As Christopher Hawthorne moves on from the Los Angeles Times and as new forms of criticism proliferate, we asked the architecture community what the role of the critic is today, and what it might be missing. What do you see as the role of the critic in architecture today? Why is it important? What aspects of architecture are not being addressed today by critics? What are the problems with criticism today? Here are the responses we received from critics across the country and abroad. This article was originally published in our May print issue. Stay tuned for further perspectives from practitioners, emerging architects, and scholars. Mark Lamster The architecture critic of The Dallas Morning News and a professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. His biography of Philip Johnson, The Man in the Glass House, will be out this November. “I think there was a sense, in the 1990s and early aughts, that criticism had become too absorbed with signature buildings by the architectural jet-set, mainly because that was what was coming out of the New York Times under Herbert Muschamp. But over the last decade or so, the field has expanded to address a broad spectrum of urban issues, as it should if it’s going to keep the public engaged. The irony here is that the backlash to the era of ‘starchitecture’ (and I hate that term) has meant a certain vilification of and disregard for the discipline. So I think it’s important to celebrate quality architecture and to make clear how important it is to making places that can improve people’s lives every day.” Alexandra Lange The architecture critic for Curbed. Her newest book is The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Creates Independent Kids. “These questions, and this debate, make me tired. What other critics are asked to justify their existence time and again? I believe my work is valuable, and I choose to believe an ‘architecture critic’ can write about almost anything at the intersection of design and the public. The problems of criticism are the problems of journalism: lack of resources, a flocking to the popular, and lack of diversity.” Witold Rybczynski Architecture critic for Slate, WigWag, and Saturday Night. His latest book is Now I Sit Me Down. “I’ve always thought that journalistic architectural criticism was an odd bird. Compared to restaurant, book, or theater reviews, reviews of buildings have little immediate effect on the public. Once a building is built, it’s there, for better or worse, and we must learn to live with it. In any case, reviews based on press kits, guided tours, or interviews with the architect are unlikely to yield profound insights. Theoretically, reviews of as-yet-unbuilt work might be more influential. The problem is that critics generally don’t have the information, resources, or time to make considered judgments. These limitations are compounded when criticism is driven by the need to produce up-to-the-minute newsworthy copy. Having said that, writing about architecture can be valuable. Buildings last a long time, and it’s useful to reflect on their utility—what works and what doesn’t—and their meanings in our lives. Of course, this is best done in the fullness of time, decades after the building opens, when the sharp corners have been knocked off, so to speak. The result is more like cultural observation than reporting. A word about the internet, whose many architectural websites have resulted in a boom in architectural criticism. Sadly, it has also produced more hurriedly written, harshly polemical, and poorly researched prose than ever before.” Frances Anderton Writer, curator, and host of DnA: Design and Architecture, a weekly radio show broadcast on KCRW public radio station in Los Angeles. “It was easier to be a critic when you were crusading for modernism, or another -ism, from a podium at a highly-regarded publication. Whether that ultimately gave society better buildings is an open question.” Barry Bergdoll Meyer Schapiro Professor of Modern Architectural History at Columbia University and curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. “The role of the architecture critic has not shifted in its most vital importance since the first evidence of it as a professional activity commanding respect and authority in the public sphere with articles criticizing the urban policies of Louis XV in Paris in the mid-18th century. Namely, the architecture critic sets out to forge a bridge between the professional activity of the designing architect and the role of a citizenry by having an informed opinion about the changing environment in which they live. Of course, like an art critic, the architecture critic can contribute to the acclaim of a specific designer; but that is only the beginning of the capacity of the architecture critic to form public opinion. The role is not precisely the same for a critic writing in a publication—printed, broadcast, or on the internet—that primarily serves the profession, and the unfortunately much smaller set of architectural criticism that is aimed at the general public. The paradox nature of architecture is that it is the most omnipresent of art forms and yet the one that the non-professional audience often has the least capacity to judge. This puts a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the ever-rarer figure of the architecture critic with a broad mandate, namely the shockingly small handful of critics writing in the daily press of national and local record. Here the critic serves to educate at once public and public officials. It is the role of the critic to raise the issues that matter, to frame them in a way that both voters and elected officials and private sector actors in shaping the public realm can understand not only what is at stake but the vital relationship between intelligent design and enhanced environments. It is the difficulty of this task that makes so many nostalgic for a handful of legendary figures like Ada Louise Huxtable at the New York Times or Allan Temko of the San Francisco Chronicle, brilliant writers and thinkers whose texts were easy of access and whose capacity to craft public opinion inspired admiration, awe, and even fear where needed. Few critics are able to achieve the needed balance between the appreciation of the formal invention of architecture and the public issues at stake in most projects.” Oliver Wainwright Architecture and design critic of The Guardian. “The role of an architecture critic is not simply to critique architecture, providing an opinion on the quality of the latest buildings, but to unpick and expose the planning policies, funding sources, and political agendas that shape the built environment and frame projects in their wider societal contexts. Architectural publishing is facing a number of hurdles, not least in the dwindling number of advertisers paying ever less for space in magazines with shrinking circulation figures, wounded by the rise of free online content. Magazines are increasingly reliant on sponsored advertorials, lucrative awards programs, and other commercial partnerships to stay afloat, while many national newspapers have given up on covering the subject—of the eight national broadsheet papers in the UK, only three now have a regular architecture critic.” Justin Davidson Author and architecture and classical music critic for New York magazine. His latest book is Magnetic City: A Walking Companion to New York. “Construction always involves tradeoffs and often emerges from an adversarial process, fueled by agendas that are both overt and hidden. The reporter/critic is in a unique position to ask questions of all sides, absorb the technical detail, and pass on to the public a point of view that is backed up by clarity and explanation. My hope is that when readers don’t agree with me, at least they know why. In order to be effective, architecture critics have to look beyond architecture. I got into this business because I loved writing and I loved beautiful buildings. The deeper I dive, the more aware I am of the overlapping areas of expertise that get called into play every time the easy equipment shows up: finance, planning, zoning, activism, preservation, politics, performing arts, engineering, retail, gentrification, transit, industry, the waterfront, housing policy, climate change, social history, literature, psychology, acoustics, and more. I’m gratified to see that critics for general interest publications (as opposed to specialized ones) have a broad sense of their field. It’s rare these days to see a review that focuses on the building as aesthetic object, the exemplar of a style, or the incarnation of a theory. I also think that most critics consider themselves reporters, too, which is essential. What’s missing is numbers: every city builds, people in every city live and work in works of architecture, and yet the number of papers that cover this crucial element of local news is tiny. The perception that architecture is a specialist’s turf - and therefore of little interest to most readers - is contradicted by the passionate feelings that so many residents have (and express!) over what does and doesn’t get built in their community. The other thing that’s missing is a willingness to revisit buildings a year or two or more after they’ve opened to see how they fare in the real world. Too often, we see buildings in their pristine (or even incomplete) state, empty and theoretical. When I first visited the Whitney, for example, I missed a lot of the basic circulation and functionality problems that materialized later. I didn’t notice how maddening the coat check system was until I saw 100 people trying to check their coats at the same time.”
Search results for "waterfront"
Sited in the former London Olympic park, Diller Scofidio + Renfro have won a competition to build a £25 million ($33.7 million) collection and research center for the Victoria and Albert Museum, part of a broader expansion of the museum into East London. The center will feature facilities for research and education and is to be built in the former Olympic Media Center, which is being redesigned and rebranded as Here East. The V&A’s new outpost is part of what is being called the Olympicopolis arts district, a burgeoning waterfront development at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Apart from the V&A, as well as expected office and retail space, the Olympicopolis will be home to new expansions from Sadler’s Wells Theatre, the London College of Fashion, and the University College of London. The project is in part being led by the London Legacy Development Corporation, a city organization focused on adapting the structures from the 2012 London Olympics for continued use. The V&A was forced to create an additional space for their V&A East outpost after height restrictions required that the museum downsize its plans for their central building. The new locations will allow the V&A to display even more of their collection to the public and facilitate more research. The plan for the collection center came on the heels of the 2015 announcement by the government that they would sell the Blythe House, which currently serves as storage and archive for some of the V&A’s immense collection. DS+R, which won the competition ahead of four other shortlisted teams, will be working with British firm Austin-Smith:Lord and Studio Adrien Gardère to realize the center. In a press release, DS+R says that the space will be designed “from the inside out” and will be like an “immersive cabinet of curiosities.” No designs have yet been released to the public. In addition to the V&A collections center, DS+R also has a major concert hall, The London Center for Music, underway in London.
Under the Elevated
New York City launches pilot to activate highway underpasses in Sunset Park
It’s hard to imagine that in a city like New York, any space would be permitted to go to waste. However, the spaces underneath bridges, expressways, and elevated trains are often more or less voids, disused and often altogether unpleasant. However, The Design Trust for Public Space is trying to change that with “el-spaces” that activate and reimagine these shadowy locales. The Design Trust has partnered with the city’s Department of Transportation to create the Under the Elevated/El-Space pilot program, which just launched its first physical site test last night under the Gowanus Expressway in Sunset Park. This first el-space is a test site to show off planning methods that better connect residents to the waterfront and make the space safer for pedestrians, all while serving as a form of “green infrastructure” to improve environmental health. After a series of community charrettes and pop-up workshops, this pilot design was realized by three of the Design Trust’s fellows: Tricia Martin (landscape architecture), Quilian Riano (urban design), and Leni Schwendinger (lighting). The pilot features planters of greenery that thrive in low light on elevated platforms below large stormwater drains, and extend the public space away from cars while offering an alternative pathway for pedestrians. It also came with a fresh paint job for the adjacent support structures, brightening the area and setting it apart from the rest of the highway trusses. The pilot is also intended to offer replicable techniques that could be deployed throughout the city’s millions of square miles of underutilized space. The el-spaces are intended to increase urban livability in more than one way. Frequently, infrastructure is built in lower-income areas, bisecting neighborhoods and contributing pollution and congestion. The el-spaces help ameliorate these effects and promote greater health and connectivity in neighborhoods. The el-space pilot site launched as part of NYCxDESIGN. Its official opening was followed by a panel conversation that included participants who have worked on similar projects in other cities. Following this Brooklyn launch, The Design Trust for Public Space is planning two additional el-spaces in Queens, with hopes to spread them under the city’s 700 miles of elevated infrastructure.
In The Navy
San Diego's largest, costliest development in city history begins construction on the waterfront
A massive $1.5 billion plan to redevelop a string of formerly Navy-owned properties along the San Diego waterfront is finally entering into the construction phase following years of delays and decades’ worth of planning and environmental review. The so-called Manchester Pacific Gateway development developed by San Diego-based Manchester Financial Group will bring over 3 million square feet of mixed-use development and a 1.9-acre park to eight ocean-fronting city blocks in the San Diego’s downtown area. The multi-phase project will be anchored by a new Navy headquarters, to be housed in a new 17-story, 372,000-square-foot mixed-use tower located at the heart of the project. The tower complex will also include: a 1,100-room convention hotel, a 29-story, 524,000-square-foot office tower, an eight-story, 178,000-square-foot office building, a six-story, 153,000-square-foot office tower, 290,000 square feet of retail spaces, and a 260-key luxury hotel, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Renderings for the project depict a collection of traditionally-styled high-rises with arched storefront windows along the ground floors and repetitive spans of curtainwall glass interrupted by vertical and horizontal bands of masonry detailing on upper levels. One of the tower blocks will consist of a pair of linked towers that are connected via a skywalk while other structures in the complex will feature stepped-back facades and punched openings along certain exposures. The two largest building clusters feature four-story podium structures that anchor the towers located above, with both podium levels topped with terraces and garden amenities, including an elliptical swimming pool. A site-wide pedestrian spine will run across the length of the properties and will transform into an interior, retail-lined arcade when it bisects the largest structure in the complex. An architect has not been named for the project. Work on all phases of the Manchester Pacific Gateway project is to be undertaken simultaneously, with the new Navy headquarters and several of the office towers scheduled to be completed in late 2020. The remaining project components are slated for a mid-2021 debut. The project is among a long list of waterfront redvelopment efforts in San Diego, including another $1.5 billion development for the Port of San Diego aimed at tourists and a 41-story “super prime” luxury tower by Kohn Pedersen Fox.
The first part of phase 1 of the San Pedro Creek redevelopment in San Antonio, Texas, is now open to the public, and the waterway’s rejuvenation has been touted as a celebration of Latino culture in the city. San Antonio-based Muñoz and Company was tapped in 2015 to design the 2.2-mile-long restoration of what was then a concrete drainage ditch. The completion of phase 1.1, a 2,200-foot-long stretch of riverwalk christened San Pedro Creek Culture Park, marks just one part of a four-phase plan to revitalize the 2.2-mile-long creek. “As the Trump administration boasts about building a wall between us and our Mexican roots, San Pedro Creek will be a national symbol for Latino and Anglo communities actually coming together to celebrate their shared values, history, and future,” said Henry R. Muñoz, Principal in Charge at Muñoz and project lead. “This unveiling marks the start of San Pedro Creek’s restoration, turning this neglected creek into the ‘Latino High Line,’ which exemplifies the community’s rich heritage and stands for a national dialogue playing out in nearly every city across the country.” The opening of the first phase on May 5 coincided with the 300th anniversary of San Antonio and was commemorated by the unveiling of Rain from the Heavens, a public art installation cut on stainless steel panels depicting what the stars looked like that night in 1718. Also on display in the Cultural Park are murals that honor the local culture of San Antonio and surrounding Bexar County, by artists Adriana Garcia, Katie Pell, Alex Rubio, and Joe Lopez. San Pedro Creek once flowed freely through the city but has been deepened, rerouted, and sometimes covered entirely since the 1700s. Each area of the river will eventually have its own design and accompanying visual identity, but retain a focus on the local ecology, history of San Antonio, and the water itself. The San Pedro Creek Culture Park section is hemmed in by historic limestone walls, and features widened walkways, a new boardwalk overlook, benches, and new landscaping that uses indigenous aquatic plants and trees. The widening and deepening of the creek also boosted the waterway’s ability to sequester stormwater, in addition to the five new bioswales that were installed. Phase 1.2 of the project is under construction and set to finish in 2020.
OMA wins competition to design tech-focused "Unicorn Island" in China
Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province, is rapidly transitioning towards a service-based economy and has enlisted OMA’s help in growing its local tech companies. Following an international design competition sponsored by the Chengdu government, OMA and three other high-profile studios have been chosen to master plan a Unicorn Island for startups and more established tech companies alike. OMA has designed a campus that weaves over the entire island, with skyways that overlap and interconnect, which they call a weave. At the island’s core is the Living Lab, a domed complex with working labs that will be open to the public. Branching out from the Living Lab will be the weave, which will hold startups and “Gazelles” (tech companies worth $1 million or more). The weave has been envisioned as a community space, and OMA has described the area as “village-like” in its project description; this interior section will contain residential housing for employees, a mix of office typologies, and amenity spaces meant to foster mingling between different companies. Along the island’s edge will be headquarters for the "Unicorns" (technology companies worth $1 billion or more), with room for expansion as the companies in the weave increase in value and relocate outwards. From the renderings, it appears that the complex will be massive and extend all the way across Unicorn Island. Interestingly, everything except the waterfront headquarters will be elevated; roads will pass below the floating weave, with four courtyards set aside, one on each block. OMA has also revealed some of the tower typologies that will be present in the weave, including a circulation tower, sports tower, education tower, and relaxation tower for the 16 cores. With such a tightly-condensed campus, parking had to be moved underground. From the site plans, it seems that parking will run under nearly the entire island, with the exception of the area below the Living Lab, which will become an underground plaza. The design of Unicorn Island was led by Chris van Duijn, OMA Partner and Director of OMA Asia. Mobility in Chain provided the traffic consultation and Transsolar acted as the climate engineer. No estimated completion date or project cost has been revealed at the time of writing. The other three winners of the design competition include Morphosis, Foster + Partners, and a team composed of Arata Isozaki & Associates and Jun Aoki & Associates.
1947 - 2018
British architect Will Alsop has died at age 70
British architect and academic, William Allen Alsop, has died aged 70. Alsop was born on December 12, 1947, in Northampton, England and died on Saturday, May 12, 2018. The architect was a graduate of the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at the time of his death, was Director of the London-based studio, aLL Design, which he set up in 2011. Alsop is most well-known for his design of Peckham Library in Southeast London, a project which he designed with German architect, Jan Störmer. The building won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2000 and is known for its "L" shape and use of pre-patinated copper cladding which gives it a striking turquoise color. The architect designed in North America as well. Projects include the Glenwood Power Plant in Yonkers, New York and the Sharp Centre for Design for the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. The former was designed in 2007, but plans fell by the wayside, despite being hailed in the press as "new proposal to rescue Yonkers' Waterfront." Prior to his death, Alsop was on the architectural advisory boards for Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea Councils in London as well as being Professor of Architecture at TU Vienna and Professor of Architecture at Canterbury School of Architecture in Kent. Alsop had previously lectured Stateside too, serving as a Visiting Professor for the San Francisco Art Institute and Ball State University, Indiana in 1977. He was also The Davis Professor of Tulane University in New Orleans in 1982.
Restorative projects aim to stitch Port of Los Angeles communities back together
The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach might be some of the world’s busiest shipping facilities, but just beyond the stacks of shipping containers and bustling cranes sit densely populated neighborhoods that have struggled for decades to maintain a vital hold on the nearby waterfront. That dynamic is about to change, as a slew of transformative waterfront-adjacent projects aim to reclaim and transform the shore for nearby communities. Following a new master plan issued in 2014, the waterfront areas along the Port of L.A.–adjacent neighborhood of Wilmington have been in a continual state of restoration and redevelopment. There, Boston-based Sasaki built out the first phase of the Wilmington Waterfront Park in 2012, a 10-acre installation packed with natural berms, playing fields, and trees. The plans—developed with Studio-MLA—would create a “buffer against port operations” and a “window to waterfront,” according to Zach Chrisco, partner in charge of the project at Sasaki. The latest phase of the waterfront redevelopment project aims to recast the existing waterfront areas with more widely accessible leisure and shopping spaces connected by public amenities like a giant lawn, stepped landings that meet the water, a small floating harbor, and a fishing pier. “Our goal with the project is to diversify the way the community can engage with the water,” Kate Tooke, landscape architect at Sasaki, explained, describing the metallic shade structures and an open-floor leisure pier with hammocks that dangle directly over the water. The waterfront will connect to the Wilmington community via the Avalon Promenade and Gateway, a new promenade and pedestrian bridge sequence designed by T.Y. Lin International that will feature underground restrooms on one end and a public plaza on the other. Both projects are slated to break ground this year with an anticipated 2019 opening. In the nearby neighborhood of San Pedro, developers Ratkovich Company and Jericho are leading the Ports O’ Call Village redevelopment project aimed at bringing a new 180,000-square-foot San Pedro Public Market project to life. The development is led by Rapt Studio, a local design firm. Describing the lead-up to the project, Sam Farhang, Rapt Studio president and project lead said, “We went in immediately and said, ‘This is not a project that could be designed and delivered by single team.’” The designers got to work on assembling a “dream team” for the project that includes James Corner Field Operations and Adamson Associates as executive architects. Rapt is designing a series of new warehouse-like prefabricated steel moment frame structures flexible enough to hold new retail programs while remaining malleable over the developer’s 55-year ground lease over the site. Plans call for adding a new “town square” containing the aforementioned retail and plaza spaces, a new marketplace to hold the relocated San Pedro Fish Market, and an event lawn that connects to the waterfront directly so that “every type of person—whether it’s longshoremen on their lunch break or a Millennial mom and dad with a single child in a stroller—can find an aspect of this site that resonates with them.” The project will be delivered in phases through 2020 or 2021 as to not displace some of the larger tenants that will remain. Across one of the shipping channels, Gensler is working toward a long-term vision that would rework the area’s employment and economic demographics, as it builds out the multi-phase AltaSea development; a new 35-acre complex that will combine marine research, public education programs, and sustainable energy development. The $150 million complex will aim to redevelop a series of existing waterfront warehouses, replacing industrial shipping uses with high-tech research equipment and hordes of visiting tourists, school children, and researchers. Describing the goals of the project, Li Wen, design director at Gensler said, “We see the Port of L.A. becoming a place of education through experience,” adding that the project seeks to “re-introduce the ocean as a place to be preserved, revered, and studied.” Work on that project is currently underway and the first phase is expected to be completed in 2023.
The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the winners of the 2018 National Design Awards, recognizing ten individuals and firms who have used design to shape the world for the better. This year’s winners include: Lifetime Achievement: Writer, educator, and designer Gail Anderson has taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York for the last 25 years, and is an active partner at the multidisciplinary Anderson Newton Design. Anderson has written or co-authored a total of 14 books on popular culture and design, and formerly served as the senior art director at Rolling Stone. Design Mind: Landscape architect, award-winning author, and Professor of Landscape Architecture and Planning at MIT Anne Whiston Spirn. Spirn was recognized for her longtime advocacy for balancing urbanism with nature, as well as her continued direction of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project. Corporate & Institutional Achievement: Design studio Design for America, which empowers communities to solve local problems through design. Architecture Design: WEISS/MANFREDI was recognized for the way their projects consistently bridge the gap between architecture, art, and the surrounding landscape. The firm’s been on a roll lately, having picked up several cultural commissions and an invite to exhibit at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. Communication Design: Digital identity and experience firm Civilization was recognized for its ability to create empathetic connections and commitment to working with companies who are advocating for the greater good. Fashion Design: The Los Angeles-based fashion designer Christina Kim was recognized for her use of traditional hand working techniques and sustainable business practices. Interaction Design: Architect and designer Neri Oxman was recognized for her experimental material usage and continual boundary-pushing forms. Oxman leads the Mediated Matter Group at the MIT Media Lab, a group whose work frequently bridges the gap between art and technology; their most recent project, Vespers, is a contemporary reinterpretation of the death mask typology that uses living microorganisms. Interior Design: The Miami-based Oppenheim Architecture + Design was recognized for its sense-invoking interiors that are often inspired by local vernacular. The firm has realized projects all over the world from towers in Dubai to the Williamsburg Hotel in Brooklyn, but like many of the other winners, Oppenheim balances their projects within the surrounding natural environment. Landscape Architecture: Boston-based landscape architecture firm Mikyoung Kim Design was honored for its vast body of public work, much of it focused on improving urban resiliency. The firm has tackled projects large and small around the world, from the Chicago Botanic Garden Learning Campus to the Songdo International Plaza in Incheon, South Korea. Product Design: Minneapolis-based Furniture designer and manufacturer Blu Dot was recognized for its playful and modern stylings (including some less-than-functional objects). The National Design Awards have been recognizing exemplary names in the design world since 2000. Nominees must have seven years of professional experience under their belt, while the lifetime achievement nominees must have at least 20 years of experience. Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt, will announce the winner of the Director’s Award at a later date, to be given to an outstanding patron of the design world. This year’s awards ceremony will be accompanied by National Design Week, which will run from October 13 through the 21st.
Where the Wild Things Are
Chicago to get a mile-long park and wildlife habitat
A vestige of Chicago’s industrial history is slated for redevelopment as an ecologically focused public space. According to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, a mile-long stretch of the North Branch Canal will be redeveloped to serve both Chicagoans and wildlife, focusing on the east side of the canal between Division Street and North Avenue, with the plan to be completed by the end of 2018. Financed by Chicago’s Open Space Impact Fees, the Wild Mile of the North Branch Canal would set the groundwork for habitat improvements for fish, turtles, and invertebrates, and create vegetative islands, viewing platforms, and canoe launches, as well as other environmental enhancements. The Wild Mile is a component of the proposed improvement of 760 acres along the Chicago River between Kinzie Street and Fullerton Avenue as a part of the North Branch Framework Plan. The North Branch Framework Plan is integral to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Industrial Corridor Modernization Initiative, a multi-year effort to review and refine land use policies in the cities Industrial Corridor System. The plan for the North Branch Canal would include best practices for implementation and details on cooperation with private property owners and developers. Dug to form a shortcut to avoid the bend in the North Branch of the Chicago River, the North Branch Canal was originally completed in 1857 by Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden. The completion of the North Branch Canal created the area known as Goose Island, where industrial development flourished at the turn of the 20th century and is now gaining popularity as a new tech hub in Chicago. “This initiative will improve the North Branch Canal as a truly unique waterfront for the entire city, where visitors will be able to engage and appreciate the city’s ecosystem through unprecedented public access,” said Mayor Emanuel in a statement. The proposal for the Wild Mile comes as Chicago aldermen push for increased public access to the entirety of the North Branch of the Chicago River. Private plans to redevelop the riverfront have recently emerged, such as Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards project, which includes the former A. Finkl & Sons steel plant and will deliver residential and office buildings, in addition to a connection to the 606, a 2.7-mile-long linear greenway on the site of a former rail line.
Brooklyn's East River waterfront is defining itself in unexpected ways
Taking shape along Greenpoint’s once-industrial waterfront district is a series of surprisingly contextual modern condo developments using red brick and exposed black steel to tactfully insert tens of thousands of new residents along this sleepy East River shoreline. The largest of them, a 30-story tower that is part of Handel Architects’ Greenpoint Landing, includes 5,500 units sprawled over 22 acres at the mouth of Newtown Creek, with 1,400 apartments renting for as little as $393 to $1,065. Initial renderings presented for public review surfaced as bland massing diagrams, but the subdued details of Handel’s build-out hold promise for communities becoming accustomed to glossy, glassy, boxy towers in districts where rezoning permits greater height and bulk. To the stakeholders’ credit, the developer showed them a selection of schemes to choose from, including designs by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In contrast to Long Island City’s gleaming, generic masses and Williamsburg’s spotty, uneven edges, Greenpoint’s waterfront retains enough of its traditional shipping warehouses to sustain the contours of a characteristically industrial neighborhood along West and Commercial Streets, even if most of the industry is gone. Despite a major waterfront rezoning passed by the city council in 2005, until a few years ago, most of West Street continued to host storage for building material and scaffolding, a lumber manufacturer, and a crane and equipment rental company. After large portions of Greenpoint Terminal Market were lost to a ten-alarm fire in 2006, Pearl Realty Management adapted the remains into a studio-and-workspace rental complex, an extension of its Dumbo-based green desk co-working enterprise. Slowly, smaller firms like Daniel Goldner Architects, Karl Fischer Architect, STUDIOSC, and S9 Architecture populated the upland side of West and Commercial with renovated warehouses and upscale condos echoing the material palette of the existing low-rises. Much of the post-rezoning development along West and Commercial stalled due to the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis. In 2009, the former Eberhard Faber Pencil Company building became the Pencil Factory lofts, and Daniel Goldner Architects filled in the corner lot with a syncopated colored brick addition and perforated aluminum garage. The project struggled in the post-crash housing market. But in the past two years, a rush of new buildings began to rise up along West and Commercial with a distinct material selection: red and light-colored brick and exposed black-painted steel, with glazed entryways and antique fixtures. Karl Fischer Architect’s 26 West Street opened in 2016, its redbrick and black steel facade filling out the six-story street wall, its large overhang resembling a meat market loading dock. The warehouse modern–aesthetic even extends all the way around the mouth of the Newtown Creek, where a 105-unit building by S9 Architecture employs the same neotraditional style—red brick, exposed black steel, industrial awnings, antique fixtures. An upscale ground-floor grocery store warmed some nearby loft residents up to it after months of sound-based trauma from the drilling of pilings. With leases from $3,350 to $4,350, locals will never be at peace with the rent pressures that come with these buildings, but at least they have the virtue of not extravagantly showing off their residents’ income. Not everything conforms to this trend: The expansive 140-unit development under construction by Ismael Leyva Architects at 23 India Street more crudely fills in its zoning envelope with affordable housing ranging from $613 for studios to $1,230 for winners of the NYC Housing Connect lottery, capped by a 39-story, 500-unit condo tower that promises in every way to form a bland massing diagram in the sky. In any case, contextual exterior cladding is little consolation for a community that fought hard for its 197-a plan—completed in 1999 and adopted by the city council in 2002—which would have allowed significantly less bulk and height, aimed to retain more light-manufacturing jobs, and mandated more affordable housing along with waterfront access. Jane Jacobs, in one of her final written statements, penned a strong defense of the original community plan against the eventual zoning resolution. Of course, the trade-off forced by the city—an upzoned waterfront in exchange for publicly funded parks and developer-mandated walkways—has already helped reduce heavy-industrial pollution, killed a proposed Con Edison power plant, and reduced and eliminated waste-transfer facilities and truck fumes. Some residents are just waiting for the dust and noise of construction to subside, while others hope for another recession to slow down the accelerated activity. In 2009, Andrew Blum published “In Praise of Slowness," for the launch of Urban Omnibus that, in retrospect, should have a more durable life as a critique of fast development. For New York City neighborhoods, slowness provides a much-needed stability in the absence of state-level expansion of rent regulation to protect against predatory development. Yet if there had to be luxury condos facing the former industrial piers, the emerging Greenpoint warehouse modernism was a more subtle and site-specific solution than anyone expected or imagined.
Keeping up A-Pier-ences
New renderings revealed for Tribeca's Pier 26 revamp
Construction on the $30 million renovation of Tribeca’s Pier 26 is slated to start up this summer, and the Hudson River Park Trust and landscape architects OLIN have released a new batch of renderings of the project’s final design. The Hudson River Park Trust went before Community Board 1’s Waterfront, Parks & Resiliency Committee last Tuesday and revealed their finalized design for transforming the 790-foot-long concrete pier. While OLIN had released glimpses of the pier’s programming before (including a playground with two enormous sturgeon-shaped jungle gyms for kids to climb), the latest design incorporates many of the features that the local community had hoped for. A gentle grass lawn and more wildly-planted “forest” area with indigenous trees will guide visitors from the western edge of Hudson River Park, towards the two child-sized soccer fields in the middle of the pier. The fields will be covered in a blue net to stop stray balls from flying into the Hudson River, and surfaced with a plastic grid capable of draining. Further west will be a lounge deck with steps adjacent to scrubby, dune-like landscaping. OLIN has designed a tiered tidal pool planted with native flora at the pier’s westernmost tip, as well as a wooden esplanade that zigzags across the length of the pier. The walkway will rise 15 feet in the air at the tip of Pier 26, giving guests a full view of both New Jersey across the river, as well as the tide pool below. OLIN will be using Kebony for the path, an engineered sustainable softwood. Planned for the space between Pier 26 and 25 is the Estuarium, a two-story, Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed education center. Only $10 million of the center’s required $50 million has been raised so far. While no start date has been set for the Estuarium’s construction, it could imperil the pier’s 2020 opening date; the site chosen for the sturgeon playground will be used a staging area during the education center’s construction (sorry, giant metal fish fans). Construction on the underside of the pier will run from this summer until next year, followed by the work on the structure's topside.