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2019 Holiday Gift Guide

What do architects want for the holidays?
Putting together your wish list? Feeling the call of consumption? Stuffing a stocking for that special someone? We’ve crafted a list of some seriously covetable objects to help you out, including an Alessi lunch box and ceramic tiles designed by Gio Ponti. This compilation of curiosities will measure up to any architect’s standards. Sacred Ground: The Cemeteries of New Orleans By Robert S. Brantley Princeton Architectural Press papress.com | $40 Architectural photographer Robert S. Brantley has surveyed New Orleans’s most notorious cemeteries for more than 40 years. Sacred Ground presents his sublime duotone photographs of the gravesites of 20 notable individuals (comprehensively detailed in each chapter index), organized by cemetery. Dana Butterfly rug Classic Rug Collection classicrug.com | $249 Many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s rugs were designed specifically for each project or to pair with his furniture designs—but few were actually produced. This winter, the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation collaborated with Classic Rug Collection on a series of rugs, including an art glass–inspired textile that references the 1902 Dana-Thomas House. Food à porter lunch box Alessi alessi.com | $78 Japanese-born, Milan-based designer Sakura Adachi teamed up with Alessi on this thermoplastic lunch box inspired by bento boxes and lacquerware. The box is organized into three compartments hermetically sealed by two interior dividers and held together by plastic, handbag-like straps. Portagioie - Oggetti collection Dimorestudio dimorestudio.eu | $2,000 For this holiday season, Milan-based design firm Dimorestudio created a collection of festive tabletop accessories, including this sumptuous jewel box. The Art Deco-inspired case is fashioned in a glossy lacquered wood featuring brass, satin steel, and Pietra Paesina marble inlays. Scale Bar Scarf Sam Jacob Studio samjacob.com | £30 ($38) This scarf can be used in the field as a measuring tool. At two meters long, the scarf has black and white scale divisions that make it easy to size things up. Palace tableware Seletti seletti.it | $150–$700 Pilasters and pediments adorn this Italian Renaissance-inspired series of plates, bowls, and trays. The series is shaped like four iconic mansions from the era, including the della Signoria, Palazzo Borghese, and Palazzo del Governo. Gio Ponti Ceramic Tiles Fattobene, exclusively at MoMA Design Store store.moma.org | $25 each These ceramic tiles were originally designed by Italian architect Gio Ponti in 1960 for a hotel project. They are now available as single pieces for the first time ever, as part of a special selection of Italian-made design at the MoMA Fattobene pop-up. Breaking Ground: Architecture by Women By Jane Hall Phaidon phaidon.com | $49.95 Breaking Ground celebrates women in architecture from the early 20th century through the present day with a detailed account of over 200 masterpieces around the world. Quotes from the likes of Eileen Gray and Elizabeth Diller provide inspiration from women of the past, present, and future. Glass House Snow Globe The Glass House Design Store designstore.theglasshouse.org | $75 Frozen in time inside a snow globe lies a miniature version of Philip Johnson’s Glass House, the most iconic of all of his works. Shake it gently to see snow float gently over its flat roof. Daniel Libeskind Eternal Star Hanging Frosted Ornament Atelier Swarovski atelierswarovski.com | $89 This bright and beautiful ornament designed by Daniel Libeskind features a laser-inscribed star. When it catches the light, the star sparkles like a glimmering night sky. A-Pack by Leon Ransmeier Maharam maharam.com | $385 New York-based industrial designer Leon Ransmeier was asked by textile purveyor Maharam to design a bag that he would use himself. With both utility and beauty in mind, Ransmeier chose a waxed cotton canvas sourced in Scotland to compose a sloped apex backpack with a handle directly on the center of gravity—which ensures the shape will not slump when it is worn or handled. Hudson Yards "The Vessel" Novelty Plug Wolfgang & Hite wolfgang-hite.com | $75 Last but certainly not least, design firm Wolfgang & Hite has produced a limited edition run of their butt plugs modeled after Thomas Heatherwick's massive contribution to Hudson Yards. "Made of medical-grade silicone, this simulacrum of the original Vessel will take you to dizzying heights," reads Wolfgang & Hite's product description. Only 50 were made for this holiday season, so act fast.
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Restoring the Ruins?

Russia and Syria announce joint project to restore ancient city of Palmyra
Earlier last week, Russian and Syrian officials announced that they would team up to restore the National Museum of Palmyra. Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, oversaw the signing in Damascus between the Hermitage, Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums (DGAM).  Located in the northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of what was once a great oasis city in the Syrian desert nest known for being one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the architecture of this civilization often combined Greco-Roman and Persian influences with local traditions. However, the site had been targeted for deliberate destruction by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and in 2014, much of the city and nearby historic religious buildings were damaged. Over the course of 2015, ISIL (also referred to as ISIS) destroyed the ancient Lion of Al-lāt statue, The Temple of Baalshamin, The Monumental Arch, and the Tower of Elahbel, among many other historic sites. A statement posted on the Hermitage’s website states: “Both agreements are a tangible step in the significant development of museum and research ties between Russia and Syria,” according to The Art Newspaper. The goals of the agreement include a collaborative effort between the Hermitage and the National Museum of Oman to restore 20 Syrian antiquities from Palmyra, followed by the later restoration of the city as a whole, which is still suffering from the damage created by ISIL. Representatives from UNESCO, DGAM, and the Aga Kahn Foundation will also form an advisory group for the campaign and work with the Hermitage to restore the selection of artifacts.  Piotrovsky said that restoring the museum is the first step and is “of particular value for the entire complex,” but reiterated that the ultimate goal of preserving the ancient city will be quite a process and, “we are preparing for the day after tomorrow, it’s not yet possible to do anything tomorrow.” However, this is far from the first attempt at preserving Palmyra's history; numerous attempts have been made to scan and recreate the structures and artwork found there, including creating a digital archive.
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Fair Pay for Fair Work

Lawrence Scarpa on paid competitions
The following editorial comes courtesy of the Lawrence Scarpa, a co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Brooks + Scarpa Architects, in response to Matt Shaw's October 24, 2019, article on the value of paid architectural competitions. Matt. After reading your post, “Here’s to Paid Competitions!” about the design competition for the new cafe at the Everson Museum in Syracuse, it reminded me of the many pitfalls surrounding the vast majority of design competitions and the abuse of design professionals that are rarely made public. While the Everson Museum Competition appears to have been equitably organized and includes some compensation, most competitions grossly exploit architects and designers and their valuable skills. Competitions today are a “Client Take All” proposition with perhaps one architect or designer as a winner. Even when competitions are well-compensated, the requirements for deliverables, such as physical models, 3D visualizations, travel for interviews, etc. almost always exceed the amount of compensation offered, by double or more! I have never heard from any architect, EVER, that has said anything other than how much they’ve spent or lost (beyond the compensation) to partake in a design competition. Furthermore, the large majority of design competitions rarely get built. Not because of poor design or any problem(s) with the designer or architect, but because too many clients are quick to hold a competition before they have funding for the project, control of the site, jurisdictional approval, political support, or many of the realities that are necessary to permit and build a competition-winning scheme. Take the recent Guggenheim Museum competition in Helsinki, for example. Many millions of dollars were spent by hundreds of architecture firms around the world with the promise of the “career-changing” commission. Result: No commission and NO BUILDING. (Winning such a coveted commission and seeing it built are about the equivalent of winning the lottery or being struck by lightning). No big deal for the client(s), as they’ve invested very little relative to the benefits they get from the architects' work. Another similar competition was recently held in Bentonville, Arkansas, sponsored by a major foundation that paid shortlisted firms $5,000 each to compete, and again, after the architects spent well in excess of the stipend amount, they were informed that maybe only one of the five sites that were part of the competition might be constructed. Just last week, I was told by a globally recognized firm that they just finished a competition where they were paid $450,000 to prepare a design proposal but had spent almost $2 million to complete the competition submission. Recently, our firm was short-listed for an important commission in South Florida by an unnamed city. When the teams were notified for their interview times, and even though it is against Florida law, they were told that the selection committee was expecting to see design proposals during the interview. No compensation was offered, nor did the rules state that this would be a requirement. I was shocked that a municipal organization would brazenly break the law. Yet no team dared challenge this demand as it would be a sure ”death sentence” and the chance to win the competition would go to zero. Unfortunately, these examples are more of the norm than the exception. To add insult to injury, we have a network of architect-slash-competition advisors that, rather than informing clients of the great benefits that architects provide and how they should be compensated fairly, they instead get paid handsomely by the client to round up the best architecture talent and get them to do extensive amounts of work for competitions at little to no cost. When was the last time you told your attorney that if they represent you for free this time, and that if you like them and their services, you might hire them for future work? Architects should simply say NO to competitions that are: a) Not compensated fairly and/or b) do not have an extremely high probability of being constructed. Furthermore, organizations that hold competitions and do not hire or engage the winner for professional services to construct the building should be held accountable for false advertisement and be required to pay all competitors for the time they spent preparing their competition scheme. By the way, many competitions also require that the architect or designer give up their ownership and copyright for their designs they create Unfortunately, there has been little movement to change this unjust practice surrounding competitions. Britain’s Architects' Journal has at least started a conversation on the issue. They’ve assembled a panel to look at how competitions are being run  and followed up with an article by Ella Jessel titled, “What is Going Wrong with Architectural Competitions?” Derek Leavitt’s blog, “Why Open Competitions are Bad for Architects?” highlights even more poor and unfair practices surrounding design competitions. What is sorely needed is an organization that officially sanctions all design competitions, that have been vetted and proves that they have the ability to pay the design professional in accordance with industry standards and have the funds to build the project they are offering in the competition. Competitions are a massive investment for design professionals, and at the very minimum, they should be treated fairly and given proof that the competition they are about to enter is not just a dream! Architects and other designers rarely talk publicly about this for fear of becoming the Colin Kaepernick of the design world. Competitions in the U.S.A. are a far cry from European and other countries' models, even China's, where rules and compensation are clearly stated at the onset of a competition and submission requirements are more fairly aligned with the expected deliverables. This has started a new and alarming trend for “Design Awards” as well, with so many magazines and organizations starting to charge $500 and more just to submit for an award, but that is another story. It is time for our profession to stand up against this treatment, but more importantly, advocate for the valuable services and skills we provide. It would be interesting to hear from your readers and others about their experiences with design competitions. Hopefully, there will be a few readers brave enough to speak up and hold those who exploit designers accountable.
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The RA Zoo

Where are the so-called Eco-Visionaries coming to save our planet?
To planet Earth, the city of Venice being a designated UNESCO World Heritage site is meaningless. It can, and will, treat the city with abject indifference as was demonstrated earlier this month. In more recent climate chaos news, floods have devastated other parts of Italy, causing a viaduct to collapse near the city of Savona; meanwhile, across the other side of the world, fires are raging across the Amazon and Australia. Bizarrely, and tragically, many governments lack the impetus to make any meaningful change in this regard. We find ourselves in a dire situation, crying out for radical approaches that will galvanize the human race into action, something that Eco-Visionaries, which opened last weekend at London's Royal Academy of Arts (RA), strives to do. First of all, what an exciting name: "Eco-Visionaries," does it get more enticing than that? Upon entering the exhibition, audiences are greeted with a rotating model globe shrouded in green, murky dust. Playing through speakers in the background meanwhile, is Clara Rockmore's ominous rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Cygne (The Swan). This is Domestic Catastrophies nº3: La Planète en Laboratoire by French artist collective HeHe and it sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, which is a sobering affair; but the vision of what, exactly, is as about as clear as HeHe's installation, despite being populated with visionaries. But that's not to say it's all doom and gloom either, despite the fact that the second installation you see features a giraffe being graphically shot, with blood spewing rapidly from its neck. A journey has been crafted by in-house RA curator Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (who worked with Pedro Gadanho and Mariana Pestana to curate the original show for Lisbon's MAAT) taking patrons through installations that highlight the climate crisis we find ourselves in and propositions that attempt to mitigate it. This seems like a natural progression one should take when addressing the issue of saving the planet: here's a problem and here's how we might solve it. However, Eco-Visionaries jumps between art as commentary and architecture as proposition, and struggles to get a strong grip on either. The architecture that does hint at radical change has to build upon the success of others—New York firm WORKac developed The Dolphin Embassy from Ant Farm, while Paris-based Studio Malka Architecture's Green Machine riffs on Archigram's Walking City. Both fall short, and architects don't come off as potential planetary saviors by any stretch. The strongest installations, meanwhile, are presented as art. An imaginative proposition comes from Turkish designer-artist-researcher Pinar Yoldas, whose Ecosystem of Excess envisages plastic-gobbling pelagic insects populating a post-human planet and cleaning it up in the process. On a similar strand, working alongside DeepMind artificial intelligence, artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg's recreation of a white rhinoceros is powerful. The now-extinct creature comes to life at a 1:1 scale, developing from a wandering cluster of pixels into a great beast that seems confused by the white box it finds itself in. Here we question, besides humanity, what lies ahead for the animals of this Earth. Extinction? Digital archival? That's certainly not the case for jellyfish, who, as it turns out, are seemingly the harbinger of the end times. The pulsating creatures thrive in the conditions created by climate change. "More warm water," says a narrator in the exhibition's final, and best, exhibit, "is a disaster for anything that breathes and a dream come true for anything that doesn’t breathe much, like jellyfish.” Titled win > < win, the installation is by Berlin-based artist group Rimini Protokoll and occupies a room in the third and last gallery of the exhibition. win > < win splits audiences in two with a circular tank filled with jellyfish—something the RA had to obtain a zoological license to host. With clever lighting, the two audiences are revealed and hidden from each other, the tank acting as both a mirror and portal for the divided audiences. Through headphones, we learn about the ascendance of jellyfish, a species that benefits from humans killing their predators with overfishing and pollution as plastic bags kill turtles and other animals. The influx of jellyfish has direct consequences for humans too, as they clog up nuclear power and desalination plants across the world. "Jellyfish will be the only survivors when everything else has fallen apart," the narrator ominously intones. Despite this sombre note, win > < win is fun, engaging and informative all at the same time and makes the $15 exhibition fee is worth it. It also represents a success for Delicado, who told AN that he wanted the exhibition "to talk a younger audience," hence the inclusion of more familiar names like Virgil Abloh and Olafur Eliasson, whose installations—a gold, supposedly sunken chair and pictures of melting ice, respectively—do little to inspire. And that's what we need, inspiration. In his book, The is no Planet B, author Mike Berners-Lee writes: "Whilst the idea of limiting climate change seems like essential damage limitation, in itself, it spectacularly fails to excite most of us. More often than not, it gets framed primarily as the need to forego things we enjoy. And since humans–all of us–hate thinking about anything unpleasant, the temptation to switch off is hard to resist."
Eco-Visionaries, as its title tantalizingly suggested, might change that. This was a great chance to show the world that we might, by the skin of our teeth, be able to claw ourselves out from climate change-induced catastrophe. In this regard, Eco-Visionaries falls short. Perhaps this was because the RA only allowed the exhibition to have three rooms, preventing it from going further. However, while filled with insight and inquisitive introspection into how humanity lives on this earth, the feeling of future inspiration is sadly lacking. Eco-Visionaries runs through 23 February 2020.
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Snow Joking Matter

Snowmaking signals climate control mastery and avarice in a warming world
The artificial production of snow, like that of any other material once found in abundance, can be a riveting thing to witness for the very same reason it can cause alarm: it demonstrates both the mastery of our surroundings as well and our anxious desire to manufacture them in the face of escalating material scarcity. All around the world, ski resorts and other snow-based trades are reporting that they can no longer rely on the natural cycles of the global climate to produce the snow they need to keep their businesses afloat and must consider alternative means. “If [they] relied only on natural snow,” explained meteorologist Joel Gratz, “some resorts wouldn’t be able to open at all, and others wouldn’t be able to run their base areas.” The tools for snowmaking, as it is known today, were first developed in 1950 and patented in 1952 by engineers Art Hunt, Dave Richey, and Wayne Pierce by attaching a garden hose to a 10-horsepower compressor and spray-gun nozzle. From modest beginnings came sophisticated, large-scale instruments that have been helping related businesses to maintain operations more days per year, since the 1970s. The components sited on the edges of ski paths are known as snow guns, which shoot tiny water droplets into the air that freeze before they hit the ground. One version of the snow gun internally combines water and compressed air to split the water into droplets atop a slender tower and propels them far and wide, while the more expensive version, known as an airless snow gun, propels water using only a powerful internal fan within a cannon-like form. As simple as snow guns may sound, the hidden infrastructure and software required to sustain them are modern marvels of engineering. Resorts work year-round to service and stock the water reserves embedded within the slopes, and some are able to transport as much as 12,000 gallons of water a minute uphill. And because employees of a resort cannot reasonably inspect the varying weather conditions of their sites on foot, snowmaking systems are often equipped with computerized sensors that collect hyper-localized weather data to determine the most optimal times for activating the snow guns. These sensors can not only reduce the labor costs of up to 30 percent but can also significantly lessen the amount of water expelled over the course of the winter season. Given that some of the largest North American resorts can spend as much as $2 million annually on snowmaking alone, the sensors provide a much-needed strategy for improving cost and material efficiency. Snowmaking techniques have evolved so dramatically in the last forty years, in fact, that some resorts have opened up in warmer parts of the world by relying entirely on the technology. There are now indoor ski resorts in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Australia, and other climates whose populations have rarely experienced snow first-hand. One of the first modern examples is Dubai’s Emirates Indoor Ski Resort, completed in 2005 by local company Majid Al Futtaim. The 240,000-square-foot building is raised just above the scorching desert ground, and its interior is snow-kissed every day of the year under a low-slung painting of a foggy blue sky. Even when temperatures outside exceed 106 degrees Fahrenheit, the interior of Ski Dubai remains within an optimal wet-bulb temperature range thanks to a series of overhead air conditioners that allow the snow guns attached to the perimeter to do their magic whenever a bald patch emerges on the slopes. Majid Al Futtaim is currently developing Wintastar Shanghai, which will become the world’s largest indoor ski resort at nearly one million square feet when complete, while the first indoor ski resort in North America is set to open in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on December 5 with 5,500 tons of snow on its slopes. The global water supply required for snowmaking, however, cannot easily keep pace with the development of ski resorts around the world. While the climates that have naturally supported skiing conditions, such as the Swiss Alps and parts of the American Northeast, are typically adjacent to copious water reserves that support snowmaking when necessary, the more recently developed ski resorts often go to much further lengths to keep their businesses afloat. And, given that it can take up to 14 kWh of energy (about the same as washing seven loads of dishes) to produce a single cubic meter of snow, the process of snowmaking for even a modestly-sized resort is far from energy-efficient. As naturally occurring snow becomes an even rarer commodity in the near future, the global competition among resorts for optimal skiing conditions by artificial means will no doubt continue unabated. With time, however, more sustainable methods of snowmaking may come to light—the only other alternative is conservation.
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Tortoise Grid

BKSK and BuroHappold crown Tammany Hall with a glass shell
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The neo-Georgian Tammany Hall located on the northeastern corner of Union Square has assumed multiple identities over the course of its nearly century-long existence: It has been the home of the notoriously corrupt Society of St. Tammany, a union headquarters, and a theater and film school. Now, BKSK Architects and BuroHappold Engineering are leading the conversion of the building into a contemporary office space, which will be topped by a bulbous glass dome ringed with terra-cotta panels.
  • Facade Manufacturer Eckelt-St. Gobain Permasteelisa Gartner
  • Owner Reading International
  • Architect BKSK
  • Facade Installer Permasteelisa Gartner
  • Facade Consultant BuroHappold Engineering
  • Structural Engineer Thornton Tomasetti
  • Location Manhattan, New York
  • Date of Completion 2020
  • System Custom shell grid
  • Products Saint-Gobain Parsol Grey, SGG Cool-Lite Xtreme
The design of the glass dome derives from both international Georgian precedents as well as the historical origins of the Society of St. Tammany—named after renowned Lenape leader Chief Tamanend, whose clan’s symbol was a turtle. According to BKSK partner Todd Poisson, the design team interpreted Chief Tamanend’s tribal imagery “With a turtle shell-like dome rising from this neo-Georgian landmark building, reimagining its tepid hipped roof with a new steel, glass, and terra-cotta base supporting an undulating glass dome.” Austrian manufacturer Eckelt, a member of the Saint-Gobain group, produced the structurally glazed insulated glass units. To reduce solar exposure to the office space below, the outer shell is built of tinted Saint-Gobain Parsol Grey panels treated with a high-performance sputter solar coating. The second layer of the carapace, separated from the tinted panels by a layer of air space, is comprised of clear glass panels. The roof, made of 850 isosceles triangular panels ranging from a 5- to 9-foot base, encompass a total surface area of approximately 12,000 square feet. Rising from the rear of the cornice line, the glass panels are fastened to an undulating steel free-form shell grid fabricated by Gartner. To support the weight of the dome, and to facilitate the straightforward installation of structural members, the entire structural system of the historic building was replaced with a poured-in-place concrete core—effectively transforming the original load-bearing brick enclosure into a freestanding rain screen. The project is scheduled to wrap up in 2020. BKSK partner Todd Poisson and BuroHappold Engineering associate principal John Ivanoff will present the Tamanny Hall project at Facades+ NYC on April 2 as part of the "Adaptive Reuse Challenges in NYC Historic Icons" panel.
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Keep Portland Tiny

An accessory dwelling unit conference in Portland pushes the typology forward
The biennial Build Small Live Large Summit launched in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, to help move the housing industry toward smaller, more energy-efficient homes. Originally organized under the auspices of city’s Department of Environmental Quality, past programs promoted tiny houses and accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The focus of this year’s event shifted to missing middle housing, reflecting another acute concern for many U.S. cities. “Everyone from every city is struggling to provide enough affordable housing and we all want to have a better approach to this problem,” said Rebecca Small, a planner at Metro, the regional agency that now convenes the event. The topic attracted a decidedly wonky audience of planners, but also drew builders, real estate agents, investors, developers, advocates, activists, and architects from across the country who are closely following recent legislation that lowers barriers to developing additional housing types on single-family lots. In August, Oregon passed a statewide bill that will allow the development of middle housing, defined as duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters, and townhouses, on single-family zoned lots by 2022. In October, California passed a suite of laws that go into effect in January 2020 that incentivize building ADUs, reduce restrictions for building them, and streamline the process. Rendering of a one bedroom gabled tiny home Build Small Live Large 2019 sessions covered financing and appraising ADUs, as well as strategies for passing state and local ordinances to encourage missing middle housing options. Panels mixed city planners, housing advocates, elected officials, architects, lenders, and developers who delved into the ramifications of the new code and zoning updates and explored housing models on the horizon to be reintroduced into many urban and not so urban regions. As Michelle Glass of the Rogue Action Center stressed, the perception of rural communities, such as those in Eastern Oregon, is that they’re still in the 1950s, but displacement as a result of affordability and accessibility is a very real issue there. Discussions around single room occupancy housing models, or SROs, highlighted how this once-common housing option has reemerged both as a way to help people transition from homelessness and as an affordable option for nomadic millennials as they move into and out of cities. Panelists also explored how using ADUs and cottage clusters gives the generation on the opposite end of the spectrum, baby boomers, a viable way to age in place or stay in their neighborhoods. Notably, Richard Rothstein, author of The Color of Law (2017), was the event’s keynote speaker. Rothstein drew parallels to the time after World War II when the homelessness crisis in the U.S. was comparable to today and noted how exclusionary zoning practices enacted then have resulted in deep economic disparity and segregation in the country. “If we abolish segregation in neighborhoods, the next day things wouldn’t look any different,” said Rothstein. Perhaps not overnight, but as new legislation takes effect along the West Coast and ripples out to cities such as Fayette, Arkansas, and Minneapolis, which are already updating their zoning regulations to encourage housing that creates more diverse, livable, walkable cities, the housing landscape may look very different by the next Build Small Live Large Summit.
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Plantastic

1,000 Trees cover Heatherwick Studio's development in Shanghai's arts district
Now towering over Shanghai’s Suzhou Creek is Heatherwick Studio’s latest landscape-heavy development: a veritable mountain of trees populating a sprawling, mixed-use facility made for the city’s burgeoning M50 arts district.  1,000 Trees—the project's official name—has been under construction for the past five years and its first phase, spanning 3.2 million square feet, is slated to open in 2020. As a whole, the project is made up of two buildings split across two sites totaling 14.8 acres, each featuring a jagged facade with a “mountain peak” where the highest floors top out. So far, only the exterior of the first mountain has been unveiled to the public, revealing an undulating frontage punctuated by an array of plants atop structural concrete columns.  In initial photos, the project looks like a shrine to landscape architecture, or more specifically, the diversity of plants capable of outfitting buildings. Sourced locally from Chongming Island just northeast of Shanghai, 25,000 individual plants representing 46 species make up the vision of 1,000 Trees. Over half are evergreen to ensure a yearlong verdant look for the massive structure. Heatherwick Studio used grey-green granite to create a striped or striated facade that further accentuates the plants throughout.  Shangai's M50 arts district is located in an old manufacturing neighborhood where textile production used to take place. Now, the industrial area is a boon for contemporary art and 1,000 Trees is being built to amplify that theme. At 10 stories, the first section of the development, when open next year will boast eight levels of retail, restaurants, and commercial office space, as well as room for events programming and art galleries.  Its southern, street-facing facade, is practically flat compared to the rippled, creek-front portion, but it does include a series of boxy windows of varying sizes that are set back from the building's frame. Natural light from the floor-to-ceiling glass will be allowed to percolate inside the building, while multiple tall atriums throughout the elongated structure will bring a nice glow all the way down to the ground-floor from above. Heatherwick Studio partnered with local graffiti artists to cover some of the southern windows with large-scale murals. 1,000 Trees was commissioned following the completion of Heatherwick’s U.K. Pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo nearly a decade ago. As China continues to push towards building extra-large developments, architects are also considering the role landscape plays in the country's increasingly dense environment. For example, a new green-roofed hospital with a terraced design by Foster + Partners and the Cleveland Clinic is set to rise in Shanghai as well, bringing wellness to the forefront of contemporary architecture.  Compared to Heatherwick’s smaller, albeit still plant-focused projects, such as the nearly-complete, 2.75-acre Pier 55 or “Little Island” in New York (which utilizes a similar sculpted concrete pillar approach), 1,000 Trees will completely change the look and appeal of Shanghai’s M50 arts district. Phase two of the mega-project will connect to the existing structure through an enclosed link bridge, a tunnel, and a ground-floor drop-off area. It will feature even more public space and a 129,000-square-foot park. 
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Tightening the Belt

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is tying the world together—but what's the end game?

In addition to the more infamous killing and pillaging conducted by its various hordes, the Mongol Empire, first led by Genghis Khan and later by his grandson Kublai, brought nearly all of Asia, much of the Middle East, and some of Europe under a unified system of trade and commerce in the 13th century. Consolidating ancient Silk Road mercantile connections, it brought currency into widespread use and generally sought win-win trade deals with conquered territories. While that empire faded by the mid-14th century, it gave the world a precursor to the modern-day state of China, which has embarked on its own ambitious—and, to some, unsettling—quest to link a considerable portion of the world through trade.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013 by Chinese president Xi Jinping, includes hundreds of infrastructure projects financed and constructed in part or in whole by Chinese entities in lands far beyond China’s borders. Projects include ports, airports, rail lines, utilities, industrial centers, highways, and even entire new cities and urban sectors. “Belt” refers to roads and railways while, paradoxically, “road” refers to sea-lanes; together they aim for nothing less than the unification of almost all of Asia and Africa.

The initiative segments the globe into “corridors” and involves differing levels of participation from host countries. There is no official count of participating countries, but estimates range from 60—covering nearly all of Asia—to well over one hundred. The BRI’s six main economic corridors include the New Eurasian Land Bridge, the China-Central Asia–West Asia Economic Corridor, the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor, the Bangladesh–China–Myanmar Economic Corridor, the China–Mongolia–Russia Economic Corridor, and the China–Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor.

Analysts estimate that trade generated by the BRI reached $117 billion last year. The total estimated cost, by 2027: up to $1.3 trillion. Whether that investment will pay off for China remains to be seen. Chinese banks and companies hope to profit from loan payments and contracts; the Chinese state hopes to benefit by opening markets and gaining influence. The World Bank estimates that the BRI could reduce transportation times on many corridors by 12 percent, increase trade between 2.7 percent and 9.7 percent, increase income by up to 3.4 percent, and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty.

Consisting largely of heavy infrastructure, these projects are unlikely to result in lavish Xanadus to stoke the architectural imagination. With the exception of some impressive new cities and city districts, such as Port City in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and some choice high-speed rail stations, BRI projects include workaday structures like cargo terminals, highway bridges, and the odd potash plant. The BRI recalls past geopolitical initiatives, like the Marshall Plan, by which the United States revived, and benefited from, Europe’s economy after World War II. But the BRI dwarfs the Marshall Plan, which comprised $13 billion of investment, or around $100 billion in today’s dollars—much less than BRI’s trillion-dollar scope.

As arguably the biggest collection of construction projects in human history, the BRI offers ample opportunities for architects, contractors, engineers, and other designers. Many, if not most, of the firms involved are Chinese concerns with close ties to the state. They include state-owned enterprises like China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and China State Construction Engineering Corporation, the world’s third-largest shipping company and largest construction company, respectively. Both are massive enterprises with numerous subsidiaries, and though they are publicly traded, they ultimately answer to the Chinese Communist Party.

In many ways, this effort to build soft power through hard infrastructure extends a domestic development strategy that China has followed for the past two decades. Itself a developing nation not long ago, China has built up its own ports, roads, and railroads in order to unify its national economy and give its manufacturing sector—which comprises 20 percent of the world’s output of goods—access to global markets.

The Chinese government optimistically refers to the BRI as a 21st-century Silk Road, one that harmoniously links economies and increases prosperity for dozens of countries and billions of people, representing up to 60 percent of the world’s economic output. China pitches these projects to host countries as tools of economic development. Analysts say that success, for China and BRI partners alike, depends on far more than concrete and steel. The onus falls on host countries to make use of China’s largesse. Efficient trade relies on everything from effective local governance to the mobility of workers to the mitigation of environmental impacts. In the case of partners like Belarus (sometimes referred to as Europe’s last dictatorship) whose governments are unstable, corrupt, or underdeveloped, reforms may pose greater challenges than does the development of megaprojects.

In many cases, benefits to host countries have not materialized. Many projects use little local expertise or labor; rather, they are boons for Chinese engineering firms, construction companies, and suppliers such as steel and concrete manufacturers. Once built, they take on a nearly colonial tenor, moving raw materials out of host countries and moving Chinese goods into them. And no matter how economists feel about BRI projects, the initiative has already alarmed environmentalists. The number and physical size of projects promise to remake urban landscapes, alter—and destroy—natural landscapes, and consume untold millions of tons of natural resources, building materials, and fossil fuels. Chinese environmental laws and practices are also notoriously lax compared to those in the U.S. and Europe. In 2017 the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) issued a report documenting BRI projects’ numerous incursions into sensitive habitats. WWF identified “high impacts” throughout nearly all of Southeast Asia and “moderate impacts” in BRI corridors in Central Asia. BRI projects have also been associated with increases in the use of coal for power production in many host countries. 

Beyond environmental effects, even when host countries own their assets, they are indebted to Chinese financiers. Reports indicate that many countries cannot pay off construction loans, leaving them indebted to China indefinitely. Many projects have turned into white elephants. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka was designed to accommodate one million passengers per year. Though fully operational, Mattala currently serves zero passengers, while also servicing $190 million in debt to Chinese banks. Having been a relatively poor, developing country so recently, China likely understands the pressure points of the Myanmars and Mozambiques of the world better than any other global power does.

The Center for Global Development estimates that as many as eight countries involved with the BRI are already at risk of debt distress. Some countries are in debt to China by a factor of as much as 20 percent of their GDPs. Others are now approaching BRI proposals more gingerly than they might have when the program launched. Malaysia recently canceled $22 billion in BRI projects; other countries, particularly Kenya and Mozambique, are pushing back against proposals and renegotiating deals. Ultimately, economic domination via financing may not be a great strategy—flush with cash though they may be, Chinese banks want returns on their investments no less than Western banks do. Then again, even if they aren’t repaid, the Chinese state might still get what it wants in the form of global influence.

In other words, the BRI is as much a geopolitical experiment as it is an economic development strategy.

Josh Stephens is contributing editor to The California Planning & Development Report and author of the forthcoming The Urban Mystique: Notes on Los Angeles, California, and Beyond.

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Shedding the Shed

the_shed_is_a_shack pokes fun at Hudson Yards and corporate malfeasance
On June 21, a couple of months after the opening of the Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group-designed Shed, the anonymous group behind the_shed_is_a_shack Instagram account began trolling the billionaire-real-estate-developer-funded arts center. Its organizers, who include an artist and an executive director of an arts institution, followed their friends' Instagram accounts to attract followers and began lampooning the Shed. They published a photo of a cracked electrical outlet cover and an electrical box with wires sticking out, poked fun at design and programming decisions, and savaged the financing behind the project. Increasingly they focused on its embodiment of extreme economic stratification, poor labor practices, and the "artwashing" of real estate the project embodies. We asked The Shack—as they call themselves—about the account, their trolling of the Shed and Hudson Yards, and their view of what should have happened there instead. They responded with a remarkably cogent argument for an alternative decision-making process for development on public property. AN: Can you tell us about your backgrounds or professional affiliations? Are you connected to any activist groups or have you been in the past? the_shed_is_a_shack: We are arts professionals with many years of experience with cultural institutions and in different aspects of the art world. The Shack includes an executive-level arts leader and an artist who is also active in a number of other social justice/advocacy issues. We are also people who care about our communities, our fellow citizens, and the importance of civic engagement.
 
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Are you creating some of the memes or are you mostly sharing other things you see? We create all of the content ourselves, except in a very few select cases where we have reposted and clearly credited the original poster. Our audience also sometimes sends ideas or news articles to us, and occasionally that’s a prompt for us to create a particular meme or post around that idea.
 
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How do you see this action: As advocacy or activism, or are you mostly just having fun trolling the developers? The account is light-hearted about a dark-hearted thing, and so we’re poking fun while also highlighting some very serious issues. There are a lot of problems with how money and power are distributed and abused in the art world, and also in the world at large, and what has happened (and is happening) at Hudson Yards and with the Shed is representative of some of the most egregious examples. There’s also such a huge gap between how Hudson Yards and the Shed were sold and marketed to the public, and what they have actually become. So much marketing hype was built into the selling of it, and so it feels right that the response should be similarly structured in terms of tone, as memes, faux ads, and hype-speak. Also, we’re in the art world, so we like our visuals. There’s a long history of art world projects that critique the structure and internal systems that underpin cultural institutions. We’d like to see that critique contribute to change, so there’s an advocacy element to our trolling.
 
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Is it connected to a particular set of positions? No matter how much we might have a laugh at some of the more outrageous details of Hudson Yards and the Shed, the development is actually a slap in the face to the people of New York and thus in need of more serious examination. A select group of wealthy individuals and corporations are benefitting from Hudson Yards, along with government officials who actively championed and pushed through the development to advance their own political or business interests (including Bloomberg, De Blasio, Dan Doctoroff, and others). But what did everyone else get? Our tax dollars went to build a private luxury neighborhood billed as “Little Dubai,” while many New Yorkers don’t have access to affordable housing, reliable subway lines, or adequate healthcare. The developers tried to cut out unions and limit worker safety standards, and people lost wages and got hurt. And with the Shed, our tax dollars helped pay for a building and organization that is not serving the cultural community or the public as promised, and instead has created a tax-deductible structure and plaything for the developer and his pals to utilize and benefit from. So, our position is about advocating for the public interest and for the cultural community.
 
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What motivated you in particular to start it, and is Instagram an effective tool so far to forward a message? The account started really just as a cathartic response and half-joke. We visited The Shed soon after it opened and were stunned by the experience. The building itself was in disarray. Hardware was falling off the walls or not properly installed, there were cracks in the glass and electrical socket plates, puddles of leaking lubricant from the escalator, peeling and chipped paint on multiple walls, exit signs with wires sticking out, obvious building code violations, and more.  
 
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For a brand-new, wildly expensive building supported by taxpayer money and on city-owned land—and touted by the developers and the city as representing the future of cultural institutions and civic public-private engagement—it was a massive failure. So many cultural institutions around the city are struggling to pay the bills, and money got poured into this development. It’s unconscionable that it turned out this way and that there has not yet been a reckoning for abusing the public trust. So what started as a joke among friends expanded as we realized how serious and ongoing the problems there were. Instagram is the art world’s preferred social media for the most part, at least for the moment, and so it seemed like a natural choice.
 
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What would be an ideal outcome? The desired outcome is to expand the conversation around the Shed and Hudson Yards. It’s also important to us to emphasize how the final shape of the development is not an accident; it’s what happens when a development that is privately owned and controlled does not include the appropriate level of input, regulation, and safeguarding by community groups and the public. The Shed is an extension of that core problem, with a board controlled by the developers and their buddies, and even the building itself is literally infected by and physically trapped inside the development Alien-style (The Shed ended up being constructed with much of its operational guts shared with and located inside of the skyscraper next door). So now we have a major NYC neighborhood and cultural institution that is being controlled by a small group of private investors, continuing to benefit from tax incentives and public money, in order to advance personal interests that are largely counter to the public’s.
 
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Although Hudson Yards is mostly owned by private developers, the Shed sits on public land owned by the city and is a nonprofit entity that is required to benefit the public good. So we—the public—need to hold the Shed accountable and see that necessary changes are made to the way it operates. There are many different options that might be proposed as an alternative; for example, a consortium of existing cultural institutions and community organizations could come together to re-envision how the space should operate and who should run it. The building could serve as an outpost/off-site programming space for other arts and culture organizations on a rotating basis, among other possibilities. It could also be converted into free or subsidized office/studio space for cultural nonprofits, artists, and community organizations that can’t afford rent because of developments like Hudson Yards, or for events like pop-up free healthcare clinics or other services for those in need. Further, there should be a public conversation to include government officials that rethinks how the next phase of Hudson Yards is allowed to proceed, with an eye toward much more community oversight, regulation, and built-in systems for clawing back public money/tax incentives if and when promises aren’t kept.
 
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What should Hudson Yards have been? Hudson Yards should have been a true public-private partnership, which means careful input, oversight, and regulation by the community at every stage and ongoing for the life of the development. That’s a hard and challenging process, but it’s necessary and fair if developers want to get decades of tax incentives, city- and state-paid infrastructure, and other public money. Hudson Yards could have and should have been an actual mixed-use community, with truly integrated housing for low-income, middle, and yes even some luxury, as well as a range of nonprofit, business, and retail spaces that genuinely serve the neighborhood needs more broadly. It should have true public space (not privately owned space that the developer controls on whim) and cultural venues that more fully reflect the needs and interests of the community. Cultural and creative programming and public artwork should be informed by and ultimately decided by those with expertise in the field alongside community members, not by one rich guy who wants a big Heatherwick bauble because he thinks it’s what other rich guys like. If he wants a Heatherwick (or anything else), he’s welcome to buy it and build it—but not with the support and help of public money and infrastructure.
 
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Because the developers of Hudson Yards are claiming private control of the entire space (even though this isn’t actually correct, with the Shed on city-owned land and the Hudson Yards subway part of the MTA), they are asserting that visitors don’t have the same rights they would normally have in a public space. That’s deeply problematic on many levels (impacting everything from the right to protest, to who gets to sit on benches or be otherwise harassed under what conditions, as well as in their use of facial recognition technology in the kiosks and other surveillance measures by the developers). So there should be requirements that dictate how any development that benefits from public support can control that space.
 
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Also if you have anything to add about the processes by which public property is developed . . . Similar to what we noted should have happened with Hudson Yards, the process for [the] development of public space and property (and public-private developments) needs to be more carefully safeguarded and regulated, and there needs to be oversight by independent community experts and individuals who are not in any way affiliated with the developers. And this oversight should continue for the lifetime of the property and with teeth to match (heavy fines and claw-backs for developers who renege on promises, for example). We all know how arduous these kinds of processes can be, but it’s necessary if we want to ensure projects truly benefit the public. That doesn’t mean there needs to be total consensus on every aspect of a project (which is impossible to obtain in any case and often leads to art-horse-by-committee outcomes), but it means the decision-making needs to be led by a sense of true commitment to the public good and strict, proactive measures to ensure there are not conflicts of interest. There also needs to be a more nuanced understanding and recognition of how we assign expertise and decision-making power within this oversight and community process; for example, there’s a tendency to assume “expert” in the arts only applies to a well-known museum president, a wealthy collector, or a big name artist, when in fact it should include arts workers and others who have active, on-the-job experience within cultural organizations, or an avid arts goer who is not financially able to be a donor/collector but loves art with the same zeal as an Aggie [Agnes] Gund, among other examples. There are many of these people throughout the city, and their voices should be given a place. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because our public spaces will be made better by their input.
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Oh oh oh oh, it's Essex

Mourning the old Essex Street Market
How do we say farewell to buildings? Through what strategies or mechanisms might we experience parts of the city marked by disuse or disaster? Aside from traditional adaptive rehabilitation or cosmetic upgrades, simply refraining from intervening is one possibility. Providing equitable, safe access to an otherwise untouched site can be a radical act of civic elegy. For example, earlier this year, Seattle gave its residents the opportunity to inhabit the elevated freeway on its waterfront before scheduled demolition. Indeed, numerous cultural practices celebrate the death (and/or rebirth) of structures, ritualistic events in contrast to morbid photographs documenting implosions or ruins. Such performative acts of remembrance might approach what artist-architect Jorge Otero-Pailos called "experimental preservation," whose proponents “choose objects that might be considered ugly or unsavory, or unworthy of preservation, objects that might have been ignored or excluded by official narratives, perhaps because they embody the material, social, and environmental costs of development which governments and corporations seldom account for.” The old Essex Street Market in New York’s Lower East Side, slated to be torn down, is presently a time capsule, largely unchanged since May when vendors left or relocated to the new market digs in the recently opened mixed-use Essex Crossing complex across Delancey. The historic market’s past dates to the late-19th century, when pushcart peddlers congregated on Hester and Ludlow Streets, later formalized in 1940 by Mayor La Guardia, who opened indoor public market buildings to not only alleviate unsanitary conditions and congestion but also to limit and control street vendors. In the mid-1990s the city consolidated the remaining tenants. Throughout its lifespan, the area’s changing demographics—predominantly Eastern European Jewish, Italian, and Puerto Rican immigrants—shaped the space, transforming it into a vital working-class community hub. New Yorkers had one last chance to visit before it is razed and enters the next phase. Organized by Artists Alliance Inc., Italian artist Andrea Nacciarriti’s site-specific 00 00 00 00 00 [Essex Street Retail Market] intervened into the brick building with the sparest of means, yet achieved a dramatic and visceral effect. His project blacked out the large skylights, “installing darkness,” according to curator Alessandro Facente. After signing a waiver, visitors equipped with flashlights had the chance to explore the pitch-black environment practically alone. The low visibility was pierced by a bright white cube: the former Cuchifritos gallery, now housed in the location across the street. Its door and partitions were ripped away in a pile nearby, echoing other architectural instances of institutional critique removing gallery facades or opening up such hermetic spaces. The only foreign object introduced to the building was a representation of time in the form of a mysterious, red digital clock, reminiscent of the giant one in Union Square, counting down presumably to the end of the show’s run and thus civilian access. Markets are a vibrant typology defined and energized by temporal human activity. Without people buying, selling, and surveying goods, the physical infrastructure comprises a modest stage set sans actors. Wandering amongst the abandoned stalls and empty shelves induced an exhilarating, unsettling vibe. The building’s materiality and remaining appliances/furniture all registered traces of past lives and usage; each object is information. Residual evidence dotted the abandoned aisles and walls, ranging from dry onion skins to drawings by local school children. Barren deli counters and their ilk hinted at missing wares or services. The graphic design on leftover cheese labels and flattened cardboard boxes narrated geographic origins. Prices advertised phantom radishes, leeks, baby bok choy, tomatillo, and okra. The darkness and silence attuned one’s senses moving through space, sharpening visual attention and heightening aural or tactile stimulation. Throughout the defamiliarized setting, your flashlight illuminated entropic fragments along the way. Overall, the project indexes, and invited guests to bear witness to, the types of old school New York institutions disappearing due to development, gentrification, or negligence. In this way, the ephemeral installation offered a spatio-historical experience similar to the nearby Tenement Museum. Nacciarriti framed the project in terms of a Greek play’s choral intermission, a pause and commentary in between scenes. The intention is not to freeze bits of urban fabric forever, but to acknowledge and celebrate buildings and social relations amidst brute state changes. As the city continually evolves at breakneck speeds, nuanced moments like these, of reflection and silence, become all the more valuable to help process our surroundings. 00 00 00 00 00 [Essex Street Retail Market] ran from September 13 through November 17, 2019, at 120 Essex St, New York, NY.
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Build it Back

New York City Council approves controversial East Side flood protection plan
The New York City Council voted to approve the East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project yesterday, with little opposition from officials. Local councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents the affected area, fell in favor of the $1.45 billion project, which will raise East River Park to 8- to-10 feet above sea level with landfill from Montgomery Street to 25th street to protect against future floods. Forty-six members voted in favor, with only one against and one abstention, and the plan now only has to cross Mayor de Blasio's desk, and he's indicated that he'll sign it. The project has experienced strong ongoing opposition from organized community groups, civic associations, and neighborhood parks advocates, who voiced opposition to the extended loss of play areas, removal of trees, and lack of consultation during the design process. A coalition of community groups had drafted an alternative People's Plan, which the final project considered as a part of its community engagement, along with the EDC's Waterfront Esplanade plan and WXY Studio's East River Blueway Plan. The city responded with a plan to phase work over a longer period to ensure the availability of parks during the construction. Others, like architect William Rockwell, who lives in an Amalgamated Dwellings Cooperative building and experienced severe flooding and loss of power during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, voiced support. Among the notable benefits of the design, apart from potentially live-saving flood protection, will be vastly improved pedestrian connections to the East River across on grade bridges spanning FDR Drive. The areas protected from flooding, according to the Scope of Work in the Environmental Impact Statement, fall within the 100-year flood zone and extend upland to meet the 90th percentile projection of sea-level rise to the 2050s. That includes large parts of the Lower East Side and East Village, Stuy Town, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Cove Park, which was built on top of low-lying marshes. Originated in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as part of the BIG U Rebuild by Design project—with Bjarke Ingels Group as the lead urban designer in collaboration with One Architecture, Starr Whitehouse, James Lima Planning + Development, Green Shield Ecology, AEA Consulting, Level Agency for Infrastructure, ARCADIS, and Buro Happold—the ESCR became the northern half of two separate projects, with the other part section, the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project, extending below the Manhattan bridge. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development originally committed $511 million to the project during the Rebuild by Design phase, with New York promising an additional $305 million. The environmental impact statement (EIS), however, only cites the $1.45 billion cost and $335 million committed by HUD from a federal Community Development Block Grant. An October 2019 independent review of the ESCR by the U.S. arm of Dutch water research institute Deltares noted the lack of publicly available information on aspects of the project, making it impossible to review in its totality. The report argues that "transparency of the decision-making process by city agencies will help rebuild trust and gain [the] support of the community," and recommended establishing a community advisory group and keeping community representatives involved in the later, more detailed stages of project design. It also recommended adding two more feet of fill, coordinating with the green infrastructure program, and studying groundwater patterns in the East Village to evaluate the impact of rainfall on the neighborhood and basement flooding. The implementation is being led by the New York City Department of Design and Construction with AKRF/KSE Engineering as the lead consultant.