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Four Vie for Philly Pier
Pier 11 in Philadelphia sits between Pier 9 and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
Courtesy Google Earth

Visions for a new Philadelphia waterfront took another step forward last month when the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) presented design finalists for the redevelopment of Pier 11, a run-down site along the Delaware River and the first phase of Philadelphia’s broader riverfront redesign plan. Selected from 26 proposals, the four finalists are James Corner Field Operations, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, all of New York, and Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates.

At a June 17 public presentation of the finalists’ designs, the proposals varied widely—some showing conceptual ideas and others laying out detailed, site-specific plans—but all offered ideas for a redefined edge. One of the most comprehensive proposals, developed by Andropogon Associates, transforms the existing pier into an ecologically engaging place powered by tidal, wind, and solar energy, with adaptive reuse of the pier’s historic structures. “It’s an opportunity to actually develop a paradigm shift in the way the city relates to the river, and how the river relates to the city,” Andropogon principal José Almiñana told AN.

The proposal from Andropogon, the only team to offer a detailed rendering for the project in its presentation.
Courtesy Andropogon Associates

The other finalists took a more conceptual aim at the project. Corner, principal at James Corner Field Operations, compared Pier 11 to his firm’s work on New York’s High Line. Both sites, he said, are underutilized areas that can be transformed into an economic opportunity for the city while providing a new public space for its inhabitants.

Van Valkenburgh’s presentation offered previous park projects, including designs for New York City’s Union Square and Brooklyn Bridge Park, highlighting the latter’s sustainable elements. Lastly, W Architecture and Landscape Architecture proposed ideas based on the firm’s completed urban waterfront projects, emphasizing the interconnectivity of civic and natural environments.

Built as a timber structure in 1916, Pier 11 was used by national and international steamers carrying fruit, salt, and cargo, but gradually succumbed to decay. The 80-foot-by-540-foot strip at the foot of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge will “now bring a new look at public design along the waterfront, as well as a new way to reuse old industrial piers within the context of first-class public realm design,” said Joseph Forkin, vice president for operations and development at the DRWC. Eventual plans for the waterfront also include the reuse of Pier 9 and a former Water Department building.

The DRWC’s planning committee, chaired by Marilyn Jordan Taylor, is expected to make its recommendation for the winning design team by July 31, and Forkin said he hoped an announcement would be made soon thereafter.

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

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ARC Digs In
A new Manhattan station for New Jersey Transit at Penn Station is part of the ARC project.
Courtesy Port Authority

Today the New York City Council voted unanimously to approve the land-use plan of the ARC Mass Transit Tunnel, which will add a new rail link between New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan. The council’s consent clears the way for tunnel construction to begin in Manhattan later this year. In June, work began on the New Jersey side near Tonnelle Avenue in North Bergen.

The Port Authority and NJ Transit are hoping to complete the massive passenger rail project by 2017, and expect it to create approximately 6,000 construction jobs annually. ARC will double trans-Hudson commuter capacity, increasing the maximum number of trains per hour from 23 to 48. It will also add redundancy to the existing 100-year-old, two-track tunnel. Transit authorities expect the increased rail service to eliminate 22,000 automobile trips per day.

The council vote is the final major government approval for the project, which has been on the boards since 1995. From this point on, the only approvals that will remain in ARC’s way will be periodic environmental reviews, said a Port Authority spokesperson.

In January, federal authorities completed their approvals, including a sweeping environmental assessment, and approved ARC for $130 million in stimulus bill funds. The $8.7 billion project also received $400 million from the Federal Transit Administration and $125 million in funding from the Federal Highway Administration’s Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. The Port Authority, NJ Transit, and the state of New Jersey apportioned $5.75 billion to the project.

The work in Manhattan will include expanding Penn Station under 34th Street and building underground connections for the first time to the Sixth Avenue subway lines.

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Charged Up
More where that came from: the proposed energy bill incentivizes the creation of more green buildings, such as One Bryant Park in New York, The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and Thin Flats in Philadelphia.
Courtesy Cook + Fox, RPBW, Onionflats

Much of the attention focused on the energy bill that passed the House of Representatives on June 26 has surrounded the somewhat controversial cap-and-trade program. A less noted but equally important part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act is the nearly three dozen programs the bill contains with far-reaching impacts on the built environment and those who design, construct, and operate the millions of buildings scattered across the country.

"The fact that there was so much that relates to buildings is an important moment for the building community," said Andrew Goldberg, the senior director for federal relations at the AIA. "It supports the message we've been pushing for a long time, that buildings are a part of the solution. It's finally sinking in and they're taking action about it."

The proposed cap-and-trade system is still at the heart of the new legislation, as the funds it will raise will go to support many of the new building programs. The most expansive piece of buildings-related legislation is the establishment of a new national building code that sets minimum standards for energy usage in all new and existing buildings. States either have the option of developing their own code or applying the national one, but they must include a 30 percent reduction in energy usage within 18 months of the bills passage, a 50 percent reduction by 2014 for residential buildings and 2015 for commerical building, and an additional 5 percent reduction every three years through 2030.

The bill also has numerous provisions calling for federal agencies and federally managed housing to meet or exceed the new energy standards. Another program that could mean a good deal of work for architect is new energy efficient standards for retrofitted builidngs. And in addition to energy, there are new water efficiency standards for buildings, appliances, and products. "There are a number of market barriers that must be overcome to make green building affordable, but these new standards will help spur that shift," said Jason Hartke, the director for advocacy and public policy as the U.S. Green Building Council.

The bill is not all federally mandated sticks, either, as their are plenty of carrots to encourage a voluntary transition. An Energy Star-like building rating system is being proposed to label new construction so owners and operators know the energy usage of their buildings. (One of the biggest loses for the bill was the removal of a requirment that existing buildings also be labeled.)

Another program that has green building advocates especially excited is the Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods Act, which provides incentives to financial institutions to offer generous loans to projects that use sustainable technology and smart growth practices. The program also creates a demo program at HUD to develop cutting-edge green systems for its housing projects, turning them into sustainability laboratories.

Furthering the green-for-all message, there are grants for affordable housing developers to include efficient systems in their projects, and another program gives credits to mobile home residents to trade in their current models for newer, more efficient models. And because all these new buildings and products must be created to satisfy all this new demand, there are a number of programs providing funding for product development and educational programs for designers, contractors, manufacturers, and building operators.

The bill now awaits its companion in the Senate. Initially, a vote had been expected by the end of the session, but the healthcare bill has taken up most of the Hill's political oxygen, and despite hopes for at least a draft of the bill before the August recess, it now looks like even that will be pushed back to the fall. Still, without jinxing it, Goldberg expects something comparable to the House bill. "It could very well be stronger," he said. "There was a lot of support on the other side. It could be stronger or about the same. Or it could always be a wash."

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

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Williamsburg
A map of many major development projects in Williamsburg. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

Pilings in empty lots behind dilapidated chain-link fences. Foundation pits filled with rainwater. Steel frames of five-story condos rusting, with no sign of further construction in sight. A walk around Williamsburg, Brooklyn is enough to tell you that its future is on hold.


17: 185 SOuth 4th Street (Numbers refer to the development map above)
 

According to a recent report by the New York City Department of Buildings, there are currently 18 stalled construction projects racking up citations and blighting the landscape of this North Brooklyn neighborhood and its sister district, Greenpoint. The view from the street, however, suggests that the number is much higher.

This signals a significant turnaround for the development hotspot. As recently as 2008, the picture was sunnier. The hip neighborhood, once the province of artists and students, was beginning to draw a larger contingent of families. The waterfront—an industrial landscape of garbage transfer sites and warehouses—was being transformed into a green swath by the opening of East River State Park and the city’s soon-to-come Bushwick Inlet Park. The future seemed wide open for continued growth.

A quick look at the numbers gives an immediate sense of the optimism that once imbued the area, as well as how much that optimism has faded. According to Aptsandlofts.com, a residential real estate broker, 2,818 new apartments will hit the Williamsburg market by the end of this year. Next year, the brokerage expects that number to hold, with 2,766 new apartments coming on line. According to real estate appraiser Miller Samuel, in 2008, buildings in Williamsburg and Greenpoint were selling for an all-time high of $668 per square foot on average. But in the first quarter of 2009, the average price had fallen to $519, a number likely to fall further.

38: 277 Grand Street
 
50: Warehouse 11

The future of the waterfront is also in question. The State Parks Department cut its funding for East River State Park from $169.1 million to $112.1 million earlier this summer, and the New York City Parks Department cut its budget by $57 million, most of which was earmarked for Bushwick Inlet Park.


12: nforth
 
20, 26: The Edge, as seen through Northside Piers
 

One thing making the downturn harder on North Brooklyn than on other parts of the city is its high concentration of new construction, said Miller Samuel CEO Jonathan Miller. Formerly a light industrial zone, the neighborhood has been deluged with residential units. In the last two years, new buildings have accounted for 75 to 85 percent of all sales in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, he said.

The problem starts with banks. A new rule prohibits Fannie Mae from guaranteeing mortgages for units in buildings that haven’t sold 70 percent of their units. And because Fannie Mae considers New York to be a real estate market in decline, that number goes up to 75 percent. With banks scrambling for their own survival, few are willing to take risks, especially on real estate. For new buildings, in particular larger developments like the Northside Piers or The Edge, reaching that figure is an increasingly daunting task.

As a result, smaller, better-funded buildings are still selling well, said Leah Ellis, an associate at Kutnicki Bernstein Architects. But many of the big buildings with over 100 units are struggling, she added, and developers are getting nervous.

The banks play another role in the woes faced by North Brooklyn developers. Architect Karl Fischer, whose firm has designed many of the modern condominiums that typify recent development in the neighborhood, said that one distinguishing characteristic of the Williamsburg real estate market is that many of its developers are not established or capitalized enough to withstand the downturn. First, they get squeezed by the banks, and then they paint themselves into a corner where they lose control of the property to banks that refuse to lower unit prices to sell.

In a sea of price cuts, no building illustrates this nightmare scenario as well as Warehouse 11, a Karl Fischer-designed, 120-unit development on Roebling Street. Construction on Warehouse 11 is 95 percent complete, and it’s in foreclosure, with the developer owing $50,766,000. The bank has pulled all sales listings for the individual units, and in May hired brokerage Massey Knakal to sell off the building’s senior debt. Massey estimates that the building’s potential gross annual rental income could be as high as $4.1 million.

60: 120 South 4th Street
 
3, 4, 5: Ikon, The Aurora, and 20 Bayard Street

With sales heading for a dip as low as $350 per square foot, developers and their architects are resorting to survival tactics, from rethinking the finishing touches to buying cut-rate treadmills for the fitness room. Many buildings have already gone from being condos to offering some or all of their units as rentals, Ellis said. Some developers are also retooling their condominiums as dormitories or eldercare facilities. In one luxury condo in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a desperate developer went one step further, renting out the unsold units in his building to the city as housing for homeless families. While that’s an extreme example, it’s clear to most developers holding unsold units in Williamsburg that something has to give.

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Midtown West
A map of many major development projects in Downtown Brooklyn. Click to view larger.
Map by Dustin Koda

The city may call it Midtown West, but the corner of 8th Avenue and 41st Street certainly doesn’t feel like Midtown. The monochromatic New York Times tower has nothing in common with the lights of 42nd Street, and the new Eleven Times Square, with its relatively rectilinear offices atop layers of scrolling screens, has nothing in common with the Port Authority, which has spawned a brand-name, low-price hotel district just to its south, where McSam and the Lam Group have squeezed shiny buildings onto narrow tenement lots. And that’s only one clash of cultures between the titans in this so-called neighborhood.

5/8/6: The New Midtown West takes shape, as the Orion, 11 Times Square, and the hotels at 337-343 West 39th Street rise along 8th Avenue. (Numbers refer to the development map above)

One can still happen upon charming, low-rise residential streets like West 44th, properly known as Hell’s Kitchen, where the Actors Studio keeps company with home store Domus, and the new construction is the modestly scaled, rather elegant Chatham 44. Another pocket of old-fashioned residential exists south of the Farley Post Office on West 30th Street. These streets are anomalies amid the transportation no-man’s-land imposed by railroad tracks, tunnel ramps, and bus station access.

Today they are the last holdouts in an above-ground landscape rapidly undergoing transformation, as the march of luxury residential towers like River Place, Atelier, and now Silver Towers heads across 42nd to the river, buffered by huge commercial assemblages from Extell and Moinian opposite the Javits Center. At least, that was the plan until last fall. Now action has all but halted and will likely remain that way until the No. 7 train extension to 34th Street is more than its current hole in the ground.


4: Silver Towers
 

The city’s vision for the area, embodied in the 2005 Hudson Yards rezoning text, centers on a brand-new Park Avenue called Hudson Boulevard, which slices the long blocks between 10th and 11th from 33rd to 39th streets. Originally intended as the pompous lead-up to the West Side Stadium, its new role is to create focus and amenity for a future row of green office buildings on its west side, and residential towers to the east and north.

The first three blocks, 33rd to 36th, are scheduled to open in 2013, when No. 7 riders could exit a Toshiko Mori teardrop-shaped station at the base of the park-slash-boulevard to be designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA). There are two LEED-certified office buildings in development, Extell’s World Product Centre and Moinian’s 3 Hudson Boulevard, that would open at the same time if both financing and tenants appear.

But Anna Hayes Levin, current chair of the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee (HYCAC), doesn’t think the boulevard of skyscrapers could or should happen. “It is a very unlikely place for commercial development,” she said. “Hudson Boulevard is a boulevard to nowhere—it only goes to 39th Street, into the maw of the Lincoln Tunnel. A better way to increase green space in the area would be to build a series of linked parks in the through-block open spaces over the Amtrak train cut. That way you would get a more organic, neighborhoody feeling.”

9/6/3: 505 West 37th Street, the hotels at 337-343 West 39th Street, the Atelier Condos

Right now, construction in the area is all rentals, including a 34-story High Line–adjacent tower at 316 11th by Douglaston Development, and two Rockrose projects at 37th and 10th. Earlier this year 455 West 37th was leased, and the two linked towers on the west side of the street should be ready in spring 2010. “The timing is not great for it,” admitted Rockrose director of planning John McMillan, “but no one else is building, so there will not be much else online when it’s completed. To establish a new neighborhood takes housing.”

11: 316 11th Avenue 
 

They chose this particular intersection because of proximity to the Baryshnikov Arts Center at 37 ARTS and a large loft building on 37th, since those projects “established a residential bulkhead.” A similar bulkhead may be established when the northern section of the High Line opens in 2010, linking Chelsea to Midtown. Community Board 4 is also working to rezone 11th Avenue north of 42nd Street for residential use, extending Hell’s Kitchen west onto a street of auto dealerships.

With zero demand for new office space in Midtown and vacancies at a ten-year high, Moinian director of development Oskar Brecher says his company is in negotiations (and potentially litigation) with the city about starting the small residential portion of their Hudson Boulevard site in advance. Like Brecher, architect-developer Jared Della Valle of Alloy LLC, which owns a mid-block site between 35th and 36th streets, bemoaned the Hudson Yards rezoning for coupling residential and commercial development. “The city has the perspective that this is a 30-year plan, and that it will fill in the way they envisioned it,” said Della Valle. In the meantime, he suggests cultural organizations should come up with interim uses (outdoor movies? Serra sculptures?) for all those fallow lots.

Then there’s the biggest site, the Hudson rail yards. Construction on the eastern yard could start anytime (once Related signs a contract with the MTA), with buildings ready in 2015, but now is clearly not that time. The company has a new plan—released this spring as part of the ULURP review for the site—designed by KPF with MVVA as landscape architect, that has received favorable reviews from the community for putting streets back in the superblock and breaking the open space into smaller, more purposeful parks.

12: 605 West 42nd Street

But what’s a park, even one at the end of the (probably) retained High Line, if it’s shadowed by 50-story towers? Because the floor area ratios for Hudson Yards are being calculated across the entire site, which includes ten acres of open space, the buildings can be much taller than those on a typical city site with a FAR of 10. “It makes sense to have a high-density corridor between 30th and 34th streets, around Penn Station, and then extending west at diminished densities,” said HYCAC’s Levin.

The community advisory group’s other major concern is giving a single developer power over such a large chunk of the city. Regional Planning Association president Robert Yaro expressed the same fear and suggested a solution in a recent interview: If the city wants to be involved in the planning, let them set up an authority like the one that has run Battery Park City. That way, the streets and parks would be owned by the city, which would also have the ability to sell development parcels over time, reacting to the city’s changing needs. Related, instead, has to plan today for what New York buildings might be needed in 2015, 2020, or never.

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Crit: 41 Cooper Square
The largely off-the-shelf exterior cladding system at the new Cooper Union building gives it a muscular look students would do well to study.
Iwan Baan

Like the road to Hell, New York’s Cooper Square has been paved with good intentions. With the nation’s greatest design school, The Cooper Union, as landlord or neighbor, and with the city’s noblest civic structure, (the school’s landmark 1859 Foundation Building as renovated by the inimitable John Hejduk) casting its magnificent shadow, architects faced with nearby sites have visibly tried to raise their game. And have, mostly, failed.


The heart of the building is an intricate stairway meant to encourage mingling.
 
The vertical corridor recalls a partially cored apple.
 
the structural elements gird the central stair to exorbitantly visual effect.
 
All photographs Iwan Baan
 

Rem Koolhaas’ and Herzog & de Meuron’s unbuilt Astor Place hotel collapsed in anxious hype and resistable ugliness. Charles Gwathmey’s glassy residential tower for the same site was met with critical jeers, though its geometrical clarity and quirky elegance will stand the test of time. Carlos Zapata’s nearby hotel slouches toward Miami. Even Smith-Miller + Hawkinson’s local coffee shop, sly and steely, was eventually defaced into a B-list Starbucks. The greatest local modern building remains Rolf Ohlhausen’s 1990 dormitory tower, which through color and profile suggests a belltower to the Foundation Building’s basilica.

Into this fraught setting arrives a new academic building by Los Angeles architect and recent Pritzker Prize–winner Thom Mayne, with New York collaborator Gruzen Samton. The result is a remarkable combination of excess and restraint. It consolidates into a smallish 100-foot-by-180-foot-by-120-foot volume (along the east side of 3rd Avenue at 7th Street), a dense array of labs, classrooms, and studios for Cooper’s schools of Engineering, Humanities, and Arts.

Like a partially cored and peeled apple, it features a dramatic void within (a steep four-story staircase below a narrow five-story atrium, lined by a swoopy glass-fiber-reinforced-composite matrix that’s like a 3D-modeling software mesh come to life), and a semi-detached skin without (a finely-perforated stainless-steel weather screen, masking a standard glass curtain wall behind). As with Mayne’s 2004 Caltrans headquarters in Los Angeles, the decoratively-patterned exterior screen folds expressively, features automated solar shading, and makes the building look bigger than it is.

That screen is one of many ingeniously adapted panel systems and off-the-shelf components deployed throughout this tightly programmed and budgeted building. A sturdy mechanical vocabulary of tread plates, meshes, and brackets ennobles the steel vernacular of laboratory tables, studio stools, and lockers. All this rewards the imagination of those (many of them Cooper graduates) who contemplate entire buildings assembled from the Sweets or McMaster-Carr catalogs, and allowed these highly technical 175,000 square feet to come in at a reported $150 million.

It also results in a legibility that, in this setting, becomes a form of teaching. But while there is a financial economy between the ingenious moves and the expressive ones, the conceptual economy is less clear. It’s unpleasant to recall those precisely calibrated structural or technical details while observing others, such as the massive steel tubes that flail around the central staircase railings, whose effect is exorbitantly visual. This may be precisely the wrong lesson to expose to budding engineers and artists, of all people: that the architectural component of a building is an expressively decorative cloak (like the screen wrapper or the atrium lining) that brushes up against its essential body but is visibly surplus to it.

Noting the artsy (or “architecty”) bits of the building, one can’t help erasing them in one’s mind while retaining the intricate spatial composition and technical élan, and conclude that the result might be stranger and stronger—with some provocative breathing room for the transformations and appropriations that the nation’s brightest art and engineering students will wreak over the semesters. One can imagine a building whose greatest visual effect is to frame and incite the visions and emotions of generations of students, more than to preserve the singular signature moves of any one man or moment.

Nevertheless, the place packs a punch. The what-the-hell casualness of some of the geometries and gestures may prove a tonic to the self-seriousness of local architecture culture and Cooper Square itself. The monolithic affect and formal self-reference evoke the micro-monumentality perfected for academic and public buildings in another era and idiom by the likes of Roche, Pei, and Stubbins.

The willful or thoughtful double-take gags—the folds, gashes, and swoops—visibly insist that someone, somewhere, was trying to do something. Which, by the raised standards of Cooper Square (and especially by the reduced standards of Manhattan, where a perpetual perfect storm of mendacity, provinciality, density, and complexity undermines attempts at architecture worthy of a global capital), is almost heavenly.

A version of this article appeared in AN_07.29.2009.

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GSA Now Hiring
With the prospects for architectural work tilting downward once again, we can imagine you might be uncertain about the future. Not to worry, though, as a friend sends along the message that the GSA is hiring in its New York office, among many others. And best of all, things are looking up at the agency, as you could go to work, at least in some capacity, for the new director of the Design Excellence program, which is getting a much-needed shot in the arm. Best of luck.
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OMA Pixilates Bangkok
It was only a matter of time, perhaps, before Bangkok boasted it was going to erect the tallest tower in the land. And where there’s bravado, there’s often the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). This fall construction is to begin on MahaNakhon, a 77-story, 1.6 million-square-foot tower, designed by OMA partner Ole Scheeren. The hotel plus luxury abodes plus retail is a joint double marriage between developers PACE Development Company and Industrial Buildings Corporation for the residential portion (managed by The Ritz-Carlton), with the 150-room hotel spawned by 2008 newlyweds Marriott International and Ian Schrager. The gleaming tower appears strategically gnawed in a spiral, rising from the 7-story retail base to a Sky Bar triplex and affording all kinds of terraces and mid-air living room scenarios. In language very similar to that used to describe the once delirious, now-stalled 23 East 22nd tower in Manhattan, the MahaNakhon’s “pixilated and carved presence embraces and connects to the surrounding urban fabric,” according to the official description. Back in New York, Shohei Shigematsu, OMA partner in the US, described the Madison Square tower as avoiding slick angles in favor of “a more pixilated and contemporary look.” Whether either gets built, at least we will know that pixels are the latest unit of conversation when it comes to describing luxury development.

Eavesdrop CA 05
A ROYAL BRUSH-OFF Condé Nast’s Women’s Wear Daily reports that Jeffrey Nemeroff, Architectural Digest's longtime art director, has parted ways with the magazine following a contretemps with editor-in-chief Paige Rense: “Nemeroff, who like much of the magazine’s editorial staff is based in California, is also a painter who recently had a show at the Neuhoff Gallery in New York. In May, New York magazine’s Daily Intel blog reported that Rense had called designers to discourage them from attending Nemeroff’s opening and celebratory dinner. Rense told New York’s Steve Fishman that designers believed Architectural Digest was directly involved and felt pressured to purchase a painting. She also said she had been ‘blindsided’ by the event, though the gallery owner was quoted saying Rense had given the show her blessing months earlier.” Nemeroff is not talking, but others are. A couple of designers told Eavesdrop that “pressure” flows in both directions. They said that Rense “encourages” the inclusion of renowned color-field painter Kenneth Noland’s work in photo shoots for the magazine, and his work has appeared on at least one cover. (Noland is her husband.) Double-standard alert! LEARNING ANNEX It’s not just the air-conditioners whining: We’ve heard complaints from a few vendors at this year’s AIA convention in San Francisco that the Moscone Center’s pro-union loyalty got a little out of hand. Apparently some booth installations were too complex for local contractors, but since the convention center insists on union work, companies had to hire union workers to stand around and watch as their builders put the displays up. Costs were doubled, and it all looked a little farcical. Maybe union dues should include a CNC-milling social. THE COMPANY HE KEEPS Paul Goldberger’s newest self-help book, Why Architecture Matters (Yale University Press) imparts lots of wisdom to architecture aficionados and its anecdotage is gleaned from a wide range of sources, some quite arcane. (Has Trystan Edwards’s Good and Bad Manners in Architecture from 1924 time really come?) In fact, Goldberger’s very title belongs to a 2003 book by Chicago architecture critic Blair Kamin, who is however one of the very few from a new generation of talented architecture writers, along with Christopher Hawthorne, singled out for acknowledgment. Send tips, gossip, and galley proofs to Eavesdrop@archpaper.com. A version of this article appeared in AN 05_07.15.2009 CA.
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An Urban Place to Park the Kids
Architect and writer Brian Newman recently took a walk through St. Louis' newest urban park and sent this dispatch. Before setting foot in St. Louis’ downtown City Garden, which officially opened to the public last week, before you come across the bright red Keith Herring totem or Tom Otterness’ bulbous bronze Gepetto, even before you see its verdant paths and shaded lawns, you see the packs of happily damp children, wrapped in beach towels. There are children everywhere in City Garden, swimming in fountains and splashing under limestone framed waterfalls, playing in front of a huge interactive LED video wall and climbing on any one of the almost two dozen sculptures installed throughout the park. The City Garden brings to downtown not only an entirely new, and enthusiastic, demographic, but a new formal and aesthetic framework. This isn’t to suggest that before the ribbon was cut and the crowds began exploring the grounds that downtown St. Louis didn’t have green space and sculpture. But the sum of these existing parts seldom congealed into much. City Garden changes that. Its 2.9 acres offer meandering gravel paths, hills, outlooks, multi-tiered water features, and enough trees to shade a visitor’s stroll virtually from edge to edge. Designed by Charlottesville, VA landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz, and financed locally by the Gateway Foundation, the $25 million park is divided into three distinct latitudinal bands, each taking cues from regional geographic and geological precedents. The Northern River Bluffs band features a chain of terraces topped by an airy grove of willow oak, honey locust, and serviceberry trees, a shallow wading pool and an adjacent glass pavilion which houses the Terrace View restaurant. An arching limestone wall defines the Middle Flood Plain band, and runs nearly the two-block length of the park. A narrow water basin framed by black granite tile is punctuated by a cascading waterfall at the eastern its end waterfall. Across the park’s central axis, a plaza features 102 in-ground water jets, each of which plays a role in multicolor- and time-coordinated choreography, and is the real epicenter of children’s play. The Southern River Terrace band separates the City Garden from Market Street and offers an unbroken stretch of Ginkgo trees and an 1,100 foot long granite seat wall that gracefully wends its way across the length of the park. Where the wall bends, small gardens of wildflowers and native grasses appear, providing some relatively secluded seating for visitors who may not be so inclined to explore the park’s many water features. Sculpture by renowned artists, including Mark di Suvero, Tony Smith, Aristide Maillol and Jim Dine, is liberally installed throughout each of the bands and operate like a series of magnetic poles, pulling the visitor deeper into the park. Downtown St. Louis has no version of New York’s Broadway to bisect its city blocks at oblique and irregular intervals, producing much needed relief from a relentless street grid. With the opening of City Garden, downtown has found a respite from the strictly orthogonal, an opportunity to take a step away from the rigorous logic of the existing city layout. Its shapes and gestures seem to relate less to the monolithic steel structures directly across the street than to the robust organic forms of Sullivan’s nearby Wainwright Building and the lavishly ornamented City Hall from the late 19th century. While its forms may be suggestive of a particular era of the past, the attention paid to sustainable planting strategies and responsible material use speaks clearly to our contemporary concerns. City Garden undoubtedly has the capacity to spur economic growth in its immediate vicinity and, perhaps more importantly, it also has the potential to change perceptions about its urban home.

Times Square Time Lapse
My In Detail piece in the current issue is about Eleven Times Square, a speculative office tower at the corner of 8th Ave. and 42nd St., which was designed by FXFowle and is now in the final stages of construction. Lucky for you and me, Plaza Construction had the site photographed everyday for the past two years or so from the same vantage on a nearby tower, and has compiled these daily progress photos in the above stop-action video. There is much to admire in the presentation, but pay close attention to the erection of the structural elements. (Hint: The Tootsie Roll center of the Tootsie Pop goes up first.) Like at least half of all tall buildings constructed in New York City in the post-9/11 era, this is a composite structure of a concrete core with steel-framed bays. But this is the first of those buildings in which the erection of the concrete preceded that of the steel. As is the case with vampires and werewolves, the steel and concrete trades in this city do not mix, due in part to long-held grudges. My information tells me that, in the erection of previous composite structures, ironworkers refused to work beneath the less-schooled concrete laborers because they feared being hit by fumbled debris. So does the erection of Eleven mark an historic accord between the warring unions? Or is Plaza simply the Talleyrand of construction management, capable of smoothing the ruffled feathers of even the most angry birds?
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In Detail: Eleven Times Square
The north and south faces of Eleven Times Square were treated distinctly to respond to their unique contexts.
All images courtesy FXFowle

All architecture, to a certain extent, is a response to the demands of external forces and interior programming. Eleven Times Square, however, a new speculative office tower designed by FXFowle now nearing completion on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, goes further than most structures in deferring to its surroundings while catering to the needs of tenants. In the process, the skyscraper has moved beyond even its most environmentally friendly contemporaries—the New York Times Building, Hearst Tower, and One Bryant Park—to set a new standard for tall building design.

The tower’s sensitivity to the streets and structures around it is immediately apparent upon visiting Times Square. Though it stands 40 stories tall and encompasses 1.1 million square feet, the tower is far from imposing. In fact, it’s hardly noticeable. This is because at the northwest corner, after the sixth floor, the building steps back significantly. Higher up the elevation, it cants out again to regain floor space, creating a skewed profile, but the gesture is highly effective.

The south face echoes the massing of Piano’s Times Building next door, and features a solar shading system and highly reflective glass.
 
The north face pulls back after the podium to preserve views from the street, then cants out to regain floor space.
 
Approaching from the west, the neighboring Empire Theater remains in plain sight, as does the Candler Building with its Coke bottle– green windows. The same is true of the opposite approach: Pedestrians can continue to appreciate the view of Raymond Hood’s art-deco masterpiece, the McGraw-Hill Building. These historic structures, so important to the character of the district, would have been obscured if Eleven had jutted straight up into the sky.

Eleven’s highrise neighbors to the north and south also influenced its form. The podium and setback tower motif echoes Arquitectonica’s Westin Hotel across 42nd Street, creating an open gateway to Times Square from the west. Meanwhile, the massing of the building’s south face mirrors Renzo Piano’s Times Building across 41st Street, with its cutout corners, sheer verticality, and horizontal detailing.

Following these disparate design cues created two different aesthetics and, for each, a distinctly defined side to the building. FXFowle harnessed this dynamic to create what might be New York City’s only solar-oriented skyscraper—a factor that added points to the project’s target LEED Gold rating. The south portion of the building features perforated aluminum sunshades—a nod to Piano’s exterior shading system across the street—and the glass is more reflective than in the north portion, which was outfitted with fritting at the upper regions of the vision panels.

Overall, the curtain wall is extremely performative. It is structurally glazed, meaning that there are no exterior mullion caps, which can create heat transfer points. The insulated panels are filled with argon gas rather than a vacuum, further adding to their insulation value.

In addition, stainless-steel spacers were used between the lites at the edges of the panels, where curtain walls lose most of their heat, rather than aluminum, which is one of the best conductors available. Altogether, Eleven’s envelope boasts a U value—or rate of non-solar heat loss—of approximately .28, making it more efficient than the curtain wall at 7 World Trade Center, a previous touchstone for highly insulated glass walls.

While allowing the context to mold their building, the architects did not give short shrift to Eleven’s unnamed future tenants. This meant maximizing flexible floor space, access to daylight, and views. The site itself is L-shaped, an awkward template for a skyscraper, but FXFowle again used the two-faced nature of the building to their benefit.

Like nearly all New York City office buildings in the post-9/11 era, Eleven has a composite structure of a concrete core and steel-framed bays, marrying the security of the former’s rigidity and fire resistance to the versatility inherent in the latter’s long-span capabilities. The architects couched the core in the crook of the L, keeping the street faces open and dividing the north and south sides into distinct spaces, each large enough to accommodate disparate programming.

FXFowle located the core at the crook of the L-shaped Building, opening up the street faces for wide bays and an open plan. The rotation of the north face provides more ample views of the nearby Hudson River.

Eleven’s plan also turned out to be a boon for views of the city. The cutouts made on the south face created a kind of bay window, adding to the panoramas and daylight available to tenants—factors that earned more points in the LEED tally. The north side, however, is even more of a view machine.

FXFowle rotated the canted portion of the building, a volume known as the crystal, by several degrees to the west so that the north-facing windows did not look out directly onto the Westin, but instead opened up dramatically to nearly unobstructed vistas—at least on the upper floors—of the Hudson River and New Jersey. The crystal also features perimeter columns pulled back from the facade, creating cantilevers of as much as 15 feet ending in unbroken expanses of glass.

The architects were also able to avoid placing columns in the building’s many corners, a consideration that will no doubt add to the allure of these locations for offices, while at the same time perhaps opening them up to more than just the upper echelon of the corporate chain.