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Decks (over) and Yards

After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

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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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Column Couture

OMA reorients the Sotheby’s New York headquarters towards the public
The renovation, reorganization, and revitalization of the Sotheby’s New York headquarters is complete, and the public is welcome to wander the newly expanded exhibition space. Instead of moving the Sotheby’s headquarters as originally planned, the OMA team (and executive architect Beyer Blinder Belle), led by Shohei Shigematsu, expanded the public galleries in the auction house’s York Street location in Manhattan from 67,000 square feet to 90,000 square feet. That meant shifting and condensing all of the public programming to the building’s first four stories, and reorienting many of the floors towards a public, museum-like experience. Works of every scale can be found throughout, and the 40 public galleries vary in size to accommodate them. The most noticeable additions are the three two-story galleries, which provide Sotheby’s with enough space to display the largest pieces of art. Concrete columns have been left exposed throughout the headquarters, and combined with the polished concrete floors, and exposed HVAC system, reference the building’s industrial past. All of these flourishes are used to accentuate sightlines and, in the ground floor’s lobby gallery, frame massive paintings and sculptures. To bring the New York Sotheby’s location in line with the auction house’s Paris and London locations, stained walnut woodwork has been used to clad the entrance portals. The renovation covers 20 different gallery typologies, from the 150-foot-long Grand Gallery, to a smaller Octagon Gallery for displaying jewelry and watches, to the Enfilade Galleries, which are punched through by a hallway. The public exhibitions, which opened May 3, highlight Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art through May 14, putting works from Picasso, Monet, Rothko, and more on display. Apart from the gallery renovations, visitors to 1334 York Avenue can also enjoy a new haute Sant Ambroeus Coffee Bar on the ground floor, next to the Sotheby’s wine store, in the summer.
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It Might Take a Miracle

Governor Cuomo trying to jump-start stalled Calatrava World Trade Center church
A year and a half after progress was halted at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) defaulted on its construction payments, Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly stepping in to get the church finished. Santiago Calatrava’s design for the church, an $80 million replacement for the 1916 building at 155 Cedar that was destroyed in the September 11th attacks, was first unveiled in 2013. That capped years of negotiations between the GOA and the city, which agreed to lease the land beneath the church to the Archdiocese for $1 a year, for 198 years. Construction on the ribbed, glowing church—Calatrava drew inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul—began in 2014, and the building topped out in 2016. While St. Nicholas was originally on track to open in 2018, Skanska USA, the church’s head construction firm, terminated its contract with the Archdiocese in December 2017 over the GOA’s failure to pay. As first reported by The Pappas Post, the Archdiocese had tapped a restricted pool of construction funds to pay off a mounting deficit, leaving it shorthanded when payment was due. The church has sat vacant and unfinished ever since. In a statement released last year, the Archdiocese installed a new board of trustees to oversee St. Nicholas, and formed the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas to fundraise for the church's completion. At the time, the Archdiocese called these "significant steps" towards resuming construction. The formation of the board follows recommendations stemming from an earlier internal investigation, with work from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now, according to the New York Post, Governor Cuomo is reaching out to potential backers to make up the $40 million shortfall. Cuomo has reportedly been reaching out to donors with deep pockets to join Friends of St. Nicholas and fundraise to finish the church. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes Foods supermarket chain, Democratic donor Dennis Mehiel, and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas have all been contacted by Cuomo, according to the Post. According to a spokesperson for the governor’s office, Cuomo has also made overtures to the Port Authority as well.
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Witness the future of architecture at Pratt Shows 2019
Going on now through mid-May at various locations across Brooklyn and Manhattan, Pratt Shows features public presentations and exhibitions from Pratt’s School of Architecture. These events showcase work from undergraduate and graduate talent touching on the topics of social impact practice, community design, urban placemaking, and more. Pratt Shows is the institute-wide celebration of work by Pratt Institute’s graduating class. These exhibitions and presentations advance new ideas in architecture, art, design, information, and the liberal arts and sciences.
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More Space News

Alicja Kwade hews a cosmos from steel and stone on the Met’s roof
An astronomical ballet has landed on the roof of Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art for the summer. The 2019 Roof Garden commission has gone to Polish-German artist Alicja Kwade, who has installed two stark sculptural interventions in the space overlooking Central Park; ParaPivot I and ParaPivot II, which will be on display through October 27. The Berlin-based Kwade has suspended nine marble spheres, each mined in a different country, including Norway, Finland, and Brazil, and uniquely veined and colored, in a simulacrum of our solar system. Each planetoid weighs between a hefty half-to-one-and-a-half tons, but have been effortlessly elevated by angular, interlocking powder-coated steel frames. The color and patterning of each carefully-selected stone mimic the most well-known features of each planet. (The nine planets represented include Pluto, which was demoted from planet-status in 2006.) As the frames fan out from a central point, the spheres’ arrangements suggest the elliptical, wobbly orbits found throughout our solar system, with many of them playfully balanced and wedged between the scaffolding. The Met describes the ParaPivot structure as evoking the “astrolabe, a scientific instrument invented in ancient Greece and perfected by Islamic astronomers in the medieval period to chart the trajectories of the stars and planets.” However, the piece is site-specific for a reason. Each rectangular scaffold creates a curated view of the Manhattan skyline, and both frames the city as well as suggests a “support” that holds it up. The effect is meant to tie the Earthly setting to the astronomical theme. Unfortunately, because of the delicate interplay between stone and steel, visitors aren’t allowed to walk underneath either ParaPivot.
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Weekend edition: Notre Dame, ADUs, LACMA, and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Foster + Partners pitches new Notre Dame spire as competition heats up Foster + Partners has floated a glassy replacement for the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral's roof, including a crystal spire and observation deck. De Blasio cracks down on glass towers as part of Green New Deal In announcing a sweeping Green New Deal for the city, Mayor de Blasio announced that inefficiently-designed glass towers would be banned. LA-Más designs colorful accessory dwelling units for Los Angeles Los Angeles–based firm LA-Más has designed a new "postmodern-plus" accessory dwelling unit to tackle the city's affordable housing crisis. New batch of renderings for Zumthor’s LACMA proposal unveiled Atelier Peter Zumthor released updated renderings of its proposed LACMA replacement that was recently approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
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Green Screen

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

St. Patrick's Cathedral also potentially threatened by fire this week
In the wake of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire, cities around the world are surely taking note on how to best preserve and protect local architectural landmarks. In New York, two highly-trafficked churches, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, have already come under closer watch. Vice News reported that on Wednesday night, New York City Police counterterrorism officers arrested Marc Lamparello, an adjunct lecturer in philosophy at Lehman College, who walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral with four gallons of gas, several bottles of lighter fluid, and a handful of lighters. While officials are still unsure whether he planned to commit a crime, the 37-year-old suspect was “emotionally disturbed,” police said. Lamparello has been charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment, and trespassing as of this afternoon, according to the NYPD News's Twitter.  The neo-Gothic church sits on Fifth Avenue across from Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Completed in 1878, it was designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. Today, it’s one of the city’s most iconic places of worship and a National Historic Landmark that sees an influx of over 5 million visitors each year. The cathedral has been added on to and renovated extensively since first opening; MBB Architects most recently completed a $177 million restoration of the building in 2015. This isn’t the first time St. Patrick’s has been subject to some form of terrorism. In 1914 and 1915, respectively, a small bomb exploded on the northwest corner of the cathedral and a trio of Italian anarchists tried to detonate a bomb inside the church. While St. Patrick's Cathedral was only threatened with potential arson this week, a beloved parish uptown actually did get some real heat. The crypt at the historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic Revival structure in the world, caught fire on Sunday morning. New York Daily News reported that a small blaze broke out at 10 a.m. and was extinguished by the fire department in under an hour. Located in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights neighborhood, the late-19th-century piece of architecture was most recently renovated in 2008 after a 2001 fire swept through the north transept of the church, damaging the gift shop and a bit of its famous Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. In 2017, the building and its historic grounds were designated a New York City Landmark.
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Gangland

Jeanne Gang makes the 2019 TIME 100 list
TIME magazine has released its list of 2019’s most influential people, and Studio Gang founder and 2011 MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang was the only architect to be included. “Jeanne Gang has the WOW factor,” wrote actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith, who nominated Gang to the list. “Her stunning Aqua, in Chicago, is the tallest building ever built by a woman…Referring to the growing socioeconomic divides in our cities, Jeanne has warned her profession against ‘sorting ourselves into architects of the rich and architects of the poor,’ and focuses instead on discovering ‘new possibilities for the discipline and beyond.’ And it all started with playing in the dirt and making ice castles. Wow.” The Chicago-based Gang was named in the “Titans” category, where TIME honors those at the top of their respective fields, placing Gang shoulder-to-shoulder with golfer Tiger Woods, Disney CEO Bob Iger, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It appears that the magazine is recognizing one architect every year; in 2018 it was Elizabeth Diller, David Adjaye in 2017, and Bjarke Ingels before that. The only other design professionals singled out this year? Joanna and Chip Gaines of HGTV fame, who were nominated by former quarterback (and current Mets player) Tim Tebow.
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Mapping the Amazon

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