Search results for "east new york"

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Parks on Par
An overlook in the new Thomas Balsley-designed Ferry Point Park in the Bronx
Courtesy Thomas Balsley Associates

Tucked into a bend of the East River, hard by the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the desolate, 222-acre eastern section of Ferry Point Park is one of the largest undeveloped sites along New York City’s waterfront. Eleven years ago, the city and Ferry Point Partners, a group of private developers that included golf legend Jack Nicklaus, embarked on a plan to transform the old municipal landfill that occupied most of the site into a PGA tournament–level golf course. As part of the deal, Ferry Point Partners was supposed to build and maintain a seven-acre community park and a separate 20-acre waterfront park on the other side of the course.

The promise of the course and new public space touched off a development boom in Throgs Neck. Since 2000, hundreds of homes have been built near this dusty expanse, but the golf course devolved into a multimillion-dollar boondoggle, and the developers failed to do much beyond building a trench to vent methane from the former landfill. In 2008, several years after the contract with Ferry Point Partners was finally scuttled, the parks department took over the project.

Now, Throgs Neck residents will finally see some green. This fall, the first phase of the community park designed by Thomas Balsley Associates is due for completion. Designs for the waterfront park are now finished, and that project is expected to be complete by 2013.


A plan of the park, which is tucked into the northern reaches of the East River next to the Hutchinson River Parkway. (click to enlarge)
Courtesy Thomas Balsley Associates

Both planned park spaces will be a major upgrade over what the city originally settled for under its public/ private partnership with Ferry Point Partners. The new parks, which together are budgeted at $30 million, now include amenities such as a restroom facility in the community park that were not part of the original plan. In addition, under the previous design, Throgs Neck residents would have had to walk about three miles around the golf course and along a service road for the Hutchinson River Parkway to gain access to the waterfront park’s only entrance. Under the new plan, there will be additional entrances to the waterfront from both the adjacent residential neighborhood and from the community park.

The new design emphasizes a sustainable approach to landscape architecture that will require less fertilizer and more ecologically sensitive drainage systems, said Thomas Balsley, who did the original planning for both parks. “The Ferry Point Partners plan had a lot of mowed-lawn areas,” Balsley said. “But the parks department encouraged us to look at it in a more environmental way.”

Restrooms (top) and concession stands (bottom) are among the buildings designed by Karen Bausman + Associates. They favor a more contemporary design than typically seen in city parks.
Courtesy Karen Bausman + Associates

The new plan for the waterfront calls for natural grasslands, wildlife habitat areas, and a tidal marsh. The community park, which will include a play area, basketball courts, and a baseball field, also features a more naturalistic treatment than it did under the previous plan. A stormwater detention area with an island accessed by a bridge will occupy about a third of that park. And the methane trench running around the edge of the community park will be concealed by tall plantings.

Instead of the familiar redbrick park buildings that predominate throughout the city, comfort stations designed by Karen Bausman + Associates are streamlined and in harmony with the surrounding landscape. Designed under the city’s **Design + Construction Excellence Program, the 800-square-foot restroom/ maintenance facility planned for the community park is primarily made of corrugated stainless steel with cinderblock wall sections covered with Boston Ivy. A softly curving roof touches the sky plane in a more naturalistic manner than would a rectilinear one.

Like many recently designed waterfront parks, Ferry Point Park emphasizes a connection to its neighboring estuary.
Courtesy Thomas Balsley Associates

Bausman said that her comfort stations represent a more contemporary approach to integrating the disciplines of architecture and landscape architecture. “For previous generations of architects, it was figure and ground,” she said. “A building can be thought of as a vertical landscape, and a landscape can be thought of as a relation between a built form and a natural form.”

Although public-private partnerships are often touted as a way to bring about better-designed public amenities, in this case the public sector fostered a more creative and financially viable approach. “Ferry Point Partners was never very upfront about how they were going to build these parks,” said Balsley. The city agency, he said, had a much more hands-on attitude: “The parks department staff knew what needed to be done.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 09.09.2009.

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Concrete Crackdown

Buildings Commissioner LiMandri, with Investigations Commissioner Gill Hearn and Design and Construction Commissioner Burney, at today's press conference.
 
COURTESY dob
 
 

Striking back at a rash of fraud among laboratories that test concrete in New York City, the Department of Buildings (DOB) announced today that it has launched a new Concrete Unit and will open its own laboratory to evaluate projects and testing firms throughout the five boroughs.

The move comes weeks after independent testing company Stallone Testing Laboratories was indicted on charges of falsifying concrete strength reports for some of the city’s largest projects, including 1 World Trade Center and the Goldman Sachs headquarters. In addition, a list released by District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s office names nearly 90 city projects that could have received false concrete mix-design reports. Officials began investigating the testing business following the indictment of Testwell Laboratories on similar charges last October.

“The concrete testing industry needs to wake up,” said DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri at a press conference held at DOB headquarters. Flanked by Design and Construction Commissioner David Burney and Department of Investigation Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn, LiMandri said that the city would clamp down on fraudulent test reports by having its Concrete Unit—comprised of two licensed DOB engineers and two construction inspectors—perform spot checks at construction sites throughout the city, in addition to auditing work at private testing facilities to ensure that mix-design tests required by New York’s building code are performed correctly.

Meanwhile, the new laboratory, which will be operated by the Department of Design and Construction, is charged with inspecting and testing the work of 35 firms currently licensed to test concrete in New York City. Located in the Bronx, the lab will perform its own concrete mix-design and compression tests under the leadership of a still unnamed director, who is required by law to be a licensed design professional with at least five years of applicable experience. Expected to open in January, the lab will cost about $1 million to set up and about half that amount to operate each year.

Thus far, the owners of a number of buildings named in the indictments have proactively tested their structural concrete, and all have been deemed sound. For the remainder of the suspect projects, the DOB has developed a retesting protocol, including visual inspections and core sampling, for each project supplier and each mix design. Because there is no national standard to retest concrete throughout an entire building, the DOB used existing American Concrete Institute standards for testing small areas to create the full-building protocols. DOB has begun to notify property owners and developers that will have to perform retesting at their own expense.

When asked why independent laboratories were motivated to create fraudulent test results in the first place, Gill Hearn replied, “Time is money.” But the same hard truth that motivated testing labs to churn out false reports may be the DOB’s biggest challenge as it works with a building industry already fraught with slowdowns and a long backlog of projects yet to be certified as structurally sound.

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Gehry Shines in Court
He may have lost Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, but at least Frank Gehry won't have to forfeit half the proceeds from his jewelry line designed for Tiffany & Co. Yesterday, a judge threw out a case from Culver City-based Circa charging it was owed a fee for a 2003 agreement it struck with the Santa Monica designer for half the profits from any jewelry deal, though it was apparently rescinded a year later, though the two sides differ on this point. Gehry later entered into a direct deal with Tiffany, excluding Circa and its proprietors, Fred and Anthony Nicholas, though people at the company claim to have introduced the architect to New York jeweler. "I couldn't understand why he wanted so much money for doing nothing," Gehry told NBC LA outside the courthouse following LA Superior Court judge Jane Johnson's decision not to hear the case. Maybe this explains the tagline for Gehry's Tiffany line: "Beauty Without Rules."
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Oy, Danny, What a Mezuzah!
Some of the greatest architects happen to be Jewish, such as Frank Gehry, Louis Kahn, and Robert A.M. Stern. Some are unabashedly so, and none more than Daniel Libeskind. The Polish-born accordion prodigy of two Holocaust survivors, Libeskind made his name designing for the Chosen People, beginning with his first and arguably best work, the Jewish Museum Berlin. Others have followed, such as the Felix Nussbaum Haus, the Danish Jewish Museum, the Wohl Center at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and, most recently, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco. As if that weren't enough, Liebeskind has now designed a mezuzah for that same museum. It was probably only a matter of time before this happened. (For the Goyim and non-New Yorkers out there, here's a handy explanation of what, exactly, mezuzot are.) Michael Graves designs toasters for Target, Daniel Libeskind judaica for the synagogue gift shop. It's important and good work, too, if you can get it, and probably pretty fulfilling. After all, Kahn's most meaningful project, at least to the architect himself, was his unrealized Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem. After the initial eye-roll induced by the thought of a Libeskind mezuzah, the true disappointment sets in. This was an opportunity for one of our (the world's and Jews') better architects to have made a really nice mezuzah. Instead, we get a glorified tchotchke no better than a Guggenheim-shaped coffee mug, another piece of pewter junk lying around the museum gift shop enticing foolhardy tourists. The problem is that Libeskind gives in to his worst habits with the mezuzah. While his work strives for poetry, looking to embody words, phrases, and ideas in concrete and steel, he too often has a tendency to take such metaphors too far. In the case of the Contemporary, "l'chaim," meaning "too life," is said to be the inspiration, and the form of the museum comes from the Jewish word/symbol/expression chai, a move that constrained the building as much as it enabled it. Instead of taking his inspiration for the mezuzah from mezuzot or some other Jewish source and creating a truly unique and worthy piece, Liebeskind clings too literally to the museum itself. It looks as though he just grabbed the nearest massing model and nailed it to the doorpost. Which is perhaps the one thing that makes this mezuzah quintessentially Libeskind's: Just like his architecture, it's impossible to tell which way is up.
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Q&A: Michelle Kaufmann
A rendering of the West 52nd Street Row Homes.
Courtesy Michelle Kaufman Designs

AN associate editor Lydia Lee contacted Northern California prefab pioneer Michelle Kaufmann about the recent closure of her company, Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD). But Kaufmann had very good news to share: She is finalizing details with a partner to continue her prefabricated housing work, using new technology to make the homes available to more people. The two talked about the upcoming deal, the large-scale developments Kaufmann is working on, and what the future of prefab looks like.


Kaufmann
 
One of Kaufmann's Houses under construction. Or is it under fabrication?
 
A pre-fab apartment building proposed for New York.
 
All images Courtesy Michelle Kaufman Designs
 
AN: It’s exciting to hear that your houses are going to continue to be available. How did the deal happen?

Michelle Kaufmann:
It is really a small community in the prefab green space, so we knew of each other’s work. However, a client of mine, who also knew the CEO of this company, thought the two of us could do some interesting things together. She invited this CEO to visit her Glidehouse [a Kaufmann design], and put the two of us in contact. That is part of the reason I am not giving up and excited about the next chapter: because our clients—many of whom are like family to me now—continue to be such great supporters and innovators in themselves.

Now that Marmol Radziner has also shut their factory, do you think the model of architect-as-manufacturer is untenable?


The model may need to be rethought, but it was the right thing to do at the time. When I started out, factories didn’t want to work with me. They didn’t think anyone would want what we were proposing, and they were just used to building substandard crap. Once we had the experience of running our own factory, we became much better factory partners, because we could say, “Look, this is possible.” We couldn’t approach them just as naive architects, but with a depth of knowledge, an understanding of the technology and manufacturing, so that we could have true conversations. And that takes a while. So the unfortunate thing about the closing of MKD is that we were just starting to have those discussions with more factories.

It seems like the companies that make traditional prefabs are starting to take a page out of your playbook. What do you think of Warren Buffett’s company, Clayton Homes, and its $100,000 I-House with the butterfly roof?

I think it’s a great legitimizer of the idea of green prefab, and it got a lot of press. But I haven’t seen it in person, so I don’t know if it feels like a solid, quality structure. There’s a huge difference between the standards for manufactured homes, which is what Clayton Homes produces, and modular homes, which is what the Marmol factory and ours produced. There’s still this idea out there that if your home comes out of a factory, it’s going to be a trailer home. But modular homes are built to the same code as site-built houses.

Bringing the price down for modern prefab is such a challenge. How do you think we’ll crack that nut?

When we had our factory, it was tough to get price points down just doing one and two at a time. And with the current unpredictability in securing a home loan, that uncertainty really doesn’t fit well with the requirements of a factory. When you’re doing 20 at one time, that’s when the price points start to get very interesting. That’s part of the reason I’m very interested in working on communities, like the one in Denver.

Kaufman sits on the steps to one of her homes.

Tell us about that project.

For Aria Denver, I’m working with Susan Powers of Urban Ventures. She’s one of these developers that really believes in quality vs. quantity, and sees this new development as the future. It’s going to have a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, and the plan is to take advantage of its proximity to Regis University and make it a lifetime learning community, diverse in income and age and background. We’re looking at community gardens and alternative energy. There’s going to be 106 houses total, and the first phase, which is eight homes, was just installed last week.

This phase was designed specifically for a group of nuns, so seven of the eight homes are townhouse units, but the eighth house will be more of a shared group space and has a particularly big kitchen. All of the homes face one another, with living rooms that open to a shared courtyard. In other parts of the community, we’re designing homes where there are sliding fences, so if you decide you want to have a barbecue with your neighbor, you can open the walls between the two backyards and have one big space. We’re looking at different ways design can help cultivate community.

You’ve talked about the horrible experience of house-hunting, and how that inspired you to build your own—and then go into prefab. Has living in your custom-built home in Marin County been all that you expected?

I do love living in the middle of nowhere, but I also miss a sense of community. I think in an urban situation, you create that for yourself. But there are other models besides cities and badly designed subdivisions. In my work on these developments, I’m definitely imagining how I would like to live. These days, more people are working from home, and live apart from their extended family, so our communities are different.

What else are you working on?

I’m designing a couple of small hotels, including a 30-room fishing resort in the Bahamas, which is going to be zero-energy. It’s going to be a great environment to show how green can be beautiful, while educating visitors with things like monitors that will show people how much water and energy they’re using. While they’re in this beautiful natural habitat, it’s the perfect time to remind people of what’s worth preserving.

A version of this article appeared in AN 06_08.19.2009_CA.

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WTC Exceptionalism
The World Trade Center site, photographed last week, is showing signs of progress. The question remains: How much progress?
Joe Woolhead/Courtesy Silverstein Properties

Is the World Trade Center site (né Ground Zero) special, or is it just another piece of Manhattan real estate? That appears to be the major point of contention between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Silverstein Properties, both of whom are still in the middle of a bitter fight over who should finance the two remaining towers at the site.

Both sides made their case today at a special hearing of the City Council, with Christopher Ward, the Port Authority’s executive director, arguing it is not his agency’s place to be building speculative office towers in a down economy that could impact the surrounding market, while Janno Lieber, president of World Trade Center Properties, claimed the authority was reneging on prior commitments to ensure a timely completion of a site unlike any other in the world.

The hearing is part of a larger saga stretching back to the spring, when new concerns began to arise about when the site—including SOM’s One World Trade Center, Michael Arad’s memorial, Snohetta’s museum, Santiago Calatrava’s PATH station, and three commercial towers along Greenwich Street—might be completed or occupied and at what cost. The timing and cost of completing the massive 16-acre project overseen by near-countless agencies had been ballooning since day one, but the collapse of the economy, and particularly the credit markets, added new uncertainty.

Struggling for financing on Norman Foster’s Tower 2 and Richard Roger’s Tower 3, developer Larry Silverstein sought assistance from the Port Authority, which balked for a number of reasons. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called a summit in May, attended by Governor David Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, one of the state’s most powerful politicians who also represents Lower Manhattan. No agreement could be reached at this or a second summit in June, though Silver and Bloomberg threw their weight behind Silverstein, who threatened to sue. Paterson later stepped in, though on the side of the authority. Two weeks ago, Silverstein conceded slightly, pursuing arbitration, which is expected to take some months.

Today’s hearing may have little impact on what appear to be stalled negotiations, but it did provide some insight into what has been going on behind the scenes.

Ward began by outlining progress at the site. Despite scepticism from Alan Gerson, the local council member holding the hearing, Ward promised that 80 percent of the above ground portion of the memorial would be complete in time for the September 11 tenth anniversary, including the reflecting pools, wall of names, memorial plaza, and many of the trees. The underground portion and the Snohetta museum would still be under construction for another year or two, however, and the entire memorial site would have to be closed at time to make way for site construction. Asked by Gerson if it would be "more open or more closed," Ward insisted on the former.

As for the two unbuilt towers, Ward pointed to the original World Trade Center as a clear example of why the Port Authority should not again be financing a commercial real estate project, as Minoru Yamasaki's Twin Towers sat largely empty for decades, depressing the surrounding market. Ward emphasized that his agency was not opposed to supporting Silverstein’s two towers—“There’s a moral commitment to making sure downtown does not remain a scar,” he said—but that the private sector must make some form of financial commitment as well. “The market must agree that this is the right thing to do.”

Furthermore, Ward argued he had already expended a great deal of resources at the site, upwards of $11 billion committed to the construction of Tower One and Tower Four—designed by Fumihiko Maki and already under construction—the PATH station, the memorial, and acres upon acres of site infrastructure. To spend much more, at least without a commensurate commitment from Silverstein, would be to jeopardize the remainder of the authority’s capital budget.

But in the view of some, including Gerson, Lieber, and Silverstein, the Port Authority had promised to complete the project no matter the economic or extenuating circumstances. “This is about replacing what was,” Gerson said, reminding Ward that for many New Yorkers, the World Trade Center is more than just office towers but also a symbol. (That said, Silverstein made similar commitments to build at all costs when he first promised to rebuild at Ground Zero.)

Lieber echoed Gerson’s argument that the World Trade Center is special and therefore must be completed in a timely manner. “It’s bad for the community,” Lieber said. He also emphasized that his company had contributed billions of dollars in rent to the Port Authority, a significant stake that the developer felt was not being considered when the authority refused to provide financing for the final two towers. “We would lose our equity, we’d be wiped out, and the Port Authority would own the buildings,” Lieber said.

He also said that Silverstein had agreed during the prior negotiations to raising hundreds of millions of dollars so long as its lenders would be paid back first, a deal, according to Lieber, the Port Authority declined. (Ward had already left and could not be reached for comment. The agency’s press office did not return requests for comment.) Lieber said it would likely fall to the arbitration to settle the dispute, and while no arbitrator could force one party to build or invest in a project, it could award monetary damages, which could then help Silverstein finance the remaining towers.

Part of that argument is that the Port Authority has been dragging out its delivery of the sites for those towers, leading to $300,000 daily payments to the developer, an offset on his rent for not having the parcels ready more than a year ago. Ward announced today that the Port Authority would soon be making the transfer, possibly within days, thereby weakening Silverstein’s complaint both in public and at the negotiating table. “At that point, he’s free to build at anytime, as per our 2006 agreement,” Ward said.

A Silverstein spokesperson said after the hearing that, even if the parcels are turned over shortly, what really matters is the infrastructure throughout the vastly interdependent site, which remains behind schedule and continues to create delays. As Lieber put it, “We don’t need to know how much new concrete has been poured, as they keep telling us. We need real milestones, like when these buildings will actually be completed.”

As always, the fate of the World Trade Center remains in question. While two towers are rising, though at uncertain rates and with uncertain tenants, two more remain unbuilt and in the balance. While neither side sees eye to eye, they both look to the future:

“Why aren’t they rising? The reason they’re not rising is there’s neither tenant nor financing," Ward said. "The market is telling us these shouldn’t rise. Building into a market, you’re essentially building socialized office space. It will create problems for years to come.”

“The problem is not that these buildings don't have a future,” Lieber said, referring to Tower 2 and Tower 3. “Why invest three to four billion in a PATH station if downtown’s business center has no future? Same goes for One World Trade Center. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

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Head of the Class
The AIA just announced the projects that received the highest marks in this year’s Educational Facility Design Awards, and they’re a diverse class – the 13 winners run the gamut from urban to rural, elementary to university, built to unbuilt. Deemed “excellent” by the jury, Antoine Predock Architect’s Indian Community School follows a long ridge on a former farm outside Milwaukee, sidestepping historic trees and sporting a roof of overlapping angled planes that blends into the site’s topography.  Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s Visitor Center for the Parks Service in Pennsylvania borrows from its setting to make a plea for environmental consciousness instead:  its shingles were cut on-site from old tires found in the streams and woods nearby. The urban designs may be more constrained by their settings, but they acquit themselves admirably.  In Chicago, OWP|P converted Ralph Ellison elementary school into a high school, renovating the original 1926 limestone building and grafting on a modern glass box with a mosaic of glazed windows.  Another striking visual comes from Daly Genik Architects:  On a long, skinny site sandwiched between two highways in Los Angeles, their industrial-chic Camino Nuevo High School has corrugated metal sides that muffle street sounds while cooling the building at the same time: stylish and smart. Full list of winners: “Excellent”: Indian Community School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Antoine Predock Architect, PC) Yale University Sculpture Building and Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut (Kieran Timberlake) Environmental Education/Visitor Activity Center, National Park Service, Pennsylvania (Bohlin Cywinski Jackson) “Merit”: Francis Parker School, San Diego, California (Lake|Flato Architects) ASU Polytechnic Academic Complex, Mesa, Arizona (RSP Architects, Ltd. in association with Lake|Flato Architects) Camino Nuevo High School, Los Angeles, California (Daly Genik) Canada’s National Ballet School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects) “Citation": Cornell University West Campus Residence Initiative, Ithaca, New York (Kieran Timberlake) Staples Elementary School, Easton, Connecticut (The S|L|A|M Collaborative) Ralph Ellison Campus, Chicago, Illinois (OWP|P) Avon Old Farms Beaston Performing Arts Center, Avon, Connecticut (The S|L|A|M Collaborative) Modular Zero Energy Classroom, Hawaii (Anderson Anderson Architecture) Green Dot Animo Leadership High School, Lennox, California (Pugh + Scarpa Architects, Inc.)
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Art On The Gridiron
Thirty-five years ago in Austin, Texas, Willie Nelson forged an historic accord between the hippies and the rednecks. Today, some 200 miles to the north in Arlington, Texas, Gene and Jerry Jones, owners of the Dallas Cowboys, are forming a similar pact, this time between the artists and the jocks. The Jones family has kicked off an ongoing initiative to commission contemporary artists to create site-specific installations for the newly completed Cowboys Stadium. The initial blitz of 14 works includes pieces by such art world luminaries as Franz Ackermann, Annette Lawrence, and Oafur Eliasson. See more after the jump. "From top to bottom, we're taking a whole new approach to what a national sports arena can be," said Jerry Jones in a press release. "Cowboys Stadium isn't just a place to go and see a game or a concert, it's an experience you share with your family and your community. That will include things that a lot of people wouldn't anticipate seeing at a stadium—like contemporary art. Football is full of the unexpected and the spontaneous—it can make two strangers into friends. Art has the power to do that too, to get people talking, and looking, and interacting. It's not just about what you see on the field or on the wall, it's about creating exciting experiences." The works will be installed in the areas of the stadium that have the highest concentration of pedestrian traffic, including the four principal entries and the two monumental staircases. The artists have already begun the installation process, and most of the initial 14 pieces will be in place in time for the first regular season game against the New York Giants on September 20. "We're breathing new life into a tradition that extends back to the Greeks and Romans, who integrated the art of their time in stadiums where the best athletes gathered to compete," said Gene Jones. "The art program at Cowboys Stadium brings this dialogue between art and sport into the modern day. We're making it possible for some of the worlds leading contemporary artists to create work on scale unimaginable anywhere else and we're connecting new audiences with their work." An advisory council helped the Jones family select the artists and works for the program. The members of this committee included Michael Auping, Chief Curator, Museum of Modern Art, Fort Worth and Charlie Wylie, Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art, Dallas Museum of Art. Other artists selected include Ricci Albenda, Mel Bochner, Doug Aitken, Teresita Fernandez, Terry Haggerty, Dave Muller, and Lawrence Weiner. As part of the initiative the Jones family will also be creating an art education program, which will include art tours of the stadium.
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Brad Pitt Thinks This Is A Game
Or a puzzle. At least that's what New York mag said the would-be-architect said to Parade mag this weekend. To be more precise:
Architecture is like play to me. As a boy, you play with Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, Legos, and you get interested in how things are made, like cars and drills and all that. Years later you come back around to what interested you as a boy. Now, if I have something that I'm dealing with that's causing me a lot of stress, my mind goes to architecture. I walk around the yard and start thinking about what I need to do to the house structurally. It's similar to puzzles in that way, like a crossword puzzle or anything else I can put my mind into. It's a relief for me.
Obviously, we're not going to take this too seriously or get too offended, given who we're talking about here. But at the same time, this is a guy putting together rather earnest post-Katrina housing and going on tours of Fallingwater for his birthday. How would he feel if, the next time we were down, we decided to go shoot an Academy Award-winning short film?
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Charles Gwathmey, 1938-2009
Gwathmey at the de Menil Residence, East Hampton (1983).
Norman McGrath

Charles Gwathmey, a member of the famed New York Five and a principal of Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, died on Monday at age 71 after a battle with esophageal cancer. Known for meticulously conceived modernist designs influenced by Le Corbusier, Gwathmey launched his career with a house for his parents, completed in 1967, that earned him wide acclaim and would remain a touchstone throughout his career.


The Gwathmey Residence (1967)
Scott Frances/ESTO
 
 

Gwathmey and colleague Robert Siegel, who founded their office in 1968, designed major cultural projects including the American Museum of the Moving Image (1988), the renovation and addition to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (1992), and the International Center for Photography (2001), all in New York. Recent work includes the addition and renovation of the Art and Architecture Building at Yale, the Birchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, which is currently under construction.

Houses remained among the firm’s most lauded work, and remained a particular love of Gwathmey’s. “Virtually all of the residences were his lead,” said Siegel, his business partner for more than forty years. “He liked working closely with individuals.” Gwathmey’s groundbreaking house for his parents, the Gwathmey Residence and Studio in Amagansett, on Long Island, was “a great discovery project, a great learning project,” Siegel said. “That house was monumentally important for him. After that, the house for Francois de Menil [1983] stands out. It was a much larger, more complex project, much richer.”

Other longtime associates also recalled Gwathmey’s early house as his career-defining project. “When I think of Charlie, I think of the houses,” said his friend and frequent competitor Michael Graves. “His house for his parents stands as a testimony to all his work.”

Guggenheim addition (1992)
Jeff Goldberg/Esto

Gwathmey and Siegel attended high school together in Manhattan, and though they attended different universities and graduate schools—Gwathmey went to the University of Pennsylvania and Yale, while Siegel studied at Pratt Institute and Harvard—they were reunited in the office of Edward Larrabee Barnes. The two left Barnes’ office in 1968, following the success of Gwathmey’s house for his parents, which was designed in collaboration with Richard Henderson. Gwathmey quickly became the public face of the firm. “He was a great spokesman for our office, as well as for architecture in general,” Siegel said. The 40-person firm, Siegel added, will remain open.

With Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk, Richard Meier, and Michael Graves, Gwathmey was known as one of the New York Five, also called the Whites, who embarked on aesthetic, formal, and volumetric explorations of architecture and became leading figures in the 1970s and 1980s. Le Corbusier’s idea of the Modulor—a system based on the proportions of the body—was an important influence. “What we all shared was a real understanding of the human scale, and you can see that in Charlie’s work, a real interest in the public and in human interaction,” Meier told AN.

Demenil Residence (1983)
Norman McGrath

While architecture passed through stylistic phases beginning in the 1970s—including deconstructivism, postmodernism, and computer-aided design—Gwathmey remained largely consistent. “He was a fighter for Modernism,” Eisenman said.


Astor place (2005)
david sundberg/ESTO
 
Whig Hall (1971)
Timothy Hursley
 
All images courtesy Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

 
 

Behind those closely held convictions, his peers remember Gwathmey as warm, honest, generous, and collaborative. Eisenman called him the “mediator” of the World Trade Center team that included Eisenman, Meier, and Steven Holl, one of seven groups competing for the master plan of the site.

Other important projects include Whig Hall at Princeton (1971), in which the firm inserted distinctive modern volumes within the burned-out shell of a neoclassical building, the Glenstone Museum (2006) outside Washington, D.C., and the United States Mission to the United Nations, currently under construction in Manhattan.

Some of the architect’s more recent work was the target of criticism, including the residential tower at Astor Place (2005), the Guggenheim, and Yale’s Art & Architecture Building, but Eisenman saw Gwathmey’s willingness to take on such complex sites as an affirmation of his spirit.Even though he was a macho guy, he was able to sublimate his ego while working on a lot of these great projects,” Eisenman said. “I don’t think many people could do that.”

Brad Collins, principal at Group C, which created a half-dozen monographs for the firm over the past two decades, said Gwathmey never stopped working, even while recovering from a battle with lung cancer several years ago. “That’s what instilled loyalty in staff and clients,” Collins said. “Charles was incredibly demanding, but it was only because he cared so much about the work.”

Gwathmey’s honors include a 1983 Medal of Honor from the AIA New York chapter and a lifetime achievement award from the New York State Society of Architects. Gwathmey also taught at architecture schools including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Pratt, and Cooper Union, and was president of the board of trustees at the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies, the experimental New York school that drew many luminaries from 1967 to 1984.

Readers are invited to share their own memories of Gwathmey by leaving a comment on the A/N Blog.

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LOT-EK Lands Pier 57
The existing service ramp will be repurposed as an open-air, studio-lined corridor.
Courtesy LOT-EK

On Thursday, the Hudson River Park Trust announced a winning plan for Pier 57, the brooding hulk at West 15th Street: a rooftop park crowning a small city of local artisans working out of shipping containers, the vision of developer YoungWoo & Associates with New York architects LOT-EK.

The Hudson River Park board and community advocates both picked YoungWoo over competing plans from the Related Companies and the Durst Organization, but for different reasons, said board president Connie Fishman. “The community working group liked the fact that it generated fewer vehicular trips,” she said, while the board focused on the plan’s financial feasibility (YoungWoo’s proposed cost was $191 million, compared to Durst’s $330 million and Related’s $353 million). Both the board and the community cited YoungWoo’s emphasis on the arts and innovative mix of uses.

While some observers have called the team a shoo-in, approval was anything but easy, said LOT-EK principal Ada Tolla. She described the scrutiny their plan underwent, with the board paying particular attention to whether the shipping-container design would satisfy building codes and create a high-quality experience. Visiting one of LOT-EK’s earlier projects—Puma City, a portable, mixed-use structure made from 24 shipping containers that recently landed in Boston—helped convince the Hudson River Park community of its feasibility for Pier 57, said Tolla. 


The pier's basic structure will be preserved, with layers of containers housing a mix of studio, retail, and community spaces.
Renderings courtesy LOT-EK 

The board also scrutinized YoungWoo and LOT-EK’s approach to historic preservation, in particular their balance between transforming the pier and preserving it, adding transparency, light, and greenery while remaining true to the pier’s industrial history. The tall trees on the rooftop, for instance, were agreed to be a boon for the park, but had no connection to the pier’s history, and were therefore set back so as not to be visible from the street.

Team members for the project include Beyer Blinder Belle as historic preservation architect and architect of record, and West 8 as landscape architects. Also on the YoungWoo team is Urban Space Management (USM), the company behind the success of London’s Camden Lock, a large urban market with train tracks separating it from the city, much like the West Side Highway cuts off Pier 57. YoungWoo is banking on USM’s strategies to help Pier 57 succeed, using tactics such as renting many small, work-sell spaces as incubators to local artisans, which will bring in revenue, keep the market active during off-hours, and give the pier street-credibility and community ties. 


exhibition and educational spaces will inhabit the pier's lower levels. 
 

The broad service ramp will connect to the rooftop park and seating area, where the tribeca film festival will host screenings.
 
USM already has a sizeable pool of tenants lined up for the work-sell spaces, reports Tolla, and the Tribeca Film Festival has also committed to renting rooftop space. For now, other tenants are less certain. The “educational space” planned inside the hollow, below-grade caissons still lacks a tenant, and auction house Phillips de Pury has eased away from its commitment to rent ground floor space since they changed management last year. 

Of course, YoungWoo will have plenty of time to search for tenants: Their plan still has to clear the ULURP and environmental review hurdles, and Fishman estimates it will still be at least another two years until Pier 57 sees new construction.
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Rezoning Day
The rezoning of Coney Island may have takn up all the oxygen at the City Council Wednesday, but it was far from the only rezoning to pass, and far from the only important one. The council also approved a major downzoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which, at 175 blocks, is not only huge, but important, as it was meant to protect the area from out-of-scale overdevelopment. It may be a little too late for that, but better late than never, we guess. Or maybe never again is more like it. The Flatbush neighborhood on the south side of Prospect Park got a similar treatment, receiving a massive 180 block downzoning again to protect against uncharacteristic development. Dumbo was rezoned, though in a particularly contextual manner, given its unique historic character, as were four contiguous neighborhoods in Queens. But perhaps most important was a citywide change to the inclusionary housing bonus. The chief mechanism by which the Bloomberg administration has promoted affordable housing, the inclusionary housing bonus was extended throughout the city beginning with the original rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in 2005. It had existed since 1987 in some of Manhattan's highest density areas, but it would later be deployed throughout the city because the administration liked how it married private development to the public needs of affordable housing. Essentially, the program offers developers additional density, usually in the neighborhood of 10-12 percent, if they make at least 20 percent of their units affordable. Because this means extra height, it is often worth it in the world of residential development. (At the same time, the program is voluntary, which has created complaints from numerous housing advocates, as some developers forgo the bonus because of construction costs, thereby depressing the number of affordable housing units created.) Yesterday's amendment creates a relatively new home ownership option--it had been deployed in discrete instances in the past--that would not only allow planners and developers to create affordable rentals in neighborhoods, but what are essentially affordable condos. The one downside? The price is regulated, so it would be near impossible to sell and reap much in the way of profits, one of the many reasons for buying a home (at least until recently). The program will likely be targeted at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, though, where such things are less of a concern and it's more about getting out of the projects or substandard rental housing. The amendment also impacts the original program from 1987, which affects the city's highest density residential districts, the R10s. Currently, affordable units in those projects are ineligible for subsidies, but now they will no longer be exempt, thus paving the way for additional affordable units. (For the best explanation, including some really good visuals, check out the DCP's slideshow.)