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

Editorial: Public Transit In Every Pot

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

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

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

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

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

Architect-In-Chief
As Alissa helpfully pointed out yesterday, our dear president-elect (we like to call him 'Bam around the New York office) wanted to be an architect. A little nimble Googling on our part turned up the speech where he says as much. What's even better, though, is that he hasn't forgotten those early dreams. I said as much in an article earlier this year, that looked at the architecture and planning policies of the three remaining candidates at the time--Clinton, McCain, and Obama. To wit:
If there were one, Barack Obama could be called the candidate of infrastructure; at least in much the same way he is called the candidate of hope, given his frequent invocation of infrastructure issues on the stump, much of which was tied to Katrina and directed toward his African-American base but has shifted in recent months to a wider focus on the economy and job creation. To that end, Obama has proposed an Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, which he unveiled in February. The bank would start with $60 billion from federal coffers—skimmed off shrunken Iraq expenditures—that would be leveraged through public-private partnerships to create $500 billion in infrastructural investment. That money would go to strengthening the “core” infrastructure of roads, airports, dams, and the like; high-speed rail; traffic mitigation and transit-oriented development; clean, domestic energy production and research; and rebuilding and improving the Gulf Coast and river-borne transportation
And you may recall, we've also pegged him as pro-transit. Planetizen has a thoughtful look at his planning policies, as well. Heck, even Fox News calls him the first green president. He's not the only one, either. Recent Democratic hopefuls Clinton and Gore got in on the act, too, she stumping for the USGBC's green school initiative and he writing two major op-eds on "green capitalism." Maybe Ralph Nader wasn't the end of the Green Party after all.

What Recession?

Consumers may be relieved that energy prices have fallen in step with the wider markets, but cheap oil has many environmentalists worried that the hard fought gains of the recent “green revolution” could be wiped out. As companies and consumers alike feel the pinch, there have been reports that hybrid cars and LEED ratings could become luxuries we can no longer afford. Fortunately for architects, many in the building industry seem to be drawing the opposite conclusion.

“So far, we haven’t seen any slowdown,” said Michelle Moore, senior vice president for policy and public affairs at the U.S. Green Building Council. “Our green buildings numbers are really strong, our membership numbers remain strong. In fact, we’re at record levels across the board, from registrations and certifications of projects to the number of people taking the LEED AP test. They’re all way up.”

The council is not the only one continuing to see growth in the face of a cooling construction market. In interviews with a number of architecture, development, and construction principals, the story was the same: There is no turning back. In fact, sustainability might be the industry’s salvation.

“Just because the credit is hard to find, you’re not going to build a bad building,” developer Douglas Durst said. “You’re not going to leave out an efficient HVAC system or a co-gen elevator. You’re still going to build that in because that is now what the market demands.”

As the man who was a driving force in bringing sustainable design to the city’s office market at 4 Times Square, Durst should know. He said that in this day and age, all the top tenants demand green projects, a fact the banks know, making financing such projects easier, not harder. With credit so difficult to come by, a few sustainable features or a LEED application may be the deciding factors on that eight-figure loan.

The same is true of housing, especially mixed-income and affordable housing projects. Jonathan Rose, president of the Jonathan Rose Companies, one of the city’s largest affordable housing developers, said that many financiers not only favor sustainable projects but often award more money to them, such as James Rouse’s Enterprise Community Partners. He also pointed to the special tax credits that are available. Rose said that because publicly funded housing is less susceptible to market swings, it will see continued investment, which translates to continued green growth.

Besides falling demand, the other complaint about green design is that it costs more, at least up front, an intolerable burden during a downturn. But just as demand has risen in recent years, so have costs fallen. “Green is still a good play, even in this market, because we have gotten the so-called cost burdens down to one or two percent, which is negligible,” said Michael Dean, chief sustainability officer at Turner Construction. Bruce Fowle, principal at FXFowle, said that a slowdown can give architects the time they need to devise new, cheaper, and smarter sustainable solutions that do not raise costs.

The one area where there could be some decline is on the bleeding edge of the industry, where cost still drives innovation. “You might not see as many photovoltaics or integrated wind turbines or other bells and whistles,” Durst said, “but that doesn’t mean the projects will be any less green.” He predicted any lag in technical development would last no longer than the recession itself, and might subside sooner.

One area where such high-level design could see a boost is from Washington. President-elect Barack Obama trumpeted “green collar” jobs on the campaign trail as a way to revive the country’s moribund industrial sector, a commitment that could feed into more R&D for sustainable building technology and construction methods. “You can’t outsource this stuff,” Dean said.

In many respects, the Feds have fallen behind state and local governments, which have begun to find creative ways to require projects, and particularly those drawing public money, to go green. New York, California, and Washington are among a number of states requiring all government buildings to achieve some level of green certification, usually LEED Silver.

New York City now makes the same requirement of any cultural institution using more than $2 million in city funds. Schools have also taken up the banner because of the desire to provide healthy environments for children.

Lately, the U.S. Green Building Council has put its weight behind rehabilitation work, something it sees as especially viable during a recession. “This is an incredible opportunity for the industry to turn its focus to existing buildings,” she said. “In any given year, new construction makes up only 10 percent of the overall building stock. But now, there will be fewer people building but just as many people wanting sustainable living or working environments. We hope architects will respond accordingly.”

As they should, Rose said, since sustainable work can help insulate companies from future downturns. He cited the Vance Building, a green office renovation his firm undertook in Seattle, which raised its occupancy rate from 68 to 96 percent, even with a significant rent increase.

Between traditional and sustainable work, architects involved with both said that those projects boasting green features seemed to be doing better at the moment, too. George Miller, president-elect for the AIA, said he had heard as much from a number of his colleagues; it is also the case at his firm Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, where nearly every project has some sustainable feature. “Everyone’s looking for it, and they will continue to do so, no matter what,” he said.

And deep down, the name says it all. “One hopes this isn’t a movement tied to boom and bust cycles,” said Colin Cathcart of Kiss+Cathcart, Architects. “One hopes that sustainability actually promotes sustainability.”

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Fair Trade
The rebuilt High School of Art and Design will sit within SOM's one-million-square-foot, mixed-use complex.
Courtesy SOM

Even in flush times, the New York City public school system has capital needs that far outstrip its budgets, and so for several years now, the School Construction Authority has been looking at its biggest asset: the 1.5 acres of land under the schools themselves. At 250 East 57th Street, on a site that used to hold P.S. 59 and the venerable High School of Art and Design, work has begun on the first phase of a one-million-square-foot complex that will house the rebuilt schools, as well as housing and retail. Roger Duffy, the lead architect at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, explained the logic of the idea: “A lot of school sites in New York remain underdeveloped in terms of FAR (floor-area ratio).”

In exchange for the right to create a lucrative mixed-use development on the block-through parcel, developer World Wide Holdings negotiated a deal with the State Board of Education to rebuild and enlarge both schools on the site. In addition to lease payments, a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Tax) scheme will contribute additional funds to other education programs across the city.

Construction will occur in two phases, with the retail levels and a significantly enlarged P.S. 59 emerging first. A 59-story residential tower and new High School of Art and Design will follow in an estimated four years.

One of the more appealing features of the design is the large Astroturf play area on top of the building’s retail plinth. There are six outdoor terraces, each catering to a different age group—which are unusually generous outdoor provisions for a public school in Manhattan. The second phase will see the rise of a concertina-like 59-story glazed tower, housing 320 apartments and condos; 20 percent of the units will be affordable, with another 30 affordable units built off-site.

This type of partnership has been growing more common in recent years and is not without its critics, but in a time of chronic budget shortfalls, Duffy sees it as an avenue worth exploring. “The involvement of private developers needs to be composed in an intelligent way to create leverage [for the school system],” he said. “But there is also a need to bring the public and private sectors together.”


The project's first phase will include an enlarged P.S. 59.
All images courtesy SOM

 

Generous outdoor terraces are designed to serve different age groups of students.
 
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Times Square Shuffle
Emile Wamsteker

Times Square’s new TKTS booth, which officially opened on October 17 in Duffy Square, is an object lesson in how things get done in New York. The new structure replaces a rickety affair of canvas and metal rods put up in 1973 that was supposed to fold up in a few months; it overstayed its welcome by more than thirty years.

Eight years ago, the Van Alen Institute sponsored a competition to design a new booth, and the winner was the Australian firm of Choi Ropiha. As so often in New York, out-of-towners were responsible for the basic concept, yet the actual design was farmed out to Nicolas Leahy of Perkins Eastman, the well-known local firm, who worked with engineers Dewhurst Macfarlane.

Also as usual, the architects had to serve different and competing masters: the Times Square Alliance, the Theatre Development Fund, the Coalition for Father Duffy, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Due to difficulties in engineering the red glass that serves as seating atop the project’s relatively modest structure, what was supposed to be a six-month job extended to nearly three years, and, at $19 million, came in nine times over budget.

The design of the structure and its surrounding space is a partial success. The booth, which houses the ticket counters and is encased in glass, vaguely recalls naval architecture. It is an elegant invocation of the machine aesthetic, even if, at this point, the truculent honesty of exposing a building’s mechanical core has become almost a cliché. But at night, when its roof of bright red steps (which can seat as many as 1,500) is illuminated from below, such quibbles seem trivial.

The square itself is less successful. Two crooked arms, forming continuous granite benches, extend from the ticketing booths into the surrounding space, but they make little structural, utilitarian, or visual sense. Meanwhile, unavoidably, a good part of the plaza is covered in subway grates. Most disconcerting of all, because of the intransigence of the Coalition for Father Duffy (the World War I chaplain for whom the square was named) his statue could not be moved, and now sullenly turns its back on the tourists who, as though by some gravitational attraction, naturally gather at the top of the steps.

What ultimately redeems this project (if redemption were needed) is the urbanistic triumph that it represents. It is not an exaggeration to say that Times Square itself is transformed by this new addition. What used to be a zone through which one only passed has now become a space in which to pause and sit. With all the lights of Times Square buzzing and beeping around you, it feels rather more like Piccadilly Circus than anyone would ever have thought. As you stand at the summit of the steps, you may well believe that, finally, you are seeing the place for the first time.
 


The ticket booths themselves are tucked under the stair ramp (above); Father Duffy's statue is back in place (below).
Emile Wamsteker
 

Editorial: Onward and Upward

It’s hard to believe, but America’s first architectural broadsheet has published its 100th issue. Since our debut on November 10, 2003, our determination to deliver architects the news they need with speed and sophistication has only redoubled, along with our size and our staff. With an eye on the central place that British weeklies such as Building Design hold in the architectural discourse over there, we wanted to address the immediate interests and concerns of practitioners in New York with news that was quick, on-the-spot, and opinionated.

One of the reasons we’ve grown and changed is that the architecture community has also undergone a transformation. In our first 16-page issue, we pointed out that while “barely a day passes that a design-related WTC story does not appear in the local press…little other architecture news is reported in general.” Five years ago, Ground Zero and the politics surrounding it were daily preoccupations for many in the field; we wanted to broaden the conversation. Since then, we’ve covered the dramatic impact of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s neighborhood rezonings, and the struggles over the biggest projects the city has seen in decades, from the Atlantic Yards to Hudson Yards. We looked at the towers that have sprung up on seemingly every available site, and talked to the architects who designed them and the developers who created them. We’ve interviewed icons like Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, and introduced you to tomorrow’s stars.

While the city’s architecture community and its concerns will keep on evolving, we believe this is still true: “This community is not easy to pin down, we recognize. As all other industries clearly understand, a timely, reliable news source can be crucial to business as well as to fostering a healthy sense of community and competition.” Many of you agreed: Readers regularly tell us that AN fills a need that they didn’t know existed. Others tell us that we’ve helped forge a more cohesive and informed community of architects, designers, and urban planners, and that while they subscribe to other magazines and journals, it is ours that they actually read, cover to cover.

Our original intention to create a local news source quickly spread beyond city limits to encompass the entire Northeast. In 2006, we launched in California, and in the next year, we plan to be in the Midwest, too. We want to keep apace in meeting ever-higher expectations from readers and from ourselves. Today, we bring you news about projects, financing, practitioners, ideas—and of course gossip—across several platforms, including an enhanced website and a blog launched in September at the Venice Biennale.

Conversations with our readers have always been a crucial part of our process at AN, and they shape the news we put in every issue. We want your input and look forward to hear ing from you about the paper—its look, its content, its cultural coverage—and how we can better connect with the architectural community. So we hope you will join us in this celebration and in our mission to keep you at the very center of the loop. Over our first 100 issues, we’ve changed and grown along with the architecture community, and we’re looking forward to keeping up with even more!

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Crumbling Concrete
Yesterday, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau served an indictment against a dozen employees of a concrete inspection company, which the DA cited for improperly inspecting at least 102 buildings in the city in recent years. According to the Times' account, Testwell, of Ossinning, New York, was "the city's leading concrete-testing firm." AN picked up a copy of the indictment today, and how right the paper of record is. What is striking is the number and range of projects Testwell touched--or didn't, as the case may be. The Times notes three--the Freedom Tower, new Yankees Stadium, and the Gensler-designed Terminal 5 for Jet Blue--and adds that city officials believe all projects to be safe, though the quality of the concrete may be inferior and thus have a shorter lifespan. But the other 99 projects are not just faceless outer borough in-fill. 7 World Trade Center is there, as are a number of high profile projects, including Norman Foster's Hearst Building, Frank Gehry's Beekman Place tower, Polshek's Brooklyn Museum Expansion, FXFowle's One Bryant Park and 11 Times Square, KPF's Goldman Sachs HQ in Batter Park City, and the new Greek and Roman Gallery's at the Met by Beyer Blinder Belle. (The indictment [we've linked a PDF of the list below] lists the gallery as MoMA, but that can't be right. Not surprisingly, roughly half the projects are nondescript luxury condo projects--10 Barclay, 150 Lafeyette, 801 Amsterdam, Latitude Riverdale--not unlike the majority of construction work in the city during the recent boom. A number of government projects, big and small, local and federal, are listed, including Brooklyn Borough Hall, I.S. 303, Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse, as well as a number of collegiate buildings. Perhaps most unsettling, safe or otherwise, are the infrastructure projects the company worked on, such as the Second Avenue subway, New Rochelle MetroNorth station, and, scariest of all, the deck replacement of the Triborough Bridge. There are a few oddballs, too:the USS Intrepid's refurbished Pier 86, the Pier 90 cruise terminal, the massive Xanadu commercial complex at the Meadowlands. The Testwell 102
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Cutting the Nets?
At Monday's Coney Island charrette kick-off, hosted by the Municipal Art Society, a number of stakeholders from the area gave presentations to the design team to help them form ideas for leading the charrette in a few weeks. (To share your own, visit the imagineconey.com, which just launched today.) One of the presentations was given by Jon Benguiat, the director of planning and development for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who spoke about Asser Levy Park, a small outdoor amphitheater and park across Surf Avenue from the aquarium, which is getting a dramatic $64 million retractable roof courtesy of Grimshaw. (More on that soon, we hope.) As with all these things, there was a Power Point presentation, and as with all Power Point presentations, the whole thing took some time to boot up. In the interim, Benguiat decided to tell the story of how he became Marty's planning direct, during which he let some shocking news about the Atlantic Yards, or at least the fate of the Brooklyn Nets, slide. But first a caveat: We had considered letting this news go on Monday, in light of the off-hand circumstances and the fact that AN is not one for "gotcha journalism." After all, it would not come as a surprise to most people following the project that it is in trouble, what with Forect City's stock plummeting, its credit rating following suit, and, speaking of suit's, DDDB's got picked up by the state appeals court. Granted the IRS ruled in Bruce Ratner's favor on some tax-exempt bonds, but that's got to be small consolation. However, when reports about the possible sale or relocation of the Nets began to circulate the past two days, as Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder has pointed out, we felt it out duty to relay Benguiat's words. Waiting on Monday for the projector to warm up, Benguiat told the crowd that, when Marty got elected, he had served as the previous borough president's director of land use. Asking if Markowitz was looking for one, the beep-to-be said no, but he did need a director of planning. "Without even thinking about it, I said yes," Benguiat said. "Then I spent the whole night fretting, wondering what I'd gotten myself into." Benguiat said his anxiety only grew when he showed up for the first day of work and Markowitz rattled off the list of initiatives he hoped to pursue: the revival of Coney Island, return of pro sports to the borough, realization of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and redevelopment of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. "I won't repeat all the expletives I spewed when I heard this," Benguiat said. "But here we are, nearly all of them complete. I'm not sure if we're going to get the Nets or not. We should have groundbreaking in December, but we'll see." How much Benguiat knows--even Ratner has admitted that the groundbreaking will likely be pushed back due to the lawsuit--is uncertain, but his statement is one of the most dire to come out of the Markowitz administration, which is uniformly unwavering in its support for the project, no matter the legal or financial circumstances. Asked to clarify his comments afterwards, Benguiat declined to comment, instead directing AN to the borough president's press office, which released the following statement from Markowitz:
The current state of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards, and I am confident the project will happen. It will create union jobs and much-needed affordable housing, as well as bring professional sports back to Downtown Brooklyn—becoming just the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right now
Now that the team is in doubt, would the Atlantic Yards project still enjoy the full support of the borough president without one of its foremost reasons for being? Markowitz's office has yet to respond on that front. No word yet from Forest City Ratner, either.

Eavesdrop

ARCHITECTS FOR OBAMA

Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Sharon Johnston were among those scheduled to join Hillary Clinton at “Angelenos Go Green for Obama,” a $500-ticket carbon-neutral fundraiser at steampunk wonderland The Edison on October 4. But Gehry actually gave an even bigger chunk of change to Barack Obama over a year ago, bolstered by additional contributions from his wife Berta. In fact, when it comes to (mostly blue) support from California architects, Gwynne Pugh, Kevin Daly, Barbara Bestor, Frank Escher, Steven Kanner, Rob Quigley, Olivier Touraine, and Anne Fougeron to name a few, are all in the tank with Obama. However, across the board it’s not a resounding “O”: Craig Hartman gave his big bucks to Hillary Clinton, as did Michael Lehrer and Brenda Levin, while Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner both donated to John Edwards’ campaign last year.

TROUBLE ON THE HOME FRONT?

We recently got our grubby hands on a mockup of the new magazine Homefront LA, planning a January debut. It promises to go “beyond architecture, home design and real estate to feature people who have a passion for the everyday luxury of home” in the midst of a mortgage crisis. Homefront LA is the baby of the young JD McRae, who touts himself as a “third generation publisher whose family owns about 45 other publications,” thanks to his grandfather George Sample, a journalist and newspaper owner who died in June of this year. But staff shuffles and logistical issues have already plagued the start-up. Once named on the website as editor-in-chief, former House Beautiful EIC Mark Mayfield balked at the move to LA and opted to stay in New York instead with an editor-at-large title, so the mag tapped Michael Cannell for the top gig. Although Cannell recently left his online editorial director role at Dwell, we hear he, too is going to stay in NY, commuting every few weeks to the Beverly Hilton. We guess writing about “the unique, exciting lifestyle of Angelenos at home” doesn’t require you to be one. At least one of the mostly NY-transplants, executive editor Deborah Schoeneman, lives here, and is best known around town for her salacious gossip industry novel, 4% Famous—sigh, a woman after our own heart! 
 

ECONOMIC BAILOUTS

Things are rough everywhere, so we hear. Not the best time to be putting Craig Ellwood’s famous Daphne House in Hillsborough, California on the market for the first time since it was completed in 1961. The San Mateo county steel-beam and glass construction features a 3,700-square-foot open plan around a central courtyard pool for a cool $3.7 million. Yet, according to realtor Jim Arbeed, a sale is pending … Speaking of San Francisco sales, we have it on good faith that local firm SMWM is about to be acquired. The rumored suitor? Drumroll, please: Perkins+Will.

Send tips, gossip, and earmarks to slubell@archpaper.com.

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A Prospective Landmark or Three
Courtesy Landmarks preservation commission

Talk about a busy day. Following a meeting at the New School yesterday morning, for what many members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission called their hardest decision ever—voting on the demolition of Albert Ledner’s National Maritime Union in favor of a hospital—the commissioners then had to hustle downtown for a full day of work. Fortunately for them, this included the first hearing on the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District and the designation of two considerable landmarks—decidedly happier occasions than overseeing the demise of one of the city’s most unique buildings.

Unlike the highly divided vote on St. Vincent’s, and the divisive hearings that preceded it, all 27 speakers were in favor of designating Prospect Heights. “Brooklyn will breath a sigh of relief if Prospect Heights can be designated,” Christabel Gough, secretary for the Society of the Architecture of the City, said in her testimony, adding that the neighborhood was “due for Manhattanization, if present trends continue, and the city does not act soon.”

Indeed, development, and particularly the Atlantic Yards project to the proposed district’s north, were seen as the primary threats to Prospect Height’s preservation. Some speakers even pointed out that a small section of the neighborhood that falls within the Atlantic Yards footprint had been left out of the proposal. (Asked for comment, a commission spokesperson had not yet responded at the time of this story’s publication.)

With about 870 properties in the district, it would become the second largest in the borough and largest designated in 18 years. In its designation report, the commission lauds the neighborhood for its distinctive, cohesive mix of masonry rowhouses, many rendered in brownstone, that incorporate Neo-Classical, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.

Letitia James, the local council representative, said the neighborhood had been under development pressure for more than a decade, and so it was time for the commission to act. “This area has already suffered from the demolition of historic buildings and out-of-scale construction,” she said. “The loss of more of our past, this fabric of our historic neighborhoods, will be prevented with this historic designation.”

Marty Markowitz, the borough president and Atlantic Yards booster agreed with James, a usual adversary. “The better Prospect Heights does, the better it is for all of Brooklyn,” he declared. Other supporters included the local community board, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Crown Heights North Association, Vanderbilt Avenue Merchants District, Municipal Arts Society, Historic Districts Council, and more than a dozen residents.

The commission also designated two individual landmarks, the St. Stephen’s Church in Murray Hill and the former F.W. Devoe & Company factory in Greenwich Village. The church, completed in 1854 in the Romanesque Revival style by architect James Renwick Jr., is located at 151 East 28th Street and was once the largest Roman Catholic church in the city, boasting 28,000 parishioners. “St. Stephen’s restrained, elegant, design belies the powerful influence its congregation and pastors wielded in the closing decades of the 19th century,” commission chair Robert Tierney said.

Founded in 1754, F.W. Devoe and Company, a producer of oil- and varnish-based paints, built its five-story factory at 110-112 Horatio Street in 1883-1883. “Like so many other factory buildings the commission has designated, the Devoe factory vividly recalls New York City’s industrial past,” Tierney said. Because the number of factory buildings remaining in the Far West Village has dwindled in recent years, the commission was especially interested in preserving this terra cotta gem.