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KZF's Carol Ann's Carousel features figures inspired by Cincinnati landmarks.
Courtesy Robert A. Flischel

The carousel game is changing dramatically as cities look to revitalize their downtowns with family-oriented urban activity. This spring has seen two brand new carousels open, both of which are housed in contemporary architectural pavilions. Carol Ann’s Carousel opened in April at Smale Riverfront Park on the banks of the Ohio River. The 44-character, $1 million carousel sits inside of a $4.5 million glass pavilion designed by the Boston-area firm Sasaki Associates and Cincinnati architects KZF Design. It is situated alongside a public fountain plaza.

“The whole 30-acre park along the river is designed by Sasaki to be contemporary, and has really brought the downtown back to life. We wanted the carousel to add one more attraction. We already have the world’s largest [outdoor] foot piano,” said Steve Schuckman, superintendent of Cincinnati’s Division of Planning and Design/Program Services. “The glass box allows it to be an attraction year-round, as well as capitalizes on the stunning views of the Roebling Bridge.”

Carol Ann’s Carousel, Cincinnati, OH, KZF, 2015.
Courtesy Robert A. Flischel

The all-custom carousel itself draws upon the history and culture of Cincinnati, including the architecture of what was once the epicenter of the pre-railroad Midwest. The figures were hand-carved by artisans at Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, the world’s largest maker of wooden carousels.

The characters and landmarks were decided upon through a survey of the community. Final carousel figures include an elephant wearing the Cincinnati Zoo Elephant House as a hat, a giraffe wearing the “tiara” from Cincinnati’s tallest building, the iconic Great American Tower, and a gorilla that pays homage to the city’s former tallest building, the historic Carew Tower.

SeaGlass Carousel at The Battery, New York, WXY Architecture, 2015 (planned).
Courtesy The Battery

“Cincinnati buildings just have so much unique architecture, there was just a huge abundance of elements for us to look at and work with,” said Kate Blakley of Carousel Works. “We tried to take the concept and instead of doing a literal interpretation, we worked each building into a design. There are little details of architectural elements hidden in there, and there are Easter Eggs once you look closer. Even if you don’t know anything about Cincinnati.”

The building is a “jewel box” style design that is based loosely on Jean Nouvel’s Jane’s Carousel pavilion in Brooklyn. However, Schuckman explained that Cincinnati’s new building will have more amenities, including restrooms, support services for parties, and a conference space on the floor below. It is also built above the 100-year flood line.

Jane’s Carousel, Brooklyn, NY, Jean Nouvel, 2011.
Courtesy Jean Nouvel

Cincinnati is not the only city to be jumping on the contemporary spinning jinny bandwagon. Heading east, to Manhattan’s downtown tip, families can enjoy the SeaGlass Carousel at The Battery, an unconventional carousel that will feature a school of fiberglass fish that will bounce up and down on hydraulics, while glowing from inside. The carousel and modern pavilion were designed by WXY Architects, and will be an immersive environment that will feature integrated music as well.

Both of these carousel pavilions point toward a larger trend of carousels as urban landmarks embedded within urban revitalization schemes. Many older carousels have been refurbished and relocated to modern buildings. Jane’s Carousel sets the standard, and is cited as inspiration for both the Cincinnati pavilion and Cleveland’s new merry-go-round, the Euclid Beach Carousel, encased in a glass building by Richard Fleischman + Partners Architects of Cleveland, which opened in 2014.

Euclid Beach Carousel, Cleveland, OH, Richard Fleischman + Partners Architects, 2014.
Courtesy Richard Fleischman

Bette Largent, president of the National Carousel Association and publisher of the carousel trade magazine the Merry-Go-Roundup, explained the importance of the buildings, whether for wooden carousels or for fiberglass renditions. “New or old, the carousel is becoming more profitable if it is climate controlled. Many owners of old signature style buildings are understanding this and are adding air-conditioning for summer operations and have seen significant ridership and profit due to this. It also is more comfortable for the public and protects the wooden figures.”

Although many new air-conditioned spaces have opened for a variety of carousels old and new, the Ohio pavilions along with New York’s are setting the standard for modern carousel design. The Ohio-New York axis is nothing new in urban design, as Cincinnati’s Roebling Bridge (1867), served as a prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883. While bridges and large infrastructure were a defining feature of cities in the industrializing 19th century, the advent of small-scale urban interventions, such as parks, improved landscaping, and of course, carousels, are playing integral roles in shaping today’s urban experience.

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Milan hops on the car-banning bandwagon with its own proposal to create zones of "pedestrian privilege"
Milan is the latest city to join the ranks of Paris, Madrid, Brussels, and Dublin in expelling cars from its smoggy, often gridlocked city center. Unlike its more zealous counterparts, the city has opted for an incremental approach, with no proposed timeline and a gradual, virtually street by street implementation. Despite taking things slow, deputy mayor Lucia di Cesaris stressed that the plan will amount to no less than a “soft revolution.” Earlier this month, she announced the pedestrianization of the Piazza della Scala, the grand square on which the Scala Opera House is located. Purging the square of vehicles will extend to the north the existing pedestrian zone in Milan’s heart, consisting of the Cathedral Square and the area around the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the adjacent shopping arcade. After the Piazza della Scala joins up with this zone, the car-free area will extend into the streets beyond the square. Pedestrianization of this area, a hub for arts and culture venues, is a welcome move to transform it into a thriving, open-air promenade. Over on the city center’s southern edge, Navigli, one of Milan’s most romantic neighborhoods, is expanding its pedestrian area, creating a car-free bar and café quarter to add to the just-pedestrianized Piazza Missori nearby. Ultimately, the objective is what the deputy mayor calls “the creation of a vast area of pedestrian privilege.” Long beset by pollution problems, Milan has experimented with an array of schemes—from banning traffic altogether for 10 hours on a Sunday in February 2004 when smog levels exceeded the statutory maximum, to paying commuters to leave their cars at home and use public transportation. A coalition of Milanese companies sends drivers vouchers worth $1.87 (the average daily cost for using public transportation) for each day their vehicles stay in their driveways between the hours of 7:30am and 7:30pm. Dedicated “black boxes” installed behind vehicle dashboards track the car’s whereabouts to verify compliance. According to Inrix, a traffic information provider, Milan has the worst traffic of any city in Europe, and one of the highest pollution levels in the continent.
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nARCHITECTS reveals Café Pavilion for Cleveland's revamped Public Square
New renderings for one of the largest public space projects in the Midwest have been revealed, showing a new 2,500-square-foot “Café Pavilion” in Cleveland's Public Square. Brooklyn's nARCHITECTS designed the structure, which appears in renderings via project lead James Corner Field Operations. It will be the only structure on the 10-acre square, besides the existing Soldiers and Sailors' Civil War monument. Cleveland's Public Square is the subject of a major overhaul led by designers and engineers at at James Corner Field Operations, Cleveland's own LAND Studio and Westlake Reed Leskosky, as well as transportation consulting firm Nelson/Nygaard. The project aims to remake the splintered downtown park into a pedestrian-friendly destination that will catalyze development in the area. The cafe structure will serve as a billboard for that transformation. A curated “art wall” faces out, beckoning pedestrians passing by Terminal Tower and acting as the primary entrance to Public Square. Stainless steel panels and tall glass windows broadcast modernity on the building's other faces. “As a building with no back, each side of the Café Pavilion is meant to be a unique ‘front’ façade that offers a different experience,” reads the project description. The cafe, currently under construction, is expected to open in 2016.
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NYC DOT's "Great Streets" vision for Atlantic Avenue lacks any bicycle infrastructure
As part of Mayor de Blasio’s mission to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City, his administration has committed $250 million toward its “Great Streets” initiative to redesign four of the city’s most dangerous arterial roadways: 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, Queens Boulevard, and  Grand Concourse in the Bronx. On 4th Avenue in Brooklyn—which is known as “the canyon of mediocrity” for its lackluster architecture—the Department of Transportation is making permanent a temporary road diet it put in place in recent years. Street adjustments like wider medians and banning left turns at certain intersections have paid huge dividends: On a 15-block stretch of the remade roadway, pedestrian injuries decreased 61 percent. The DOT did not include bike lanes in its road diet, instead opting for 13-foot-wide parking lanes. Construction has also just begun on the DOT's "Great Streets" remake of Queens Boulevard, a harrowing roadway dubbed the “Boulevard of Death." This transformation has been widely lauded in transportation circles for its inclusion of pedestrian pathways and protected bike lanes. But now the DOT has unveiled its $60 million plan to remake two miles of Atlantic Avenue, and like many recent street-calming measures undertaken by the department (Queens Boulevard excluded) it does little—if anything—to protect the city’s cyclists. On the dangerous section of Atlantic, most of which is in East New York—a neighborhood de Blasio wants to rezone to create affordable housing—the DOT plans to replace existing medians with longer and raised medians that have space for plantings and benches. The design would also implement left turn bays, high-visibility crosswalks, ban left turns at some intersections, and create mid-block crossings. The DOT says these strategies will calm traffic and reduce speeding. “The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety,” wrote StreetsBlog, “but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.” As part of its Vision Zero rollout, the DOT had previously re-timed traffic lights on Atlantic Avenue, and stepped-up traffic enforcement. It was also one of the first streets to have its speed limit dropped from 30 miles per hour to 25. The absence of any bike infrastructure in this “Great Streets” project is especially notable given the fatal bicycle crash that recently occurred just off Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. After the cyclist was killed, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a press conference at the intersection calling on the city to fast-track a redesign of the dangerous intersection. Adams also brought reporters on a bike ride along Flatbush Avenue to underscore the harrowing conditions cyclists have to contend with on many city streets. Last year, pedestrian fatalities in New York City fell to their lowest level in over a century, but cyclists' deaths rose from 12 in 2013 to 20. The DOT says it will finalize this plan with the Department of Design an Construction by August 2016 and start construction the following spring. It remains to be seen what the department has planned for the Grand Concourse.  
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No longer endangered: Greenpoint's Sgt. William Dougherty Playground will be revamped after facing threat of closure
Space-starved Greenpoint is about to receive a welcome overhaul of its Sgt. William Dougherty Playground, a compact park at the corner of Cherry Street and Vandervoort Avenue. Once threatened with a four-year closure to facilitate completion of the Kosciuszko Bridge in 2013, the park will now receive some extra real estate—with a modest expansion from 0.76 to 0.83 acres—and a perimeter fringed with trees. Officials from the NYS Department of Transportation announced plans for a new rectangular design and a children’s playground with all-new equipment on a rubber safety surface. One of the main attractions will be a skate park designed by “mayor of NYC skateboarding” Steve Rodriguez of 5Boro with its own viewing area and skate fixtures, including a bank to bank, double-mound, hubba (skate wall), flat bank with a ride wall, and a 3-inch ramp. For cooling off on hot summer days, the playground will have spray showers for kids to run through. The plans were spurred by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway construction, in which led to buildings being demolished, longtime businesses relocated, and the park downsized. According to the proposal, the existing basketball and handball courts will be relocated to a more central position in the park, while the three entrances—two off Anthony Street and one on the corner of Vandervoort Avenue and Cherry Street—will be outfitted with new gates. At the community board meeting, residents requested a basketball court that could be converted into a skating rink in the winter, however, this idea was rejected by Jim Lau of the NYC Department of Transportation, who said: "We found it to be too much of a liability. It would not be feasible." While the existing park offers no restroom facilities, its new iteration will have a comfort station installed on the Anthony Street side of the playground between the spray shower and skate park. The park honors US Marine William Dougherty of the 155th infantry, who fought and died in World War II.
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Bike to work without the smog: the Clean Ride Mapper helps Canadian cyclists find quieter, less polluted bike routes
In urban canyons where tall buildings on both sides occlude sunlight, pollution, too, is prevented from dispersing. The Clean Ride Mapper is an interactive map that allows cyclists to choose quieter cycling routes with reduced traffic and pollution levels. After inputting starting point and destination, users are shown three color-coded routes—green being the cleanest (as measured by cumulative exposure to nitrogen dioxide and ultrafine particles from fuel combustion), blue the most direct, and red the quietest as gauged by average traffic density the cyclist is likely to encounter. The map is powered by a dataset of air quality indices acquired over four years using $60,000 air-quality sensors attached to bicycles ridden by Montreal residents. While the routes occasionally overlap, there are times where cyclists must choose between an expedient journey or a roundabout ride for the sake of reducing pollutant deposits in the lungs. Maria Hatzopoulou, the creator of Clean Map Rider, claims that these detours are rarely longer than one kilometer (0.6 miles). Assistant professor of civil engineering at McGill University, Hatzopoulou created the online tool for cyclists in Toronto and Montreal as a project for the Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. “On certain days, some of Montreal’s most popular cycling paths, such as the one along the Lachine Canal, are also the most polluted because of wind patterns and proximity to highways,” a news release from the university stated. Considering its on-the-go user base, an obvious shortcoming of the fledgling tool is that there is no smartphone app, and users must click around—with repeated zooming in and out—to approximate their origin and destination rather than inputting an exact address. However, the map’s finer points are in the social pressure it exerts on cyclists to contemplate the smog they inhale every day. Clean Ride Mapper’s news release further cautions that traffic intersections fraught with idling cars also tend to be epicenters of pollution in cities. A similar project led by Columbia University in partnership with New York’s local NPR station, is being executed in New York City, whereby dozens of cyclists will be recruited to don air-quality sensors to accumulate data on bikers’ exposure to air pollution.
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Bernheimer and Dattner start work on BAM building as construction in Brooklyn's art district kicks up a notch
As Downtown Brooklyn's skyline grows taller, denser, and a bit more interesting, construction is whirring along in the BAM Cultural District just across Flatbush Avenue. The latest project to break ground within the area is bringing the borough new cultural institutions, affordable housing, and well, architecture. It's the Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments. The 115,000-square-foot structure was designed by Bernheimer Architecture and Dattner Architects with some landscaping accoutrement by SCAPE. The mixed-use building includes a restaurant along with the Center for Fiction and space for the Mark Morris Dance Group. Above the building's cultural podium are 109 apartments, 40 percent of which are below market-rate. "Extensive glazing at the lower floors highlights the cultural components and activates the pedestrian experience," Dattner explained on its website. "In-set balconies and double-height terraces articulate the upper base and tower." The Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments is intended to flow into the collection of high-design buildings and public spaces that are appearing one after the other on numerous sites around it. The building's restaurant, for instance, flows into Ken Smith's Arts Plaza which itself flows into the slightly cantilevering Theatre For a New Audience by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. Between the new apartment building and the existing theater and plaza is yet another planned building—a 200-room hotel with a jagged facade by Leeser Architecture. There's one more big project to mention on the block: FXFOWLE's 52-story mixed-income residential tower that is quickly ascending into Brooklyn's skyline. On the other side of Fulton Street from the tower is the BRIC Arts Media House, another Leeser project. Adjacent to all of this is the site of Francis Cauffman's very artsy and wavy medical center that is currently under-construction. And across Lafayette Avenue is TEN Arquitectos' 32-story, mixed-use residential tower that is beginning to make its ascent.
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Step inside COOKFOX's new Brooklyn tower complex
Prolific construction watcher Field Condition recently toured phase two of COOKFOX's under-construction City Point development in Downtown Brooklyn. The firm's new pair of towers are already standing out in Brooklyn's bummer of a skyline with their non-glass facades and series of setbacks. The shorter of the pair—standing 19 stories tall—is 100 percent affordable and clad in grey-blue metallic panels. It stands next to the 30-story market-rate tower that has a primarily terracotta facade. The two buildings are scheduled to be completed next year, but why not take a look at where things stand now.
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This virtual pong game at NYU aims to restore social interaction to gaming and activate an abandoned storefront
While abandoned storefronts normally signal dereliction, Brooklyn-based design studio Urban Matter Inc. is using them to recreate the '80s arcade experience prior to personal gaming consoles—at least on the pilot test level. The Play Array pop-up storefront activation is a larger-than-life virtual pong game made of a 6-by-8-pixel grid. Passersby can play the game by using their smartphone to control the “ball” using steering wheel-like maneuvers, hosted on website The ball’s path is indicated by the lighting up of the interactive LEDs housed in 46 disc-like connected pixels manufactured using a rotomolding process. Behind each polyethylene pixel are ultra-bright LED neopixels arranged in a 1.5-inch circle. Each horizontal row is embedded with a brain pixel which controls the LEDs in itself and the other seven pixels in the row. The pixels are then affixed to low-budget milk crates and then mounted in the window. The large-scale participatory game board is currently on display at the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress in Brooklyn. “[Play Array] takes gaming out of our phones and computers and places it in the public venue for people to enjoy, and in turn create conversations and connections,” Urban Matter Inc. wrote on its website. Developed over six months, the installation focuses more on play and participation instead of the bare-bones game itself, which draws inspiration from the classic Pong video game. The installation will remain for a number of weeks not only to facilitate unforeseen friendships between players on the street—which Urban Matter’s website nostalgically attributes to the arcades of yesteryear—but to create awareness for urban and citizen science and innovation.
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SHoP Architects' twisting skyscraper in Miami includes two acres of glowing digital billboards
Even in a city like Miami, this twisting, LED-emblazoned tower seems a bit over the top. The curious 633-foot structure, called the Miami Innovation Tower, is the work of SHoP Architects, a firm known for adventurous designs, from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to skinny supertall skyscrapers in Manhattan. But even with that reputation, this one takes us by surprise. The Miami Herald reported that the tower is part of developer Michael Simkins' plan for a four-block scheme to be called the "Miami Innovation District." The massive complex would sit between Miami's booming downtown and Overtown, which the Herald noted is one of the poorest parts of the city. Last week, SHoP reportedly submitted plans to the city for the Innovation District. But let's circle back to that twisting tower for a second. The basics: it has three sides, each of which can sport a digital sign up to 30,000 square feet. These massive walls will be put to good use, flashing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are also two more billboards on the tower's podium. So, to recap, in total, the Miami Innovation Tower is poised to include two acres of advertisements. Along with this advertising acreage, the tower will also have lounges, restaurants, gardens, plazas, and observation decks. In a statement to the Herald, Simkins said: “The iconic tower will elevate the city’s brand on a global level, enhance the city skyline, and complement and enhance the surrounding community." That could be true, if by "enhance the surrounding community" you mean flash glowing ads around the clock. The tower definitely has some hurdles to pass before its billboards are switched on, but Simkins' vision might actually happen. "Miami’s zoning administrator gave [Simkin's] Miami Innovation Tower plans a nod in March 2014, and in December the developer signed a covenant with the executive director of the redevelopment agency, which has to sign off on his sign application because it lies within the agency’s boundaries," reported the Herald.  While the project will surely be controversial (the non-profit Scenic Miami has already said it is "appalled, truly appalled" by the plans), large-scale digital ads are not new to Miami. Just ask the dancing LED woman on the side of the Intercontinental Hotel (below).
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Strolling the Strand
Among the recommendations of the Brooklyn Strand concept is a market beneath the Brooklyn Bridge viaduct.
Courtesy WXY

For most of the last century, Downtown Brooklyn’s streets have formed a tangled knot that has confounded urban planners. Urban renewal beginning in the 1930s ripped out vast swaths of the borough’s urban fabric, putting back disconnected parks and plazas. Highway building campaigns tore at the street grid and ramps to the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges complicate access to and from the waterfront.

In the summer of 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a series of initiatives aimed at positioning the borough’s civic core as a technology hub called the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. Part of that plan—redeveloping a 21-acre expanse of parkland called the Brooklyn Strand—has come into focus with a new concept plan by WXY Architecture + Urban Design that gives shape to the community’s recommendations from more than 40 stakeholder groups and nearly a year’s worth of public input.

A parking lot at Borough Hall would be replaced by a retail pavilion with a park-like green roof (left). Existing structures in Cadman Plaza would be repurposed for education and retail (right).

The Strand links together a series of disconnected and underutilized green spaces to form two unified corridors—the Cadman Connector and the BQE Connector—between Downtown Brooklyn and the waterfront in DUMBO, creating safe and visually appealing streetscapes and parks from the heavy-handed planning mistakes of the 20th century.

“We want to rectify the mistakes of urban renewal,” WXY principal Claire Weisz told Curbed after a recent community board meeting. “We want to create a sense of identity for the Strand so it doesn’t feel like no man’s land. There are many opportunities to reimagine streets… And that would become the brand of the Brooklyn Strand.”

Redesigning streets around Borough Hall would bolster pedestrian and cyclist safety while adding new park space. One idea calls for burying a parking lot to create new park space on the surface. The ground plane rises up to form a retail space with an occupiable roof above. The design pedestrianizes the narrow Cadman Plaza West, bringing in a new streetscape and porous edges to the Korean War Memorial Plaza and the new Brooklyn Public Library designed by Marvel Architects.

The Brooklyn Strand concept calls for better connectivity between Downtown Brooklyn beginning at Borough Hall and the DUMBO waterfront.

In Cadman Plaza, significant renovations to another War Memorial creates a glassy learning center, overcoming accessibility challenges with a carved out entry plane incorporated into the landscape. At the tip of Cadman Plaza, dramatic earthworks create the “Brooklyn Eye” overlook space with dramatic vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Left to right: The Brooklyn Strand would provide a unified landscape plan for a number of disconnected green spaces; An elevated berm would provide vistas of the Brooklyn Bridge; new streetscapes in Downtown Brooklyn would make the neighborhood more pedestrian friendly.

Where the grid erodes at the foot of the bridge, the Strand improves pedestrian flow to and from the waterfront with lighting and new retail at underpasses. A signature open market occupies space beneath the bridge viaduct’s enormous stone archways. These pedestrian corridors weave through small remnant spaces to create a legible path between the bridges. Five major new bike lanes are proposed, including implementing key portions of the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area Plan to remake bike lanes along Tillary Street.

In April, the plan’s BQE Connector portion will begin a round of community engagement initiatives with arts group Superflex, including public art installations. Before the larger plan can be implemented, however, the Strand must run a gauntlet of approvals from various city agencies and raise significant funds.

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Did Norman Foster design this New York City skyscraper?
A 900-foot tower is coming to Manhattan’s high-end Sutton Place and it looks like Norman Foster is the architect behind the geometric tower punctuated by inset terraces and gardens. New York Press reported that the commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield created a sales brochure for the project which it described as an “ultra-luxury, as of right, ground up, opportunity which will reach over 900 feet tall and feature unparalleled 360 degree views of Midtown, Downtown Brooklyn and Manhattan, Central Park and the East River.” While no permits for the project have been filed, the publication reported that the Bauhaus Group has assembled the necessary air rights for the 95-unit tower. While Foster’s named has not been officially attached to the new drawing, in March Curbed reported that Bauhaus had hired Lord Foster for a major tower in the area. This should all become clearer in the near future as Bauhaus is expected to release more information on the project.