Search results for "east new york"

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All Consuming

MELAMINE MIXING BOWLS

Williams-Sonoma
121 East 59th Street
www.williams-sonoma.com
$38.00


ARTS & ARCHITECTURE, 1945-54: THE COMPLETE REPRINT

Taschen
107 Greene Street
www.taschen.com
$700.00
 




KOOLHAAS HOUSELIFE BOOK & DVD

The down and dirty on the architect’s Bordeaux villa first hand from the housemaid

Storefront for Art and Architecture
97 Kenmare Street
www.storefrontnews.org
$85.00


 



STOREFRONT’S LETTERS

Storefront for Art and Architecture Auction
97 Kenmare Street
www.storefrontnews.org
Bids start at $1,000.00
 




THE MOBILE HOME DUTCH DOLLHOUSE

Matter
227 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn
www.mattermatters.com
$40.00
 


 

EAMES HOUSE BIRD

The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street
www.conranusa.com
$195.00
 





CHRONOTEBOOK

Plan your day, literally, by the clock

MUJI
455 Broadway
www.muji.com
$5.50
 


 

 

WINE CARAFE WITH OAK STOPPER

A&G Merch
111 North 6th Street
Brooklyn
www.aandgmerch.com
$49.00




 

LE CORBUSIER: A LIFE

Nicholas Fox Weber
Knopf Publishing Group
www.randomhouse.com
$45.00
 



 

LONDON 2000+

Our CA editor on 29 buildings that have made London a design capital

Sam Lubell
The Monacelli Press
www.monacellipress.com
$50.00


 

STEREO DOCK MINI

“Legos rock!”

Pylones-USA!
842 Lexington Avenue
www.pylones-usa.com
$22.00
 


 

JET MINI ALARM CLOCK

The Conran Shop
407 East 59th Street
www.conranusa.com
$48.00
 


 


21L BIRD SHELTER BY MALCOLM LELAND

In continuous production since the Sixties

Vessel USA Inc.
Aero Studios Limited
419 Broome Street
www.architecturalpottery.com


 

 


MODERN AMERICANA

Our executive editor on the famous mid-century studio furniture makers you’ve never heard of

Julie Iovine and Todd Merrill
Rizzoli New York
www.rizzoliusa.com
$75.00
 


 

SAFETY LUGGAGE TAG SET

MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street
www.momastore.org
$25.00


 

BITTER BLUEPRINTS BY CONSTANTIN BOYM AND LAURENE LEON BOYM

Axonometric diagrams of buildings that were sites of disasters—gunmen at LAX in 2002; Texas A&M bonfire—totally Boym

Moss
150 Greene St.
www.mossonline.com
$180.00
 


 

FLOOR PLAN LUXURY SQUARE PLATTER

Fishs Eddy
889 Broadway
www.fishseddy.com
$32.95
 


 

FRANK GEHRY ON LINE

On why FOG keeps drawing

Esther da Costa Meyer
Yale University Press
yalepress.yale.edu
$29.95
 


 

WOOD BLOCKS PUZZLE OCTAGON

Design Within Reach
142 Wooster Street
www.dwr.com
$65.00
 


 

SOLAR & WIND CHARGER

For recharging your cellphone on the Appalachian Trail

Flight 001
96 Greenwich Avenue
www.flight001.com
$80.00
 


 

FUTURE SYSTEMS FLATWARE

Whole service, including zoomy shot glasses

Alessi Soho
130 Greene Street
www.future-systems.com
$352.00
 


 

THINKING OF YOU NOW

Pop-up vase by baroque-ster Tord Boontje

Artecnica
www.artecnicainc.com
$46.00
 


 

HUMIDIFIER

Matter
227 Fifth Avenue
Brooklyn
www.mattermatters.com
$55.00
 


 

BORN CRUCIAL MILK 2% YO-YO

YoYoNation
www.YoYoNation.com
$59.99


 

 

I AM NOT A PAPER CUP

I am a ceramic vase

MoMA Design Store
11 West 53rd Street
www.momastore.org
$20.00 

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Unveiled: Linden Hotel
Courtesy Lang Architecture

The industrial buildings of Brooklyn’s rough-edged East New York neighborhood inform the design of the planned Linden Hotel. The use of polycarbonate panels, clear glass, expanded metal mesh, and stucco cladding creates a varied composition of translucency, transparency, reflectivity, and opacity, qualities that change over the course of the day. Designed by Lang Architecture, the 30-room hotel, which includes a sky-lit central atrium, will be priced for budget travelers, as it is located in relative proximity to John F. Kennedy Airport, and should appeal to “neighborhood vacationers,” according to principal Drew Lang. The developer, who owns another budget hotel in the area, thinks design could make the Linden stand out from the competition, rather than, say, loud roadside signage. 

For Lang, the hotel represents his first built project in New York (he has built several in his native Gulf Coast region), which is something of a surprise to him. “I’d never thought of working in this section of Brooklyn, but if you share a vision with your client and your contractor, you can build good architecture almost anywhere,” he said.

Architect: Lang Architecture
Client: Sam Patel
Location: East New York, Brooklyn
Completion: late 2009

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One For the Books
In this age of blogs and 24-hour cable news, rarely does breaking news come from an old-fashioned hardcover book. But that is exactly what happened with Studio Daniel Libeskind's New York Tower, which can be seen above (and which we also talked to the architect about earlier today). Ever since the project leaked onto the Internet last year, the real estate blogosphere has been following every rumor and murmur about the project. But it took the November 18 publication of Counterpoint, Libeskind's latest monograph, for the world to get its first look. Indeed it wasn't until last week, when New York architecture critic Justin Davidson pointed out the project's publication therein, that people started to take notice. Fortunately for us, we happened to have a review copy lying around the office, from which these images were taken. But before we go, one caveat. The developer refused to release any of these images--except for the one we posted of the terrace gardens--when we requested them. "They were made at least a year ago, for publication purposes, and no longer reflect the current state of the project," Lloyd Kaplan, spokesperson for developer Elad Properties, told us. Still, they provide the most complete picture of the project yet. And, even if it does change, as long as it looks half this good, we think everyone will be happy. Also, if you care to learn more about the book (and, we hope, the tower), Liebeskind and Paul Goldberger--his interlocutor for Counterpoint--will be giving a talk at the Center for Architecture on December 10.
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No End In Sight

The Numbers

The Dow was up another 396 points yesterday, following Friday’s rally of 494 points. But that, of course, was preceded by a two-day drop when the index shed nearly 900 points. Architects addled by the market’s moment-by-moment gyrations may take a measure of relief in the fact that the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index (ABI) is released on a monthly, not instantaneous, basis. But it can still feel like a swift punch in the gut.

So it was last week, when the AIA released its billings numbers for October, a month when world financial markets were reported to be on the brink of collapse. Just as those markets dropped to levels not seen in decades, the ABI achieved historically new lows at a historically precipitous rate of decline.

For October, U.S. architects recorded a billings level of 36.2, down from 41.4 in September and 47.6 in August. In March, the second-weakest month in the index’s 13-year history, the reading was 39.2. Since March, the index had posted gains of a point or two, suggesting the downturn might be brief, but the last two months have erased almost any hope of a reprieve, said Kermit Baker, the chief economist of the AIA and the person who developed the index. (Measured on a scale of 1 to 100, a measure of 50 is neutral, with anything over representing a rise in billings and anything under, a drop.)

While October billings were bad, the real shock came from the inquiries architects surveyed by the AIA said they had received. The monthly inquiries reading was 39.9, not only a historic low but a considerable fall from September (51.0) and May (46.5), when inquiries hit their previous historic low. Demonstrating just how severe this downturn might be is the fact that inquiries have dropped below 50 three times this year—in March, they measured 48.0—while they had only fallen past that point once previously, in September 2001. Historic comparisons can be hard to make, however, since the index, which recorded its first measurements in November 1995, is so young.

Still, Baker said there was no question that the industry was in bad shape. “I think there’s a lot of weakness permeating the entire profession,” he told AN. “It’s permeating every region and every business type, so we’re without that buffer.”

Of greatest concern to Baker was the institutional sector, which is typically a bright spot during economic hard times because governments, schools, and other institutions prefer to build when there tends to be less competition for materials and labor. This had remained the case throughout the year, until the sector began to fall in August, when it registered a drop to 48.9 points from 52.1 in July. In September it reached 44.4 and for October it was 42.1, the lowest on record. That is still considerably better than multi-family housing, which reached 34.2 in October, though that sector has also been struggling since last August and fluctuating since late 2006, both a result of the housing bubble that set off the current economic turmoil.

But now even governments, universities, and other private institutions are hard-up for cash. Take the New York City School Construction Authority, which cut its five-year capital budget nearly in half. Daniel Heuberger, a principal at Dattner Architects who has designed a number of schools for the city, said his division remains busy with projects for both public and private schools, but he would also not be surprised to see work abate. “If the downturn is long enough, though the private sector gets hit first, it will eventually come full-circle,” he said.

(Despite this fact, the Northeast was the one region to post a gain this month, though again, such gains are relative considering all four regions have been have been in the doldrums of the past few months.)

With credit markets showing some signs of normalizing, Baker hopes so, too, will the billings index. But at the same time, with the financial markets still suffering and construction starts faltering, there is no way to know what the future holds in store. “We are looking at a shrinking economy even if the credit markets are operating more smoothly,” Baker said. “We will just have to wait and see where the market takes us.”

Until next month, then.

For the Long Haul

The Numbers

Whether their decisions are large or small—a shift in focus from Beijing to Riyadh, or cutting down on office supplies—design professionals of every size and stripe have been taking stock. Few are willing to openly acknowledge that layoffs are already underway: The going euphemism is “belt tightening.” Around Election Day, the ranks of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) lost 50 people, several sources confirmed; and one prestige firm took the not-so-elegant step of laying off 20 people who had all been gathered into one room.

But in interviews with over a dozen firms, including landscape architects and engineers, AN found that the economic strategizing that many New York offices started a year or two ago has paid off. At the very least, the process of planning for a downturn has helped mitigate jitters about what lies ahead.

Perkins Eastman has grown from a staff of 50 in the early 1990s to 800 in 13 global offices today, and in the past few years, the firm has focused on what principal Aaron Schwarz called “value-added service areas” including healthcare, education, senior living, and municipal developments. That has put it in a good position to pick up on a convergence phenomenon in building programs such as education wellness centers and hospitality healthcare. “We started looking two or three years ago at how to position ourselves,” he said. “We feel we are in as good if not a better place than many,” said Schwarz, adding that Perkins Eastman is still hiring, though more slowly than a year ago.

In June 2007, the partners at Gruzen Samton noticed that they were no longer seeing zoning and feasibility studies come in to the office at the same rate as before. They, too, had a meeting and decided to focus even more on senior living facilities and educational infrastructure. But an even smarter move turned out to be the decision to seek an on-call contract with the General Services Administration (GSA). Under the auspices of the GSA’s Design Excellence Program, Gruzen Samton was selected to be one of four or five firms pre-qualified for any work put out by Homeland Security’s Port of Entry from North Dakota to Maine, for up to five years. “We’re very proud we made the cut,” said firm partner Darko Hreljanovic.

Last spring, SOM invited economists into the office to talk about macro-economic issues in an effort to define more opportunities in emerging markets. However, they have found that global diversification hasn’t provided a puncture-proof cushion from economic blows. “We’ve been purposefully global for years,” said partner Roger Duffy, “but it turns out that almost no world market is immune right now.” There are a few exceptions, though: While several sources described the development market in Russia and Dubai as very shaky, Saudi Arabia is actually getting busier. “We can’t get enough people into Riyadh,” said Craig Schwitter of Buro Happold, who is working with FXFowle on the King Abdullah Financial District development, which includes over 100 new buildings. Over the last decade, the kingdom had proceeded more conservatively than its neighbors, and so hasn’t been as affected by the economic crisis.

At 65 people, Rogers Marvel Architects is no giant, but a year ago they hired a managing director to help the firm act and plan ahead like a grown-up operation. “We followed that with a lot of sit-downs to try and prepare,” said Rob Rogers, and so far all the desks are still full. One of the firm’s strategies is to sign on for “curb and gutter jobs” if there’s even a modicum of creativity involved. Noting how designing streetscapes at Battery Park City led first to streetscape security for the New York Stock Exchange and then to a masterplan for the Pentagon, Rogers said, “We launched in the 1990s at a tough time when we had to have good habits and we’ve stayed aggressive and less picky.”

Three weeks ago, Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis had the inevitable meeting about cutting back on office surplus. The firm knows how to keep it lean with a staff of 12 and a handful of academic projects, which so far have all been reconfirmed. Fee negotiations, however, have become more circumspect, said Marc Tsurumaki, estimating that the going rate is off about 25 percent from last year. While all three partners in the firm are already teaching, they will probably start entering competitions—at least the ones rooted in reality. Like many, Tsurumaki is trying to figure out the bright side: “We see it as a good opportunity to reconsider things and even re-conceptualize the firm,” he said. “We’re wondering if there are even more inventive ways to get back into design-build.” At 42, Tsurumaki experienced the last downturn in 1991, when he was just out of school and working for Joel Sanders. “He’d be off teaching and I would be the only person in the office when these 40-year-old architects came by to drop off their resumes,” he recalled. “I just sat there hoping I would never be one of those guys.”

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Towering Over Philly
The American Commerece Center would Redefine the Philadelphia Skyline.
Courtesy KPF

For nearly a century, City Hall, with William Penn atop it, stood as the tallest building in Philadelphia. For decades, skyscrapers there flirted with the 548-foot height of the Absolute Proprietor but never surpassed him—part of a "gentleman's agreement," not a law, as commonly thought. In 1987, the 945-foot One Liberty Place broke the limit, but that tower, too, may soon be dwarfed. Though still in its earliest development stages, the KPF-designed American Commerce Center aspires to rise above them all, to 1,510 feet.

Beyond its height, the scale of the project is immense, nearly 2.2 million square feet of office, hotel, and retail space rising from a relatively small 62,000-square-foot lot. This density of development has drawn the ire of many locals, but the unanimous passage of a rezoning of the lot on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Planning Commission proves that, at least in spirit, the city supports the project.


The new tower is meant to be a beacon
for a new philadelphia.
All images courtesy KPF
 

"It's an aggressive proposal—aggressive in a good way," Alan Greenberger, executive director of the commission, said in an interview after the vote. "They're asking for a lot of density and that makes people nervous, and I understand that. The question is, is this the place for that density. I think that today's vote indicates that, yes, it is."

The City Council will now hold a hearing on the rezoning December 4 with a vote due by December 10; Greenberger said he expects the council to support it. The developer, Hill International of Marlton, New Jersey, then has one year to create a Plan of Development—which fleshes out the project in more detail and allows for more specific tweaks by the commission—before the rezoning's sunset clause takes effect. Because of the slumping economy, though, the commission will allow Hill to apply for an extension.

During the developer's presentation, Peter Kelso, Hill's counsel on the project, said its purpose was to allow Philadelphia to join the business capitals of the world, like New York, London, and, yes, Dubai. "We need to move into a more modern realm of office development," he said.

KPF founder Gene Kohn spoke on behalf of the architects, saying the American Commerce Center had a significance even greater than that. "Every great city has its icon," he declared, mentioning the TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Eiffel Tower. "Philly has one in its own right, in City Hall, which was once the world's tallest building," he said, though he added that a new era also calls for a new icon.

(They also showed a rather intense video for the project, which has since been posted to YouTube, that offers a pretty good sense of what the project might someday look like to a bird.)

Support for the project has been evenly split between businesses and younger residents in favor, while some neighbors and preservationists tend to oppose it. Back in July, the commission heard three hours of testimony to this effect, but at the most recent meeting, opposition was more muted. The project's strongest critics, residents of a co-op across the street, did show up, however, to give an impassioned presentation denouncing it as an overbuilt traffic disaster.

"It's the same old story—the developer says they want the biggest in the world, or at least the city, and we are forced to wrap our arms around it," Joseph Beller, the resident's attorney, told the commission. He added, "This is a wonderful building. If you found a place for it, I would love it. But this is not the place for it."

Not that anything on this scale has ever been built anywhere else in the city, hence the rezoning. It takes the parcel at 19th Street and Arch Street, which is currently a parking lot, from a classification of C4, with a special height limit of 125 feet, to C5. The latter allows for a floor-area ratio of 12 with a bonus of 8 for the inclusion of a public plaza covering 30 percent. (The cutout at the center of the project not only divides the office tower from the hotel but also accounts for 22 percent of this public space in an elevated courtyard). The developer is then seeking an additional bonus of 4 FAR through standard public amenities like off-street parking and public restrooms.

Under the current code, the project could not get any bigger, but because of sustainable features and other amenities, like a regional rail link, the developer hopes to secure an additional 3.5 FAR, to reach an unprecedented density of 27.5. The commission said it was not opposed to this idea, as its final vote indicated, though it would probably seek to codify such bonuses for general consumption instead of simply confering them upon a single developer. "Our zoning code has actually created more obstacles to large-scale development," commissioner Natalia Olson de Savyckyj said, "not less."

The bigger concern now, amidst the economic downturn, is whether or not the project can actually get built. "Everyone's wondering, 'Is it real?'" Greenberger said in the interview. But he also noted that the developer pushed for the rezoning because without it, Hill could not reasonably attract financing or tenants.

"Would we be spending this kind of money and resources putting this project before the commission and the City Council if we didn't believe this project was coming to fruition?" Kelso told AN. "It shows a commitment on the part of the developer to see it through."

Matt Chaban
 

If completed, the project will be the densest in recent city history.
 
 
One of the ways it achieves such density is by dedicating 30 percent of its footprint to public space, which is cleverly achieved through a series of courtyards cut into the building.
 
 
The progression of the Philadelphia skyline (From Left to Right): one liberty place, the comcast center, the american commerce center, Arch street presbyterian church, philadelphia city hall, and independence hall.

 

Editorial: Public Transit in Every Pot

When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown last July, and the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed just weeks later, people around the country began listening to the Cassandras who had been warning about the decrepit state of our infrastructure, urban and rural alike. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost of bringing it all up to date would be $1.6 trillion, and at the time, that number seemed just impossible—would Congress ever allocate that kind of money to something as unsexy as infrastructure? No way.

Fast forward 15 months—and one $700 billion bailout later—and it doesn’t seem so crazy. More traditional quarters of the Republican Party may regard New York Times columnist David Brooks as the skunk at the picnic, but he is squarely in line with a growing number of people who believe that the one way to pull us out of the looming recession is to devote significant federal resources to public works, especially those that focus on transportation and the development of alternate sources of energy. A “Green New Deal” has been championed in one form or another by people across the political spectrum: President-elect Barack Obama, Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, the Regional Plan Association, and even Martin Feldstein, the economist who advised President Reagan on policy.

For New York City, and the Northeast in general, Brooks’ argument for transportation spending is the central one. In a recent Times column, he suggested a “National Mobility Project,” which argues that we should take the mix of fiscal stimulus and research in alternative energy, and focus it on the realm of transit. This makes sense: Many supporters of a Green New Deal advocate turbine farms in the Southwest and the Dakotas to capture that region’s least-exploited resource, the wind. Our version of that is our regional transit system—everything from Amtrak and Metro-North to NJ Transit and the MTA. One of the Obama campaign’s platform issues was a commitment to thinking about cities on a metropolitan scale, and that means thinking about transportation of every kind.

One of the most striking elements of the Skyscraper Museum’s recent symposium on density in Hong Kong was the way that the government there believes in the centrality of investment in infrastructure and transit to future development. Project after project detailed train stations built before the new neighborhoods that would use them, and the assembled panel of New Yorkers—including MTA commissioner Elliot Sander, Port Authority chief Chris Ward, and developer Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Related Companies—looked on with a mixture of awe and envy. There are many reasons why the Hong Kong model wouldn’t work here, but the straightforward premise that infrastructure feeds growth does. Architects, developers, planners, and urbanists have a rare opportunity to argue for the kind of investment that will strengthen the city and its connections to the region. If the Obama administration does in fact begin to formulate an infrastructure-based stimulus program, New York must be a part of it.

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Sedum City
Researchers at Columbia's Earth Institute used a thermal map developed by NASA to determine hot spots in New York's urban heat island. Areas of high temperature appear red, and cool zones, mostly parks, appear white and blue.
NASA Landsat

A roof fitted with solar panels signals that a building is equipped with technology at the leading edge of sustainable thinking, a hard-edged surface with easily quantifiable energy and financial dividends. Green roofs elicit a different response, more emotional and somewhat ambiguous. Their benefits, though diverse, are not so easily tallied. Green roofs provide numerous payoffs for individual buildings, but their impact at the scale of the city is only beginning to be studied. While some cities and states are developing requirements or incentive packages to promote vegetated roofs, more precise tools need to be developed to address urban-scale issues like the heat island effect or storm water runoff, a major contributor to water pollution. These issues take on greater urgency as architects and planners turn to sustainable design as a means to mitigate climate change and resource scarcity.

As most architects know, green roofs consist of a watertight barrier, a growing medium, and a layer of plants, typically sedum or other drought-resistant plants (referred to as extensive green roofs), though more elaborate designs can include grasses, food crops, or even trees (called intensive green roofs). Vegetated roofs lower energy costs by reducing surface temperature in the summer and providing insulation in the winter. They also last longer than conventional roofs by blocking ultraviolet rays and rapid temperature increases from degrading roofing materials. They reduce runoff during storms, which can reduce water pollution, though it would take very significant acreage concentrated in a single area in order to have an impact. In addition, advocates argue that widespread use of the technology could reduce urban heat islands, which would have broad-based implications for energy use and air quality, such as asthma rates.

According to a 2007 report by the Toronto-based trade group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the industry grew by 30 percent over 2006. Chicago led the way with 517,000 square feet constructed in 2007, more than double that of its nearest competitor, tiny Wilmington, Delaware, which planted an impressive 195,600 square feet. New York placed a meager third with 123,074 square feet. “New York is very far behind Chicago. Installation costs here are much higher,” said Sarah Wayland-Smith, a landscape designer at Balmori Associates who specializes in green roofs. Wayland-Smith cites high up-front costs and an underdeveloped network of suppliers and installers, as well as, until recently, a lack of government incentives as barriers to construction in New York.


An extensive green roof in Long Island City, designed by Balmori Associates, at one of the hot spots in the region. 
Courtesy Balmori Associates

 

Students at the Art Institute of Chicago’s architecture program mapped the dozens of green roofs dispersed across that city.
Art Institute of Chicago
 

New York City government has adopted a cautious approach to green roofs, according to Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. Working with the state legislature, the mayor and the governor recently pushed through a $4.50-per-square-foot tax credit to encourage green roof construction. The mayor’s sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC, encourages green roofs but does not require them. Aggarwala, too, cites high up-front costs. “New York is already the greenest city in the United States,” he said. “We should not jeopardize the economic sustainability of the city with financially onerous requirements.” Aggarwala argues that reflective roofs can reduce cooling costs, and “blue roofs,” or simple gutter lips that slow runoff, can reduce sewage overflows, both at a fraction of the cost of green roofs. Still, he hopes the tax credits will encourage development and bring down costs. “We’ve got to get more experience. As they become better known, they become less threatening to landlords,” he said.

Since Chicago Mayor Richard Daly famously planted sedum and native grasses on City Hall in 2000, more than approximately two million square feet of green roofs on dozens of buildings have sprouted across that city. Following a brutal 1995 heat wave that killed hundreds during a blackout, the City Hall roof was conceived as a pilot project for mitigating Chicago’s urban heat island. This proliferation has been fostered by a number of incentives and requirements. Chicago’s program has also helped to bring construction costs down and increase the number of growers, suppliers, and installers in that region. While the surface temperature of City Hall and several other projects has been monitored, little research has been done on the effectiveness of green roofs at the urban scale in Chicago, according to Larry Meredith, spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Environment. Even with the impressive number of square feet planted, there may be limits to the effectiveness of the rollout, at least thus far. A map developed by architect Linda Keane and her students at the Art Institute of Chicago shows how the roofs are scattered across the city, and how modest the area of green roof coverage is at the urban scale.

The most extensive modeling of the urban-scale benefits of green roofs in the United States has been done in New York. A study by the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute estimates that in New York, fully 50 percent of all roof space would need to be greened in order to have a significant impact on the city’s heat island. The multidisciplinary study group, which relied on data and expertise from Pennsylvania State, Michigan State, and Columbia University, settled on the 50 percent baseline after deciding that 75 percent coverage was an overly ambitious figure. Their modeling indicates that 50 percent coverage would shave 1.4 degrees off the city’s heat island, which ranges from 5 to 7 degrees. What accounts for the relatively small impact even at half coverage? Remarkably, in a city as densely built as New York, roof space accounts for only 19 percent of the city’s total area (when seen from above as a single plane). While the difference between a 93- and a 94-degree day may not feel significant, it can have a massive impact on energy use. According to estimates by CCSR for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, every degree of temperature increase outdoors triggers demand for an additional 60 gigawatt hours of energy per day.

CCSR relied on a thermal map of the city produced by NASA, an aerial satellite image that shows hotspots in the city. Vivid in its coloring, the map includes some surprises. Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the most densely built areas of the city, are cooler than lower-scale parts of Queens and Brooklyn. “The tall buildings of Midtown and Lower Manhattan prevent solar penetration at street level,” said Stuart Gaffin, an associate research scientist for CCSR and one of the authors of the report. “They act like trees, at least in terms of shading. Parking lots, low-scale buildings, large expanses of roof space and roadways create hotspots.” Massive hotspots occur in industrial areas and at the airports, and cool spots are clearly legible in Central and Prospect parks. The map suggests that targeting certain hotspots for green roof development might be a faster way of tackling heat islands, rather than an ad hoc approach of scattering green across the city. “I believe targeting could be very effective, though I’m not sure how it could be implemented,” Gaffin said. Balmori Associates has for some years advocated such an approach for Long Island City, one of the hotspots on the NASA map, which they estimate has a roof space area equal to half the size of Central Park.Working with business owners, they have completed two extensive green roof projects on industrial buildings in the neighborhood. “There are private benefits for building owners, as well as public benefits, but the public benefits are more difficult to quantify,” Gaffin said.

PlaNYC’s Aggarwala said that the city is aware of heat island hotspots. “We’ve thought about it and talked about targeting those areas, but we haven’t identified hotspots as an urgent public concern.” He argues that the city’s MillionTreesNYC program, which calls for intensive tree planting, addresses many of the same issues and will be easier and more cost effective to implement.

Green roofs appear to be more immediately effective in controlling storm water runoff. The CCSR study found that individual green roofs retain 80 percent of storm water, and slow the release of the remaining 20 percent. During rainstorms, runoff can overwhelm the sewer system, causing raw sewage to be discharged directly into waterways, a major source of water pollution. Using the same 50-percent-coverage model, CCSR estimated that ten percent of runoff would be cut, greatly reducing the number of sewage spills. “The benefits in terms of runoff are indisputable,” Gaffin said. “They are like rooftop holding tanks.”

Assuming CCSR’s goal is a desirable one, how does New York, so far behind Chicago, even inch toward 50 percent coverage? “I don’t think it’s an impossible goal if we keep hammering away at it,” Gaffin said. “Traditional roofs provide no additional benefits.” Given New York State’s recent passage of a tax rebate for green roof construction, and pending a recovery of the building industry, there is likely to be an increase in green roof construction in the region. Gaffin points out that roofs are replaced every 20 years or so. “Of all urban infrastructure, roofs are changed most frequently,” he said.

The data suggest that green roofs are an important and effective tool in addressing urban heat islands and storm water runoff, but alone, even in great numbers, they are not likely to fix these problems using a scattershot, incremental approach. Chicago’s example shows that incentives can dramatically increase square footage of green roofs built. Columbia’s modeling shows, however, that the living system of a green roof has a fine-grained impact in the urban landscape. Precise incentive packages and deeper study could increase their effectiveness within the greater organism of the city.

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Share the Road

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
Tom Vanderbilt
Knopf, $24.95 

Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic
David Engwicht
Envirobook, $23.00 

The High Cost of Free Parking
Donald Shoup
Planners Press, $59.95

When my wife and I visited Lebanon in 1998, we rented a little Renault and spent a couple days on the road, and saw one working traffic light the entire time. The streets of Beirut were packed with a chaotic tangle of aggressive, pushy cars, and I was sure we’d hear steel shrieking on steel the moment we rolled off the car rental lot. We safely got out of the city, and while driving on the winding, two-lane Damascus Road in the foothills of the Chouf mountains, we found ourselves driving next to another car, each going at a good clip. Just then, a third car roared between us, making its own lane. I realized at that point on Lebanon’s roads, all bets were off. And yet, for the rest of our visit, I became more and more convinced that this was one of the safest places I’d ever driven: It was predictably unpredictable.

The time many of us spend getting from one place to another comprises most of our interactions with fellow citizens; it is as much a social experience as anything else. Since time in the car shapes our impressions of each other and of our cities, it might explain the appeal of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).


 
 
 

Vanderbilt adroitly navigates a mountain of findings and opinions from traffic engineers, economists, psychologists, and even entomologists. Like an excited and precocious teenager, he parenthetically mentions one psychological study while describing another, adding, “more on that later.” But far from being overwhelmed, the reader is swept up in his enthusiasm.

Traffic is the latest in a series of books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point that draw on diverse and sometimes arcane academic fields to create a coherent narrative for the lay audience. But I hope Vanderbilt will reach more than the casual reader: Planners, architects, and policymakers would do well to read his book.

Perhaps Traffic can best be summed up by one of its innumerable takeaways: You don’t drive as well as you think you do. And if you knew this, you’d drive better. But we don’t even know what we don’t know. That Rumsfeldian quip alone sums up so much about how we behave on the road that awareness of it on our part would make us safer as motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Also, awareness of behavior among the people who design our roads and set transportation policy could change our cities for the better. Traffic engineers—who, for the most part, do not appear to be familiar with many of the psychological studies cited in Traffic—try to make our roads safer with more signage, wider lanes, shoulders, and gentler curves. But a growing number of dissidents are pointing out that a safe environment, surprisingly, is one that appears to be dangerous, because it forces us to be more attentive.

The idea that the perception of danger is good for us runs counter to standard reasoning in road design, which argues that since people will make mistakes, the road should provide a comfortable margin of error. This is generally thought to have worked well on highways and arterials, but in cities and towns where different types of users vie for a share of the same space, designing a margin of error into a road for the benefit of motorists is dangerous. They’ll just typically drive faster around that turn, and they’ll be less attentive in that wider lane. To paraphrase the late Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer whom Vanderbilt interviews, when you treat people like idiots, they will behave like idiots.

Monderman also features prominently in David Engwicht’s Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic, a slim and entertaining read that, while nowhere near as broad in its scope as Traffic, is nonetheless insightful. Engwicht, an Australian traffic consultant whom Vanderbilt discusses, had grown increasingly frustrated with the standard traffic-calming measures like speed bumps, neckdowns, and chicanes, and began to develop strategies to deal with aggressive driving in a completely different way. Rather than use negative stimuli to get people to slow down, he argues for positive stimuli—intrigue, uncertainty, and even humor—to engage motorists in their social environments. In other words, pull motorists out of the “traffic world” and into the “social world”—make them interact with each other and with others on the street via eye contact.

In Mental Speed Bumps Engwicht describes how, in his work with neighborhood groups all over the world, he advocates that everyone reintroduce the social world to their streets: bring their chairs outside into the car’s realm, and let their kids play there. In one city, a traffic engineer insisted that cones be placed in the center of the street to separate vehicle traffic from the neighbors socializing and playing, and that signs be erected to warn passing motorists. “It was without doubt the most dangerous street event I have ever conducted,” Engwicht writes, because “the signs and cones were a [false] promise of predictability and certainty.”

The streets of New York City display engineers’ best efforts to introduce predictability for motorists into a town rich in intrigue and uncertainty. They seem always to be fighting an uphill battle: There is nothing to be done about falafel guys pushing their carts in the streets, or brooding hipsters jaywalking while glued to their iPhones. Unfortunately, some of New York’s long-standing policies reinforce the misguided efforts of traffic engineers, and are pulling us out of the social world and into the traffic world. As Donald Shoup observes in his excellent book, The High Cost of Free Parking, the off-street parking minimums that city planning departments require of builders wildly distort the transportation market and wreak havoc on the public realm and on real estate development. The transportation market is distorted because motorists receive a benefit at low cost, subsidized by everyone. When presented with free goods, we consume them.

A professor of urban planning at UCLA and an economist by training, Shoup, who is also profiled in Traffic, is an engaging and passionate thinker, and The High Cost of Free Parking, while it looks thick enough to stun an ox, is as entertaining as it is informative. The book pulls the curtain aside, revealing all the parking space calculations for what they are: best guesses, often padded, and often based on just a single survey of actual conditions. Or, as Shoup says, “pseudoscience.” This pseudoscience is driven by the notion that parking lots should be able to handle peak demand. A Toys R’ Us parking lot has to accommodate shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. But what about the other 364 days of the year?

Parking is essential to transportation in any city. As Shoup points out, though, “food also produces enormous benefits, but this does not mean that we need more food, or that food should be free.” Economists, Shoup says, “do not define the demand for food as the peak quantity of food consumed at free buffets where overweight diners eat until the last bite has zero utility. Nor do economists, when asked for policy prescriptions, recommend that restaurants should be required to supply at least this quantity of free food no matter how much it costs. Yet planners do define parking demand as the peak number of spaces occupied at sites with free parking, and cities do require developers to supply at least this number of parking spaces, whatever the cost. Planning for parking is planning without prices.”

This might seem irrelevant to New Yorkers, whose neighborhoods are more likely to have parking maximums than minimums; however, there are a surprising number of minimums in place, especially for new development. Even plans for dense areas of New York—Hudson Yards, Willets Point—include shockingly high numbers of parking spaces. As Shoup argues, parking not only meets demand, it fuels it.

Traffic, Mental Speed Bumps, and The High Cost of Free Parking are all testaments to the complexity and centrality of social interactions and behavioral economics to our public lives and the fabrics of our cities. Drawing primarily from observations about psychology and economics, these authors show us that what characterizes our cities is much more than an aesthetic experience, traffic flow, or standard land-use metrics. The best urban thinking is done by those who truly observe and understand how we behave.

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Rogers Goes Terminal
AJ got word two weeks ago that Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners had been chosen to develop a new 42-story tower atop the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown Manhattan. What our colleagues across the pond did not have was the new rendering released yesterday by the PA when it made the announcement official. Lord Rogers beat out KPF and Pelli Clarke Pelli, which had also been in the running for the commission. Notably, RSHP's original presentation consisted simply of a model shot of the firm's daring design, while the challengers proffered sexier (if more conventional) offerings. But more than just another green, 1.3-million-square-foot Midtown skyscraper, perhaps the tower's greatest achievement, at least for everyday New Yorkers, is the renovations it promises to the notoriously ramshackle, labyrinthine terminal. From the announcement:
  • better pedestrian circulation with new escalators from gates to the ground floor;
  • the renovation and creation of approximately 40,000 square feet of bus terminal retail;
  • 18 new bus gates and upgraded existing gates, enabling an additional 70 buses containing approximately 3,000 bus passengers to be accommodated during each peak hour at the bus terminal, increasing the capacity by 18 percent; and
  • an improved and modernized appearance throughout the terminal
If this all sounds familiar, that's because it is: Nine years ago, Vornado Realty Trust won the right to undertake the very same project, but then the dot-com bubble burst and the firm backed off. The PA tried to find another developer, but Vornado sued to retain its development rights. Only last year did the two sides come to a settlement, which basically picked up where they had left off. Hopefully, history won't repeat itself.

Editorial: Public Transit In Every Pot

When a steam pipe exploded in Midtown last July, and the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis collapsed just weeks later, people around the country began listening to the Cassandras who had been warning about the decrepit state of our infrastructure, urban and rural alike. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the cost of bringing it all up to date would be $1.6 trillion, and at the time, that number seemed just impossible—would Congress ever allocate that kind of money to something as unsexy as infrastructure? No way.

Fast forward 15 months—and one $700 billion bailout later—and it doesn’t seem so crazy. More traditional quarters of the Republican Party may regard New York Times columnist David Brooks as the skunk at the picnic, but he is squarely in line with a growing number of people who believe that the one way to pull us out of the looming recession is to devote significant federal resources to public works, especially those that focus on transportation and the development of alternate sources of energy. A “Green New Deal” has been championed in one form or another by people across the political spectrum: President-elect Barack Obama, Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens, the Regional Plan Association, and even Martin Feldstein, the economist who advised President Reagan on policy.

For New York City, and the Northeast in general, Brooks’ argument for transportation spending is the central one. In a recent Times column, he suggested a “National Mobility Project,” which argues that we should take the mix of fiscal stimulus and research in alternative energy, and focus it on the realm of transit. This makes sense: Many supporters of a Green New Deal advocate turbine farms in the Southwest and the Dakotas to capture that region’s least-exploited resource, the wind. Our version of that is our regional transit system—everything from Amtrak and Metro-North to NJ Transit and the MTA. One of the Obama campaign’s platform issues was a commitment to thinking about cities on a metropolitan scale, and that means thinking about transportation of every kind.

One of the most striking elements of the Skyscraper Museum’s recent symposium on density in Hong Kong was the way that the government there believes in the centrality of investment in infrastructure and transit to future development. Project after project detailed train stations built before the new neighborhoods that would use them, and the assembled panel of New Yorkers—including MTA commissioner Elliot Sander, Port Authority chief Chris Ward, and developer Vishaan Chakrabarti of the Related Companies—looked on with a mixture of awe and envy. There are many reasons why the Hong Kong model wouldn’t work here, but the straightforward premise that infrastructure feeds growth does. Architects, developers, planners, and urbanists have a rare opportunity to argue for the kind of investment that will strengthen the city and its connections to the region. If the Obama administration does in fact begin to formulate an infrastructure-based stimulus program, New York must be a part of it.

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California to New York to London and Back
In a rare east/west AN meet-up, our California editor, Sam Lubell, was in New York last night for a launch for his new book London 2000+. The book, from the Monacelli Press, surveys recent architecture in the British capital, from well-known works like Foster + Partner’s “Gherkin” to the Gazzano House by Amin Taha Architects. Sam gave a quick overview of the projects, which together show a city where historic buildings and contemporary design sit side by side quite comfortably. On Monday, November 17 at 6:00 pm, he will be reading from the book at the Harvard COOP Bookstore, 1400 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. Cheerio, Sam!