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The Jersey City Shore
Starr Whitehouse and nARCHITECTS have designed a park for the Jersey City waterfront.
Courtesy JCWPC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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P!LA: Painting Sound, Ben Ball, Vampires, & MMOs, Oh My!
Though I already gave Mike the Poet pride of place, he was far from the only show in town Thursday night at Postopolis! LA. When I walked into the conference room--things had moved inside because the roof bar had been buffeted by a freezing wind all day--I saw a cluttered screenshot from World of Warcraft, something that had my inner-geek (aren't we all?) terribly excited. Indeed, Ben Cerveny of Stamen Design was talking about, among other things, deriving real life planning and tracking systems derived from more mediated sources, like MMOs. The talk was rather technical, and combined with my tardiness, I was kind of lost. Still, the potential is intriguing, especially after poking around Stamen's website. One of the examples Cerveny gave was the potential of cellphone apps. He proposed a program that would project one's preferences onto a wall, usually calibrated to some set of sounds and colors. When one person comes into proximity with another, it would create a cacophony or a melody between the two, depending on their settings. Another was a replacement for the personal library. As books decline in the digital age, Cerveny proposed a projection, ironically or not, the projection of one's digital self. "We're losing out real digital culture," he said. "Book-lined walls are being replaced with blank white ones, maybe a few modernist baubles." Whereas Cerveny and Stamen's work is about as technical as it gets, Steve Roden's is almost ambivalent to its very existence. A trained painter, Roden is seemingly obsessed with transforming one mode of experience, one sense, into another. His first, and probably best, example is how he found a piece of sheet music in his grandmother's attic. "I've never been able to let go of it," Roden said. But Roden does not play the music. Instead, he meticulously broke it down into its component scale--E-G-B-D-F, etc.--and then came up with a numbering scheme. That then gets plugged into a paint-by-numbers system that developed dozens of paintings. "I don't know how to read or play music," Roden emphasized. And yet, another major project was his installation for Alvaro Siza's Serpentine Pavilion in 2005. Roden, with the help of lay assistants working at the pavilion, mapped the structure in a rainbow of five colors, then transformed it into a painting, which, when he looked at it, resembled the scheme on a Tyco xylophone. He decided to turn the painting into a "player piano strip" that led to a recording played over an hour in the space. He played a minute of the composition. It had a haunting beauty for someone who seemed as though he could care less about what he was doing. Perhaps that was the genius of his art. Someone who cared very much, perhaps too much, was Gary Dauphin. An LA resident, Dauphin apologized for giving a presentation largely about New York, namely his home-hood of Fort Greene. As a gentrifier myself, Gary's talk about the cultural vampirism of gentrification really hit home. Dauphin argued that gentrifiers, specifically in Fort Greene but also beyond, are not always (white) outsiders, but generally ethnic (black/Latino) educated returners who make way for their new friends and thus feel guilty for it. The same goes for vampires, at least in the popular culture of Buffy/True Blood/Twilight/Blacula. More often than not, the story is about the "good vampire," the vampire who is trying to get beyond his vampirism, drinking synthetic blood or animal blood and not that of humans. When I asked if there was a solution to either problem, the answer was no. Finally, Benjamin Ball of Ball-Nogues Studio. I shared a beer with Ben afterwards--more on that later--but his talk was mostly on what he's done and everyone knows--Maximillian's Schell, P.S. 1, Venice--and what's yet to come--a teepee in Woodstock, a bird installation at Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital.
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Drilling for Dollars
Energy companies are hoping to drill natural gas wells throughout the region, including near this reservoir on the Delaware River outside Peas Eddy, New York.

In August 2008, Christopher Bianchi began receiving inquiries from energy company Lenape Resources of upstate New York, which expressed interest in prospecting for natural gas on Bianchi’s 21 acres in Gilbertsville, New York, for $100 per acre. About the same time, art critic Silvia Kolbowski and architecture scholar Kenneth Frampton, who spend their weekends at a home on 23 acres in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, fielded a similar query from Chesapeake Energy that offered 15 times that rate. Both properties sit atop the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation that extends from West Virginia and Ohio to the Southern Tier of New York, and contains as many as 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

New York State is already home to 13,000 gas wells, according to Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) spokesperson Yancey Roy, and some of those sites drill the Marcellus Shale. The state’s most recent drilling applications, from the likes of Chesapeake Energy and Nornew, take fresh advantage of the Marcellus Shale’s potential. The recent spike in energy prices and access to the Millennium Pipeline have inspired the latest wave of prospecting, and this time round, companies will deploy newer methods of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to tap into the natural gas deposits.

Hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process. At least a million gallons of water mixed with sand and a proprietary chemical formulation—the details of which are exempted from the Clean Water Act—is injected into the drill site to rupture the rock and release the natural gas trapped in its pores. Although a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that hydraulic fracturing was effectively safe, groundwater samples drawn from a natural gas field in Sublette County, Wyoming, last year proved that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated it with high levels of benzene and other carcinogens that threaten public health. The Sublette County incident was the first to be recorded by a federal agency; investigations by smaller groups have yielded many more examples of underground contamination, as well as surface spills.

The drilling applications in question would put gas wells not far from one of New York City’s largest drinking-water reservoirs. And while year-round residents of the Southern Tier and rural Pennsylvania might be ambivalent, weekenders from New York City are vocal in their call for more stringent environmental protection. “The question of our relationship to the land, particularly at a moment when the ecological aspects of buildings are at the top of an economic agenda, should not be left only to environmentalists,” Frampton told AN. This constituency has further reason to protest drilling, due to concerns about contamination of New York City’s watershed, the reservoirs of which currently support the population without filtration. City Council environmental committee chair James Gennaro has come out firmly against drilling within the watershed.

Falling energy prices have quieted activity for the moment: Chesapeake Energy recently rescinded its offer to Kolbowski and Frampton. In New York State, many companies are waiting on the DEC as it prepares an environmental impact statement concerning horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, mandated in a bill signed by Governor Paterson last July.

The inevitable rebound in prices, though, continues to fuel debate surrounding gas drilling, and currently both sides are staking claims in the fight. In February, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of a municipality’s right to use zoning to determine drilling locations. Yet also last month, the Environmental Working Group revealed that New York’s DEC has not conducted tests of surface or underground water for contamination by hydraulic fracturing. And according to Joe Levine of New York–based Bone/Levine Architects and co-founder of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, drilling has just begun at the so-called Robson Well in Wayne County; the Delaware River Basin Commission is deferring jurisdiction on the effort, since the drilling is not technically tapping into the Marcellus Shale.

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Bronx Renaissance
In Mott Haven, a former warehouse was transformed into the Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym by architect Stephen Yablon.
Hypertecture for Stephen Yablon Architect

Not so long ago, if Neapolitans wanted to describe a place in ruins, they’d reach across the Atlantic for just the right simile: E’ come u Bronx—like the Bronx. That it came to represent urban chaos in Naples, a city renowned for the same, speaks volumes about the Bronx’s stubborn reputation, cast in the 1970s and fixed in pop-cultural memory for decades after.

Today, with the Bloomberg administration raining billions of public-private investment on the borough—a result of the South Bronx Initiative, an interagency effort launched in 2006 to encourage more housing, retail, and local jobs—there is no shortage of big-budget, star-quality projects. The new Yankee Stadium, a revamped Hunts Point Market, and the Gateway Center on the site of the former Bronx Terminal Market are all poised to make a dramatic impact on Bronx fortunes.

Courtesy at architects
Architect Ana Maria Torres worked with Sustainable South Bronx to include an extensive green-roof installation atop a former theater, which will serve as a new home for the Abundant Life Tabernacle.


Terry Chen
Ray Williams
Sustainable south Bronx worked with Columbia architecture students to develop plans for an eco-industrial park in oak point.

Courtesy whedco
on a former brownfield site In crotona park east, intervale green has been developed with apartments set aside for formerly homeless families.

courtesy hugo s. subotovsky Architects

Courtesy Dattner architects
A number of mixed-use, mixed-income housing models have sprung up in the bronx, including Boricua village (top) and Courtlandt Corners (above).


At the other end of the spectrum, smaller projects in the borough—receiving less media coverage and funding—have arguably undergirded much of this restoration, with impact far beyond their modest budgets. Be they green-roof entrepreneurs, supportive-housing visionaries, or boxing-gym designers, architects are transforming the borough one vacant lot or storefront at a time. Working alongside established architects such as Richard Dattner, whose 323-unit Courtlandt Corners is among the city’s larger affordable housing developments, they have made the range and reach of community-driven Bronx development more vibrant than ever. And by engaging Bronx residents, they’re connecting the dots between social, environmental, and economic sustainability.

Few grassroots groups understand the synergy between design and community goals as well as Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx). Miquela Craytor, the group’s director,said that the Bronx has become a magnet for green technology because so much of the borough’s negative press centered on its severe pollution and decay. As one of many efforts to reinvent the borough through green design, the group has collaborated with Columbia University’s GSAPP to explore turning Oak Point’s industrial waterfront—where the city had planned to site a new jail—into an eco-industrial park. In 2003, taking matters into its own hands, SSBx started a program to train students to build and maintain green roofs, and four years later founded its own green-roof company, SmartRoofs. That has opened the door to real architectural opportunities.

On a recent afternoon, Craytor and Jesusa Ludan, Smart Roofs’ director,visited a new client’s property: the Olympic Theater in the Longwood neighborhood. Once a cinema for Spanish-language films, the Olympic was bought by Abundant Life Tabernacle and will be remodeled as the church’s new home by architect Ana Maria Torres. Torres, principal of at architects, suggested incorporating more than 12,000 square feet of green roofs into the design, a boon for a neighborhood sorely lacking open space. “This is ambitious, yes, but we’re going to make it,” Torres said as she showed off the project. “The economy is more difficult, so we need to be creative.” She aims to complete the jobfor $2 million, a budget made possible through so many donations—both of money and labor—from church members.

Adaptive reuse was similarly successful in Mott Haven, a neighborhood south of the theater, where the New York City Housing Authority converted a basketball gym, once a warehouse, into the Betances Community Center and Boxing Gym. The bold design by Stephen Yablon Architect has garnered numerous awards, including a 2009 Merit Award from the AIA New York chapter. Set to open in May, the center consists of the first floor of a housing tower connected to the former warehouse space through an arcade. The central attraction is the ring itself, where children and teenagers are taught the art of boxing in what Yablon called a “glass-enclosed cube”: a triple-height space lined with clerestory windows. Adapting the building involved raising the roof and installing an underground drainage system, but in Yablon’s hands the complex job, as he put it, seems “almost childlike in its simplicity.

Other architects have literally roamed the gritty streets in search of opportunity. In the early 1990s, Jonathan Kirschenfeld, known for designing New York’s floating swimming pool, decided that the best way to secure commissions for publicly-funded housing was to find sites on his own, study their zoning parameters, and then approach nonprofit groups. “I did a lot of feasibility studies,” he said. “Ultimately, I got to understand who was looking for sites.” With so few parcels remaining, those available are often irregularly shaped and frustrating to work with. But the key, he said, “is to solve the public spaces first.”

His project for Bronx Park East, for instance, looks to be a row house from the street, with a double-height common space and adjoining roof terrace. But it’s connected to a seven-story unit set back at an angle, creating a central courtyard between the large and small volumes. The project’s almost sly jump in scale is part of Kirschenfeld’s effort to counter what he called “a lack of faith in urbanism” that marked much of the 1980s housing solutions, including Charlotte Gardens, the 90 single-family houses that make many architects livid. “It kills me, looking for sites in R7 and R8 [medium- to high-density zones] and passing vinyl-sided, one-family houses with wrought-iron fences,” he said.

Models of Jonathan Kirschenfeld's multiple infill housing projects currently underway in the Bronx.
Courtesy Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates

Kirschenfeld now has company in his quest to urbanize the Bronx’s low-density pockets. The Women’s Housing & Economic Development Corporation was granted a triangular site at Intervale Avenue to build a 127-unit building, with a third of its apartments set aside for formerly homeless families. Dubbed Intervale Green, the building sits just a block away from Charlotte Street, where a 1977 visit from President Jimmy Carter brought worldwide attention to burned-out buildings andrampantcrime. Constructed on a former brownfield, Intervale Green’s three green roofs and two courtyards have already proven a hit. New resident Carolina Beltre plans to share her one-bedroom apartment with her ten-year-old son, whom she left in the Dominican Republic five years ago in search of better work. “It’s a new beginning for this area,”she said. “Everybody needs to know what’s happening in the South Bronx.”

Even some of the largest Bronx developments are taking cues from their smaller siblings. Though the neighborhood around Yankee Stadium has rarely shared its team’s success, planners are applying a whopping injection of urban acupuncture to the area: The new stadium will be followed by a big-box shopping mall called the Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market. Just down River Avenue from the stadium, the center juggles multiple roles as it links the neighborhood to a planned Harlem River park across the Major Deegan Expressway.“The project was conceived to accommodate two vastly different scales of experience,” explained Gregory Cranford, partner at BBG Architects. “You have the highway scale—as the building would be experienced from the Major Deegan—and then the pedestrian scale.”

The Gateway Center at Bronx Terminal Market features mid-block piazzas that will connect the residential neighborhood near River Avenue to a future riverfront park.
courtesy bbg

Though community groups criticized the project for displacing two-dozen wholesale produce merchants, the architects strove to knit what could have been another blank box into the neighborhood. The mass is broken into urban blocks, with two pedestrian passageways leading toward the river, and incorporates a historic market structure. “[City Planning Director] Amanda Burden was adamant about the pedestrian nature of this development,” Cranford explained. “We worked closely to really anchor the pedestrian experience.”

A similar debate over an influx of new retail has played out in the east side of the borough, where the Bloomberg administration aims to make the Third Avenue corridor an economic catalyst, anchored on the north by Boricua Village, the mixed-use project built around a vertical campus for Boricua College. The area is also home to Melrose Commons, a housing development that galvanized the neighborhood in 1992 when local residents deemed the initial plans unresponsive to their needs.This resulted in the community group Nos Quedamos (We Stay), formed to counter the shortcomings of the Melrose project—whose finished form is now seen as a model of cooperative design. The city aims to attract more name retailers to the area, a goal that Yolanda Gonzalez, executive director of Nos Quedamos, said is reasonable, but not at the expense of what she called the mama-and-papa stores that have long been neighborhood mainstays.

The most successful projects,Gonzalez stressed, are those that give community groups a strong voice in the design process. That’s what has made the borough’s smallest new developments its most exuberant, a lesson planners would do well to heed as the Bronx continues to rebound. “There hasn’t been a lot of sit-down and get-together, and that is an issue,”Gonzalez said about the city’s Third Avenue plans. “It should be a collaboration that creates cohesiveness. It’s important.”

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Coney's New Big Top
Grimshaw has designed a new amphitheater as part of the Coney Center.
Courtesy Grimshaw

It has been rough sailing out at Coney Island of late, with the destruction of Astroland last winter and simmering tensions about the city’s rezoning proposal. But good news has started to trickle in this week, with the announcement Monday that $15 million in stimulus money would go toward replacing parts of the decaying boardwalk. That was followed yesterday by word of the possible creation of an “interim” amusement park next year so the summer escape will not be a total wasteland when the city rebuilds it.

And now comes the biggest show by the sea since Dreamland burned down, the new Coney Center, a $47 million amphitheater designed by Grimshaw. The project will replace a 1980s bandshell located in Asser Levy Park with a new 8,000-seat entertainment complex meant to attract marquee acts. Capping it all is a swooping, 60,000-square-foot roof in the shape of a hyperbolic paraboloid—picture a massive Pringles potato chip, but made of steel and translucent fiberglass, supercharged by hundreds of strobing stage lights.

Mark Husser, the partner-in-charge, sees the theater as the latest in a long line of Coney icons, both historic and geographic: the Parachute Jump, Keyspan Park, the defunct Elephant Hotel, the Cyclone, and now Coney Center. “What is the context of Coney Island? It’s that there is no context,” Husser said. “Everything is unique, everything is a spectacle, but in that uniqueness, Coney’s icons find unity.”

The roof took the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid that helped keep weight—and thus costs—down.

Borough President Marty Markowitz first announced the “state-of-the-art recreation facility” in his 2007 State of the Borough address, with the intention of competing with the other summer concert venues in the area, like Jones Beach and Westbury. While smaller than some of its rivals—the former holds 18,000—the real attraction is new amenities, such as green rooms, of which there are currently none, and a better sound and lighting system, not to mention the appeal of Coney Island itself and its proximity to the city.

And while amenities and location are nice, the real hallmark of Coney Center is its shimmering roof. Husser said the shape was chosen for a number of reasons, mainly the lightness of its structure. “It’s like a bicycle wheel with a massive steel rim and a ring at the middle for a hub,” he explained. “It’s a much lighter structure than one operated by trusses.” By bending the roof, it provides its own tension and thus requires less structure, which means less weight and less cost. The shape also helps minimize noise to adjacent housing and keep out the rain. The peaked end at the east side also achieves one of the project’s other main goals: to create a new gateway for Coney Island on perhaps its most common point of entry, Ocean Parkway. (Far more people drive to the area each year than ride the subway.)

At one point, the designers had considered a retractable roof, but a number of issues prevented its inclusion. First, the cost of construction and maintenance would have been considerable, especially given the corrosive seaside air. But more importantly, Coney Center is intended as a year-round facility: During the off-season, the 5,000 fixed seats beneath the canopy will be removed and replaced with an ice-skating rink.

The amphitheater has seating for 8,000 and is intended to draw bigger acts to the Coney Island shore.

Beyond the amphitheater, Grimshaw is also redesigning the playground that currently sits in the park, both to modernize it and because it is located on the footprint of the new and expanded back-of-the-house. Working with landscape architects Mathews Nielsen, the designers have created an elevated climbing structure that wends its way up, down, and around trees. The idea is to disrupt as few trees as possible while also creating a structure that recalls the nearby roller coaster. The team will also refurbish the popular handball courts across Surf Avenue.

Through a spokesperson, Markowitz praised the park as the latest step in the revitalization of Coney Island. “Replacing Asser Levy’s antiquated band shell with a state-of-the-art one will ensure that free community programming—it was used for 45 different community events last year—remains in Coney Island,” he said. “Moreover, it will be a key component of a revitalized Coney Island for the community and visitors in the days ahead.”

The project has come under some fire from locals who have complained about the possibility of increased noise and crowds, as well as the fact that some concerts will be paid, instead of free. But both the borough president and the designers counter that money generated from paid shows will go to putting on more free ones. “It’s win-win for the community and the city,” Husser said.

Construction is due to begin at the end of this summer’s concert searon, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

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Stimulus, Coming to a Street Near You
First, now the NYC Stimulus Tracker. Yesterday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the $1.1 billion in new infrastructure spending resulting from the city's cut of the federal stimulus bill, he also announced the creation of a special website to lend transparency to the process, not unlike the model set out by our dear mayor. (Judging by WNYC and ProPublica's Shovelwatch map, though, everyone's getting in on the act, with all but five states and numerous municipalities launching such sites.) There are six projects receiving direct stimulus funding, including $47 million for the repair of the Brooklyn Bridge, $175 million for rehabilition of the St. George Ferry ramps in Staten Island, and the $9.7 million repairs of a dozen roads throughout the five boroughs. The mayor also announced 25 projects that will receive funds allocated at the state level, also known as displaced funds. Below is a list, but for more on both, see the mayor's release. As a whole, he said the projects will create or preserve 32,000 jobs. But to be sure, check the Stimulus Tracker. Individual projects by borough, with amount of stimulus money recieved and expected completion:
  • Improvements to Hunts Point, $22 million, Fall 2012
  • Reconstruction of Paulding Avenue (Bronxwood), $21 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of the Claremont Parkway Bridge (Bathgate), $7.0 million, Summer 2012
  • Reconstruction of the Decatur Ave Retaining Wall (Bedford Park), $7 million, Fall 2011
  • Improvements to Hugh Grant Circle (Parkchester), $3.5 million, Summer 2011
  • Improvements to Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4.7 million, Summer 2011
  • Streetscape Improvements to Flatbush Avenue (Flatbush), $3.5 million, June 2011
  • Reconstruction of Nassau Avenue and Monitor Street (Greenpoint), $12.9 million, Fall 2011
  • Reconstruction of Coney Island Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Shore (Belt) Parkway East 8th Street Access Ramp (Bath Beach), $14 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Eastern Parkway (Prospect Heights), $6 million, Spring 2012
  • Improvements to Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business District, $7.1 million, Winter 2011
  • Replacement of Protective Coating on Steel Structure of Six Belt/Shore Parkway Bridges, $6.8 million, Fall 2011
  • Reconstruction of West 125th Street, $1.9 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of East Houston Street, $23.5 million, Fall 2011
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase I, $22 million, Spring 2011
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase II, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Rockaway Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of College Point / 32nd Avenue, $12 million, Fall 2011
  • Replacement of Hillside Avenue Sidewalk (Jamaica), $10 million, Fall 2010
  • Extension of 132nd Street / Linden Place Extension, $7 million, Winter 2014
  • Rehabilitation of 11 Staten Island Railway Bridges, $8.2 million, Summer 2010
  • Completion of the St. George Ferry Terminal Retail Area, $6 million, Fall 2009
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Shovel Oh So Ready
Architect and friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph writes in with this report of the March 27 WORKac lecture, "Shovel Ready," at Parsons. Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, of the 2008 PS1 Warm-Up pavilion fame, tag team presented their work to a standing room only crowd. With a range of projects, from buildings to urban proposals, the duo showed the office's penchant for both intelligence and wit. Like many young offices most of WORKac's work is still in the realm of unbuilt projects, but with five competitions already completed in 2009 this office has no intention of waiting around casually for the work to knock on their door. Of the work presented, two New York buildings showed off the office's intelligent concepts executed through reduced forms. They push the ideas, but are careful to not allow overly exuberant design blur the intent of their work. The Headquarters' for Diane von Furstenberg in the Meatpacking district showed their aptitude for laying out simple concepts that are translated, quite directly, into built reality. The project uses the stair, one of the most commonplace and yet ceaselessly studied elements in architecture, to turn what could be a mundane office building into an object of both clarity and poetry. Starting at the ground floor entry the stair slips up through the old warehouse building to reveal in single moment the sky above. A relatively simple move, but deftly handled, it flips the reading of the building's dark brick exterior by lighting the interior and yet at the same moment pulls visitors sense of the space up, through, and out the roof. In their proposal for the Kew Gardens Library in Queens (a project soon to start construction) WORK ac inverts the interior methods of the Diane von Furstenberg HQ by wrapping an existing building with a new facade and roof. Expanding the building's footprint towards the street they apply a new double-bent gull wing roof covered with flora. The new form, boosting the height of the building and allowing clerestory lighting into the interior, is clad at the upper portion of the facade with pre-cast concrete panels and new, open curtain wall down to the street. It is important to credit New York City's Design and Construction Excellence program for allowing WORK ac produce a project like this. It may be a bit self-serving to suggest this project gives hope to the architecture community that it will be able to continue producing good/smart/important work during a time of economic turbulence. But with the likely (and potentially healthy) collapse of the opulent condo market, the program sends a positive message to the community-at-large that quality design benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. Of the work shown it was interesting to see that to date WORK ac is strongest in their urban proposals. The Green Belt City competition for Las Vegas started off with clear-minded analysis of the site issues. By the middle of the presentation they revealed their OMA pedigree, a tendency to tackle problems as the witty prankster who actually does know best. Yet at the end they zoom past overly reduced forms and slight of hand design moves to produce something both smart and beautiful. With their final project, a preview of a competition yet to be made public, they showed an amusing foray into the world of paper architecture. The project, a tower in lower Manhattan, was commissioned as a real world study of an urban condition, but the architects believe they, the client, and the architecture community are best served by going for broke. With an appropriate suspension of disbelief they stack and pin-wheel a series of slabs composed of archetypal sections of the city's urban fabric onto a hyper-eco-energy-friendly core. Although little of this piece itself is feasible, WORK ac likeably reveals untapped potentials in tower design and brings to light the potential for subtler, real-world solutions that would be just as relevant and powerful. With the amount of work produced so far it is a good bet WORKac will continue to generate engaging architecture. A risk the office faces is becoming typecast as new eco-architects. Although this may help bring attention, and put work on their boards, it would be too narrow of a category for their talent. An exhibition on WORKac is on view at Parsons The New School for Design, 25 East 13 Street, Second Floor, through April 18. A second exhibition, called 49 Cities, will be on view at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, starting on April 14.
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Allied in Ann Arbor
While unlikely to receive the scrutiny or attention of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the new addition to the University of Michigan Museum of Art is something of a return to form for Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works. The extension is uncompromisingly modern, tasteful, light-filled, and restrained enough to be a good neighbor to its beaux arts other half. The Detroit News sings the project's praises, and says that the museum now displays ten percent of its collection, up from a mere three percent prior to the expansion. With at least four museums now under his belt, Cloepfil has become a home grown Renzo Piano. The UMMA addition is likely to expand his reputation further. Next up, the Clifford Still Museum in Denver.

Doomsday for MTA

New Yorkers looking for a legislative express to rescue the flailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority got the bureaucratic equivalent of a garbage train this morning, as the MTA made good on threats to pass a budget and four-year capital plan marked by daunting service reductions and fare hikes.

In a series of 12-1 votes, the agency’s board approved the so-called “doomsday plan” that would slash service on train and bus lines and raise the monthly unlimited MetroCard’s cost to $103 from the current $81, among other desperate measures taken amid continued gridlock in Albany, where state legislators were still toiling to reach an agreement that would bolster the MTA’s budget.

On that front, the most powerful person in state government, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, kept pushing for a compromise among the state’s lawmaking bodies in the last hours before the vote. In February, the assembly appeared set to pass a plan to add tolls to East River bridges, along with a payroll tax to keep MTA capital projects alive. But the state senate, under fledgling majority leader Malcolm Smith, let that plan stall, and Silver has struggled to emerge as the straphanger’s hero.

“We’re trying very hard to reach a negotiated settlement,” Dan Weiller, a spokesperson for Silver, told AN yesterday. “Both the speaker and Malcolm Smith have said they may not make tomorrow’s deadline, but the MTA has said there’s a little wiggle room.”

In voting to turn a contingency budget into an operating plan, the MTA has strongly signaled that time’s up. The plan axes two subway lines—the Z, serving much of northeast Brooklyn from Bushwick to the Queens border, and the W to Astoria. Throughout the boroughs, 35 bus lines would also disappear, in addition to punishing weekend service cuts across the system. As New York’s transit-riding population keeps growing, and job centers disperse from midtown Manhattan, the cutbacks could well harm productivity and hamper access to jobs.

Yet Senate Democrats, new to the majority this year, did not organize to support either a previous plan spearheaded by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch or Silver’s compromise proposal, which lowered bridge tolls from their recommended level to around the cost of a subway ride. Said one transit advocate, insisting on anonymity due to ongoing discussions with the legislature: “Smith, who’s trying to say it’s all about MTA accountability, really can’t get the votes.”

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, argued that Silver could bring lawmakers around to his way of thinking, even after the MTA’s vote. And how might he do that? “The way he can direct any major expenditure,” Russianoff told AN. “The power of the purse. He says to them, ‘You want your annual appropriations?’”

At this stage, Silver’s political gamesmanship is the last recourse for New Yorkers who’ll otherwise have to dig deeper into their pockets for $2.50 for a single ride beginning May 31.

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Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

A few days before his 80th birthday on February 28, Frank Gehry sat down with his good friend, the author and historian John Pastier. The two ranged widely over the architect’s life and work, touching on how he’s been hit by the economy, energized by Obama, and inspired as ever by new technology. They speak candidly about Gehry's frustration with his postmodern peers and the fate of favored projects, among them Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards.

John Pastier: Looking back, did you ever hope or imagine that you would get this far professionally?

Frank Gehry: No, and even though I’m conscious of where I am professionally, I’m actually unconscious of it because psychically I don’t feel any different from where I’ve always been—I’m always nervous, insecure, etc. I think it’s a positive thing, it helps keep you grounded. I’m just more comfortable there, so I do that. But it’s pretty exciting, much of it.

Originally I wanted to do city planning and big-scale urban design projects and social housing. But there was no interest in having architects involved in that. The social housing projects all stopped—HHFA, NFA, etc., didn’t continue.

You started your career working for Victor Gruen. What prompted your leaving in 1960?
They were promoting project managers while the design types were being marginalized. I wasn’t the same Frank Gehry back then. I couldn’t get up and do public presentations. I was very shy and had a hard time with all that. The guys that could do it were promoted and made associates of the firm.

I was productive, but they weren’t promoting me. In hindsight I think they felt that I was angry. I went through a period where I was always angry and they didn’t know what to do with that. They wanted me to be happy and I couldn’t be, I couldn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable even though I often got to work with Victor very closely, and with Rudy Baumfeld, and Edgardo Contini, people who I adored and respected.

The office had people like Fred Usher, Marion Sampler, Gere Kavanagh, Kip Stewart, Greg Walsh, and John Gilchrest. It was a place that was interested in art and culture and design. Some of them came out of the Eames office. There was a lot of energy and it felt good. It was a very vibrant group and Rudy loved it, he loved all the younger people, as did Victor. They all used the energy of it, they loved the meetings and would have evening parties, inviting all of us. They were us and we were them. But then it became corporate because they weren’t making money I suppose. Suddenly all of us were marginalized for these manager types, so I decided it was time to go.
I see a great watershed between the earlier and later parts of your career, when you went from straight, angular, diagonal—linear skewed geometries—to compound asymmetrical curves. That was a huge change.

Well, what ushered in that change was more what happened in the design world. People had turned to postmodernism, so all my friends were doing historicist buildings. Venturi, Johnson, Graves, Moore—I always considered them important friends, people I loved very dearly. But I was pissed off that they were going backwards. We’ve just gone through the modern thing, and before that the Beaux Arts, now do we have to go back to the Beaux Arts just because the architecture curator at the Museum of Modern Art decided that it’s time to go back?

This made me angry, and I thought, “If you’re going to go back, then go back 300 million years before man, to fish.” That’s when I started to realize the forms. Earlier, in the Norton Simon House, I was trying to create a sense of movement because he had a Shiva dancing figure on his dining-room table, and you’d look at it and turn around, and you’d swear it had moved! It was made of bronze and had a sense of movement. I was trying to capture that in wood with a tumbling trellis, but he said, “This looks like it’s your unfinished symphony.” I protested: “But Norton, Schubert died, and I’m still going strong.”

I kept searching for that motion and one day started looking at fish. They were architectural to me and had movement—that’s when I did the big wooden GFT Fish in Italy, the “kitsch” fish I call him. Standing beside it you felt the movement of the tail. So I asked how much of this kitsch stuff can you cut off and make abstract, yet still get the sense of movement? That’s when I did lead-clad fish for the Walker Art Center and for Jay Chiat in Venice, continuing to develop the forms and began to understand how to do it. Finally, I used the computer to help me—that’s when I cut loose.

Clearly, doing these curvilinear forms by hand limited how far you could go.
Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. If you were to think of Erich Mendelssohn with his beautiful drawings, he couldn’t do it. If he had the computer these things would have been easy. When you look at the Einstein Tower, you realize how incredible that is.

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?

The turning point was the spiral staircase at the Vitra Furniture Museum. I drew it using descriptive geometry, but since there was a kink in it, the contractors couldn’t build it from my drawings, so that’s when I asked the people in the office, “Isn’t there a way to describe it digitally?” They took us to IBM, who took us to Dassault [creators of the CATIA], and that’s how it happened. In the end I had to build a company around it so they could serve me and now the company is doing other people’s work, and so it spun off into something totally independent.

Your two greatest monuments have arguably been Bilbao and Disney Hall. Obviously you’ve done a lot of other work. One favorite of mine was the New York Guggenheim on the East River in the Financial District.

Yeah, but that was never real. I knew you couldn’t build out over the water there. The Corps of Engineers would never allow it.

What impressed me about that project was its immense scale. More recently it’s struck me that Disney Hall and Bilbao are not just radically different form departures, but also represent a major jump in scale for you—not physical scale so much as aesthetic scale. They’re very monumental but still very accessible. They’re not off-putting. The first time I visited Disney, I rounded a corner and saw it all at once. I thought, “My God, how did he do that?” It was immense and looming like a mountain range, yet was also something very intimate, very human-scaled, even friendly. How do you do that?

You’ve got to want to do it, consciously.

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

Well, if you look at antiquity it’s possible. Great buildings of the past had it. Borromini did it, Bernini did it.

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

I know, but that’s the point. By using the sense of movement you replace the details.

That’s a major insight.

That’s why I did the whole thing with the fish and then moved into this, because once I understood how to characterize movement at a big scale then I knew I had something. I could play with it, and I let it evolve, that’s all. It was a real breakthrough for me.

But during the design process, even working with really big models, how do you make that jump? How do you know what it’s really going to be like at full scale? Is it a leap of faith or can you actually visualize it that precisely?

No, I visualize it because we make models at several scales, which forces me to shift scale. It makes me think, “Real.” So I don’t let the model become the object of desire. I continually challenge myself about that, to keep myself in “real scale.” It’s worked for me a lot. And then we also build full-scale mockups of parts of the building before I “print it,” so to speak.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that idea because during that same period, Michael Graves had the great trouble with it, and we’d talk about it. The drawings were beautiful and a lot of my colleagues’ drawings were beautiful, the models were beautiful, but then the building didn’t deliver. I do lots of drawings, too. They are exciting to people because they’re so scribbly and free, but the important thing is to deliver that feeling to the final building. You have to focus on it and want to do it, you can’t just let it happen. You have to really control it from beginning to end.

Looking back on your work, which projects do you like the best and which have been especially significant to your development? Let’s consider residences.

They allow freedom because they were easier to play with—the scale is easier. The Smith House, a little addition to the first house I did [in 1959], that let me do my first “still life” village. Then the house for the filmmaker where I separated the pieces and you had to go outside to go to the bathroom—that kind of thing. But I was thinking of production houses then—tract houses—and got the idea of separate pieces so you could put the shapes in the computer, and somebody could pick four shapes and then, on the computer, place them on their lot. They could be mass-produced and delivered to your site. I still think it’s a good idea, but nobody did it. 

That all came out of houses, and it led to the still-life strategy that I’ve used in many buildings. It’s present in a lot of things, not so much in Bilbao and Disney but many other projects use that idea. But I don’t like doing houses because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for society. Although it’s nice doing it for a friend. I even have trouble doing it for myself because it gets into closets and things like that. I played with it over and over—after 60 versions I gave up.

Which other unrealized commissions do you most wish had been built?

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn—I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are projects underway that are being threatened, and may not be completed. That would be devastating to me. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles is also on hold.

But now we’re working on the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, and that’s exciting. It’s a pretty big building, bigger than Disney Hall.

Do you feel some need to adjust to age now that you’re hitting 80? Will you give up playing hockey?
Well, I gave that up a couple of years ago. I had a back operation and I was having trouble.

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

I talk about that, but in fact I don’t, and now I’m more excited. I guess you might say I’m Obama-ized—watching him before Congress last night was amazing. It’s not about black or white anymore, it’s about how he’s a real president. He’s the real thing and what he’s talking about is a new revolution in technology—I’m really excited about that. The world’s energy concerns can lead to new architectural models, and not just by that part of the profession that’s using it to get business, putting on their Boy Scout uniforms and doing terrible buildings in the name of “greening.” Now there’s finally traction on this issue, and it’s become something that clients are asking for. We’ve tried it for years and nobody would pay for it—they just wouldn’t do it.
So you’re sensing a change in that perception.

I really think there is. What Obama is talking about is certainly going in that direction. There’s a lot of technology out there. I was recently called by somebody asking if I could play with new materials that could become photovoltaic. I said yes, and I’ve been very interested in it.

I can see you experimenting with that and having a lot of fun, so you’re in no danger of burn out there.

No, I’m not going to go there at all, and I’m having fun with the young people in the office. The only problem I’m dealing with is how do I exit. What do I leave here, and should I worry about it?

You’ve cut back on staff size—what was the peak?

About 250, about a year and a half ago. We were doing Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, they were big staffs, 40 to 50 people each. Now we’re at about 120 to 125.
Will you keep shrinking until the economy improves?

No, I think we’re pretty steady there unless Abu Dhabi were to stop. You never know about that. I’m doing a Guggenheim museum there with Tom Krens and it’s really exciting to work with him.

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Ship Shape
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved SHoP's designs for Pier 15.
Courtesy LPC

On Tuesday, Gregg Pasquarelli and his partners at SHoP Architects moved ahead on a much-anticipated project when New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 7-1 in favor of a new pier and promenade for the South Street Seaport district, part of the firm’s larger East River Esplanade. It was the last major regulatory hurdle for the project, a portion of which began construction last fall near Wall Street.

It’s been rough sailing for the SHoP crew of late, given the firm's struggles with the commission over its plans for a mixed-use project at the adjacent Pier 17. That design was rejected as out-of-touch with the district's maritime history, but for Pier 15, the commissioners largely agreed with Pasquarelli, who emphasized its antecedents in the multistory working and recreational piers that once lined the New York waterfront.

The pier, with boats docked alongside, as seen from the promenade.
All images courtesy LPC

“While I don’t agree with every detail of this, I think the overall approach is an appropriate, 21st-century interpretation of its historic forebears,” commission chair Robert Tierney said. Some of his colleagues even argued that it was not so much the design as the reactivation of the waterfront that was the project’s focal point—the return of New Yorkers to the shore.

“The most important preservation part of this effort is pulling people to the pier, pulling them underneath the FDR and to the water,” commissioner Margery Perlmutter said. “Whatever you have to do to achieve that is appropriate.”

The plans for Pier 15 have not changed much since they were unveiled in November 2007. The major components remain a new pier constructed upon the site of one that collapsed decades ago—a sign of just how far the waterfront had fallen in the city. On the main level, there will be fendering and bollards for the Seaport Museum's historic ships to dock, as well as a small boat launch and a maritime-themed pavilion, all of which were major demands from the maritime community.

SHoP used examples of historic two-story piers, many of them built for similar recreational purposes, as precedents for its design.

Local residents had called for ample open space, which SHoP delivered by adding a second level to the pier, a feature the firm found was once very common on the waterfront and which helped win support for the idea from the commissioners, who especially admired the use of a hull-like wooden shape for the base of the second level.

What did not impress them was the inclusion of three grass plots atop the pier. “The green space is not within the historic character of the district,” vice-chair Pablo Vengoechea said. “There was once a green edge on the water, but it is long gone, especially within the seaport.”

neighborhood groups applauded the project's upper-level plots of grass, but commissioners deemed such green spaces anachronistic.

Preservation groups remain divided by the project. “The architects have done a good job of balancing the many different viewpoints of what the East River waterfront landscape should be, and we believe this pier design should be approved by the LPC,” Melissa Baldock, a fellow at the Municipal Art Society, told the commission. But Nadezhda Williams, preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council, disagreed. “HDC supports the rebuilding of a pier originally in the district and lost," she said. "We strenuously object, however, to the gussying up of a pier with a structure designed for leisure in a district defined by its working history.”

That working history, however, is so far gone from Lower Manhattan that the commission seemed eager to leave it in the past. “Although it is not a recreation of a historic pier, it is a modern interpretation that serves the needs of the community,” said commissioner Diana Chapin. And that, her colleagues agreed, was appropriate enough.

A drawing shows the multilayered nature of the pier.

Editorial: Pedlocking Broadway

General gladness and near unanimous support greeted Mayor Bloomberg’s February 27announcement that he was malling Times and Herald squares by closing off portions of Broadway in the interest of easing traffic, widening sidewalks, and reclaiming some three acres for pedestrian use. The Regional Planning Association has been pitching the idea since 1974, and so the group’s president, Robert Yaro, was triumphant: “This plan is a win-win-win strategy for New York’s motorists, its residents, workers, visitors and property owners. All will benefit as the City’s Broadway plan is brought quickly to reality.” Streetsblog called it “a bold transformative new vision.” And what’s not to like? The $1.5million plan is supposed to reduce southbound motor vehicle travel times by 17percent on 7thAvenue, and northbound travel times by 37percent on 6thAvenue. And the Naked Cowboy will have someplace to sit down.

The notion of banning cars on Broadway has reared up every decade or so since the 1960s, when a malling craze seized the entire country from Kalamazoo (where the first downtown pedestrian zone opened in 1959) to Atlanta. Only 15percent of 200pedestrian malls survived, according to Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation; the ones that did not were absent two essential ingredients: plenty of pedestrians and a unique sense of place, with viable retail. Those two are resoundingly on hand in Times Square, and always have been, along with efforts to subtract the traffic. In 1977, a $500,000federal grant was paid to the city to create an “experimental pedestrian mall” with trees and potted plants that—just like the one announced by Bloomberg—would become permanent if it worked. And that was the last we heard of a plan that made local businesses fear they’d lose curbside traffic; annoyed taxi drivers for the inconvenience; and flew against the city’s thinking at the time that only more and wider roads could make traffic flow faster. This time around, things are different, not least because the plan seems motivated in part by the mayor’s determination to have something highly visible go his way after congestion pricing went so wrong. The attitude of other stakeholders has also changed—except perhaps the taxi drivers—reflecting more enlightened thinking about public amenities and transportation. They get it now: Cars in the city are headed for extinction.

And yet as radical as the plan is, it was disappointing to see it quite so completely devoid of design. As Deborah Marton, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, pointed out, “No one thinks these plazas should look this way. Just claiming the ground was kind of heroic; they can always go back and rethink the detailing.” That’s true, but why doesn’t the Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the plan, have a landscape design consultant on call to sketch up a vision that’s a little less ad hoc, more layered, and not so isolated from side streets? The agency’s so-called piazza islands—like the new pedestrian spaces at Madison Square and 14thStreet—are risible for their smatterings of cafe tables and glued-in-place gravel. Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan deserves enormous credit for shaking the lead off this decades-old plan and making something happen that this time might stick. It’s still a shame, however, that landscape designers seem to belong to the second wave of the solution, not the first.