeownership that turned into a nightmare during the mortgage-backed securities crisis. Thirty-percent of homes are renter-occupied in the U.S., with 57 percent owner-occupied and more than 10 percent vacant either annually or seasonally. Warren wants to use the $500 billion in federal housing subsidies as a prod to force states and municipalities to adopt a federal just cause eviction standard, a right to lease renewal—effectively a sort of federal rent control if done right—protections against construction evictions, and protecting tenants’ right to organize. To the extent it could be effectively written, passed by Congress, and enforced, this legislation could substantially change the trajectory of housing costs. Apart from that, Warren has a number of clean energy policies that would impact the housing sector; in particular, the ambition of creating a zero-carbon building standard by 2023, a mandate to move toward 100 percent zero-carbon new buildings by 2028, a subsidy for retrofitting existing building through tax credits, access to financing for moderate-income households, and direct federal grants. Bernie Sanders True to form, Bernie Sanders' housing plan is articulated in broad, sweeping strokes, premised on ideas of economic justice. “Housing for All” is simple and to the point: “In the richest country in the history of the world, every American must have a safe, decent, accessible, and affordable home as a fundamental right.” It’s also comprehensive in addressing the problem, analyzing the shortfall of 7.4 million units of housing affordable to the lowest-income households. Sanders' plan identifies seniors and people with disabilities as particularly vulnerable, in addition to those affected by rising prices and the failure of wages to keep up with prices in cities and rural areas. Also true to form, Sanders does not shy away from addressing the costs: $2.5 trillion over 10 years to build nearly 10 million permanently affordable housing units. The breakdown is distributed through a $1.48 trillion investment in HUD’s National Affordable Housing Trust Fund, focused on building permanently affordable rentals and providing assistance to first-time homeowners. He proposes allocating an additional $400 billion towards the construction of two million mixed-income social housing units, $410 billion to fully fund Section 8 rental assistance for the 7.7 million rent-burdened households nationwide, along with $70 billion to rehabilitate and decarbonize public housing. Sanders would ask Congress to repeal the 1999 law that prohibits using federal funding for new public housing. In rural and tribal areas, Sanders has proposed adding $3 billion to the Indian Housing Block Grant Program to build, preserve, and rehabilitate affordable housing in sovereign tribal lands, and $500 million for affordable developments in rural areas, along with regulations protecting existing units from conversion to market-rate housing. Sanders’s platform includes measures for combatting gentrification, exclusionary zoning, segregation, and housing speculation. Like Warren, he would protect existing tenants by implementing national rent regulation, specifying limits to annual increases of no more than a three percent annually or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index, with waivers for significant capital improvements; a “just-cause” requirement for evictions, and a right to counsel in housing disputes. Sanders has proposed a 25 percent "flipping tax" and a two percent empty home tax, but the rest of this part of the platform is fairly weak compared to the direct language elsewhere, as it leverages access to federal funds to incentivize jurisdictions to pass their own inclusionary zoning laws. Also like Warren, Sanders has included a robust set of policies to achieve reduce energy consumption in homes, aiming for 100 percent sustainable sources of electricity and a zero-carbon building sector by no later than 2030. This would be achieved by weatherizing, handing out grants for retrofitting, replacing mobile homes with zero carbon modular units, replacing gas heat with electricity, and subsidizing HVAC replacements with energy-efficient equipment. Pete Buttigieg Pete Buttigieg’s language is measured, reasoned, and clear, making concerted arguments that are rooted in unifying, centrist values. “Security means ensuring every American family has safe, affordable housing” is the headline under affordable housing in his list of campaign issues. But in spite of that, his platform on affordable housing is extremely narrow, oriented around what he calls the Community Homestead Act, a part of his set of proposals for how to redress the history of redlining and discrimination against Black homeownership. Somewhat like land banks in cities with a history of housing vacancy and abandonment, Buttigieg proposes to create a national housing trust that would purchase abandoned properties and redistribute them to qualifying families in pilot cities. Sounds extremely limited, and the bigger problem—as anyone familiar with land banks knows—is that abandoned properties are generally stripped of anything of value. They typically sit empty for many years and lack building services, the building envelopes and rooftops often needs expensive rehabilitations, and they have other serious problems that make them inordinately complicated and time-consuming to fix compared to new construction. Beyond that, Buttigieg lists in bullet points the goals of ending homelessness for families with children, national funding for affordable housing construction, and expanded federal protections against eviction and harassment of tenants, but he provides no detail how to achieve any of them. Michael Bloomberg Mike Bloomberg’s campaign includes proposals for new housing and an earned income credit under one headline policy, perhaps acknowledging that wages and affordability are inevitably linked. As one might expect, his pitch to primary voters leans heavily on his record as mayor of New York City, claiming a legacy of pioneering programs to allow New Yorkers to “gain access to housing and build house wealth” (He doesn’t say which New Yorkers or how many, and certainly some people got rich and were able to buy homes during his administration). An “expansion of funding for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit…would add hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing over ten years,” claims the Bloomberg campaign. This policy will be familiar to New Yorkers, who recall the city aiming to create or preserve 250,000 units of affordable housing during five years of his administration. This same target, more or less, was the ambition of every mayor since Koch in the 1980s, including Bill de Blasio. We don’t know if Bloomberg achieved it or not, but the campaign's literature quotes an official crediting him with creating 165,000 units during his 12 years in office. Homelessness had significantly increased by the end of Bloomberg's third term, however, and the city had lost more affordable housing than it had gained. This proposal is somehow even less ambitious but stretched thinner, and on a national scale. Bloomberg has also called for an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit, which would especially help single families with children, and an increase in the minimum wage, which would theoretically address the income levels of households, while leaving untouched the market incentives that tend to push up prices. At $15 an hour, a single-income household would be earning $31,200 a year, which is around one-third the income needed to rent a typical apartment in New York City. Andrew Yang Despite Yang’s excitement about some shipping containers he encountered during a campaign stop in Las Vegas, with apologies to Lo-Tek, the future of housing is not discarded cargo shipping containers, nor is it at the center of his proposed housing policies. That said, the incident does capture the infectious tech optimism of the Yang campaign, a sense of hopefulness about finding data-driven or engineering solutions to problems. Yang's argument for what he calls human-centered capitalism is an argument for regulating markets in a way that serves public interested goals rather than profit-making. Unfortunately, his thinking about housing policy doesn’t take how profit-making functions in the actual housing market into account. Yang’s proposed housing policy falls under the category of zoning, and focuses on the need to eliminate zoning limits that supply-siders think are the main reason why housing is expensive. Free up restrictive zoning and money will magically flow through the invisible hand of the market to fill the affordable housing gap, the thinking goes. As we know, in reality, all things being equal, the market tends to supply housing to the highest income earners, because it favors higher profitability when there are no other regulations or mandates in place. Yang uses San Francisco as a model of how restrictive zoning prevents new housing from being created, but that is a gross oversimplification of San Francisco's problem, and it suggests that historic preservation, protection of neighborhood character, and a human scale can be easily sacrificed for greater density, rather than using other constraints and incentives to produce a more balanced housing market. Zoning is one tool among many, but by itself, it’s not sufficient.
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Uptown Blues

Manhattan judge shuts down Mayor de Blasio’s Inwood rezoning plan
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Verna Saunders nullified Mayor Bill de Blasio’s controversial 2018 plan to rezone Northern Manhattan’s Inwood neighborhood to allow for the construction of larger apartment buildings on December 19. While touted as a necessary solution to the area’s housing crisis, community members, and activists fervently disagreed and sued the administration on account of their concerns being ignored. Saunder’s ruled that the city failed to look at these matters closely.  If approved, the plan would have rezoned 59 blocks north of Dyckman street to increase density and commercial development along 10th avenue, a move that protestors believed would accelerate gentrification, displace residents, and negatively impact minority and women-owned businesses. Despite these concerns, de Blasio vowed to appeal what he called the judge’s “wrong-headed” decision.  After Saunders sent the matter back to the Office of the Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department told The City, “We stand by the city’s thorough environmental review and will challenge this decision so important projects, including the building of 1,600 new affordable homes in this community, can proceed.” Despite the promise, protestors believe that income requirements for such housing are often set too high for many local residents.  State Senator Robert Jackson responded excitedly to the news in a tweet saying, “the Inwood Rezoning has been STRUCK DOWN!!!,” congratulating and thanking both Inwood Legal Action and Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale, activist groups and organizers responsible for filing the lawsuit. At a press conference on Friday, December 20, he explained that, “We deserve a JUST rezoning, not this one that put profits over people. I hope now the city will let the community lead, as should have happened from the beginning.”  Resident Ayisha Oglivie, a member of Northern Manhattan is Not For Sale said, “I was screaming at the top of my lungs,” when she read the decision. “It’s about justice for our community. This is about a precedent being set for this entire city.”
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screaming into the void

Battle over Snøhetta's Upper West Side tower continues
The debate over imposing height restrictions for the Snøhetta-designed tower at 50 West 66th Street on Manhattan’s Upper West Side continues. The preservation group Landmark West is arguing that Extell, the building developer known for its Billionaire’s Row towers along 57th Street, is continuing to illegally use mechanical void space to circumvent height restrictions according to Gothamist. Such voids are meant to hold mechanical equipment and have been, until recently, exempt from maximum floor area caps according to zoning regulations, giving developers leeway to inflate building heights and charge a premium for boosted units.  The life of the now-775-foot tall tower began in 2015 when the project was announced at just 262 feet, but the building had swelled to its current height by the time the first renderings were released in 2017. As previously reported in January, Extell was given a 15-day window to scale the design back after pushback from local politicians and community groups. The current design has a total of 176-feet blocked out for mechanical equipment, which was reduced from the original 192-foot void. A recent amendment to the zoning law, however, which counts any mechanical space over 25-feet toward the maximum floor area, will not affect 50 West 66th Street because it was passed after plans were already approved. Activists and politicians alike are now accusing Extell of keeping the majority of the building’s 176 feet of mechanical floors empty of any equipment. Landmark West claims that only 22 percent of the void space will actually be filled with equipment, meaning that the mechanical rooms are predominantly included to boost the building’s overall height. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal have both opposed 50 West 66th Street, which could potentially become the tallest building on the Upper West Side.  “These ‘mechanical floors’ are not being occupied by their purported use. They are more than half filler space that will go unused,” said Brewer in a statement to the Board of Standards and Appeals yesterday. “To permit this development to move forward as proposed sets a dangerous message to other developers who will surely seek similarly unjustified mechanical deductions for their buildings.”