Search results for "Manhattan"

Placeholder Alt Text

NYDEP Blue
The blue light used on the eggs and elsewhere in the complex contrasts with the city's predominantly amber and white light, instilling a sense of calm and cleanliness.
Carl Ambrose/Courtesy NYCDEP

Last night, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lighted the new digester eggs at its Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The lighting scheme, designed by L’Observatoire International, subtly casts a halo of blue light around the 145-foot-high, stainless steel–clad eggs, which process as much as 1.5 million gallons of sludge every day.

The lighting of the eggs marked the latest milestone in a 20-year plan, initiated in 1998, to expand and update the Newtown Creek facility, which is New York City’s largest wastewater treatment plant, processing the flow of 1 million residents in a 25-square-mile area including parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Polshek Partnership, which is providing master planning for the project, also designed the cladding, arrangement, and parapet atop the eggs. In addition to expanding the capacity and efficiency of the complex, the DEP is attempting to make it a better neighbor by reducing the plant’s odor and opening up portions to the public.

Standing atop one of the eggs, which converts human excrement into fertilizer through a process of anaerobic digestion, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd gestured to a stand of row houses immediately abutting the plant. “Any good town planner would locate a facility like this as far away from residential areas as possible,” said Lloyd, “but because this is New York City, these functions have to exist cheek-to-jowl.”

Last September, the DEP opened the George Trakas–designed Waterfront Nature Walk, which provided the first public access to the Newtown Creek waterfront. This fall it will open a visitors’ center at the site, designed by Vito Acconci, which will feature installations describing how the city’s effluent is treated.

L’Observatoire’s lighting scheme does its own part in making Newtown Creek a better neighbor. Backlit by four batteries of four 2,000-watt metal halide lamps, the eggs, which possess an elegant sculptural quality of their own, serve as a local landmark for travelers on the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. (Four of the eight eggs went online on May 23, and the rest are expected to be in service by the end of this year.) The firm provided lighting design for the entire 52-acre facility as well, strategically placing white and amber lights for functional purposes while liberally sprinkling the plant with touches of blue. 

Speaking of that color’s role at the site, L’Observatoire founder Hervé Descottes said, “The color is a symbol for calm, cleanliness, and purity, but it also serves to contrast the light of the city, which is predominantly amber or bright white.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Unveiled: Beekman Tower
Frank Gehry's 76-story Beekman Tower will be among the latest to rival the Woolworth Building on the Lower Manhattan skyline.
Artefactory/Courtesy Forest City Ratner Companies

At a sparsely attended press conference today, near the busy construction site, Frank Gehry talked up his first Manhattan residential tower, a structure that is already two stories out of the ground on Spruce Street near City Hall Park.

The event had been cancelled out of respect for the fallen crane on the Upper East Side, but a few journos still showed up for the white-glove event, where mini-burgers, filet mignon crudités, and even cotton candy were served. Ensconced near a table of chiseled Plexiglas models showing the family of reject towers, Gehry seemed more interested in the appetizers than the main event: himself and Beekman Tower.

Renderings depict a gleaming, stainless steel–clad skyscraper of the old school with muscular—almost six-pack-style—undulations rolling up its 76-story sides and setbacks that, Gehry said, “respect the New York building type.” In spite of the shiny envelope, the 1.1-million-square-foot Beekman Tower is not all luxury: the 903 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments (from 500 square feet to 1,600 square feet) are all market-rate rentals, a rarity among new buildings in Manhattan. Gehry said that he would have liked to use titanium, but it seems that the wonder material is too fragile for New York window-washing equipment. A six-story industrial brick podium (Gehry said to think “Starrett-Lehigh”) will include space for a 630-student public school for grades Pre-K through 3; offices for doctors from New York Downtown Hospital; and 1,300 square feet of retail, for dry cleaners and drug stores, not Jean Georges and Chanel. Two plazas on William and Nassau streets will be landscaped by Field Operations. Gehry himself is still working out the details of the kitchen and bath designs, and the lobby will be beribboned with signature wavy bits of steel, reminding residents that they are indeed renting a real Gehry.

As questions about the tower petered out—Gehry himself said there was no architectural derring-do, just “a typical T-shaped apartment block and very efficient”—the conversation picked up when the architect answered a newsgal’s question about “green” with a spirited rejection of eco-friendly fashion. Features like gray water were often just a gimmick, he said, adding that photovoltaics were too ugly and expensive to use all the time.

Asked about his friend and developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, and whether he would ever pull out, Gehry declaimed loudly: No! He did admit, however, that he was taking the long view on a project that might require 20 years to complete. “And I am 79 years old,” he added. “So who knows what that means?”

Architect: Frank O. Gehry
Client/Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Location: 8 Spruce Street
Completion: 2011

Gallery: Beekman Tower

all images artefactory/courtesy Forest City Ratner unless otherwise noted

Oh, what might have been: Frank Gehry's study models on display at the Beekman Tower unveiling.
Julie V. Iovine

 

 

Placeholder Alt Text

Not Again
The damage done.
All Photos by Matt Chaban 

There is no question that today’s crane accident—the second in about as many months, leading to the 14th and 15th construction fatalities so far this year—is a horrible tragedy. And yet from his remarks today at the site of the collapse, Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed to be suggesting that what happened was merely the cost of doing business.

“Keep in mind construction will always be a dangerous business,” Bloomberg said at a press briefing only a few hundred feet from the tangled mess of debris that lay broken in the intersection of First Avenue and East 91st Street. “Now two crane collapses may look like a pattern, but there is no reason to believe so. We have to have a balance [between safety and expediency] to be able to build in this city.”

Two days earlier, the Department of Buildings released [.PDF] “Revised Protocols for Erecting and Dismantling (Including Jumping) Tower Cranes.” It was a revision of new regulations put in place on March 25, following the first crane accident ten days earlier. The thing is, it did not help much. As Robert LiMandri, the acting commissioner of the increasingly beleaguered DOB, said earlier this morning, all protocols had been followed.

“There was a pre-installation meeting of all the parties concerned, that was on 4/17,” LiMandri told the press. “Three days later, erection began, and department engineers and inspectors were on hand as the crane went up on 4/20 and 4/21. The crane was jumped twice, on 4/22 and 4/27, and it was inspected both times by our engineers.” A flurry of questions followed, the refrain remained, “We’ll have to look into that.”

Everyone—an army of officials and politicians, hordes of local, national, and international reporters, and onlookers both from within the damaged building, 354 East 91st Street, and without—were left scratching their heads. If everything was up to code, then what went wrong?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was short on explanations but long on solutions. “I think the Buildings commissioner has done a good job, but he needs more help,” Stringer told AN, just as a woman passed by wearing a dust mask. “We need to have an agency-wide strike force to address these persistent issues.”

Many who lived in the building wore masks in an apparent state of constant fear, or at least uneasiness. One woman, who gave her name simply as Carrie and was leaving the scene with her boyfriend, said that when they felt the building, 354 East 91st Street, shudder from their bedroom on the 18th floor, they immediately knew the cause. “We stare every day out our window at that thing,” she said, referring to the crane. “We used to wave to the guy in the cab. We all knew it was only a matter of time before it came down.”

Another woman, who lives on the seventh floor and was wearing a Princeton ’94 baseball cap, took a slightly more sardonic view of the situation. “I look at it like in The World According to Garp,” she said. “You know, where the plane flies into the building, and he says, ‘We have to live there. It’ll never happen again.’” She added that her biggest concern was making sure her pets and those of her neighbors were okay.

While the deaths of the two construction workers is terrible news, it is also fortunate the accident was not more devastating, like March's, which destroyed an entire five-story walk-up and killed seven. At one point, LiMandri was quick to point out that the crane spared busy First Avenue and countless lives as a result. Then again, and for the second time, it also spared the building that led to the accident.

Tony Avella, the Queens City Council member and frequent critic of the Department of Buildings and the Bloomberg administration, said in a phone interview that nothing had changed since the last accident, and he remains skeptical that it ever will.

“We have to send a message to the construction companies and the developer that we’re not going to stand for this anymore,” said Avella, a candidate for mayor for whom development reform is at the heart of his candidacy. “I don’t know what else to do at this point. I really think we just have to shut everything down. Shut them down until they can prove that this will never happen again.”

Such a proposal could be considered anathema to the development-first Bloomberg administration, but that is pretty much what happened, when LiMandri requested that all tower cranes forgo work over the weekend, with all Kodiak models—the same as the one that fell today—ceasing indefinitely. He also called an emergency meeting of industry leaders for tomorrow morning.

Before he arrived on the scene, Mayor Bloomberg was hosting his weekly radio show. While discussing the accident, he declared, "Nobody wants this economy to grow more than me, but we’re not going to kill people." Maybe there is hope for change after all.

Matt Chaban

The streets surrounding 335 East 91st Street, a development known as the Azure, were swarming with emergency responders after the cab of a crane working on the project fell into a neighboring building, 354 East 91st Street.
 
A half-dozen news helicopters were dispatched to survey the damage.
 
Across the street, two inspectors have a look of their own.
 
 
 

 

Placeholder Alt Text

Walk This Way
A new light installation in Dumbo seeks to illuminate the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge
Seth Ely/Courtesy Tillett Lighting Design

Last night, the New York City Department of Transportation turned on This Way, a permanent light art installation that illuminates and points the way to the Dumbo entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walkway. Designed by Linnaea Tillett, principal of Tillett Lighting Design, in collaboration with architect Karin Tehve of KT3D, the project was commissioned by the city’s Percent for Art program and the Dumbo Business Improvement District to commemorate the bridge’s 125th Anniversary.

According to Tillett, the installation seeks to achieve two goals: point the way to the difficult-to-find entrance and transform the dark, somewhat scary underpass into a comfortable, inviting urban environment. “You have this sublime bridge, then this back of house space,” said Tillett, who has a background as an environmental psychologist. “It looked ugly, but felt awful.”

To indicate the location of the entrance without falling back on straightforward signage, the designers looked to the structure of the bridge for inspiration, specifically to the span’s twisting steel suspender cables. This led them to a fiber optic product that consists of many tiny fibers twisted together to form individual lines. Tehve arranged the lines into several tentacular arrow forms that attach to the underside of the overpass and together, in a playful flowing trail, point the way to the entrance. Each arrow is lit by 150-watt metal halide lamps.

The installation also had to light the roadway, and, as with the wayfinding, the designers wanted to do so in a new way. Tillett decided on an LED fixture from Wisconsin-based manufacturer Beta LED that achieves significant coverage at relatively low wattage. In fact, during the year or so that the project was under development, Beta LED kept increasing the fixture’s efficiency so that the team was able to continue to tighten the overall wattage.

The fixtures in use now range from 79 watts to 128 watts, each one containing an equivalent amount of 1-watt LED lamps. To soften the LED’s somewhat harsh light, Tillett covered each fixture with a soft blue filter. The blue light also aids wayfinding from a distance, as residents can now show the way to visitors by simply pointing them toward the blue light.

“For us what makes a piece like this work is that it’s not only beautiful, but it has a civic function,” Tillett said. “The kind of work I’m interested in increases the quality of civic life at night.”

Unlike the Empire State Building and other light installations throughout the city, This Way will be on all night, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. Call it Dumbo’s night light.

Aaron Seward

The installation, by Tillett Lighting Design and KT3D, provides light and protection in the darkness of the overpass.
All photos by Seth ely/Courtesy Tillet Lighting Design
 
To help with wayfinding, the lights resemble abstract arrows.
 
The installation is meant to serve as a marker even from afar.
 
As one of the most popular attractions in brooklyn, it was important that the brooklyn bridge be both safe and accessible.
 
It also adds a touch of dynamism to the stolid architecture of the Brooklyn and manhattan bridges. The latter stands guard in the background.
 
Placeholder Alt Text

Atlantic Yards’ Shrinking Tower
COURTESY FOREST CITY RATNER

Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) controversial Atlantic Yards development just lost Miss Brooklyn, the Frank Gehry-designed lightning rod-cum-skyscraper, but its new architecture continues to be a matter of dispute. 

On May 4, The Daily News unveiled renderings of a reconceived Atlantic Yards, the 17-building project near the corner of Flatbush and Atlantic avenues. The models showed a shorter, more twisting tower than the would-be icon New Yorkers had come to expect. “We released new designs for Building One, which is the office building formerly known as Miss Brooklyn, for the arena, and for the first residential building,” said FCR spokesman Joe DePlasco. “We said a year ago that Frank would be working on a new design in part to deal with the height, and this is what he did.”

DePlasco dismissed the idea that Gehry’s trademark titanium might have yielded to the softer colors in an attempt to appease the brownstone residents who have vehemently objected to Atlantic Yards’ scale. “I would say he’s pretty much had carte blanche in terms of the overall look and feel,” said DePlasco of the architect. The shorter iconic tower, said the spokesman, reflects a concession by the developer to stop at 511 feet and avoid overtaking the nearby Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower (1927), which rises 512 feet, as Brooklyn’s tallest building.  

 
courtesy forest city ratner
 
 

But “Building One” may also have gotten smaller as developer Bruce Ratner has owned up to doubts that the chilly economy will accommodate an office building complex in this area. DePlasco says the company released the new renderings this month because they will be on display in a showroom, due to open May 15. A fact sheet from the developer notes that “businesses expanding or relocating from Manhattan and beyond will receive substantial, as-of-right tax incentives and energy discounts,” but it’s not clear what kind of user would want to gamble on or brand the building. FCR will not start construction on the 34-story tower without securing an anchor tenant, said DePlasco.

Project opponents worry that these new designs intend to deflect attention from Ratner’s financial worries. The day after the Daily News story, the Municipal Art Society mustered renderings that it called “Atlantic Lots,” invoking a vision of an arena surrounded by empty parcels of land at what should be a thriving transportation hub. The renderings also no longer include a publicly-accessible green roof over the stadium,  a crucial element in helping the project gain approval for its Environmental Impact Statement. Daniel Goldstein, a spokesman for the civic coalition Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, has warned public officials to make sure the developer does not build an arena and nothing else.

On May 7, DePlasco reaffirmed the developer’s promise to open the arena and the first residential building, also reconceived, in 2010; others call this timing unrealistic. As for the office tower, described in the fact sheet as “at the prow of the Atlantic Yards site” and fitted with “exclusive landscaped terraces,” these new drawings leave the building schedule unclear. 

Placeholder Alt Text

Whitney Unveils New Satellite at the High Line
COURTESY WHITNEY MUSEUM

The April 30 debut of Renzo Piano’s shimmery design for a Whitney Museum branch at the High Line featured none of the hallmarks that usually greet international architects in moneyed Manhattan. Nobody protested the plan, called it “out of scale” or demanded the architect plead his case. Such are the advantages of building on a vacant city-owned site that abuts a meatpackers’ processing facility. 

But, Whitney director Adam Weinberg told a public forum as he unveiled the plans, Piano’s design uses the friendly context to deliver a crowd-pleaser. “The simplicity and character of the neighborhood are things Renzo really wants to pick up in his design,” Weinberg told a placid crowd in the half-full auditorium. “And this is the most outdoor neighborhood in the city of New York.” 

The project made its debut at this forum, which Manhattan Community Board 2 hosted, because it needs a variance from manufacturing zoning and approval of city conveyance of air rights to go forward. (The Parks Department will use part of the ground floor for High Line maintenance and operations.) That approval seems likely. 

Piano’s plan pushes the museum outdoors. The generous 43,000-square-foot site, Weinberg said, would allow an outdoor restaurant, an outdoor performance space, and a lobby big enough for concerts. And in order to free 25,000 square feet for displays from the permanent collection, Piano proposes 15,000 square feet of showcase on the roof. 

At the same time, the plan intensifies the quiet of its indoor zones. At ground level, Weinberg promised a series of free programs for visitors who enter from the High Line or the nearby boutique-y blocks. Glass walls, like a glass elevator and oversize window at the second floor landing, mean that visitors will look over the river and into the West Village while passersby see works from the street. “Before an installation, you’ll see art going up and down the elevator,” enthused Weinberg. 

Then a red-tinted escalator, echoing the High Line’s anticipated “slow stair,” delivers visitors to the western edge of the site and a 250-foot-long special exhibition space. The permanent collection, Weinberg said, will live on the top three floors in setback galleries. But outdoor spaces extend to the lot’s edge on each upper floor, mirroring the setbacks. “You could go from staircase to staircase and just do the museum via the exterior in good weather,” promised Weinberg. “Artists could do projects that could be seen from the High Line itself.”

Not that Piano’s logic matches the Miami-manqué of nearby hotels. It’s local. The upper floors would be clad in a stone layer that, judging from early sketches, suggests a more curvaceous quote of Marcel Breuer’s flagship Whitney uptown. The white facade on the upper stories is a visual link to the meatpackers’ site and nearby High Line, while the glass lobby and elevator emphasize views across the city and the river. “The Whitney forms an outdoor bridge between the High Line and Hudson River Park,” said Weinberg.

If You Build It, They Will Vote

“Reverend Wright!” 

“Tuzla!”

“Reverend Wright!”

“Gas Tax!”

Those expecting a robust and enlightened political discourse this primary season are no doubt disappointed with the political theater staged in its place, especially when the country is in such seemingly dire straits. And yet for those concerned about the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, it’s turning into a banner year after all, as the candidates discuss issues ranging from the levees of New Orleans to the bridges of Minneapolis, the steam pipes of Manhattan, and the blackouts of California.

According to a report by the Urban Land Institute, the United States is—absent repairs, improvements, and expansions—racking up an annual infrastructure debt of $170 billion. “Roads, ports, grids, bridges, public transportation, clean energy—infrastructure encompasses a lot of things, none of them very sexy,” said Sarah Williams Goldhagen, architecture critic for The New Republic and a vocal advocate for infrastructure maintenance and improvement. “Is this going to happen? Well, it depends on who gets elected.”

Though at the top of no one’s list of priorities, infrastructure has played a larger role in this primary than in those of the last few decades. Democratic candidates have created far more detailed infrastructure plans than their Republican rivals, including speeches and policy papers, though even John McCain and Ron Paul have spoken out on the topic, most notably following the collapse of the I-35 bridge last summer in Minnesota. Infrastructure issues factor into all of the candidates’ larger economic policy plans.

If there were one, Barack Obama could be called the candidate of infrastructure; at least in much the same way he is called the candidate of hope, given his frequent invocation of infrastructure issues on the stump, much of which was tied to Katrina and directed toward his African-American base but has shifted in recent months to a wider focus on the economy and job creation.

To that end, Obama has proposed an Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which he unveiled in February. The bank would start with $60 billion from federal coffers—skimmed off shrunken Iraq expenditures—that would be leveraged through public-private partnerships to create $500 billion in infrastructural investment. 

That money would go to strengthening the “core” infrastructure of roads, airports, dams, and the like; high-speed rail; traffic mitigation and transit-oriented development; clean, domestic energy production and research; and rebuilding and improving the Gulf Coast and river-borne transportation.

Hillary Clinton, as on many other Democratic policy points, shares many ideas with Obama. The key difference may be their approach. Clinton unveiled her plan last summer, a week after the bridge collapsed, though it has not come up much since. She does, however, have deeper policy experience and government savvy.

Clinton calls for a more detailed, less blanket approach. Given the timing of her plan, she would create a $10 billion Emergency Repair Fund to address the nation’s most imperiled (and imperiling) infrastructure as well as $250 billion in federal grants for additional study and repairs. Public transit funding would increase by $1.5 billion per year, and she would increase focus on transit-oriented development and intra-city rail links. Her plan pushes for congestion-pricing schemes and modernized ports, as well as nationwide, next-generation broadband. On the flip side, she has endorsed the gas tax holiday.

John McCain has yet to make any specific infrastructure prescriptions, with the exception of developing alternative fuels and “strengthening” our infrastructure against terrorist attacks. Following the bridge collapse, McCain did say that the federal government spends too many tax dollars on “pork-barrel projects” instead of maintenance on existing infrastructure, though gave no details on how he would make the shift. (The McCain campaign did not return calls for comment.) And the crypto-Libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul would sooner privatize everything. As he wrote in an essay entitled “Aging Infrastructure,” “In a government-controlled model, infrastructure is nothing but a cumbersome liability.”

With all this talk of infrastructure, will any of it matter when the eventual winner enters office next January, or is it all just a bunch of electioneering? “There’s a little bit of talk, but it’s not enough to make me think they’re serious or that it’s a top ten priority,” Urban Land Institute president Richard Rosan said. “My impression is, they’re just not very worried about it.”

Placeholder Alt Text

SOMe Dean for PennDesign

Courtesy ULI

Marilyn Jordan Taylor was appointed dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Design today. Taylor is a partner at Skidmore Owings & Merrill where she leads the firm’s urban design and planning practice from the New York office.

She was the first woman to serve as chairman at the firm, as well as the first woman chairman of the Urban Land Institute. Perhaps best known for her work in large-scale transportation projects, Taylor founded SOM’s airports and transportation practice. She led the design and planning for the expansion of Terminal 4 at JFK, the Continental Terminal at Newark, and SkyCity at Hong Kong International Airport, fifteen intercity rail terminals from Boston to Washington D.C. and the planning and transportation design for Moynihan Station. She has also worked on several notable campus plans, including Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion.

At PennDesign, as the school is called, Taylor will oversee the faculty of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning, Historic Preservation, Digital Media Design, and Visual Studies. "I will be a full time dean and Philadelphia will be my home," Taylor said. She added that she will stay on at SOM as a consulting partner. In October, she will succeed Gary Hack, who has been dean for the last twelve years. Hack is also a planner. Taylor said she expects to continue and broaden the school's engagement with Philadelphia and the region.

Placeholder Alt Text

Lights Across the Water
Julian Olivas/AIR-TO-GROUND

Earlier this month, NJ Transit threw a party to celebrate relighting the restored Hoboken Ferry Terminal, which lies along the Hudson River just across from Manhattan. The event marked the end of Phase Two of a three-phase, $115 million project to bring the Beaux Arts terminal back into working order. The first two phases involved rebuilding the facility’s 230-foot clock tower, which was demolished in the 1950s; refurbishing the terminal’s exterior; and implementing an exterior lighting scheme. The third phase will return passenger service to the terminal by 2010. New York–based architectural services firm STV managed the project for NJ Transit, Beyer Blinder Belle handled the restoration work, and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects and Illumination Arts provided the lighting design.

Designed by architect Kenneth M. Murchison and opened in 1907, the ferry terminal, also known as the Hoboken Terminal and Yard Complex, was one of the world’s first multi-modal transit hubs to combine rail, tram (later bus and light rail), ferry, and pedestrian services in one facility. With the construction of the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, however, commuter and freight traffic at the terminal declined and ferry service ended in 1967. Service returned in 1989, but has operated from a small, temporary facility located within the Immigrant Building, which has a ticket booth and an adjacent docking platform. The complex currently unites bus and light rail service in New Jersey with ferry service (run by the Port Authority) and the PATH system to Manhattan. More than 50,000 commuters pass through the hub each day.

In addition to lighting the tower, which was prefabricated in Kentucky, the exterior lighting scheme relit the terminal’s two main Hudson River–side elements: the globes that define the arches over the ferry slips and the giant “ERIE LACKAWANA” sign. The globes were originally lit with incandescent lamps, and the sign was red neon. In recreating these historical elements, Schwendinger and her team employed energy-efficient modern technologies. The sign’s neon was recreated with LED strips, while fiber optics were used to light the globes.

Don’t Supersize Me

The old adage “less is more” has been revived in Los Angeles. On May 6, the LA City Council unanimously approved its “Mansionization Ordinance,” also known as the Neighborhood Character Ordinance, which will restrict the size and bulk of new or remodeled single-family dwellings in many LA neighborhoods. First proposed by council member Tom LaBonge in 2006, it is one of many similar pieces of legislation in the region, all hoping to limit the spread of the much-reviled McMansion.

The LA ordinance will require that houses throughout many of the city’s flatland neighborhoods limit square footage to approximately half the size of their lot and keep garages at a modest 400 square feet. Fulfilling criteria such as having larger setbacks and including “eco-friendly” features would allow homeowners to add another 20 percent to their square footage.

LA residents have long been asking for more restrictions on house size, citing the loss of neighborhood character and, in some cases, privacy, as a glut of multi-level McMansions replaced 20th-century bungalows. According to The Los Angeles Times, LA houses have grown steadily over the years, reaching an average of 2,500 square feet, just over 1,000 square feet larger than the average residence in the western U.S.

LA City Council President Eric Garcetti argued that super-sized houses are the antithesis of sustainable development and a “green” city. “The days of considering land-use decisions separate from their environmental impact are a thing of the past,” Garcetti said.

But realtors and builders have a different take on McMansions. Holly Schroeder, CEO of the Building Industry Association’s Los Angeles/Ventura chapter, said that new homes and substantial remodels are already 30 percent more energy-efficient than in other states and that in the next year, new California standards will push that up another 20 percent. “Bigger homes are not necessarily less efficient,” she said. The Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors said the ordinance will have a negative effect on the already beaten-down housing market and won’t allow families to grow into their current homes.

Their concerns are not entirely unfounded. In a March 2008 review by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LACEDC), it was determined that property values would decline in proportion to the floor area no longer allowed by such an ordinance. However, in the same report, LACEDC pointed to the potential for property values to decline in neighborhoods with prevalent McMansions because the demand for such houses was dropping.

Los Angeles is not the first city in Southern California to put the kibosh on super-sized development. The first anti-mansionization ordinance was introduced by LA City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel in 2005, and applied to the Sunland-Tujunga community the same year. Glendale, Burbank, and Beverly Hills have similar ordinances on the books, and Santa Monica has been curbing super-sized development for a number of years. Other Southland cities have started to undergo similar processes. In February, the Manhattan Beach City Council adopted an ordinance that revised residential building standards in an effort to minimize bulky, lot-consuming houses and additions.

Placeholder Alt Text

Post-Industrial Preservation
Noho's cast-iron cachet has drawn contextual new construction. At far left, 40 Bond by Herzog & de Meuron. At center, 48 Bond by Deborah Berke.
Matt Chaban

Manhattan’s all-but-vanished industrial history was front and center yesterday when the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered two former manufacturing neighborhoods for landmark designation. Though they share a soot-stained past, the two neighborhoods in question—Noho and West Chelsea—fared quite differently at the commission, due largely to their wildly divergent architectural trajectories in the last few years.

Much of Noho, of course, is already a historic district, which was designated in 2000 and expanded in 2003. Today’s action sought to further enlarge the district to fill a gap [.PDF] between East 4th Street, the Bowery, Great Jones Alley, and Lafayette Street. The commission voted unanimously to approve the designation, following a public hearing on March 18.

It was a different story for West Chelsea, which had its first-ever hearing before the commission, with preservationists facing off against developers and their representatives, who turned out to question the historical value of the area under consideration.

The proposed district covers [.PDF] 30 buildings between West 28th Street and West 25th Street, and between the West Side Highway and Tenth Avenue. At the heart of the district is the individually landmarked Starrett Lehigh Building.

This tale of two landmark designations hinges on local development trends. One need look no further than Bond Street and the High Line to see how. In Noho, at 25, 40, and 48 Bond Street, three marquee architects have all built high-profile luxury condo projects, all of which are surprisingly contextual considering that they did not have to go before the commission.

Chalk it up to Noho’s tighter zoning rules. But also credit the cachet of the surrounding cast-iron architecture, which a number of projects in the area embrace not only in their designs but also in their marketing. While landmark status for the area might have blunted these buildings, it would not have been by much.

Chelsea, on the other hand, has seen a flood of disparate, often dynamic new projects, many of which could be called landmarks in their own right—think Jean Nouvel, Annabelle Selldorf, Neil Denari, Shigeru Ban, and Polshek Partnership, to name but a few. The announcement of the High Line park and a rezoning that followed it led to this burst of development, and preservationists have so far framed the proposed district as a corrective.

While the majority of this development has taken place to the south and east of the proposed district, the developers and their representatives who spoke before the commission argued that to landmark the area might put a cap on its architectural renaissance. This, they said, is because the area lacked the cohesion and historic value of a more unified neighborhood. A neighborhood like, say, Noho.

Placeholder Alt Text

Ribbons in the Sky
UNStudio's Five Franklin Place.
Courtesy Archpartners 2008

Though famous for the winding and unwinding Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and the iconic Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam, until now Dutch firm UNStudio, led by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, had not had an opportunity to build in New York City. On May 7, they unveiled the design for a 20-story residential tower in Manhattan, Five Franklin Place.

Situated amid the cobblestone streets of Tribeca, Five Franklin Place has 55 apartments and three living types—lofts, city residences, and penthouses. As in so many other high-end condominiums, the developer, Sleepy Hudson, will lure future residents with amenities like a well-designed gym, a private spa, an elegant lobby, and lip-smacking 360-degree views over Manhattan. As far as slick and sexy renderings in sales brochures can give a reliable idea of future spaces, these will be beautiful: operable walls in the bathrooms, floating mezzanines, internal glass cab elevators for the penthouses, and walls connecting libraries, kitchens, bedrooms, and bathrooms that make one’s thoughts drift to delightful visions of Bond Girls and secret service devices.

But it is the facade that will grant Five Franklin Place a special place among the architectural ranks of the city. Whereas most new apartment buildings either hide behind ostentatious gift-wrap or are wallpapered with generic patterns of glass and concrete, UNStudio promises a combination of contextualism and a subtle displacement of typical expectations. Inspired by the strong but often overlooked decorative horizontal elements found in the historic cast-iron buildings of Tribeca, the architects are wrapping corners, balconies, and terraces in swirling, reflective black metal bands of varying widths. Whereas a horizontal line in a facade typically indicates a new floor, Van Berkel and Bos lightheartedly play with the sense of scale that the passerby uses to read the city on a day-to-day basis. Their horizontal ribbons placed at varying distances give no indication of floors, and will leave us questioning the height of Five Franklin Place. Once completed, these bands could give the building the strange and pulsating energy of an accordion at standstill—anytime, one could expect the building to stretch itself up to greater heights or come down to the level of surrounding buildings. By redefining Tribeca’s notion of decorative horizontality, UNStudio’s Five Franklin Place might effectively straddle the historicizing and the blingification most new condominiums appear to struggle with these days.