Search results for "soccer"

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Randall's Island Reborn
More than 60 athletic fields are among the improvements recently made to Randall's Island.
Courtesy RISF

Randall’s Island has long been a daunting landscape of deteriorating ball fields and overgrown parkland. But on May 19, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation (RISF) announced the completion of more than 60 new athletic fields, one of the final pieces of a decade-long effort to revive the island as a recreational destination. Along with acres of landscaped open space, a waterfront promenade, and other public amenities, the vast project has transformed the forlorn site for residents of East Harlem and the city beyond.

The $130 million field project, launched in 2007, fulfills the dream of then–Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, who in the 1930s aspired to transform the 480-acre island into playing fields and public pathways. “When we opened the fields the other day, Moses’ vision was finally completed—we are really turning the island into a state-of-the-art athletic facility,” said Rick Parisi, managing partner at M. Paul Friedberg and Partners (MPFP), lead architect for the project. The new fields are expected to double the island’s visitors, currently numbering 700,000 annually, with an array of facilities for soccer, softball, baseball, football, lacrosse, and cricket. Improvements also include artificial turf on 11 fields for year-round use, lighting for evening play, restrooms, dugouts, and bike racks.

The bleachers at Icahn Stadium, which opened in 2005.
Courtesy Zurita Architects

The masterplan forged by MPFP recovered land from various institutions—including the Manhattan Psychiatric Center and the Wards Island Water Pollution Control Plant—that were a major obstacle to creating connectivity and giving the island an identity as a singular park. The present phase improves orientation in the landscape through a grid inspired by Manhattan’s 625-foot-long West Side blocks.

“The grid helped us to generate familiarity and orient the fields properly,” said Ricardo Zurita, principal of Zurita Architects, which collaborated on the masterplan and other aspects of the park, including the design of new sculptural comfort stations that serve as nodes along the grid. The artificial fields were also inserted along the edges of the island’s natural areas. “By doing this we tried to blur this very artificial landscape and blend it seamlessly with naturalistic elements,” Zurita said.

Young baseball players take to some of the island's dozens of diamonds, with the RFK Bridge in the background.
Courtesy RISF

Other park additions include the planting of 4,000 trees in tandem with PlanNYC’s Million Trees initiative, as well as new waterfront pathways designed by RGR Landscape Architecture that offer scenic views along the East River. Elements remaining to be finalized are the restoration of shorelines—including sea wall, riprap, and areas of natural beach, as well as several more ball fields and a path providing access to a new bridge connecting to the Bronx Greenway.

The project marks a milestone for RISF, which manages the island as a public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Aimee Boden, executive director of RISF, said the new work complements additions such as the 2005 Icahn Stadium and the Sportime tennis center, completed last year. “I really hope that this galvanizes the island,” she said, “and brings it to its place as a regional park facility where New York City goes to play.”

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Out-of-This-World Cup Stadia in South Africa
Americans do like soccer, contrary to what many around the world believe. American architects, though? Hard to say.. But even for the most soccer-agnostic architects, there are four good reasons to watch -- or at least glancingly pay attention to -- this year's World Cup in South Africa. Four of the 10 stadia designed or renovated for this year's quadrennial World Cup really are worth checking out beyond the context of international soccer matches. These stadia will be long-lasting legacies of the World Cup; that's good news for people who want to check these structures out, but potentially bad news for the cities that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in what may become massive white elephants. And here they are, AN's favorite four!! Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg The showpiece of the World Cup, this striking earth-toned stadium will play host to eight of the tournament's 64 matches, including the opener and the final. Designed by  South Africa-based Boogertman + Partners in conjunction with U.S.-based Populous (formerly HOK Sport) the stadium is actually a renovation of the original Soccer City, built in 1987, the structural profile of which remains at the core of this updated version. The new design gives the stadium a three-tiered structure with room for about 94,700 people -- the biggest in Africa. It was modeled after the calabash, a traditional African gourd pot, and its bowl-like appearance makes it one of the most interesting World Cup sights to see. Driving down the Soweto Highway at night, it can almost be mistaken for a far-off twinkling city skyline. Now accessible by the Johannesburg's World Cup-instigated Rea Vaya bus rapid transit system, the stadium will see some continued use in the future as home to the South African National team, as well as various cultural and sporting events. And additional commercial and residential developments are also expected to rise up around the stadium, so locals are hoping the $440 million the city invested will pay off in the long-run. Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban This brand new stadium in Durban has maybe the most unexpected design of all the World Cup Stadia. Modeled after the South African National Flag, the stadium has a 105-meter-high arch that runs the length of the oval-shaped structure. At one end, that arch splits as it heads towards the ground, creating a gap that provides a view of nearby downtown Durban to people in the stands during its seven World Cup matches. The stadium as a whole has a very ship-like feel to it, which is appropriate in Durban, South Africa's famous beachside city. And, as an added novelty, the arch boasts a funicular "skycar" that transports tourists up to its apex for what are probably some very sweet views of the city. The bold can even bungee jump from the top, though a series of malfunctions with the skycar left a number of tourists stranded at the top of the arch on multiple occasions leading up to the Cup. This stadium was designed by GMP Architekten, a German firm, and the designer of two other notable stadia on this list. At a cost of 4.8 billion Rand (roughly $640 million), Moses Mabhida Stadium is the second most expensive stadium built for the World Cup. There will be seating for 70,000 for the World Cup, but the amount of seating can be reduced to 54,000 or increased to 80,000 depending on the need. Need, however, is a concern in Durban, as no professional team (soccer nor rugby) has yet decided to use it as their home base. Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth GMP Architekten's design for this brand new stadium in the relatively small but growing oceanside city of Port Elizabeth has an appropriately nautical feel. Overlooking the city's North End Lake, the stadium exterior emulates the sails of an early trading ship, and its pointed bulges are like the ridges on a bottle cap. Host to just five World Cup matches, the stadium's impressive features are likely to push it across TV screens far more than its game count would otherwise merit. After the Cup, the city is hoping that two local teams -- one rugby, one soccer -- will take it on as their home field. But both of those teams have not succeeded in climbing into their sports' respective top leagues, which makes the prospect of regularly filling a 48,000-seater for minor league sports unlikely. This unfortunate reality has left the city questioning the wisdom of its $270 million investment -- and worried about the stadium's future. Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town This subtle but attractive stadium is less a statement of its own than an exclamation point for a city with more than its share of iconic scenery. Positioned near the tip of Africa, Cape Town boasts an incredibly scenic oceanfront. And with Table Mountain and Signal Hill behind it, the addition of this brand new stadium to the city's beach side Green Point Common is just icing. Its strong vertical walls and gently dipped roof line accentuate the flatness of the city's famous mountains, and also provide a classy look to what is already a posh and cosmopolitan city. Though there has been some controversy about the selection of Green Point as the site of a brand new stadium when existing stadia in the city could have been World Cup-ready with little investment, the stadium is already considered a postcard asset. GMP Architekten's design includes a translucent skin, which turns the stadium into a bright glowing light during evening events. And an innovative roof design contains much of the sound generated at the stadium within its walls, a boon to nearby residents who would otherwise be subjected to the impressively loud sound of up to 68,000 vuvuzelas. Seating will be reduced to 55,000 after Cape Town's eight World Cup matches are over. At a total cost of roughly $773 million, this is the most expensive stadium of the World Cup. City officials have contracted with a management company to book events in the stadium to help pay off what has been a major investment for the city.
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Baltimore Blues
A waterfront promenade in the heart of the new development, designed by Parameter and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects.
ASG VIS

The shoreline around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is well known for its bustling urban life, but just a mile away lies a body of water with three times the area and none of the development. The Middle Branch waterfront, a shallow estuary south of the Inner Harbor, is an industrial-zoned brownfield dotted with old factories and power plants and cut off from the rest of the city by a highway, a park, a bridge, and some CSX rail tracks.

But when a struggling Middle Branch glass company finally went bankrupt in 2004, local developer Pat Turner saw an opportunity. He purchased the company to get access to its land, and then convinced the city to rezone the neighborhood from industrial to mixed-use as he gradually bought up other privately owned parcels. A longtime South Baltimore resident, Turner had a familiarity with the neighborhood and, more to the point, a stake in it, as most of his prior work is clustered nearby.

The project remakes a former industrial site into a mix of development and expansive open space. (Click to zoom)

Dubbed Westport Waterfront, the project is unusual for more than one reason. Its size alone is unprecedented in Baltimore, a 52-acre site that will include 4.8 million square feet of mixed-use development, with 2,000 residential units, two hotels, 300,000 square feet of retail, and a possible soccer arena, an estimated $1.2 billion all told. While other waterfront developments have a hard time attracting public transit because they are not sufficiently dense, the Westport site already has a light rail stop at its center. Turner plans to use that station as the seed of a dense multimodal network, including wide sidewalks and a link to the city’s bike trail.

Currently, the development team is constructing two thousand linear feet of wetlands along the shoreline using federal stimulus money. By fall, they will be starting on Westport’s streets and public spaces by local design company Parameter and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, based on a multi-density masterplan by Field Operations. “Field Operations’ low-rise scheme yielded some interesting townhouses and lowrise condos, which we incorporated into the site,” said Chris Pfaffle of Parameter. “The high-density one had too much density, but we took its verticality and organization around a main boulevard.”

The new development is meant to transform a largely derelict piece of Baltimore's Middle Branch, just south of downtown. (Click to zoom)

Perhaps the most unusual thing about Westport is its scant opposition. To help fund infrastructure on the site, Baltimore issued the largest Tax Increment Financing plan in the city’s history, in anticipation of a sharp rise in property taxes from the current $93,000 per year to the estimated $43 million they will take in once the site is fully developed.

For their part, the adjacent Westport community is enjoying the attentions of Turner, who has been reaching out by planting trees and hiring locals to clean up the waterfront. The development will above all mean new access to the waterfront, which for 120 years has been privately owned and blocked by warehouses and factories. “They’ve lived in the shadows of smokestacks for many years,” Turner said.

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Plummeting Pei
Goldman Sachs has been much in the news lately for its continued blockbuster bonuses as much of the workforce continues to languish. But the new headquarters for the company designed by Harry Cobb has also made headlines for some time now thanks (or no thanks) to construction accidents. The latest occurred this weekend, when glass panels fell in the middle of the night from the 38th floor onto the West Side Highway, shutting it down for a few hours according to the Post. The Tribeca Trib also reports the accident also shut down a Battery Park City ice rink that was set to open Sunday, delaying the inaugural opening by a day. What's worse, though, is the Trib says construction managers knew about a crack in the panes that precipitated their fall but delayed fixing it.
Robert Blackman, Tishman’s executive vice president, said workers had spotted a half-inch-long "hairline" crack in a window on the 38th floor of the $2.4 billion office tower on Nov. 13, but chose to put off replacing the glass until after the external construction hoist on the north face of the building was dismantled. “[The broken glass] was deemed not to be a safety concern to us,” Blackman told a Community Board 1 members Tuesday night, upset over this, the fourth reported incident of falling objects from the site. “I would have been the first to have stopped the job if we thought it posed a risk to this community.” Blackman said “unusually high winds” the morning of Nov. 28 were likely what spread the crack across the upper portion of the 10-by-7-foot window. Around 7:30 that morning, pieces of the window fell off of the building, landing on West Street and on a platform inside the construction site.
That's more than two weeks between spotting the damage and the accident. Were this the first problem at the site, that might be understandable, but as has been widely reported with the news of this latest accident, it's not. There was an errant piece of steel that fell onto a neighboring soccer field in the middle of a game, a hammer that hit a cab, and, most tragically, the seven tons worth of girders dropped on a construction trailer that paralyzed the architect trapped inside. What has not been mentioned yet, though, is that falling glass is nothing new for Pei Cobb Freed.
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The Emerald Coast of Queens
On Thursday, we wrote about a new park that had been unveiled as part of the city's plans for Hunter's Point South. Not to be outdone, Gantry Plaza State Park, Queens West's original greenway, is expanding, with a new 6-acre stretch opening tomorrow. Designed by Abel Bainnson Butz, the new section of park brings Gantry Plaza to 10 acres of waterfront open space. With Macy's fireworks moving north up the Hudson this year, those new lounge chairs and hammocks could be a perfect place to watch. Check 'em out after the jump.
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Protest: Save the Memorial Coliseum
Part of what makes the Memorial Coliseum so special is that its massive roof rests on only four concrete pillars, seen here during construction.

This glass box in the center of Portland, Oregon, has hosted performances by The Beatles, Luciano Pavarotti, and Elvis Presley. The Dalai Lama has spoken within its cavernous volume, as did Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. The Trail Blazers, Portland’s beloved NBA franchise, won its sole championship in the building in 1977, and UCLA took home one of its many titles from the venue a decade before that. Allen Ginsberg, while attending the aforementioned Beatles concert, was struck by inspiration and wrote a poem entitled “Portland Coliseum.”

While its cultural history is impressive, that will not be enough to save the venue from demolition: The Memorial Coliseum has been threatened by a proposal to build a minor league baseball stadium in its place. But the structure’s exquisite beauty and refined engineering has motivated a host of architects, sports fans, historians, artists, and design enthusiasts to join together in an attempt to preserve it.

Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and dedicated on January 8, 1961, the Memorial Coliseum was shaped in part by Gordon Bunshaft, the firm’s best-known architect, famous for landmarks such as Lever House in New York. It is one of the more unique arenas in the United States, if not the world, because of its high level of transparency. The 12,000-seat seating bowl is structurally independent from the surrounding glass box, which, in spite of its massive four-block expanse, stands on only four columns. When the bowl’s encompassing curtains are drawn open (something that hasn’t happened in many years), the arena can be flooded with natural light.

An interior shot of the coliseum by  Julius Shulman shows how its unique structure allowed for entirely unobstructed views as well as ample natural light, a rarity in most indoor stadia.
Julius Shulman

In the book Modernism Rediscovered, a photograph by legendary architectural photographer Julius Shulman (taken shortly after Memorial Coliseum’s opening) shows the hockey arena during the day without artificial light. This transparency also extends to the outer concourses. Instead of walking through a rabbit warren of interior circulation spaces closed off from the outside, visitors to Memorial Coliseum enter and exit the seating bowl with panoramic floor-to-ceiling views of the downtown skyline.

The coliseum sits in the Rose Quarter, a loosely knit sports-and-event complex that also includes the larger 20,000-seat Rose Garden arena. Most cities upgrading to new professional sports venues have torn down the arenas they replace. Most recently, Philadelphia tore down The Spectrum, which had a history at least as illustrious as Memorial Coliseum’s—but was arguably less architecturally significant. The Rose Garden, however, isn’t the biggest threat to Memorial Coliseum.

The demolition danger has arisen from proposed changes to PGE Park, another stadium across town. Merritt Paulson, owner of the Portland Beavers AAA baseball franchise and the Portland Timbers minor-league soccer team, has won initial approval from Major League Soccer to bring the sport to the Rose City. But MLS prefers its teams to play in soccer-only venues. That means Paulson’s baseball Beavers need to vacate PGE Park so it can be converted for soccer, necessitating the need for a new home for the baseball team.

The coliseum is still a stunning sight to behold, even as its demolition looms.
Matthew Ginn/Homestead Images

Initially, Paulson and Portland Mayor Sam Adams hatched a plan for a baseball stadium to replace Memorial Coliseum. But at a public open house in April to introduce the plan, Adams heard a chorus of opposition. Public and media skepticism for the plan has been overwhelming: Two opinion polls found a more than 8-to-1 advantage for those opposing razing the coliseum. The City Council was set to vote on a plan on April 22, but the mayor postponed the vote indefinitely after it became clear that he would lose 3-2. As of this writing, city planners and Paulson’s advisors are considering several alternate locations for a baseball stadium, though the Coliseum site remains an option.

Even if Memorial Coliseum avoids demolition, it could be significantly altered by future Rose Quarter plans. Although owned by the city, billionaire Blazers owner Paul Allen’s Oregon Arena Corporation (OAC) manages the site. The company has proposed opening an entertainment zone inside the coliseum, pending the removal of its distinctive seating bowl. An open-air music venue has also been proposed, which may reduce the arena to a mere skeleton. Research by William Macht, associate director of Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, also shows that OAC’s management deal gives the company a financial incentive to break even in operating the coliseum, but a disincentive to turn a profit, contributing to the building’s current disrepair.

While the threat to the Coliseum highlights the difficulties faced by mid-20th-century modernist architecture when seeking acceptance as historically significant, there may also be optimism found in its boisterous defense. In this case, a small but vocal group of architects and activists may have successfully stared down the opposing interests of two billionaire sports franchise owners and a sex-scandal-plagued mayor desperate to complete a major project before a recall campaign this summer. So for the time being, when it rains in Portland, which is often, locals can seek solace in their glass palace.

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At Home in Dystopia
Friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph visited an exhibition of interest in New York's gallery district. Et in Arcadia Ego, a new exhibition at the Thornton Room in Chelsea, examines the intersection and overlap of natural and man-made landscapes. With the title, roughly translated from Latin, “I am in pastoral utopia,” the show, curated by Blanca de la Torre and Juanli Carrion, could easily devolve into a Nature equals Good, City equals Bad equation. Instead, the way the six artists explore the topic is not so divisive or stale. The work tends to engage the subject from the side, generating surreal results. At the end any answers are farther off than before viewing the work, and this ambiguity is show’s strength. It prevents the viewer from standing too sure-footed and jumping ahead to conclusions and prejudices. In the modest gallery space, Chus Garcia-Fraile 's video Protected Zone is projected in the front window. In the piece, an escalator is placed in a lush forest, running like a waterfall in reverse. The device sits seamlessly in the forest. The viewer knows these components should not co-exist, save perhaps in some Wow-Me mall in Dubai where ski-slopes and the world's largest-something-or-other are commonplace. But here the relationship is eerily correct. Recalling the tension of Michael Heizer's Double Negative—platonic geometry thrust into a rustic landscape—two clearly opposing conditions go deep into dialogue (or not) with each other, forcing us to decide which reading is correct—nature, man-made, or a combination.
Carlos Irijalba's video Twilight uses artificial light as a gateway into natural and synthetic landscapes. The video begins with the viewer above an empty soccer stadium where an array of stadium klieg lights flicker on as twilight arrives. With gentle thrumming of the city beyond, the lights run through varying colors until they hit their hottest white light. Dropping down and hovering above the perfectly manicured grass pitch, the light and flora are shown in their most synthetic and controlled states. Relocating to a forest at twilight, a generator rumbles on and the same array of lights reveals a very different context. Standing like the Monolith from Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey the lights are clearly alien among the trees and insects. What does the light Monolith bring to the forest? Simple illumination? Does it turn the forest into an overly dramatic movie setting or bring an impending sense of destruction? Or perhaps a sense of detached and bemused sentimentality? With a different sensibility, the photographic works Catastrophes by Christoph Draeger recall newspaper disaster images. With child-like earnestness, the images show the apparent aftermath of a plant explosion and a tornado strike. The cheekily morbid images, familiar at first glance, quickly reveal they are deliberate constructed narratives. Both pieces in fact are careful staged and photographed models. The fabricated horrors are so thoroughly executed it is difficult to suppress a smile at their morbid nature. But this inversion of bleak sadness leads to a pause. How often do we gloss over these situations in the media with a mild sense of loss, but a greater sense of relief because they are far away? Draeger directly engages the terror, readdressing them as modern fables and foibles. We look at the images as a whole and then trace through to see how they are made. In the deep scanning and study we see fresh the nature and complexities of real world catastrophes. By far the most architectural and accessible but also most troubling piece is J.G. Zimmerman's Dystopia Series: Suburbia (above). In a 24 minute video satellite images of suburbs run by leisurely, hypnotizing as the landscape morphs from one familiar suburban fabric into the next. Initially appearing like a lazy Google Earth, the video is actually a deftly crafted piece of art. By specifically removing details and cues of inhabitation—there are no cars or people—we are left only with houses, streets and a smattering of grass and trees. It would too easy to jump to the conclusion that a suburban existence equals the Boring Life, but the artist sidesteps this reactionary reading. Recalling photos by Hilla and Bernd Becher studying industrial archetypes Zimmerman bends our perception of reality. Even while carpet-bombing the landscape with familiar suburban quadrants, we see an odd duality of sameness and differences everywhere. The effect is spellbinding and disturbing leaving us wondering what is real and what is simulacra – in both the video and real-life. Rob Carter's Landscaping II is a large-scale print of plants growing literally up and through folded, cutout images of traditional buildings. A recurring theme for Carter, nature reclaiming urban territory, in the piece he places two different scales together (real life plants within the tiny pictures of historic buildings) and allows the intermingling to commence. There is no good or bad, winner or loser, only a snap shot of a process. Shot strongly in black and white and printed large scale, the picture is harder to decipher then if it was shown in color and in 1:1 scale. Carter obscures legibility, creating a situation where he and the audience are both first time viewers of this creation. Everyone, artist and viewer, have wait for allow the process to unfold. And all we can do is to try to understand the equilibrium, if there is one, and ponder where the process might lead us next. Et in Arcadia Ego runs through May 23rd at the Thornton Room, 150 West 25th Street, New York City.
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The Jersey City Shore
Starr Whitehouse and nARCHITECTS have designed a park for the Jersey City waterfront.
Courtesy JCWPC

In recent years, New York City has finally been reclaiming its moribund industrial waterfront. But across the Hudson, Jersey City has been at it for decades. The problem, as some see it, is that while New York has mostly been redeveloping its waterfront as parkland, Jersey City has almost exclusively built office and apartment towers on its shores since redevelopment began in the 1980s.

“Sure, there’s the promenade, but that’s basically just a steel railing,” Matthew Johnson, president of the Jersey City Waterfront Parks Conservancy, said of the city’s current open-space offerings. “We want more of a natural feel.”


The proposed park would stretch from the Goldman Sachs tower across little basin via a bridge to the peninsula. 
Julian Olivas

And so the conservancy unveiled plans for Paulus Hook Park on March 26. Designed by Starr Whitehouse and nARCHITECTS, the 9-acre park on the southern end of downtown seeks to weave together a half-dozen disparate lots into a destination for the area. “With the tremendous amount of residential development that has sprung up in Jersey City, there are a limited number of parks to serve this new community,” Johnson said.

One of the main challenges behind connecting the six separate plots is that they are owned by as many government agencies: Liberty State Park, the New Jersey Department of Military Veteran Affairs, the Morris Canal and Banking Company, the Colgate Center Property Owners Association, and the city.


The park was originally conceived as an alternative to the corporate and condo towers that have overtaken the Jersey City waterfront.

As if that were not enough of a challenge, the conservancy is also working against nascent development interests. Indeed, the group was founded two years ago after word had spread that some groups had expressed interest in building on various sites within the planned park. Thanks to the recession, the conservancy hopes it may have bought enough time to get the park past the planning stages and into the political ones. “It may be the perfect opportunity before somebody decides to build one of these pieces,” Johnson said.

At the heart of the park is a 1,000-foot-long shank-shaped spit of land that is already a public park, though it is little more than a plot of grass that is quickly eroding—a foot per year, estimates Johnson—because of heavy ferry traffic. One of the first tasks the designers will undertake if the park gets built is shoring up the peninsula against further erosion.


One of two proposed concession stands in the park designed by nARCHITECTS.

Beyond that, the plans call for a largely passive park, based on extensive community surveys. The surveys started with 25 different uses, from the most active (soccer fields and jogging tracks) to the most passive (walking paths and lawns for picnics and sunbathing). Johnson said the reaction was overwhelming for the latter, though a volleyball court will be included for a local group that currently plays on the extant park. A dog run is also being added, by popular demand.

Active uses aside, the idea is to provide a peaceful respite with views of the city and respect for the surroundings. “The community really understands that,” Stephen Whitehouse, principal of Starr Whitehouse, said. “They value the basic landscape, the sweep of that outdoor landscape and the sweep of the city and the river and the sun. Yes, there are some activities they wanted, but they really wanted a park that respects the space, one that integrated with the natural landscape that already exists.”


The "infinity bridge" is meant to serve as both circulation and symbol for the park.

Or at least used to. Across the Little Basin from the peninsula, the spaces are mostly vacant. The iconic Colgate Clock is still there, but otherwise the land is occupied with parking, a dilapidated shoreline, a basketball court, and a roller hockey rink. In addition to the new landscape, the designers want to add an education component on the north side of the basin detailing the history of the canal that once led inland from the site, including a tie-up for a historic barge. A Korean War memorial on a secluded part of the site will be moved to a more prominent location on the northern plot and surrounded by perennial gardens.

The signature piece of the park is the “infinity bridge,” a swooping figure-eight of wood that joins the peninsula to the northern side of the park. Designed by nARCHITECTS, the bridge is meant to visually represent the connectivity and continuity of the park with its surroundings and history while also serving the practical purpose of easing circulation within it. “The longer you can walk in green the more transformed you can become,” said Laura Starr of Starr Whitehouse.


A plan of the proposed park (Click to view larger image).

The project is still in the planning phases, though Johnson said that he has spoken with all the associated public agencies about the project and they have all been supportive so far. “We’re confident this park will be built,” he said.

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Play Ball
Concrete coal silos will now serve as a backdrop for a park amphitheater.
Courtesy Rogers Marvel Architects

Jersey City’s Ward F is home to Liberty State Park, the largest in recreational area in the city, but despite all that lush open space, the neighborhood is all but devoid of athletic fields. “It’s a very scenic park,” Ben Delisle, the director of development at the Jersey City Redevelopment Authority, said. “But it’s not very active. There are some hiking trails, but that’s about it.”

When the city created the Morris Canal Redevelopment Plan a decade ago, one of the top priorities was the creation of such a park. The canal, long filled, still divided and disrupted the city because numerous old industrial sites lay vacant, many of them contaminated. One such plot was a 17-acre lot that once served as a rail yard. The city released an RFQ for Berry Lane Park in 2007, and a team consisting of Dresdner Robin, a local environmental and civil engineering firm, and Rogers Marvel Architects were selected. After a year of work, they are preparing to unveil their final proposal for what will become the largest recreational park in the city.

“We wanted to give them something unique and not just slap down as many fields as possible,” Mark Vizzini, the associate-in-charge for Dresdner Robinson, said. He said that it was this sort of progressive thinking that led his firm to partner with Rogers Marvel, after first working with the architects on the Canco Lofts. “Not to draw too heavily on the sport analogy,” Vizzini said, “but when you play with better people, you play better yourself.”


With its multitude of uses, Berry Lane Park will become Jersey City's largest recreational area.
Courtesy Rogers Marvel Architects 

After first meeting with the community last September to hear what locals wanted from the park—basically, lots of athletic facilities—and consulting with city officials, the designers returned in February to present three different plans: Community Rooms, Neighborhood Quilt, and Big Backyard. Though the final proposal draws on all three, it most closely resembles the latter, which concentrates circulation around the perimeter and places the ball fields and other facilities within.

One of the primary reasons for this approach is that the old rail yard had long riven the residential community it surrounds. The city especially wanted to increase access to a light rail station at the southwest corner of the lot that opened in 2000. The rail yard made access from the eastern neighborhood a long and even dangerous walk. “It was a barrier that had long split the community,” Vizzini said.

This approach also offered the opportunity for a more creative arrangement to the fields within. Rogers Marvel placed a particular emphasis on highlighting the site’s industrial past. In a nod to the canal, the park’s smaller facilities—basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, picnic areas, and a skate park—run in a line along its original path, now called the “activity canal.” And a stretch of concrete silos that once housed coal for the trains will serve as the backdrop to an amphitheater on one side and a spray park on the other.

East of the canal and the spray park are the larger ball fields, with two baseball diamonds to the north and a regulation soccer field to the south. Between these rises the projects most distinctive feature, a concession stand with an arched roof that makes the building resemble a butterfly in flight. Pushing the symbolism to its extreme, the roof will be planted with flowers to attract the very same insects. “We thought how can we get a green roof and turn it into so much more?” Vizzini said.

The same could be said for the rest of the park. “We wanted something different,” Delisle said. “And I think we’ve gotten that. When it’s finished, it’s really going to be a place where people really just step back and go, ‘Wow.’”

Comment: A Shaken Neighborhood

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?

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Delirious Newark
Downtown Newark
Courtesy Regional Plan Association

When two poodles sauntered from a freshly converted apartment house in downtown Newark this summer, it made the news. No, the dogs weren’t in any trouble, they were merely tethered to a well-heeled woman out for a stroll: a perfect specimen of that species beloved to real estate brokers, the highrise urban dweller. For New Jersey Business magazine, which reported the incident, they are a sign of better things to come.

As Mayor Cory A. Booker swept into office in 2006 on a platform of radical reform, he vowed to make Newark a “national standard for urban transformation.” And in June, he took a big step forward by appointing Toni Griffin as director of community development, charged with rebuilding the planning machine of New Jersey’s largest metropolis nearly from the ground up.

To many New Yorkers, this city of about 280,000 on the Passaic River has long been a tattered way station, glimpsed from passing Amtrak trains or en route to Newark Liberty Airport. But beyond the image of shells of buildings and broken windows is what planners call a robust urban infrastructure primed for a new half-century of growth. Though Newark’s population had dwindled dramatically from its peak of more than 440,000 in the 1930s, a boomlet since 2000 made it the fastest-growing major city in the Northeast. With commuter-friendly transit links to New York, dormant development capacity, and ample urban amenities waiting to be tapped, the Booker camp is betting hard on Newark’s future.

“With the coming of the Booker administration and changes in the region, Newark is in quite a different position than it was a few years ago,” observed Max Bond, partner at Davis Brody Bond. “As housing in New York gets more expensive, more and more people are looking at the possibility of living in Newark. In the regional context, there really are terrific opportunities.”

Shortly after the 38-year-old Booker came to office, he delighted planners by sitting down with the Regional Plan Association (RPA) and volunteers like Bond to draft a vision plan that would knit together the 100-odd neighborhood studies, urban renewal plans, and sundry agendas that had been moldering in City Hall file cabinets. This remarkable document, the product of dozens of planners, architects, city and state officials, and faculty of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, sprang from a three-day charette in 2006. With groups brainstorming about specific projects—from airport economic growth to the new downtown arena—a focused plan emerged: Revamp the 17-year-old masterplan. Overhaul the 1960s zoning ordinance. Ban sky bridges. Establish rapid-transit bus routes. Make mixed-use a mantra. At public meetings presenting the report, administration officials got an earful from residents keen to put Newark’s plans into practice.

Enter Griffin, who grew up in Chicago and studied architecture at Notre Dame, as well as at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (where she is now a visiting design critic). Launching her career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Chicago office, she gravitated to planning and was hired to direct planning and tourism development for New York’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation. She then moved to Washington, D.C., where she oversaw large-scale redevelopment for the city’s planning office, taking charge of downtown, waterfront, and commercial corridors. She later served as vice president and director of design for the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, helping to make 2,000 acres along the Anacostia River corridor into a model for rebuilding inner cities. She is known for hitting the ground running.

"As an architect,” Griffin said, “my training is in problem-solving and in building. I see planning in the same way. I’m not interested in doing plans that sit on the shelves.”

Digging in on the first phase of Newark’s masterplan, Griffin convened a team including SMWM, Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Justice and Sustainability Associates, and Chan Krieger Sieniewicz to define a vision that will lead to a more proactive and transparent planning process. Staff will also draw on the RPA’s draft vision plan and local design firms with the aim of revising the master plan and zoning ordinance for the 24-square-mile city, a task expected to be a multi-phase, multi-year effort. To build a central planning department out of what had been, in the James era, splintered among varied boards and offices, Griffin also aims to beef up her own staff, now home to four planners. “I want to hire a mix of planners with design backgrounds, designers with planning backgrounds, and economists,” she said.

Shifting to more immediate goals, the Booker team has targeted downtown residential development as a priority, citing 1180 Raymond Boulevard, a long-vacant Art Deco office tower in the heart of downtown. Recently converted into 317 rental units, it is rapidly filling with, yes, the aforementioned poodles—and just the commuters the city hopes to attract. (Eighty percent of the tower’s occupants work in New York.) “We’re aiming to build upon the trend started by premier new residential buildings like 1180 Raymond Boulevard,” said Stefan Pryor, Newark’s deputy mayor for economic development. Pryor, who led the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation through its forced quiescence before arriving as a high-profile hire for the Booker administration, is actively working on projects that have been thwarted by Newark’s outmoded regulations. He cites the city’s incoherent zoning rules as a persistent problem for developers who want to convert commercial buildings into housing. “There are side yard requirements and backyard requirements and onerous parking requirements,” he said. “We are going to eliminate those.”

Bringing momentum downtown is New Jersey Transit’s mile-long light-rail link between the city’s two major transit hubs, Newark Penn Station and Broad Street Station. Opened in 2006 at a cost of $207 million, the line connects New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, PATH trains, and the city’s subway. It will hopefully extend residential and retail growth north across I-280, and to the two gemlike Mies van der Rohe towers known as the Pavilion Apartments. Opened in 1960, along with a third Mies apartment building near Branch Brook Park called the Colonnade, the towers today look lonely amid Colonial-style townhouses built on the site of the Christopher Columbus Homes public housing project, which were razed in 1994 after becoming a symbol of neglect and poverty.

Back near Broad Street, which Griffin sees a as focal point for the 45,000 college students who attend Newark’s five colleges and universities, there’s the Barton Myers-designed New Jersey Performing Arts Center, widely hailed as the project that put Newark back on the map when it opened in 1997. “It’s an area that can help to change the whole image of the city and brand it as a waterfront downtown,” Griffin said. Work has slowly progressed on the Joseph G. Minish Passaic River Waterfront Park, which would stretch north from the dominantly Portuguese and Brazilian Ironbound district (and its swinging tapas bars) to the downtown core. Griffin looks toward a teeming, two-sided waterfront along both banks of the Passaic; plans are already progressing across the river in Harrison, where the first phase of a development with 1,800 residential units, a soccer stadium, and a riverfront park is under way.

For many watching Newark’s redevelopment, the most bothersome legacy of the James administration may be Prudential Center, the city’s new downtown arena. Branded a boondoggle by Newarkers who questioned its $375 million price tag and prospects (it is home to the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils), the arena was nonetheless under construction by the time James left office. Mayor Booker, who once denounced the project as a “betrayal of the public trust,” has determined to embrace the squat, brick-and-glass behemoth, which opens this month with a ten-night stand by Bon Jovi. Ever the optimist, Griffin thinks the arena could catalyze restaurant and retail development just as the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) did for Washington.


The city’s hottest vehicle of change, however, is less likely to be Bon Jovi than the Port of Newark, because it has one thing Newark needs most: jobs. The city is closely studying how to redevelop land and capture job opportunities at the port, which employs relatively few locals. A similar strategy is taking shape around the airport, which Griffin suggests could be groomed as an “aerotropolis,” surrounded by efficient business and residential nodes. “Cities like Dallas are looking at neighborhoods around airports,” she explained, “and developing them as attractive places to live.”

Newark’s real estate boom has had unintended effects. As the market revived in former no-go neighborhoods, suburban-minded builders found a cheap formula to fill empty blocks: the Bayonne Box. A source of consternation to Newark planners, the narrow, three-story house has deep setbacks, vast curb cuts, and car-forward frontage (“a machine for parking,” growled one planner). The now-ubiquitous Bayonne Box is anathema to a rich and lively public realm, and Griffin’s team is looking to tweak zoning regulations to reduce curb cuts, hide vehicles, and create greener front yards. Her office has also drafted guidelines for new housing typologies, and will be hiring architects to test those concepts throughout the city. A similar program is under way to check the growth of car-centric shopping hubs. “We want to look at guidelines for how mixed-use town centers can fit back into the fabric of Newark,” she said.

Community groups, long inured to promises, are guardedly optimistic about their city’s future.

“So far Ms. Griffin has been sensitive and responsive to what we see as critical issues,” said Richard Cammarieri, chair of the master plan working group for the New Community Corporation, a network of citizen groups. “The biggest challenge is going to be ensuring that the planning process is in fact internalized for the entire city government. Everyone really has to buy into this.”

Longtime Newarkers have an endearing knack for looking at the bright side. “At least we have a planning department now,” Cammarieri dryly noted, “which we’ve never had before.”

Las Vegas on the Hudson?

Dueling proposals for Pier 40 on Manhattan’s West Village waterfront have whipped community groups into a frenzy, and, at a cacophonous public hearing on May 3, one scheme was blasted as a gaudy “Vegas on the Hudson,” while the other was deemed a lesser (but vastly preferred) evil. The brouhaha comes from the fact that the pier’s caretaker, the Hudson River Park Trust, solicited proposals from private developers in order to finance upgrades of the pier structure itself as well as the public spaces of the park. All of which means the Trust will have its hands full as it ponders the future of the site and tries to balance its own financial needs and the strong feelings of the surrounding community.

The 14-acre pier, at West Houston Street, is now home to a two-story parking garage and offices, wrapped around a courtyard with 3.5 acres of athletic fields. The fate of those fields is at the heart of the debate. At the hearing, soccer clubbers and political leaders alike lashed out at the specter of Jumbotrons on the Hudson.

Denouncing the “humongous development... destroying and disturbing this community,” Deborah Glick, state assembly member for the 66th District, vowed to oppose any retread of Robert Moses’ Westway proposal to tunnel a highway under Manhattan’s western shore . “We fought Westway so that we would have open recreational space,” she told the lively crowd of 1,500 at P.S. 41. “What we need is a direct connection to the waterfront.”

And so in one corner is the Related Companies, with its $626 million bid for a performing arts and recreational center, including an 1,800-seat home for Cirque du Soleil. The plan also calls for a 12-screen cinema for the Tribeca Film Festival, brasseries, galleries, dog runs, and more than 10 acres of public space and ball fields—most of which would be elevated to a rooftop, a move which angers local leagues.

In the other corner is the so-called People’s Pier, developed by summer camp operator CampGroup with Urban Dove, a youth service organization. The $145 million plan focuses on sports facilities, plus an educational complex housing a high school and college. CampGroup architect Richard Dattner cited his firm’s hugely popular Riverbank State Park, built atop a sewage treatment facility over the Hudson River, as a model. The plan would adapt most of the existing pier structure, add a glass entrance tower, and, crucially for ball field boosters, keep the fields at ground level. “I’ve never seen American Idol,” Dattner quipped as the crowd wildly cheered his team, “but this must be what it’s like.”

As the largest pier structure in Hudson River Park, Pier 40 hasn’t seen a major upgrade since it opened to the public in 1962 to serve the Holland America Line. Either proposal would need to fix severely deteriorated steel H-piles holding the structure up. Related’s team, which includes Arquitectonica, Elkus/Manfredi Architects, and Rockwell Group, along with landscape architect DIRT Studios, would also extend Houston Street through the pier as a central, pedestrian-only thoroughfare.

Further complicating matters, Pier 40 is one of only three designated revenue-generating piers in Hudson River Park (the others are Chelsea Piers and the World Yacht/ Circle Line piers), and a central question is what revenue sources should be included to fund the pier’s renovation and the overall park budget. Pier 40’s garage racks up $5 million per year for the park trust, and both proposals call for more than 2,000 parking spaces to keep that cash flowing.

But the hearing made clear that pier advocates had successfully framed the affair as a referendum on T-ball. “The People’s Pier ensures that no one will take these fields away,” declared Urban Dove founder Jai Nanda. For his part, Related Companies president Jeff T. Blau promised “bigger and better fields” and “complementary cultural and entertainment uses.”

For many in the audience, the Related team’s talk of LEED certification and high-performance turf was no match for Little Leaguers who lined up at the microphone. As one youngster dolefully explained, “I would be really disappointed if our field was turned into a mall.”