Search results for "Brooklyn"
The recent announcement that the Los Angeles Dodgers plan not to raze their revered stadium overlooking downtown but instead revitalize it with a parklike themed mall has been greeted with guarded optimism by both fans and a faithless public.
No one but the most imprudent publicist wants to lend the ambitious $500 million proposal his blessing just yet—certainly not in this hype-happy city, annually promised new architectural icons, fanciful ephemeral attractions, and a championship baseball team.
Then there is the down-and-dirty concern of how people are supposed to get to the new, improved, and pricey stadium, if not by private car. There already are hints of an attendance fall-off because of the increasing crush of traffic, though I suspect the team’s mediocre performance so far this season has also been a factor.
Though close to downtown, the stadium was designed and built 50 years ago in a suburban mode, surrounded by sprawling surface lots and served by a web of freeways that was adequate for the first few decades but has since become a nightmare. If “Dodgerland” is to attract the crowds needed to viably take its place in the Southland’s galaxy of themed attractions alongside Universal City and Disneyland, it is going to need a rail connection to the nearby Gold Line in Chinatown or to the Union Station transit hub serving downtown. Buses just won’t do.
Another possible connection would be the construction of a less costly tramway or trolley. This also would pay homage to the origination of the team’s name in Brooklyn, from a popular description of its fans a century ago, who when going to Ebbets Field to see a ballgame would have to dodge the streetcars converging there.
Indeed, I remember fondly in the 1940s in that beloved borough of my birth paying three cents to ride the Coney Island Trolley to the Parade Grounds and the bandbox of a ballpark beyond, to sit in a 25-cent bleacher seat. The ticket was courtesy of The Brooklyn Eagle where I worked as a newsboy.
Both the Dodger management and Mayor Villaraigosa heartily agree that a transit connection is needed, and at the press conference announcing the stadium plans, pledged to actively explore possibilities. However, given the present meltdown of the municipal budget along with federal aid to the city, no one is holding his breath.
Whether a real hope or hype, the plans for “Dodgerland” read well, taking advantage of the stadium’s dramatic hilltop site. Featured is a welcoming entry marked by a tree-lined promenade and grand plaza, conveniently connected to a relaxed landscaped pedestrian street encircling the ballpark. Christened Dodger Way and lined with eateries and an array of stores, the street is designed to entice fans to come early and stay late, to shop and dine, and not incidentally to reduce the crush of traffic around the stadium immediately before and after the games. Also in the offing is something labeled The Dodger Experience, described as a museum “showcasing the history of the Dodgers in an interactive setting.” Welcome to Dodgerland, but don’t forget your Visa card.
Playing to LA’s benign climate, the team’s culture, and the Southland’s consumerism, the plans were fashioned with appropriate flair by the design team of the locally based firms of Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios for architecture and landscape, together with the HKS Sports and Entertainment Group.
To their credit, the plans also respect the local concerns, especially among fans, that the landmark stadium not be compromised. Hailed as the epitome of the modern major league ballpark when it opened in 1962, the stadium now is the second oldest in the National League, and when Yankee Stadium is demolished this year, will be third oldest in the majors, ranking behind Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park. Given its potentially valuable site for housing on the edge of the central city, the stadium over the years has been subject to various threats. These have included its wholesale relocation downtown, to be gift-wrapped in a nostalgic urban design in the mode of the recent ballpark re-dos in San Francisco and San Diego. These proposals have been belittled by the Dodger faithful and the city’s landmark police. Also roundly razzed and promptly dismissed was a pie-in-the-sky proposal by Pritzker-award-winning architect Thom Mayne to demolish the stadium for a residential and recreational development and rebuild it a few miles away on recently dedicated city parkland. The plan alienated almost everyone, from park advocates to Dodger fans and community groups.
In addition, there’s an inherent distrust of the team’s ownership among fans. Baseball being a sport of traditions, fans have long memories, particularly Dodger fans who have not seen a World Championship in 20 years as the team passed through the hands of the miserly O’Malley family and the otherwise engaged media mogul Rupert Murdoch to the migrant McCourts, freshfaced and full of vim and vigor from chilly Boston where their nouveau ways were not appreciated as they are here in California.
Not forgotten by some is the team’s relocation from Brooklyn a half-century ago. That broke the collective hearts of the hapless faithful in the then-diminishing outer borough, mine included, until of course I moved to Los Angeles (like so many other New Yorkers). It will be interesting how that tidbit of history will be handled in The Dodger Experience museum, that is, if the team can find the financing for its plans while still looking for a center fielder who can hit.
The urge to take architecture beyond buildings is aspirational, timely, and increasingly unavoidable. Sure, thinking outside the traditional four walls makes sense as a business model in today’s flagging bricks-and-mortar economy. And then there’s the need to rethink our constant depletion of ever scarcer materials in the service of buildings with their own shrinking life spans. If architects are no longer building for the ages, what does it mean to build for a season, or not at all?
And so it seemed to make perfect sense when it was announced that the theme of the 11th Architecture Biennale in Venice, due to open on September 14, was Out There: Beyond Building. Aaron Betsky, director of the Cincinnati Museum and a longtime champion of the new next thing, is planning a multi-media blitz where architecture, he said, “is a way of representing, shaping, and perhaps even offering critical alternatives to the human-made environment.” The early word is that Betsky’s notion could translate into a variety of showstoppers at the biennale, from interactive movie walls to on-site espresso made from water piped in from the Grand Canal.
Yet there are other “critical alternatives” for architects that focus more on the street-level situations that alter everyday life. To explore the ways that architects are working well beyond the construction of four walls, AN has joined with a group of architects, academics, and designers to create an exhibition for the U.S. pavilion at the biennale. Called Into the Open: Positioning Practice, the exhibition’s aim is to document an emerging but widespread effort, a kind of social regionalism, that ranges from exploring what it means to live literally on the border to the socializing implications of something so simple as a kitchen garden or mapping the correlation between drug use and housing.
Some of the work to be included in the show will be as familiar as the community-based projects of Rural Studio and the border-crossing provocations of Teddy Cruz. Others are environmentally savvy offshoots of past design-build movements or research-heavy urban laboratories that translate data into calls for action. Still others reflect an artist’s awareness of the subtle atmospheric shifts that can lead to major realignments in urban environments, as in the work of the Brooklyn-based Center for Urban Pedagogy or the Heidelberg Project in Detroit.
Some 15 groups from across the nation will be part of Into the Open. Together they paint a heartening portrait of a new generation of architects eager to seize an active role in shaping the world—not merely with bricks and mortar but with open minds as well.
OH, MY STARS AND GARTERS!
Forget about the fist bump: Butt pats are the subject of the day (and yes, we have been watching way too much basketball on TV, but these are of a more intimate type). Or rather, for those who fear that the youth of today are unshockably jaded about matters amorous, you can relax. Two young editors at this fine publication arrived at work one recent morning in a state of great agitation and flabbergastery. What had caused their unblemished cheeks to blush so? The pair had been at the Phillips de Pury party for Atmospherics, a limited edition of furniture and objects by Asymptote’s Hani Rashid, and had a grand old time while wandering through a crowd including Rashid’s partner and wife Lise Anne Couture, brother and designer Karim Rashid, architect Thomas Leeser, fashion designer Carlos Miele, industrial designer Tucker Viemeister, and Museum of Modern Art chief Glenn Lowry. All was well until one of our rosy cherubim spotted Lowry pinching the bottom of the fair lady standing next to him. “Did you see that,” he spluttered; “Oh sweet Jesus he goosed her!” The two surreptitiously watched as it happened again, and then again, and yet again, until our squeamish spies were forced to refresh themselves at the bar, aghast and perhaps a little bit delighted. It was quickly determined the next morning at the office that the lady was none other than Susan Lowry, wife of our uxorious museum director. There was some giggling and hat tipping, and then all was forgotten.
Until! A week later, an Agnes Gund–sponsored party at MoMA for Adriaan Geuze of West 8, landscape urbanist extraordinaire and head of the superstar crew designing the public spaces at Governors Island. Fellow project members Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio were there, as were commissioner Amanda Burden and Charlie Rose, urbanist Alex Garvin, and Governors Island chief Leslie Koch. Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps the glamorous company, but we were emboldened enough to make a tasteful and rather tentative joke about Fannygate to Mr. Lowry himself, who laughed, looking entirely unrepentant and frankly rather pleased with himself. He retorted, “Pretty good for thirty years of marriage, eh?” We’ll say!
We might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, sure, but we often find ourselves downright perplexed by the offerings of PR agencies touting the manifold virtues of one new development or another—Breakfast in bed! Yoga! Doggy spa! Hot doormen! (OK, we’ve never gotten a press release about that last one, but would definitely schedule a visit.) Rarely, though, does a company trumpet something that seems like an honest-to-goodness disincentive to plunk down a million or two for an apartment. But the management of the BellTel Lofts on Bridge Street in downtown Brooklyn recently announced that the soon-to-be complete project will host the 21st season of MTV’s Real World, arguably the first reality TV show, and thus morally responsible for a national disgrace like Living Lohan. The building looks great and we like the show, so we hate to break it to our well-intentioned friends on Planet PR, but sharing a building with a bunch of hard-partying narcissists and their attendant camera crews is not luxury living at its most urbane—it’s the seventh circle of hell.
Send gossip and the complete DVDs of The Wire to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beyer Blinder Belle’s initial proposal for Williamsburg’s redeveloped Domino sugar refinery boasted sleek lines and disappearing edges, meant to be all but invisible atop the recently landmarked icon. It was a typical move for projects before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but given the industrial character of the Domino factory—technically three interconnected buildings—the commission wanted something bolder to match. And, though it was not in their purview, they wanted something else: the factory’s beloved Domino sign.
At today’s public meeting, the commission, expressing admiration for the updated scheme, got both on its way to a 7-1 vote in favor of the project. “I’m staggered at how fabulously this has turned out, being one of the cranky ones,” commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz said to laughter. “I’m very cranky, I admit, but thrilled because what they’ve really shown is that there are ways to improve things so that the problems that some of us have with these projects when they first come on are really solvable under the skilled hand of someone who really listens to what is being said.”
The architects made four major changes to their proposal, which initially involved a five-story glass box set back from the riverside facade. The addition was lowered to four stories on the northern two-thirds and three stories on the southern third, which now accommodates the familiar yellow neon Domino Sugar sign. The bulkheads were also dropped into the mass of the addition, changes that cost the project 20,000 square feet, the architect, Fred Bland, was quick to point out. “We really need every inch to fund affordable housing,” he said during his presentation. An impressive 30 percent of the project’s 2,200 units will be affordable.
Other changes included new storefronts and windows, which now have more mullions to mimic other parts of the building; the roughening of the addition, with metal rods aligned with brick pilasters below; and new "chutes,” or conveyer-like segments that run between different parts of the factory. Two chutes currently connect the refinery to a 1960s bin building—the tall concrete structure currently sporting the sign—which will be demolished to make way for a condo tower. The architects had proposed turning the breech of the chutes into two massive windows. The commission said previously it wanted something less polite, and the response was redolent of Eisenman—balconies that directly mimic the angle and aspect of the chutes, a decision that greatly pleased the commission. “It’s a perfect way to approach this,” commissioner Pablo Vengoechea said.
Bland also noted that, at $40 million, this was the most expensive adaptive reuse ever undertaken by Beyer Blinder Belle, though he also added that it was one of the firm’s best. And though the meeting was not technically open to public comment, commission chair Robert Tierney read two letters of support from the City Council, one from the chairs of the council’s Landmarks and Rules committees, Jessica Lappin and Diana Reyna, and another from the local representative, David Yassky.
The one dissenting vote was cast by commissioner Margery Perlmutter, who generally favors modern projects more than her colleagues. She said she would rather have seen the refinery left alone, with its density shifted to the surrounding towers designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. “I don’t think this building should be used to cover gap financing,” she said.
Tierney could not have been happier. “Overall, this is a landmark project on a very important landmark building that will say a lot for this generation and future generations about the industrial waterfront in Brooklyn,” he said. “I applaud everyone on this. We’ve come a long way, and I believe it’s a very approvable project.”
Susan Pollock, the project manager for the developer, CPC Resources, said the team hopes to enter the ULURP process, the next step in the public review, by early fall. She also added that changes to the Viñoly towers were being made that involved the location, mix, and massing of the towers, but not their height.
Though it has one of the city’s iconic postcard views, the South Street Seaport falls into that category of attractions that many New Yorkers confess they rarely visit, much like the top of the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. Yet Lower Manhattan is undergoing enormous changes, from the growth of the residential district around Wall Street, the planned transit hub at Fulton Street, to, of course, the World Trade Center site, so the Seaport’s leaseholder, General Growth Properties (GGP), has just announced a proposal to transform the area. The plan involves rebuilding much of the 19th-century structure of Pier 17 and replacing the 1982 enclosed mall with a series of smaller retail, hotel, and event buildings arranged around several public open spaces and promenades.
According to Gregg Pasqarelli of SHoP, the firm hired to design the project, SHoP and GGP wanted to conceive of the new Seaport not as a distinct megaproject but as the extension of a neighborhood. “The festival marketplace was just right for its time, and was the cutting edge of preservationist thinking,” he explained. “Today, the city as a whole is a festival marketplace, and you don’t need to seal off parts anymore. If [original developer] Rouse were to approach the city today with the same project, I’m not sure they’d get approval.”
GGP approached SHoP after seeing its work on the surrounding city-commissioned East River Waterfront plan, which was initially released in February of last year. One feature of that plan is the construction of retail and community buildings underneath the FDR drive, currently not much more than a dark parking lot for buses. These are in turn incorporated into the thinking and design for the GGP Seaport project, in order to create a more coherent and integrated approach to the waterfront.
The scope of SHoP’s design is significant, and includes both new—and very contemporary—construction, as well as the restoration and move of the Tin Building, the last remaining structure with historical interest on the site of the Fulton Fish Market. Though it has been mostly gutted and incorporated into the 1983 shopping mall, the structure would be restored to the extent possible on the exterior, then moved into the historic district on Pier 17. A 286-room hotel and 78-unit residential building would go up on its site. While the tower’s floor-area-ratio of 17 is as-of-right, it rises 495 feet instead of the permissible 350. Pasquarelli explained that they decided to build taller to maximize surrounding open space and to reduce bulk and maintain views. There is also likely to be some affordable housing in the mix: Project manager Thorsten Kiefer said that one possibility would be to create a mix of affordable and market-rate housing in the restored buildings on Schermerhorn Row, though that plan is still in the germinal phase.
The tower’s design is striking. Three stacked glass volumes are enclosed in an open, lattice-like exoskeletal mesh. (Note to would-be climbers: Each diamond-shaped opening in the structure spans several floors, so it won’t be easy to clamber up.) Pasquarelli described the exoskeleton as loosely inspired by the patterns of the old fishing nets once so prevalent there, but more than that, as a contemporary reinterpretation of the waterfront technologies of pier, cable, and mast.
Like any major project, the GGP/SHoP proposal will face a series of regulatory hurdles, including the Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP, approval by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the New York City Arts Commission, Community Board 1, and the Department of City Planning. David Vermillion, a spokesperson for GGP, explained that the company is well aware of the enormous efforts of various city agencies to improve the quality of and access to the waterfront, and decided that the time was right to reimagine their stake in it, approaching SHoP specifically in order to coordinate efforts.
Vermillion and GGP may be on to something, because for the last several years, now-former deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff staunchly advocated the development of a harbor district, which would include Ellis Island, Governors Island, the revitalized East River Waterfront, Battery Park City, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, and be connected via ferry service. That vision of the waterfront as an integrated and accessible whole is a compelling one, but will need the support and participation from the private sector as well. Pasquarelli, for one, is cautiously hopeful: “It is really extraordinary to see a situation like this, where the city is putting energy and money into reconnecting people to the waterfront, and a private company has decided to join in.”
Scarano is being cited for violations on two new buildings, 158 Freeman Street and 1037 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. DOB and DOI allege that Scarano improperly divided the lot, resulting in two non-compliant buildings. “My sense is that DOB was watching and waiting. This isn’t the first time he’s run into trouble,” said Jake Maguire, communications director for City Councilman David Yassky, who represents the district where the buildings are located. Indeed, the architect is perhaps best known for his Finger Building in Williamsburg, whose contentious history brought him unfavorable attention from local officials.
“We will not tolerate anyone who knowingly attempts to mislead the Department with false documents. Our Special Enforcement Team is identifying repeat offenders and building cases against them. Flouting building and zoning regulations undermines the quality of life for all New Yorkers,” said acting DOB commissioner Robert LiMandri in a statement. Further signaling a broad-based crackdown, in the statement DOI Commissioner Gill Hearn added, “DOI will continue to work with the Department of Buildings to root out licensed professionals whose word cannot be relied on to protect the public safety and the integrity of the City’s Building Code.”
“The charges against me are unfounded and will be dropped as all previous charges against me have been," Scarano told AN. "DOB is looking to transfer the blame.”
While the charges will likely affect Scarano directly, they also reflect poorly on the self-certification process. “The sad fact is that without sufficient examiners, self-certification is essential,” said Rick Bell, executive director of AIA New York. “The potential is there for any good thing to be abused.”
The investigation comes at a time when DOB has been under significant scrutiny for recent construction accidents, forcing former Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster to step down.
“Everyone at Buildings and at the City is there to guarantee public safety. Simultaneously they must keep the city from grinding to a halt,” said Bell. “The balance between using limited resources to continue the economic prosperity of the city while ensuring public safety is paramount.”
On Saturday, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey finally tugged its World Financial Center ferry terminal off of the East 39th Street pier in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where it was being assembled, and towed it to a dedicated anchor point off the Battery Park City esplanade. The five-slip, floating terminal, which began life in a Texas ship yard, is currently undergoing finishing work before a projected opening later this summer, some two years later than originally scheduled.
In addition to finishing late, the price tag on the project exceeded expectations. Total construction costs came to $50 million, up $10 million from the originally budgeted $40 million. BillyBey Ferry Company, which bailed NY Waterway out of financial trouble in 2005 by purchasing half of the company’s boats and routes, will operate and maintain the terminal.
Though ferry traffic to lower Manhattan has dropped off drastically since the post-9/11 glut, when disabled PATH service forced commuters from New Jersey to find other means of transportation, the Port Authority expects the number of riders to increase with the completion of the Goldman Sachs headquarters and the rest of the World Trade Center office towers. The temporary facility currently handles an average of 7,400 weekday passenger trips. The new terminal, which boasts a 22,000-square-foot waiting area, has the ability to handle up to 16,000 passengers an hour. The facility also includes additional seating and improved lighting. As Port Authority officials told AN in 2006, a central goal for the project was to keep it as transparent as possible, so as not to obstruct views of the water.
When we residents of Yorkville said the crane on East 91st Street would probably kill us one day, it wasn’t something we actually expected to happen. More of a sick joke, really: “Yeah, one day it’ll probably crush a bunch of people, like that one farther downtown.” We’d laugh sardonically and keep walking, figuring it unlikely for such a disaster to happen twice.
That Friday, I left my apartment near 90th and First at 7:50 a.m.—barely ten minutes before the collapse. Once I heard the news at work, I spent the morning in fevered unproductivity, refreshing Curbed and the Times every few minutes looking for details. Which buildings were damaged? Was anyone hurt? Information came in contradictory bursts: two people were killed, then only one, then two again. My apartment was spared, but the buildings on two sides were emptied as a precaution—I avoided homelessness by fewer than fifty feet.
As a refugee of 475 Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, evicted without warning on a frigid January night only months earlier, I sympathized with the displaced tenants of 354 East 91st Street and nearby apartments. That startling moment when the future evaporates, the mind lasers in on immediate concerns: “Who owns a comfortable couch?” and “For how long can I sleep there?” My own sudden homelessness was the reason I moved uptown in the first place, where I assumed structures would be safer.
It was dark when I returned from work that Friday, when I rounded the corner of First Avenue and 86th Street and stepped into a blindingly lit, but eerily quiet, disaster zone. Spotlights and the spinning red flashes from emergency vehicles illuminated the adjacent buildings, where NYPD officers perched to watch the recovery operation.
The following day, I watched four boys play touch football in the middle of First Avenue, the end zones marked by metal crowd-control barriers at either cross street. The avenue remained desolate for days, as if waiting on a morbid parade that never showed up. It is still partially blocked while the investigation continues, and a nearby wine shop and a soccer store have been shuttered all week.
But for those of us who didn’t lose family or our homes, the strangeness quickly passed. My roommate said he knew normalcy had returned when the taxis, impatient as ever, resumed honking at First Avenue’s newly bottlenecked traffic. Mayor Bloomberg may have displayed shocking insensitivity by saying, “We’re not going to tolerate any rate of accidents any higher than it has to be.” But if a collapsing real-estate market barely slows the skyward race to build new condos, many people suspect that two additional casualties will not stop it either. And at least the construction industry is grumpily accepting the need for greater oversight.
For the moment, many of us rest secure knowing that, when it comes to construction accidents, our neighborhood will probably be the safest in the city for some time. After all, it cannot possibly happen again. Right?
Most of New York City is well aware of yesterday’s death-defying stunts at the New York Times Building, where two climbers scaled the facade of Renzo Piano’s latticework tower before being taken into police custody on the roof. When asked about the paper’s plans to climb-proof the building (and its now tantalizingly ladder-like ceramic rods), a spokesperson for the New York Times Company replied that “design modifications are under consideration.” With that in mind, AN asked some of the city’s most inventive architectural minds how they might tackle this urgent design challenge.
The obvious person to address the tower’s dangers was the Genoan master himself, Piano, as well as his executive architects FXFowle. Both declined comment, as well as numerous other architects unwilling to criticize a comrade’s work.
For those who did speak up, however, the suggestions could not have been more inspired. The most common refrain? Let the climbers have their way. Channeling Louis Kahn, Markus Dochantschi, principal of studioMDA, said, “Climbing is what the facade wants to encourage, so I think the Times should provide lots of harnesses so that more people can climb up safely.”
Ada Tolla, a principal of LOT-EK, took the idea one step further. The firm would establish one day out of the month when the public would be invited to scale the structure, turning the Times’ potential disaster to its own advantage. In the interest of public safety, Tolla added, trampolines could be placed around the base of the building. “If somebody falls, they could just bounce back,” she said, “rather than break their heads.” (Surprisingly for the firm, there was no mention of shipping containers.)
Joshua Prince-Ramus, founder of REX Architecture, wondered whether the Times or building co-owner Forest City Ratner were even liable for others’ foolish actions. “Why do they care?” he said. “Someone falling off your balustrade is very different than someone actively climbing your building.” And while he did not personally endorse the idea, Prince-Ramus did point out that carabiners had been installed at his Seattle Public Library—designed while he was still a member of Office for Metropolitan Architecture—so rock climbers could do the window washing, not to mention saving $1.5 million on the project’s bottom line.
As an attractive, low-impact solution, the paper could consider climber-deterrent shrubs or vines, said Florian Idenburg, an architect with Brooklyn-based firm SO-IL. “There’s a thorny rose which I suggest you would grow along the whole bottom of the building, between the rods,” he said. “If you would want to climb up, you have to work your way through this dense growth of roses.”
Idenburg did not have a species ready to hand, but AN’s horticultural experts suggest the notoriously tenacious Rosa multiflora, known for its impenetrable thickets and wide tolerance for varied light conditions. (Idenburg might want to take his own advice, though, given that the New Museum he helped design while with SANAA is equally climbable, even if it does lack the views of its crosstown sibling.)
In a variation on this theme, Gregg Pasquarelli, one of the principals of SHoP Architects, suggested blades. "Big, sharp blades," he said. "Like on a guillotine."
The most practical solution may have come from the current director of OMA’s New York office, Shohei Shigematsu. “I think I have an answer,” Shigematsu said. “They should build a canopy on some level, on the third or fourth floor.” He said this would also help provide protection from falling ice, a problem the building experienced last year.
Might you, dear reader, have a better idea? Fire away.
Yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced more than a dozen pieces of legislation targeted at reforming the beleaguered Department of Buildings. Much of the legislation had been introduced last month, prior to last Friday’s crane accident, but among the new initiatives was one of great concern for the city’s designers and for its residents as a whole.
The administration has been trying for some months to alter the requirement that the Buildings Commissioner be a professional engineer or registered architect. The mayor contends that it provides necessary flexibility for running a bureaucracy of the city’s own making, and the mainstream press has begun to agree with him.
As architects and engineers well know, this is fallacious logic, writes Fredric Bell, executive director of AIA New York, in a Protest column in our forthcoming issue. AN presents his argument in full below.
There are 41,000 professional engineers (PEs) and registered architects (RAs) in New York State. One of them should be the next commissioner of the New York City Buildings Department, replacing Patricia Lancaster, an architect who resigned in April.
Some in New York’s City Hall are questioning whether a professional license is needed or even desirable to effectively run the largest and most complex buildings bureaucracy in the country. In answer, architects and engineers have sent mailbags full of letters and emails to the City Council chambers to explain why—with safety concerns on our sidewalks paramount—now is not the time to relax the professional qualifications needed for this difficult job.
Noting that the Surgeon General must be a doctor, and that the Architect of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., should be an architect (although that, too, is currently being questioned by a congressional oversight committee), registered architects and professional engineers were heard chanting “No PEs, no justice” on the steps of City Hall in late May. The commissioner of the Department of Buildings must have the knowledge and experience that comes from being a registered architect or professional engineer. The current city law, which requires this level of tested expertise, is both logical and necessary.
Members of the Council’s Governmental Operations Committee heard many of the reasons why the head of the agency that guarantees safety on construction sites must be trained and tested in how buildings come together, how they rise, and how they stand. The process by which an architect or engineer becomes licensed by the state of New York is arduous, arguably harder than passing the state bar exam. It tests comprehensive knowledge of codes, zoning, building practices, and environmental standards, to name but four of the many constituent issues that are important in neighborhoods from Co-op City to Gravesend, from Midwood to Central Harlem, from Ozone Park to East New York.
Professional architects and engineers have an unparalleled combination of education, on-the-job training, licensure, and professional experience that makes them uniquely qualified to ensure the safety and security of the public. Professional architects and engineers understand the integration of structural, technological, and life-safety elements into buildings to assure their usefulness. Through their training and practice, they are capable of balancing the requirements of building codes with the goals of historic preservation, energy efficiency, sustainability, and accessibility.
In addition to technical training, architects and engineers, by law, are personally responsible for their work and have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the health, safety, and welfare of the public. As licensed professionals, architects and engineers bring to the task a special degree of commitment crucial to the position of buildings commissioner.
This year, after long deliberations, New York City brought a new and modern building code to fruition, replacing rules mired in 19th-century construction practices. At the same time, in many neighborhoods, people have questioned whether some of the taller buildings going up fit into the context of their communities, and whether development pressures and the city’s double-digit growth have led in some instances to deliberate misinterpretation of zoning regulations. We need an architect or engineer at the head of the department who will interpret and enforce the city’s zoning codes, guaranteeing that political pressures and expediency do not engender neighborhood-busting mistakes.
Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and his friends in the City Council have pushed for progressive reform of Buildings Department operations, enforcement, and communications, insisting that building practices be forcefully regulated and made more transparent. The former commissioner, Ms. Lancaster, to her credit, got Buildings Department records out of dusty boxes and posted on the city’s website for all to see. We need an architect or engineer at the head of the department who will provide our communities appropriate scale and comfort, someone who knows about the economic and material determinants of buildings, not just how to manage a large and complicated bureaucracy.
Most importantly, through a wide variety of environmental initiatives including PlaNYC, our elected officials have insisted that New York City attain a greener future and carbon-footprint reduction by, among other things, regulating building materials and construction processes. An architect or engineer at the head of the department will enforce these laws—not just spout greenwash rhetoric—and assure our children and our children’s children that future buildings will help, not hurt, the environment.
There are some, though, in City Hall who insist that the business of New York is business; that any agency, any department, can be run like a Fortune 500 company. They say that good management skills are more important than mere credentials, stale tradition, or a philosophy that knowledge matters. They are half right. This is not about tradition, or a return to the bow-tied past. This is not about credentials or elitism or silly glasses. This is all about professionalism, and the knowledge needed for the person heading the Buildings Department to make the tough decisions when there is nobody else to call, nobody else to consult.
You would not want your kids treated by doctors who learned their medical skills by watching Grey’s Anatomy on television, nor public defenders and district attorneys who learned their legal skills from reading John Grisham novels. You want the real thing for a Health Commissioner and for the public counsel. Just so, you would not want the person who oversees all aspects of zoning, site safety, and the quality of construction in our city to have borrowed his or her word choice from management case studies at Harvard Business School or Brooklyn College.
We need the real thing for our Buildings Commissioner. And New York needs a Buildings Commissioner who not only knows how the government operates, but how buildings stand up.
Last night, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lighted the new digester eggs at its Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The lighting scheme, designed by L’Observatoire International, subtly casts a halo of blue light around the 145-foot-high, stainless steel–clad eggs, which process as much as 1.5 million gallons of sludge every day.
The lighting of the eggs marked the latest milestone in a 20-year plan, initiated in 1998, to expand and update the Newtown Creek facility, which is New York City’s largest wastewater treatment plant, processing the flow of 1 million residents in a 25-square-mile area including parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Polshek Partnership, which is providing master planning for the project, also designed the cladding, arrangement, and parapet atop the eggs. In addition to expanding the capacity and efficiency of the complex, the DEP is attempting to make it a better neighbor by reducing the plant’s odor and opening up portions to the public.
Standing atop one of the eggs, which converts human excrement into fertilizer through a process of anaerobic digestion, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd gestured to a stand of row houses immediately abutting the plant. “Any good town planner would locate a facility like this as far away from residential areas as possible,” said Lloyd, “but because this is New York City, these functions have to exist cheek-to-jowl.”
Last September, the DEP opened the George Trakas–designed Waterfront Nature Walk, which provided the first public access to the Newtown Creek waterfront. This fall it will open a visitors’ center at the site, designed by Vito Acconci, which will feature installations describing how the city’s effluent is treated.
L’Observatoire’s lighting scheme does its own part in making Newtown Creek a better neighbor. Backlit by four batteries of four 2,000-watt metal halide lamps, the eggs, which possess an elegant sculptural quality of their own, serve as a local landmark for travelers on the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. (Four of the eight eggs went online on May 23, and the rest are expected to be in service by the end of this year.) The firm provided lighting design for the entire 52-acre facility as well, strategically placing white and amber lights for functional purposes while liberally sprinkling the plant with touches of blue.
Speaking of that color’s role at the site, L’Observatoire founder Hervé Descottes said, “The color is a symbol for calm, cleanliness, and purity, but it also serves to contrast the light of the city, which is predominantly amber or bright white.”