Search results for "Downtown Brooklyn"

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Brooklyn Bridge Crossroads
Improvements will make access safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Courtesy NYCDOT

Every day, thousands of cyclists and pedestrians jockey for space on a narrow strip along the center of the Brooklyn Bridge. A ballet plays out as cyclists commuting to and from work dodge eager tourists looking for the perfect photo op, as the soft chime of bike bells blending with the din of car traffic below. At the Brooklyn terminus of the bridge, however, the already-chaotic scene devolves into a dangerous confluence of cars, bikes, and pedestrians as the path abruptly ends in the center of a busy intersection at Adams and Tillary streets.

After five years of study, meetings, and schematic designs, however, accessing the Brooklyn Bridge will soon be improved under a plan to revamp the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area streetscape, encompassing Tillary Street between Cadman Plaza West and Prince Street and several blocks of Adams Street, with widened sidewalks, improved bike lanes, and increased landscaping.

Plan of the Brooklyn Bridge Gateway redesign (left). Existing conditions at the Brooklyn terminus of the bridge (right). [Click to enlarge.]

A joint effort of the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) and the Department of Design and Construction, the campaign to improve the bridge entrance began in 2009 with community workshops that identified project goals including improved safety and better aesthetics. At the intersection of Tillary and Adams streets, for example, the crash rate is nearly nine times the New York state average, with 117 crashes between 2008 and 2010. The dialogue resulted in a set of schematic plans presented in 2009 and 2011, but the proposal languished without federal funding until last December, when another update was presented to and unanimously approved by Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 Transportation Committee.

Existing and proposed changes to the bridge terminus at the intersection of Adams and Tillary streets.

Last month, the full community board approved NYCDOT’s polished traffic safety and landscape plans showing the revamped Brooklyn Bridge Gateway Area. The first phase of the project reconstructs the entrance to the bridge at Adams and Tillary streets, softening the busy intersection with widened sidewalks, dedicated bike lanes, and more landscaping. Pedestrian and cyclist access has been streamlined by converting Adams Street into a tree-lined boulevard with a 30-foot-wide median containing widened and separated paths for pedestrians and cyclists. The design includes place-making amenities such as new benches, wayfinding signage, bollards, and even a water bottle filling station.

Widened sidewalks, improved bike lanes, and new landscaping will transform the public space along Tillary Street.

An access road along Adams Street will be reconfigured to accommodate the wider median, including removing a row of parallel parking and adding a bike lane. A group of neighborhood residents have expressed concern about these changes, citing construction noise and pollution from passing cars. The group has asked the city to conduct an environmental review, but NYCDOT has said such a study is not required by law.

Future phases along Tillary Street aim to increase safety and curb problems of motorists parking in bike lanes by replacing concrete jersey barriers along bike paths with extended sidewalks and new landscaping. The plan also streamlines bike access to Downtown Brooklyn. Throughout the target area, curb extensions at intersections—called neckdowns—and widened sidewalks will help slow car traffic, improve visibility, and reduce the length of street crossings. NYCDOT did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The city plans to begin construction on the first phase of the project along Adams Street by the end of the year. Construction is expected to last 18 months. Future phases are contingent on additional funding.

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In a street-level storefront in Tribeca, furniture designer David Weeks has opened his first, exclusive showroom in Manhattan. Located just two blocks from his first New York apartment circa 1990, the new space was not only a strategic move into retail, but an opportunity to expand his existing Brooklyn manufacturing facility that was quickly squeezing out the administrative branch of his business.

Local architect Solvieg Furnland assisted Weeks with the architectural build-out, rectifying proportional inconsistencies in what the designer called a “cookie cutter retail space for downtown.” The classic, rectangular 2,500-square-foot floor plan with 15-foot-high ceilings was tweaked to accommodate two stairwells in the front and back of the shop, creating two offset parallelograms that still honor the building’s historical composition. The clean white slate is adorned with soft, over-sized graphics by 2x4 that were inspired by Weeks’ lampshade designs. A utilitarian electrical system accommodates Weeks’ lighting collection and product display updates. “The most interesting part of the process is understanding how to activate the retail, gallery, and administrative programs that have to happen in one space,” Weeks told AN.

Weeks also plans to showcase work from other designers.

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Affordability & The Future of New York
Mayor Bloomberg cuts the ribbon to mark the official opening of the Via Verde affordable housing development in the South Bronx.
Edward Reed

The recent conference at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, “Since Now From Then,” celebrated the 30th anniversary of the minuscule but influential space on Kenmare Street. It made clear the far-reaching impact the Storefront has had on the culture of architecture but also how much New York City has changed around the gallery.

The first public exhibition at the original Storefront on September 18, 1982, then at 51 Prince Street, was a month-long series of performances titled A-Z, with a different artist featured each day. Many of these artists in the 1980s lived in the blocks surrounding Prince Street except Tehching Hsieh whose prescient performance was to live “homeless” on the streets of the city for a single year.

Today when the Storefront presents a group of emerging artists it is doubtful that any of them could afford to live anywhere near gentrified Kenmare Street. They are more likely living in Crown Heights or Bushwick, Brooklyn. In fact Kyong Park, one of Storefront’s founders, made an off-hand comment during the conference that if anyone today wanted to do what he did at the Storefront in the 1980s “they should leave New York City.” Park, who hails from Detroit and now lives in L.A., may have been thinking of the particular challenges and opportunities for young urbanites in post-industrial landscapes like Detroit.

But New York City officials would do well to heed Park’s advice and begin thinking about strategies for creating affordable housing, not just for the young creative class, but for all New York residents.

Mayor Bloomberg promised to focus on creating 165,000 units of affordable housing and claims to be meeting this target. He may believe this was enough new affordable units for this enormous city, but the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development analyzed Bloomberg’s housing program and came to another conclusion. Not only did tens of thousand of affordable units go off-line as landlords exited subsidized programs and regulated apartments went market rate, but in Harlem, to pick one neighborhood, property values have jumped 222 percent and in East Harlem, median market rents went from roughly $1200 in 2002 to $1900 in 2011.

Further, “it’s not only that rents are rising; it’s also that a growing part of the population is trying to live in New York City on very modest incomes. According to the city’s own poverty measure, roughly 46 percent of New Yorkers were what is considered “near poor” in 2011. For a family of four, that means earning under $46,000 annually.” Thus the Furman Center says that nearly a third of New Yorkers were what is called “severely rent burdened” in 2011, which means they were spending more than half their monthly income on rent.

The association admits the Mayor’s initiative is on track to meet its housing goal but these units too often do not meet the actual affordability needs of the neighborhoods in which they were built. Further, “one-third of these units have an upper income limit above the actual New York City median income and in half the city’s community districts, the majority of units built are too expensive for a household earning the local median income for the neighborhood.” The association claims that “starting in 2017, New York will be at risk of losing an annual average of 11,000 units built with city subsidy and by 2037, the city could also lose many units as were built by Bloomberg, greatly undermining the value of the City’s efforts.” Bloomberg can point to two recent housing projects that illustrate—if they were replicated ten times over—the kind of new housing that can and should be built in the city. The Lower East Side project called Essex Crossing will replace a forty year old urban renewal site with 1,000 units of new housing which the city claims will be 50 percent “permanently affordable for low, moderate, and middle-income households and senior citizens.” In addition, the project includes a 15,000-square-foot open space, a new and expanded Essex Street Market, a school, a community center run by Grand Street Settlement, a rooftop urban farm, the Andy Warhol Museum, 250,000 square feet of office space, and a diverse mix of retail space. In addition the Mayor recently announced a new housing facility in downtown Brooklyn as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s expanding district that will have 42 units of affordable housings built above a large cultural space and restaurant. It is clear that New York City has run out of easily and cheaply developable land in vacant neighborhoods like the South Bronx and Brownsville, so finding sites for new affordable housing will not be easy.

It is important to point out that in the deeply flawed 2030 Plan for New York City identified vast areas for new housing above open areas over the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and Sunnyside Yards, but these would require massive public investment in infrastructure and will not likely yield any truly affordable housing.

The next mayor will have an enormous challenge to build enough units to meet the pressing demand for housing that always seems to be part of life in this city. Aside from protecting NYCHA and its 230,000 units of affordable housing and maintaining rent control, which helps thousands of middle income New Yorkers, the next mayor will need a new and different approach if more housing is to be built. This is an absolute necessity if New York is not to become a victim of its own success. Bill de Blasio, the apparent next mayor, claims to be a progressive politician. This will mean nothing unless living here is a possibility for the sort of person who wants to start the next Storefront.

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Filling a Cavity
Courtesy SHoP

After decades of controversy, and bitter contention between community groups and politicians, the Bloomberg Administration has announced its plans for the future of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Located along Delancey and Essex Streets in the Lower East Side, the precinct remains the largest tract of undeveloped New York City–owned land in Manhattan, south of 96th Street. The proposed mixed-use development, to be called Essex Crossing, will transform over six acres of under-utilized land into retail markets, restaurants, office space, entertainment spaces, and one thousand new apartments. While the overall plan for the site will be designed by SHoP Architects and Beyer Blinder Belle, the glassy, modern buildings will be designed by various architects.

The redevelopment project arose from five years of collaboration between community stakeholders, grassroots local leadership, and elected officials working together in partnership with the city to reshape the long-neglected area. Through the provision of key services such as affordable housing, educational and cultural amenities, developers will attempt to build on the area’s rich history and add to a vibrant neighborhood that is undergoing rapid gentrification. The venture represents $1.1 billion dollars of investment by Delancey Street Associates.


While SHoP and BBB are master planning the site, the design of the development's towers will be contracted to various architects.

“The winning proposal reflects the priories of the local community that were articulated during the multi-year community planning process,” said City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden in a statement. “This development plan exemplifies key principles of great urban design and community building by enhancing the pedestrian experience of these currently underutilized blocks within the Lower East Side.”

Housing affordability is a huge consideration in the venture, with 50 percent of the one thousand new apartments being planned for low- to middle-income earners and senior citizens. Part of the entertainment amenities will include a movie theater, bowling alley, and an Andy Warhol Museum. Educational facilities will consist of schools for early childhood, senior citizens, as well as a parcel of land being reserved for a public school which may be developed in the future by the School Construction Authority.


One of the unique components of the development will include a space to be known as “the Market Lin,” which will comprise a series of natural light-filled spaces for small-to-medium sized vendors. The planned concourse of vaulted archways between Essex and Clinton Street will host a range of tenants from retail and food, to a center dedicated to learning craft skills and producing handmade merchandise. Based on community needs, the project will also include a large grocery store and fitness center.

The location of the site continues to grow as a tech corridor, connecting downtown Brooklyn, Dumbo, the Lower East Side, and the new Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island. As a means of capitalizing on the growing markets, the development will incorporate 250,000 square feet of new office space.

It remains to be seen how this ambitious project will achieve a seamless integration into an existing neighborhood that has been overlooked for decades. Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel said in a statement: “This project is the pinnacle of urban development in 2013. It has all the hallmarks of a Bloomberg administration project: transforming an underutilized asset into a place that serves the diverse needs of the community.”

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Public Art Fund Installation Creates a Colorful Terrain in Brooklyn
Amidst the trees of MetroTech Commons in downtown Brooklyn, a vibrant architectural terrain has been formed. In an installation piece called Just Two of Us, Berlin-based artist Katharina Grosse has situated eighteen large, multi-colored sculptural forms in the wooded public space. Sponsored by the Public Art Fund, the work creates a surprising show of colors and a form that walks the line between sculpture, architecture, and painting. With a spray can rather than paintbrush, Grosse creates layers and gradations of saturated neon colors on the three-dimensional fiberglass-covered plastic shapes set in nature. Irregular sculptures with deeply cut valleys, they transform the sparse environment. Built up in rough towers, they hint at an otherworldly form of shelter. Grosse’s temporary art installation creates a polychrome landscape where light, depth, and color invite viewers to explore the public space. Just Two of Us is on view at the MetroTech Commons plaza until September 14, 2014.
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Brooklyn Cultural Experiment
Courtesy Dattner and Bernheimer

A new mixed-use development, called “EyeBAM,” is the latest addition to Brooklyn’s burgeoning Downtown Cultural District. Dattner Architects and Bernheimer Architecture, along with SCAPE / Landscape Architecture, have been selected by the Mayor’s Office and the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development to design a 12-story building, which will include 109 apartment units (40 percent affordable and 60 percent market rate) and a Craft-branded restaurant. It will also carve out space for two arts-and-science-focused organizations, Eyebeam and Science Gallery.

The building, equipped with entrances on either side, is designed to engage with neighboring cultural institutions. The restaurant will flow into the new Arts Plaza, which is the forecourt to the Theater for a New Audience, and in nice weather, will include outdoor seating to activate the space.


“We really view this site as a hinge of the heart of the Cultural District, and it was very important to create a lively pedestrian experience and open the building to the neighborhood,” said Bill Stein, principal at Dattner Architects.

To further accentuate the cultural space, the architects plan to implement a glazed exterior on the lower levels. The material palette, composed of terracotta and brick, is a nod to Brooklyn’s architectural history.

“We wanted to create a scale and texture to the building that was both contextual to the neighborhood but also gave the building its own identity,” said Stein. “A solid piece of architecture that has variation, color, and texture.”


Two non-profits will take over 27,000 square feet of space in the new building. They share much of the same programmatic needs and will “require flexibility for performance, new technologies for art and display, and a great deal of teaching,” according to Andy Bernheimer, principal at Bernheimer Architecture.

In-set balconies and rooftop terraces, designed by Kate Orff, principal at SCAPE, will provide both residents, cultural organizations, and visitors with ample open space.

The architects are seeking to attain LEED Gold certification. “We are looking, along with the developer Jonathan Rose, to use materials and building systems to make it a sustainable building,” said Stein.

The development is scheduled to break ground in 2015.

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Susan Morris Picks the Winners at the 2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival
2013 Architecture & Design Film Festival Tribeca Cinemas 54 Varick Street New York 212 941-2001 “Erecting a building is like making a movie….both processes involve blending light and movement into space and time. A model is like a script: at best it’s a promise and at worst it’s a safeguard. And, as with a script, a moment comes when you have to test your model against reality. You must start shooting the film, start erecting the building." —The Interior Passage We can see these starts when the two art forms come together in the 4th annual Architecture & Design Film Festival at the Tribeca Cinemas where 25 films will be screened through October 20. This year, the trend is toward process films that chronicle movements and initiatives (planning, education, preservation), portraits of buildings more than individuals, and Modernism referenced even when it’s not the direct subject. The festival kicks off with The Human Scale (which also opens at the IFC Center on October 18). The film asks, “What is the scale for measuring happiness in a city?” and uses Danish architect and urban design theorist Jahn Gehl’s work concentrating on the pedestrian and cyclist to pose answers. Referencing Corbusier, Gehl said, “If anybody at any time wanted to pay professionals to make a city planning idea which would kill city life It could not have been done better than what the Modernists did.” The film focuses on Copenhagen, New York, Dhaka (the fastest-growing city in the world with 1,000 new residents per day), Christchurch, NZ, Melbourne, and Chonqing, China. “You Measure What You Care About” shows how data sets of people’s behavior led to pedestrianizing central Copenhagen. Similarly, Jeanette Sadik-Khan, NYC Commissioner of Transportation, looked at how 90 percent of Times Square real estate was allotted to cars, which only accounted for ten percent of use. This statistic was flipped to give over 90 percent to people in plazas, bike lanes, and Bikeshare stations. Another side of the Bloomberg administration’s legacy can be seen in My Brooklyn, which could almost be an ad for Bill deBlasio’s “Tale of Two Cities” New York. Examining gentrification vs. diversification, the film zones in on downtown Brooklyn and the redevelopment of the Fulton Street Mall which was the third-most-profitable shopping area in the five boroughs (behind Fifth and Madison avenues). With rezoning, this vibrant retail area that catered to African-American and Caribbean populations, has been transformed into a luxury, high-rise residential area despite the promises of local developers. The real estate feeding frenzy and deal making is examined in the vein of another recent film, Gut Renovation, also from the personal point of view of a displaced white female Brooklyn resident. Frustration with the corporate world and abundant idealism led two architects, Emily Pilloton and Matt Miller, to start Studio H: a design/build high school curriculum with the mantra “Design, Build, Transform” heard in If You Build It. Their approach is a practicum in design thinking, and they were invited to teach a class in rural North Carolina by a forward-thinking superintendent who was soon dismissed. (They agreed to stay on without salary.) The students learn basic tools to visualize their ideas—drawing, model-making—which were turned into inventive, practical projects like chicken coops and a farmer’s market structure for their economically depressed town. A formative influence was Miller's Cranbrook thesis project, a house he constructed in Detroit that would be deeded to a family contingent on their payment of utilities for two years but went unmet and was abandoned. He concluded that the end user has to have a stake in the process. Optimism was also a motivator of the “pilgrims and émigrés” of Cape Cod in Built On Narrow Land. This spit of land at the tip of the peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod Bay became a haven for freethinkers, artists, and the modernist architects who gave a physical form to their lifestyle. The Bohemian Brahmans who owned large swaths of land that enabled this development was embodied by Jack Phillips (of the Phillips Exeter Academy family), an amateur architect who briefly studied with Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at Harvard, and became the Pied Piper for mid-century modernism here. His instructors followed him, as did Serge Chermayeff (father of Ivan and Peter), Georgy Kepes, Paul Weidlinger, Charlie Zehnder, and other modernists and Bauhaus alumni that taught in Boston at MIT and Harvard. Gropius’s daughter Ati, and Ruth Hatch who commissioned the stunning Jack Hall–designed Hatch House are among the witnesses who lead us through this summertime oasis amidst the more conventional New England Cape Cod gabled cottages. Modernist architecture in Moscow, which was borne from a similar forward-thinking spirit that embodied the Russian Revolution, has a more problematic fate today. The title of the film, Away from All Suns!, is taken from Nietzsche who wrote: “The advent of modernity had swept away all foundations. Modernity is liberation and total destruction...What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving?... Away from all suns?” This unmooring is threatened by commercialism, illegal destruction, and new building as we are shown life behind the walls of three buildings: Ogoniok Printing Plant and Zhurgaz Apartment House (1930-35), the only surviving El Lissitzky building currently under threat; Communal Student House of the Textile Institute (1929) by I.S. Nikolaev, built to house 2,000 students and now under “restoration”; and Narkomfin Communal Apartment House (1928-30) by Moisei Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinus, considered the model for Corbusier’s Unité d'Habitation and currently on UNESCO and World Monuments Fund watch lists, is now a ruin occupied by guerrilla artists before it is turned into a hotel. We also get a brief glimpse of Tatlin’s Tower being paraded through the streets. Modernism is more cherished in a few building portraits: The Oyler House: Richard Neutra’s Desert Retreat, is a much-loved house in Lone Pine, California between Death Valley and Sequoia National Park. Commissioned by the unassuming Richard Oyler, who boldly wrote to the famous architect, charming Neutra and causing him to fall in love with the site. Neutra created an un-ornamented, post-and-beam structure with expansive glass that fit organically into the site (they even dug a swimming pool out of giant rocks in a mini-quarry). The realtor, Crosby Doe, who specializes in mid-century modern houses, said the experience of seeing the Oyler House for the first time was on par with Macchu Picchu. The house is now owned by actress Kelly Lynch and screenwriter Mitch Glazer (she is interviewed), who also own John Lautner’s Harvey House in Los Angeles. Another adored building is Fagus—Walter Gropius and the Factory for Modernity. Built in 1911 in a small town near Hannover, it was the architect’s first major building that he chronicled extensively in photographs. Light, elegant, and beautifully proportioned, it is still used as a factory for making shoe laces, run by the original commissioning family. A palace for work, Bauhaus archivist Annemarie Jaeggi said it “defies gravity.” The Interior Passage portrays a more contemporary building, Sanaa’s Rolex Learning Center at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, the prestigious institute of technology. It follows the selection process from 12 invited firms including OMA, Zaha Hadid, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro through the difficult engineering tasks solved by bridge builders to make this low-slung, flowing building stand up (the large central shell was cast in one pour over two days and nights, a mammoth logistical feat involving 20 simultaneous mixing trucks). A fascinating mingling of Swiss precision and Japanese minimalism, this film doggedly stays with the process until students fill the single expansive, unbroken fluid space of undulating floors and ceilings punctuated by glass-walled and domed bubbles. It takes the library as a building type one step beyond OMA’s Seattle Public Library. Perhaps the person who is able to best put architecture into a wider context is the Pritzker Prize winner in Tadao Ando—From Emptiness to Infinity. He thinks “we have to intensively deal with the present,” and encourages a young employee to communicate more with people, rather than just his computer because “this impacts on architecture and our society. Because communication, life, and architecture belong together.”
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Firing Up Brooklyn
Ryan Muir / Courtesy BRIC

It is no easy feat to retrofit a historic structure to house two arts organizations with vastly different programming and workspace needs. This was the challenge that LEESER Architecture faced, and recently tackled, after winning a commission five years ago to convert the 94-year old Strand Theatre into a robust, community-accessible arts facility in downtown Brooklyn’s emerging Cultural District. The new 60,000 square foot building is the new home to BRIC Arts | Media, a non-profit dedicated to arts and media programming, and UrbanGlass, an organization focused on the art of glass making.

“It is to serve as an anchor of the BAM Cultural District and of the larger vibrant and rapidly evolving areas of Downtown and Fort Greene, Brooklyn,” said Sofia Castricone, senior architectural designer at LEESER Architecture. “The strategy for the exterior of the project was to integrate elements of architecture, signage and exterior lighting to unify the building as an arts center, while maintaining the distinct identities of BRIC and UrbanGlass and to do so within the limited budget.”

Jenna Salvagin / Courtesy BRIC

The building is designed to invite the public through the placement of an “Urban Lobby,” which connects the building’s entrance to the sidewalk “to provide transparency to the vibrant activity going on inside,” said Castricone.

The interior is composed of a myriad of spaces to accommodate a variety of uses from studio work (from media production to glass blowing) and educational programming to art exhibitions and live performances. Emerging and mid-career artists can show their art in a 3,000 square foot gallery or in a smaller space, dubbed “The Project Room,” which is geared more towards video work. Perhaps, paying homage to one of Brooklyn’s iconic architectural features, LEESER created “The Stoop,” a large row of steps designed to function as a gathering and event space.

Jenna Salvagin / Courtesy BRIC

For UrbanGlass, the new building provides ample room for both studio work and exhibitions. Artists have access to 17,000 square feet of studio space, which also includes a state-of-the-art, temperature controlled “Hot Shop.” A gallery and retail shop are located right on the first floor—providing a direct link to the neighborhood to help the organization engage with the public.

“The purpose of the project was to expand BRIC and UrbanGlass to the vacant first and cellar floors of the Strand building, to reimagine the building’s street presence to signify it as an arts center, and to showcase the full diversity of programs and creative energy of the community-based activities that occur within,” said Castricone.

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Architecture Research Office Designs Public Art Display Panels for NYC's Pedestrian Plazas
Streets occupy nearly a quarter of New York City's land, however there are limited outdoor spaces to socialize, sit, and enjoy city life outside of parks. As part of an effort to improve the quality of public space for all New Yorkers, the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has been developing new public open space by converting underutilized street spaces into pedestrian plazas. With dozens of plazas already open and functioning across the city, the NYCDOT has been looking to polish the new spaces, installing permanent designs, improved benches, and now, specially designed signs to showcase public art. Ten art display cases were on view from May through late August 2013 at Brooklyn’s Willoughby Plaza—one of the city’s first asphalt strips once dedicated to cars and subsequently transformed into a pedestrian space. The signs were part of NYCDOT's Urban Art Program and were part of its inaugural show titled There is no US Without U. The sail-like panels were designed by the NYC-based architectural and urban design firm Architecture Research Office (ARO) and were fabricated by Rhode Island–based custom composite construction leader Goetz Composites. Each panel is composed of three integrated elements: a sail-like field material involving an anti-graffiti coating, beveled panel edges clad in stainless steel, and stainless steel panel bases connecting the panels to the ground. The idea takes inspiration partially from recreational equipment and incorporates materials typically associated with boats. DOT sought a prominent boat builder to collaborate with the design team to create the construction details and assemble the prototype, which was exhibited last year at Bogardus Plaza and Water and Whitehall Plaza. Through an art therapy program at the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, veterans created the featured artwork shown on the new display kiosks. The exhibit will now be moved other public spaces around New York City. All images by James Ewing / Courtesy NYCDOT.
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Ratner Ready to Sell Majority of Brooklyn's Atlantic Yards to an Investor
It has been a bumpy road for Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards development. The ten-year project-in-the-making is in the news yet again. According to the New York Times, 50 to 80 percent of Atlantic Yards is now up for grabs. Developer Bruce C. Ratner, chairman of Forest City Ratner Companies is on the hunt for an investor to buy the lion's share of the development for a hefty sum of up to $800 million. Forest City would still hold the reigns over the future development of the project. The plan for this swathe of land in the downtown Brooklyn vicinity would include 14 residential buildings and 6,000 apartments of which thirty percent are committed to moderate- and low-income housing. One motivation behind this sale is to accelerate the construction process, which has experienced delays. Development watchdog site, Atlantic Yards Report, stated in response this announcement and the Times article: "Real estate analysts speculate that Mr. Ratner’s company could reap as much as $800 million from the sale of 50 to 80 percent of the remaining project. Well, that's an estimate, but if Forest City has invested about $500 million in cash, as the company said in June, that looks like a rather significant profit. So that's a pretty generous headline—'enhance Atlantic Yards'—as opposed to 'cash out/make profit.'"
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Urban Guerillas
Spontaneous Interventions at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Courtesy Freecell

Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good
Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street, Chicago, Illinois
Through September 1

In San Francisco, architect Douglas Burnham revives empty city lots with pop-up art shows, temporary retail spaces, and painted shipping containers. In New York, an urban forester and a landscape architect notice the city does not keep tabs on dying trees like it does with potholes, so they create their own system to crowd-source the collection of that data; they call it TreeKIT. And a popup film festival reclaims civic space for public dialogue around all things Detroit.

While the urban master plan has staged somewhat of a comeback in recent years, an array of public design projects, first organized by Cathy Lang Ho and the New York nonprofit Institute for Urban Design for the 2012 Venice Biennale, celebrates the other emergent force reshaping U.S. cities: direct actions by citizens.

More than 80 such projects are assembled under the banner of Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, including 30 new projects on display for the Chicago show. Also new for Chicago is an “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park, designed by Wicker Park firm MAS Studio and featuring salvaged lumber seating and art by local artist John Preus of Dilettante Studios. Brooklyn design studio Freecell and Berkeley-based communication design firm M-A-D cooked up the main attraction, which takes the form of a two-room installation in the Chicago Cultural Center, on view through September 1.

The exhibition includes a timeline of major events in city planning.

Each project is described on an overhead banner, which exhibit goers can tug to lift (via pulley) wood blocks hung at eye-level against the walls. The blocks display a particular urban problem (“access to affordable, fresh, and healthy food,” for example) and move up to reveal the solution proposed by the corresponding intervention (“rebuilding food culture through market and education,” for Chicago’s 61st Street Farmers Market). Some are design endeavors, some are apps, objects, anonymous art projects.

The one unifying factor among the projects is that they are tangible—actions, not aspirations. There are some exceptions, such as the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project, a non-profit that promotes the creation of urban orchards, but even if shovels aren’t in the ground, so to speak, every project has financial backing, land leases, or something substantiating its cheery renderings.

In a way, the show challenges conventional notions of “vibrancy” in the urban environment, which in the development parlance seems to exclude low-income neighborhoods almost by definition. Multi-million dollar developments downtown seem practically devoid of vibrancy, in the word’s most literal sense, compared with interventions like the Fresh Moves mobile produce market or San Juan’s handmade streetlights, dubbed Iluminacción.

It also speaks to the prevailing sense that the country’s cities are simultaneously settling into new development patterns brought about by long-term decline, and birthing something entirely new. Rails-to-trails projects flip defunct infrastructure into fuel for the youth-driven “back to the city” movement making waves throughout the Midwest.

Sure, the guerilla urbanism taking place in L.A. or Milwaukee may not rival that in Cairo, where the New York Times reports on “do-it-yourself infrastructure” that is literally rebuilding parts of the city. But, in the words of the show’s program manager (and former AN associate editor) Samantha Topol, urban planning actually began with citizen involvement—it’s only relatively recently that planning as we know it acquired its Ivory Tower reputation in some circles. “Temporary projects are amazing tools,” said Topol, “because they help people see what’s possible.”


A timeline of major events in city planning and urban interventions is also included in the Chicago show. The goal is to make the experience more complete, mimicking the full environment of the city. The text lilts and jogs, ostensibly to mirror the emotional state or prevailing philosophy of the eras it describes—it outlines the hard corners of a square during bureaucratic, orderly city plans and loops frenetically back over itself during the tumultuous 1960s—but that touch is so secondary as to be completely overlooked, or confusing at worst.

Nonetheless, Spontaneous Interventions conveys its overall message clearly, following its own internal narrative by putting interaction at the heart of the experience. Written on the walls of the exhibition are four themes: Participation, Protest, Equity, and Citizenship. Pull any flag in the Cultural Center and you’re involved.

The militaristic bent of so-called “tactical” urbanism can seem aggressively self-important (Yarnbombing?), but the projects detailed in Spontaneous Interventions embody a struggle. They are “the aspirations of people who are on the edges,” said FreeCell’s John Hartmann. “They are the independent artists pushed aside who can’t control the larger city.” A little empowerment goes a long way.

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ArtPlace America Awards $15.2 Million Grant to Support Art Projects Across U.S.
Non-profit ArtPlace America has awarded creative placemaking grants to 54 recipients who were selected from more than 1,200 applicants. Totaling $15.2 million, the grants will support art projects in 44 neighborhoods across the United States, as well as a statewide project in Connecticut. Grant amounts range from $33,000 to $750,000, with the average grant at approximately $280,000. The idea behind the grants is to assist in turning urban communities into more welcoming and prosperous places for present and future residents through art and design projects. ArtPlace America is a partnership of national and regional foundations, as well as banks and federal agencies dedicated to encouraging creative placemaking. The partnership believes that art can be an essential part of revitalizing neighborhoods. Integrating art and design in public spaces, the theory goes, can help communities imagine new futures, hopefully ones that lead to redevelopment and the strengthening of businesses and the economy. Peruse the complete list and images of ArtPlace America 2013/2014 grants online. Office of Neighborhood Development: $250,000 Performing Arts Center Trust Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami, FL From ArtPlace America: Building on momentum from its publicly-embraced master plan and the burst of public and private investment in its once-dormant neighborhood, the Adrienne Arsht Center will become one of the first major performing arts centers in the country to create its own Office of Neighborhood Development dedicated to accelerating and sustaining the creative evolution of its rapidly-changing, downtown Miami surroundings. Broad Avenue Water Tower Depot: $350,000 Binghampton Development Corp/Historic Broad Business Association, Memphis, TN From ArtPlace America: Binghampton Development Corporation and Historic Broad Business Association will transform an active warehouse loading dock on Historic Broad Avenue into an outdoor arts venue, convert a 140 foot tall water tower into an iconic public art beacon and activate The Water Tower Depot with eight weekends of community dance, followed by eight months of community-based programming. Old Town Artists Residency: $150,000 Bunnell Street Arts Center, Homer, AK From ArtPlace America: Old Town Artists Residency program will galvanize the community around Homer’s Old Town neighborhood through the creation and presentation of new work by artists in residence that activates the arts center’s space and surrounding outdoor sites including the Old Town People’s Garden Greenway. 12th Avenue Arts: $150,000 Capitol Hill Housing Foundation, Seattle, WA From ArtPlace America: Capitol Hill Housing will develop the new 12th Avenue Arts building, transforming a 29,000 sq ft surface parking lot on Seattle’s Capitol Hill into a vibrant mixed-use development combining arts, housing, retail and public safety uses. The Great Chicago Fire Festival: $250,000 Redmoon Theater, Chicago, IL From ArtPlace America: Redmoon will conceptulize, plan, implement, and produce the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival, a city-wide ephemeral placemaking event developed in partnership with the City of Chicago. Pittsburgh Central Northside Artway Connector: $300,000 City of Asylum Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA From ArtPlace America: Through permanent and temporary public artworks, community-based residencies for international artists, and free multi-lingual literary and jazz performances, City of Asylum/Pittsburgh will bring vacant properties and public spaces to life in a joyful walkway that celebrates the liberating power of creative expression and draws residents and tourists to the community’s soon-to-be redeveloped Federal-North business district. CoSign: $200,000 American Sign Museum, Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY From ArtPlace America: The American Sign Museum will expand its innovative CoSign initiative that pairs artists, small businesses, and sign fabricators to design and install a critical mass of unique handcrafted signage in neighborhood business districts by refining its process and materials and testing implementation in two additional neighborhoods. It will also create a toolkit to help communities replicate CoSign locally and nationally. The Idea Foundry in Franklinton: $350,000 Franklinton Development Association, Columbus, OH From ArtPlace America: The dynamic and acclaimed “makerspace,” the Columbus Idea Foundry will become a partner and anchor tenant in a completely renovated neighborhood warehouse. With neighbors consisting of the Center of Science and Industry museum and a burgeoning arts collective, The Idea Foundry will complete an innovation triangle in Franklinton that blends the arts, the sciences and enterprise. OhHeckYeah: $200,000 Brian Corrigan, Denver, CO From ArtPlace America: OhHeckYeah transforms public space into a temporary street arcade that leverages the power of play to promote Denver’s cultural offerings while amplifying the community’s creative talent. Silent Lights: $33,000 Artist Build Collaborative, Brooklyn, NY From ArtPlace America: Working in partnership with NYCDOT, Artist Build Collaborative will install Silent Lights, a series of six gates that light up sequentially based on the intensity of sound and vibrations from oncoming traffic, to a safer, inviting experience for pedestrian commuters as they traverse a loud, poorly lit and busy underpass linking Red Hook, Brooklyn to its closest subway stop. The Walter Soboleff Center: $475,000 Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau, AK From ArtPlace America: The Walter Soboleff Center, a 29,000 square foot cultural arts center, will stand in the center of downtown Juneau, adjacent to the historic district, one block from the waterfront, and in close proximity to the State Capitol and the shops and restaurants frequented by residents, the legislature, and hundreds of thousands of tourists whose cruise ships dock at the wharf each summer. Through its design and programming the Center will establish Juneau as the primary destination for authentic Alaskan Native art experiences.