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Tower Crane Topples
A building on 50th Street damaged by the falling crane
Aaron Seward

On the afternoon of Saturday, March 15, at a construction site at 305 East 51st Street, a 22-story-high tower crane came loose from its moorings and fell to the south. The crane’s latticed steel mast collided with the building across the street and sheared in half. The cab, jib, and rest of the mast continued to fall, damaging two other buildings on the way down and completely demolishing a townhouse on 50th Street. As of press time, rescue workers had recovered the bodies of seven people killed in the collapse, including six construction workers, and a tourist from Florida. The collapse is the latest and most serious in a recent string of accidents on high-rise building sites around the city, and has led many to question the enforcement of safety and inspection standards.

According to reports, the crane toppled after workers jumped, or raised the crane and were installing a structural steel collar to attach the mast to the concrete structure. During the installation procedure, the collar fell, smashing into another collar that attached the mast to the 9th floor and disconnecting it. Both collars then fell to the base of the tower and the destabilized crane tipped over. 

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The crane fell from this development at 305 East 51st Street. AARON SEWARD
 

While the findings of the official investigation into the disaster had yet to be released as of press time, attention seemed to be focused on a frayed nylon sling that was still attached to the fallen collar. An industry insider who requested anonymity told AN that the use of nylon slings for this kind of work is poor rigging practice because steel has sharp edges and can easily cut nylon. In fact, Section 31 of the Ironworkers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement, entitled “Safety Provisions,” contains a clause that clearly states that wire rope slings will be used instead of nylon straps. But these workers were not ironworkers, nor was there a master rigger on site supervising the jump, said the source; they were crane operators from Operating Engineers Local 14. The Department of Buildings (DOB) allows anyone who obtains a tower crane rigger’s license to supervise and execute a crane jump and does not require the presence of a professional engineer or a master rigger (a master rigger must be the officer of a company and be able to acquire $10 million in insurance). As a result, said the source, “You get these roving bands of operating engineers getting their buddies together during the weekend and jumping cranes. They don’t have anywhere near the expertise at rigging that ironworkers do. You have to ask yourself, why are they using nylon slings? It’s the first no-no. They shouldn’t even be in the toolbox.” Ironworkers execute all crane jumps on structural steel building projects, but they are rarely used for concrete projects because they are one of the most expensive trades to hire. 

According to the source, another factor that may have attributed to the fall was the crane’s floating foundation. Tower cranes are designed to be freestanding up to, and sometimes above, 200 feet; but they have to have solid concrete foundations in order to absorb lateral loads, which this crane did not have. Most developers are loath to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a temporary foundation for a crane, and so engineers have to rely on tiebacks to the building, which leaves no redundancy if the tiebacks fail. 

The real trouble with the situation is that while the workers involved in the accident were doing things by the book, the book itself has two loopholes that may have led to the catastrophe: The city allows people who are not professional riggers to execute crane jumps, and does not require stand-alone foundations for tower cranes. 

The city will most likely tighten regulations on crane jumps as a result of this accident by requiring that a master rigger and professional engineer be on site during jumps, and perhaps requiring more robust foundations. The regulations were tightened last year after sections of a tower crane fell on a taxi on 3rd Avenue during a jump, that time by requiring that a licensed tower crane rigger be on site during the process. Previously, tower crane riggers only had to be onsite when a crane was put up or taken down. 

In spite of these regulatory shortcomings, New York City’s crane laws are the most stringent in the nation, even more restrictive than those required by federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations. “If you compare the number of cranes in the city with the number of injuries it’s a pretty low percentage,” said the source. “You look in the newspaper in Florida and every day you see cranes tipping over. We don’t have that. But because of our environment, when something goes wrong it goes catastrophically wrong and takes out a building.” 

The DOB’s investigation is looking into the companies involved with the construction site, including Joy Contracting, a New Jersey-based concrete company that held the crane contract and employed the operating engineers involved. The DOB is also investigating Kennelly Development Company of Manhattan, the developer of the property, a residential condominium, and the general contractor, Reliance Construction Group (RCG). Both Kennelly and RCG expressed their sympathy to the victims and said that they are cooperating with government agencies in the investigation. 

AARON SEWARD

 

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Lost City in the Woods



Architect and photographer Christopher Payne is fascinated with the afterlives of buildings. A chronicler of ruins, he has photographed disused factories on the East River, the High Line on the West Side, outmoded transit electrical substations throughout Manhattan, and, for the past few years, shuttered insane asylums and state hospitals across the country. Payne’s latest subject is the buildings and landscape of North Brother, a derelict hospital island in the Bronx under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, far removed from the cycles of development and change that are transforming the city. Evidence of habitation and of the island’s checkered history is literally disappearing into the woods.

In the 1880s, the island was home to a contagious disease hospital and was a model of reform-era hygiene and efficiency, earning the praise of the muckraking journalist Jacob Riis. Among its inhabitants was “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, the cook and notorious source of several outbreaks, who died there in 1938. The island was also the site of one of the nation’s worst nautical disasters, the 1904 downing of the steamship General Slocum, which sank just offshore carrying German immigrants on a holiday outing. Nurses and patients on the island rescued nearly 250 passengers, but more than one thousand people died. The tuberculosis hospital was completed in 1943, but was quickly repurposed to house World War II veterans who were attending college in the city through the GI Bill. By 1952, the island became a treatment facility for juvenile drug addicts before being abandoned altogether in 1964.

Today North Brother has largely slipped from public consciousness. It does not, for example, appear on the MTA Subway map: The place where the 29-acre island would be shows only water. “The city has an uncountable number of histories and events that are lodged, hidden away in some archive or someone’s memory,” said Randall Mason, a professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the island extensively. “But things have a way of coming back; they resurface.” He cites the African Burial Ground as an example. “Places become invisible if they’re not used,” he said. The Parks Department classifies North Brother as a nature preserve. Department representatives visit only a few times a year and the public is prohibited because of safety concerns.

While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne first saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.” On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.” In his photographs, trees sprout from the foundation line of the solitary staff house as layers of brick peel away from the facades. Brightly painted interiors are visible through the shards of glass in the robust-looking art deco tuberculosis hospital.

For the Parks Department, the island’s most important resident is the Black-crowned Night Heron, a rare bird that has slowly been returning to the region since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. North Brother is part of a chain of small islands throughout the region called the “harbor herons complex,” according to Bill Tai, director of natural resources for Parks. The much smaller South Brother Island came into the Parks portfolio this November, when the federal government bought it for $2 million and turned it over to the city. Acknowledging the island’s history and its crumbling architecture, Tai called North Brother “the most interesting of the heron islands.” He added, however, that “maybe its highest and best use is to preserve it for wildlife.” Parks is sympathetic to the island’s history and the concerns of preservationists, and according to Tai, the department is hoping to do a partial restoration of the dock to make it occasionally accessible for small groups, and has secured $500,000 in funding toward that goal. Restoration of one of the smaller buildings as an interpretive center may be possible, but he noted, “We have very reduced budget forecasts, so it’s not a very high priority.”

In this era of public-private partnerships, piecemeal development, and limited public resources, the state of limbo in which the island sits is not altogether uncommon. The scale and significance of its architecture, once accessible by frequent ferry service, is a disquieting reminder that such limitations were not always commonplace. For Payne, abandoned public buildings hold a particular attraction, not just for the romance of their ruin but as vestiges of civic aspirations long since jettisoned.

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A Line in the Water

solow plan
COURTESY MUNICIPAL ART SOCIETY

On February 25, a City Council hearing began the last phase of public review on Sheldon Solow’s eight-building megaplan for the East 30s, and considered the urban conditions within the six-block river view site. However, changes to the waterfront across the FDR Drive from Solow’s project may drive more horse-trading over the project’s specifics.

The hearing, which featured testimony from representatives of the Municipal Art Society and New York Building Congress, raised all the issues on which Solow and the city have already come to terms. These included expanding a public playground from 5,500 to 10,000 square feet, reducing building heights, and shrinking the proposed office building’s overall footprint. Solow has also committed to a 630-seat school, which the city would build by 2012. The 8.7-acre plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, and Richard Meier & Partners looks set to go forward, said Jasper Goldman, who testified for the Municipal Art Society, but unresolved problems remain. As Goldman explained, civic activists worry most about public use of 39th and 40th streets, which Solow’s plan removes from the street grid, and how the project may affect a waterfront park along the East River from 38th Street to the United Nations. “Everybody agrees the open space is well designed and likes the east-west orientation of the buildings, but people were nervous about the idea of it shutting down at 1 a.m. This is such a massive development that the public space should be a real public park.”

In addition, Solow would need to provide easements from his property to city and state agencies to enable a deck over the FDR Drive to the new waterfront park. Solow has endorsed the idea, but stopped short of pledging his money toward the project, which the Campaign for an East Side Waterfront Park projects could cost around $116 million.

Local City Council member Dan Garodnick, who founded the park campaign, has stressed his district’s paucity of open space. He may relent on some issues, like the impact on the skyline of four nearly identical towers, in order to secure funding for deck construction or concessions on opening 39th and 40th streets. At a February 21 announcement laying out the waterfront coalition’s agenda, Garodnick told reporters that he and the developer were “in the midst of discussions about height, density, and open space.” 

These issues should be resolved in negotiations before late March, when the Council will vote on Solow’s plan. Goldman forecasted that an easement will emerge as part of a deal. “What’s less clear is the idea that 39th and 40th streets will be public, and that’s what Council negotiations are for,” he said. “We said the developer should consider a Riverside South model, where open space is mapped as parkland but maintenance is contracted to a private entity.”

To Goldman, a new waterfront park would cap Solow’s development by tethering it to its most famous neighbor. “A waterfront park would create a place to enjoy looking at the UN Secretariat,” he said. But Solow’s flexibility about keeping his development fully accessible may determine how soon that park comes into being. 

ALEC APPELBAUM

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Water Works
Low-lying harbor zones are vulnerable to even modest storm surges. Areas flooded by Category 1 storms are shown in dark green, Category 2 in light green, Category 3 in orange, and Category 4 in red.
COURTESY 2007 LATROBE PRIZE TEAM

One tenth of an inch may just be a splash. But sea level in New York creeps that much higher every year, and worsening climate impacts could make that splash several feet deep by the end of this century, meaning a soggier future for nearly one million of the region’s residents who live within three feet of the spring high-water mark. Factor in worsening storm surges, and today’s 100-year flood zone may well become a 10-year flood zone—wreaking $350 billion in damage to New York City under the severe scenarios the state’s Emergency Management Office is now studying. 

“If you look where major development projects are going in New York, many are located right in harm’s way,” said Klaus Jacob, the outspoken Columbia University expert on sea-level rise, pointing to condos sprouting in Williamsburg or Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, sited at a vulnerable low point near the Hudson River. “That campus will start to look like Venice in a hundred years,” he warned. 

London has its Thames Barrier. Dutch cities are fortified for the 10,000-year storm. But New York? “Coastal cities around the world that intend to be around for the next hundred years have done incredible work,” said Michael Fishman, founder of the consulting practice Urban Answers. “In North America, we have very little to show.” 

That is starting to change as architects, ecologists, and engineers grapple with a hybrid of structure and landscape that is well-suited to the world’s rusting wharves. Some call it aquatecture—a new, blue alternative that is catching up with the green building movement as the next wave of sustainable urban design. “It’s not a building, not a pier, not a boat,” said Fishman, who teaches a waterfront studio at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP). “It’s part water, part wildlife. Major development around the world is going to embrace this adaptation of post-industrial megastructures.” 

In our wet new world, the postapocalyptic attitude is this: Bring it on. “Existing waterfront wetlands are going to be swamped,” said structural engineer Guy Nordenson, who is studying the consequences of sea-level rise with a multidisciplinary team that won the American Institute of Architects’ 2007 Latrobe Prize. They’ve hatched a radical proposal to revamp Upper New York Bay with an archipelago of hundreds of islands that would temper the destructive energy of storm surges. The proposal, which won a $100,000 award and will be refined in the coming months, presents a larger vision of New York Harbor as a focal point for regional development, like St. Mark’s Basin in Venice—a watery Central Park for the coming century. 

Designers in New York and beyond are taking small steps toward Nordenson’s grand aquapolitan vision. A pair of projects from Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism shows how modest interventions in the marine edge can prove paradigm-shifting in their own right. The firm lets flood conditions have their way with a waterfront site at Erie Street Plaza, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the confluence of the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. In the midst of a rough-edged working waterfront, the park contends with lake levels that rise and fall by as much as 6 feet over roughly 20-year cycles. Stoss’ solution was to slice slots into an existing steel bulkhead, allowing high lake levels to inundate a new zone of native grasses and revive a marsh condition long obliterated by industry. 

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At Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, Stoss’ carpet of hillocks (below) fuels the free play of complex ecologies. Rising lake levels nourish a new marsh (above) at Milwaukee’s Erie Street Plaza, by the Boston-based Stoss. 
COURTESY STOSS LANDSCAPE URBANISM

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It also makes a larger public point. “We’re allowing people to engage with this momentary high point of the lake cycle, so that it becomes very much an actor in the experience of that open space,” said principal Chris Reed. A similar strategy informed Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, a 2.5-acre parcel that rests on land that was once salt marsh. Stoss designed zones of red cedar, sand plain, wet meadow, and salt marsh, each of which vies for botanical dominance amid changing climate variables. “We’re building in resilience and flexibility from an ecological standpoint,” Reed said. “No matter how high or low the sea level is, there are places where these individual plant communities can thrive.” 

Showcasing water’s presence in the urban landscape required a complex approach for Margie Ruddick of Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), who has helped lead the design for a one-acre park at Queens Plaza. Working with artist Michael Singer, designers created a permeable paving system that features runnels with weep holes to collect water from paths and open spaces. A rain garden at the base of the Queensboro Bridge captures bridge runoff during storms, directing it to lush plantings. Below grade, a lozenge-shaped subsurface wetland detains water once it has filtered through street-level plantings. But working with water requires updated design chops. WRT and collaborators Marpillero Pollak Architects, who won a 2008 AIA New York chapter design award for the project, note that architects need to embrace a more unruly aesthetic. “A couple of years ago this project would have looked incomprehensible to a lot of architects,” Ruddick said. “There’s a kind of terror of things that don’t look organized and orderly.” 

 
A subsurface wetland forms the heart of WRT’s design for Queens Plaza (above, left); runoff from the Queensboro Bridge feeds a lushly planted rain garden (above, right).
 COURTESY WRT DESIGN / MICHAEL SINGER / MPA


For areas atop a newly graded edge at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates positioned significant plantings to skirt the 100-year-flood zone. 
COURTESY MICHAEL VAN VALKENBURGH ASSOCIATES
 
 

If a Category 4 cyclone hits the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park will be exhibit A of that messiness. But it should still be around. In Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ design for the new public space, the sharp-edged bulkhead is banished in favor of a more natural riparian edge among adaptively reused piers. Careful thought is being given to storm threats, said principal Matthew Urbanski. “We’ve gone to great pains to shape the land in such a way that the significant tree plantings are above the 100-year flood level, so we don’t get salt-water inundation,” he explained. Beyond a calm-water basin that shelters small islands of natural habitat, a stabilized riprap edge protects against wave energy. Upland hills are planted with meadow grasses and canopy trees, while farther inland, freshwater swales capture stormwater from adjacent asphalt before it reaches the river. 

“There’s a general consensus that we have to start working within the natural systems and reinforcing them,” said David Hamilton, principal of Praxis3, which won a recent round of The History Channel’s City of the Future competition with a proposal to liberate Atlanta’s natural streams from 1,900 miles of buried pipes and catchments. Contending with severe drought in the Southeast, Hamilton’s Atlanta-based team, in collaboration with EDAW, BNIM Architects, and environmental engineering firm Metcalf & Eddy, proposed a series of “waterscapes” to restore the natural watershed and spawn piedmont forest instead of sprawl. Existing drainage systems would be converted into aquifers to store ever-scarcer precipitation. The team aims to develop the idea as a model for drought-prone cities, where bureaucrats are perking up their ears. “When you start running out of water, politicians start paying attention in a hurry,” Hamilton said. 

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Breaching New Orleans’ levees would blunt the harm from Mississippi River floods, as in this high-density housing concept from Praxis3. COURTESY PRAXIS3 AND KEAN ARCHITECTS

New Orleans officials might want to consult his firm’s entry for a post-Katrina design competition that rethinks that city’s levee system. Collaborating with architect Lee Kean, Praxis3 proposed breaching floodwalls to create softer berms that ease over a block-size parcel in the Bywater neighborhood. Elevated green space weaves this natural terrain back into the city; a reflecting pool and cistern collect water on site. “The Mississippi River could actually go through its flood stages without doing any damage,” Hamilton said. 

If there’s a bright side to climate change, it may be the opportunity to drag bolder designs out of the closet. “Some of these visionary projects are really legacies of the 1960s and ‘70s,” said architect Lindy Roy, who is studying the impacts of climate change in Africa with her students at Columbia’s GSAPP this semester. “We need to look at things with that kind of breadth. Otherwise, we make the sexy forms, and then all of the environmental stuff gets handed over to sustainability experts and engineers.” 

 
In ARO’s vision of Manhattan now and in 2106 (left and right), melting polar ice caps make for a much soggier city. COURTESY ARCHITECTURE RESEARCH OFFICE
 

In other words, thinking the unthinkable can be an adventure. “Our goal is to make people excited instead of terrified,” said Adam Yarinsky, principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO), who is working with Nordenson’s Latrobe Prize team. ARO’s provocative entry for New York’s City of the Future episode did just that, making a virtue out of Gotham’s waterlogged fate. Envisioning low-lying neighborhoods deep-sixed under some 36 inches of water due to melting polar ice caps, ARO designed an optimistic new city for the year 2106, built of thin, pier-like buildings rising above Manhattan’s flooded downtown streets. Kayakers paddled languidly among ruined storefronts, as verdant public promenades bridged the waters overhead. 

Take that, Rotterdam. When the big one hits, we may not be high and dry. But at least we’ll be floating in style. 

JEFF BYLES IS AN ASSOCIATE EDITOR AT AN.

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Silver Lining for Pei Towers

silver pei silver pei
COURTESY LANDMARKS PRESERVATION COMMISSION 

Cover your ears, Jane Jacobs. On February 12, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously to calendar a public hearing on a Robert Moses–era slum clearance project known as the Silver Towers. The vote is a step toward victory for efforts to save one of New York’s precious postwar landscapes. But neighbors fear this tower-in-the-park could be sorely cramped by New York University (NYU), which is scouring the area for millions of square feet to accommodate planned campus expansion.

With a central courtyard dominated by the 36-foot-high sculpture Portrait of Sylvette, executed from a Picasso design, the Silver Towers are an unusually urbane case of urban renewal. Designed by I. M. Pei & Partners and completed in 1966, three concrete towers sit on a five-and-a-half-acre superblock between Bleecker and Houston streets. NYU acquired the property in 1963 and hired Pei to design two towers to house university faculty and a third tower that is ground-leased to residents of a Mitchell-Lama cooperative housing project. Built of cast-in-place concrete with deeply set windows, the towers pinwheel in plan, shifting on axis to break up what could have been a fortresslike slab into slender shafts that are deferential to the landscape—despite a Houston Street frontage that turns a cold shoulder to Soho.

“In spite of its flaws, there is so much about this design that is thoughtful and sensitive and innovative in a way that too few of its peers were,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which has been pressing for designation since 2003. “In some ways this is the exception that proves the rule.” Admirers cite stylish architecture under budget constraints (all three buildings met city cost-per-square-foot mandates) and particularly welcome designation since an earlier New York project by Pei, Kips Bay Plaza, has been marred by a cinema shoehorned onto the site.

Alas, that fate could befall Silver Towers, where two adjacent buildings (neither Pei-designed) house the Coles Sports and Recreation Center and a Morton Williams supermarket—both of which NYU owns and has considered for development. Preservationists had called for designation of those low-slung structures as “non-contributing” elements, but that seems unlikely, said Berman. Still, he added, “this gives us greater leverage to say to NYU, ‘You must be respectful and restrained in terms of what you do on those sites.’” (Through a spokesperson, the landmarks commission had no further comment.)

The Silver Towers debate unfolds against the university’s Brobdingnagian plans to add 6,000,000 square feet over the next 25 years. At a January 30 open house, NYU released the first concepts from a team led by design firm SMWM with Grimshaw, Toshiko Mori Architect, and Olin Partnership, who must orchestrate a high-stakes urban chess game to allocate new space among NYU’s core campus and outposts elsewhere in the city.

With few parcels left in the West Village, designers have targeted the Silver Towers block and, to the north, the apartment slabs known as Washington Square Village. With their generous open spaces, those blocks could add 2,500,000 square feet above and below grade, inviting scenarios such as razing Washington Square Village and restoring the street grid to that superblock. Near the Silver Towers, concepts include building at the Coles gym and supermarket sites, and even atop Alan Sonfist’s Time Landscape, a quirky miniforest evoking Manhattan’s precolonial flora.

Such audacious ideas have stirred little alarm, perhaps because last month NYU President John Sexton announced a pact with community groups affirming principles such as making development sensitive to building heights and densities. NYU also pledged to relocate displaced public uses nearby. And the university has backed the Silver Towers designation as “consistent with two of the agreed upon planning principles—employing a publicly oriented review process on an NYU project and sustaining the neighborhood’s character.”

With a landmarks hearing expected in the coming months, designers have a delicate task ahead. “The question remains: What is the best way to take advantage of the available square footage on that block in a way that’s respectful of those towers and their potential landmark status?” said Jack Robbins, studio director in SMWM’s New York office, who added that the team is studying options to one of the community’s least-liked scenarios, a tall building at the supermarket site. “I think we all believe there are potentially better solutions in terms of the design and the politics of the community relations,” he said.

That’s good news for Pei’s cooperative tower, where residents overwhelmingly support landmark designation. “We’re going to have to be negotiating with NYU very shortly,” said Paul Rackow, the co-op’s community relations chairperson. “There are alternatives right here on the site. The Coles gym takes up an entire block from Bleecker to Houston. That would be our first suggestion: Build there.” 

JEFF BYLES

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Astor's New Angle

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COURTESY MINSKOFF PROPERTIES 

The spinning cube at Astor Place is about to get upstaged. Fumihiko Maki’s new building for developer Edward Minskoff, a spare diamond of glass and granite, will give the modest steel sculpture a run for its money. Maki’s project will replace the Cooper Union’s Albert Nerken School of Engineering building at 51 Astor, across the street from the school’s landmark 1859 home. It’s a big step for the school: The New York Observer reported that Cooper Union recently updated a 50-year-old agreement with the city to allow for a mixed-use building on the site to help the school capitalize on its prime real estate and continue to maintain free tuition for its 1,000 students. Minskoff signed a 99-year lease on the 51 Astor Place property, and he’s convinced that Maki’s design will draw tenants like moths to a giant, jagged lightbulb. 

“It’s hard to describe in words,” Minskoff said of the design. “It’s like a unique architectural jewel box.” Maki divided the building’s 440,000 square feet across two sections: a 13-story obsidian tower and an 11-story chunk of glass. According to the amended contract with the city, at least 40,000 square feet of the project will be devoted to education. 

Before Maki’s building goes in, of course, the current engineering building—a ho-hum study in beige brick—has to come down. And it will, as soon as the students there have a place to move their PCs and protractors. In 2003, Cooper Union hired Morphosis to design a new, purely educational building for the school. It’s an academic ant farm, a clear box coated in movable metal screens that expose its hallways and atriums to the street. When it’s done within the year, work will start at 51 Astor Place. Minskoff hopes to open the building in 2010. 

WILLIAM BOSTWICK

DOWNTOWN DOWNTURN?

Uncertainty looms as LA projects stall or fail
A fickle economy, rising construction costs, and skittish buyers are just a few of the factors that have slowed the frenzied development in downtown Los Angeles to a crawl. But as two of the area’s largest planned projects—Frank Gehry and the Related Companies’ $3 billion Grand Avenue Project and the $1billion Park Fifth condo towers—failed to break ground as expected during the last few months, and as several smaller projects went under, hushed conversations between architects, developers, and real estate agents persist in the shadows of half-finished skyscrapers: Is downtown’s rally over? “I have the feeling that this is not a good time to be building skyscrapers, in LA or anywhere,” said Peter Slatin of the real estate website TheSlatinReport.com (and AN contributor). “It’s risky to start building into a market that’s starting to decline without knowing how long the decline will last.” According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. condosales were down by about 11 percent in 2007, while residential construction dropped by almost 17 percent. According to most projections the numbers aren’t expected to improve this year. Although materials prepared last year for Grand Avenue (which would include 19- and 48-story towers and a 16-acre park) indicated that Phase I of the scheme was scheduled to begin construction last October, that date has now been pushed to this summer. Karen Diehl, a representative from Related, said that updates are being made to the design documents and, despite reports to the contrary, groundbreaking was never set to happen. “We’ve never set a groundbreaking date and at present it is expected sometime this summer,” she said. According to Diehl, an existing parking structure on the site needs to be stripped of its lead paint first, then will be demolished in “the next few months” so construction can begin. Meanwhile, reports that Related had not yet secured a construction loan spurred rumors that the mixed-use project was short on financing. Groundbreaking for the 76- and 41-story towers of Park Fifth, once scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, has been pushed back to the third quarter. After reported staffing and investor shakeups, spokesperson Stephanie Holbrook now blames bureaucracy. “Park Fifth does not expect to have final entitlements for the project until the end of May,” she said. “Until these formalities are finalized, one would not start construction of a major project.” While the project was also rumored to have major financing issues, Holbrook said that financing is in place to move forward. “Park Fifth was never a brilliantly-conceived project to begin with,” Slatin said of what he thought was the building’s inability to relate to its surrounding neighborhood near Pershing Square. But for Grand Avenue, he thinks the perceived inability to sell its 390 residential units is mostly due to Gehry himself. “They wholeheartedly bought into the idea that good architecture is added value but went with an architect who is not always the greatest fit for residential design,” said Slatin. “You have to find a lot of people who are willing to take that perceived risk for an apartment that’s kind of quirky.” And a slew of projects on the way have endured similar delays or changes. The Parkside Tower, a 35-story mixed-use property downtown, has declared it has “no financing to move forward.” The Mill Street Lofts by Linear City—developer of the successful Toy Factory and Biscuit Company Lofts—is delayed until at least the fall. The Old Union Bank Building and the Blossom Plaza in China Plaza both recently switched from condos to rentals. Last May, the New York hotelier Gansevoort yanked its plans for “Gansevoort West,” leaving its developer, Chetrit Group, without a hotel partner. “The capital and credit markets are extremely challenging right now,” said Jim Atkins, a principal with The South Group, a Portland-based developer that has three residential projects in downtown LA: Elleven, Luma, Evo (still under construction), and South Figueroa (now on hold). “That’s brought investment in new condo projects to a halt. You don’t have to be an expert to know that there’s a lot of instability and that we’re facing losses and problems.” Timing, he noted, is what seems to separate the sturdy from the worried. Those who offered presales and secured financing a year or two ago did so during a robust economy. The slowing means that potential buyers today aren’t as likely to jump at a presale, which further impairs financing for any project with a residential component, said Atkins. For example, the 19-story Luma property had many buyers fall out of escrow before it opened in July. But they were able to resell those units as the property got closer to completion. “Buyers feel that if they buy today, the price might go down tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no incentive to buy six to nine months out anymore.” Their Evo project will be one of 2008’s largest debuts in a market many consider glutted. But Atkins says traffic to their sales office is good—relatively. “There’s still quite a bit of demand,” he said. “But there’s not as much as there was a few years ago.” There is one glimmer of hope. The federal economic stimulus package which recently passed by President Bush will raise the conventional loan limit cap from $417,000 to $625,000, meaning that buyers who usually had to find higher-interest, high-risk“jumbo loans” for amounts over $417,000 can lock in to lower, more stable rates. “From our buyer’s perspective, more of the downtown market is accessible at that price point,” said Atkins.
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Downtown Downturn?
Park Fifth on Pershing Square.
Courtesy KPF


The Numbers

A fickle economy, rising construction costs, and skittish buyers are just a few of the factors that have slowed the frenzied development in downtown Los Angeles to a crawl. But as two of the area’s largest planned projects—Frank Gehry and the Related Companies’ $3 billion Grand Avenue Project and the $1 billion Park Fifth condo towers—failed to break ground as expected during the last few months, and as several smaller projects went under, hushed conversations between architects, developers, and real estate agents persist in the shadows of half-finished skyscrapers: Is downtown’s rally over? 

“I have the feeling that this is not a good time to be building skyscrapers, in LA or anywhere,” said Peter Slatin of the real estate website TheSlatinReport.com (and AN contributor). “It’s risky to start building into a market that’s starting to decline without knowing how long the decline will last.” According to the National Association of Realtors, U.S. condo sales were down by about 11 percent in 2007, while residential construction dropped by almost 17 percent. According to most projections the numbers aren’t expected to improve this year. 

Although materials prepared last year for Grand Avenue (which would include 19- and 48-story towers and a 16-acre park) indicated that Phase I of the scheme was scheduled to begin construction last October, that date has now been pushed to this summer. Karen Diehl, a representative from Related, said that updates are being made to the design documents and, despite reports to the contrary, groundbreaking was never set to happen. “We’ve never set a groundbreaking date and at present it is expected sometime this summer,” she said. According to Diehl, an existing parking structure on the site needs to be stripped of its lead paint first, then will be demolished in “the next few months” so construction can begin. Meanwhile, reports that Related had not yet secured a construction loan spurred rumors that the mixed-use project was short on financing. 

Groundbreaking for the 76- and 41-story towers of Park Fifth, once scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, has been pushed back to the third quarter. After reported staffing and investor shakeups, spokesperson Stephanie Holbrook now blames bureaucracy. “Park Fifth does not expect to have final entitlements for the project until the end of May,” she said. “Until these formalities are finalized, one would not start construction of a major project.” While the project was also rumored to have major financing issues, Holbrook said that financing is in place to move forward. 

“Park Fifth was never a brilliantly-conceived project to begin with,” Slatin said of what he thought was the building’s inability to relate to its surrounding neighborhood near Pershing Square. But for Grand Avenue, he thinks the perceived inability to sell its 390 residential units is mostly due to Gehry himself. “They wholeheartedly bought into the idea that good architecture is added value but went with an architect who is not always the greatest fit for residential design,” said Slatin. “You have to find a lot of people who are willing to take that perceived risk for an apartment that’s kind of quirky.” 

And a slew of projects on the way have endured similar delays or changes. The Parkside Tower, a 35-story mixed-use property downtown, has declared it has “no financing to move forward.” The Mill Street Lofts by Linear City—developer of the successful Toy Factory and Biscuit Company Lofts—is delayed until at least the fall. The Old Union Bank Building and the Blossom Plaza in China Plaza both recently switched from condos to rentals. Last May, the New York hotelier Gansevoort yanked its plans for “Gansevoort West,” leaving its developer, Chetrit Group, without a hotel partner. 

“The capital and credit markets are extremely challenging right now,” said Jim Atkins, a principal with The South Group, a Portland-based developer that has three residential projects in downtown LA: Elleven, Luma, Evo (still under construction), and South Figueroa (now on hold). “That’s brought investment in new condo projects to a halt. You don’t have to be an expert to know that there’s a lot of instability and that we’re facing losses and problems.” 

Timing, he noted, is what seems to separate the sturdy from the worried. Those who offered presales and secured financing a year or two ago did so during a robust economy. The slowing means that potential buyers today aren’t as likely to jump at a presale, which further impairs financing for any project with a residential component, said Atkins. For example, the 19-story Luma property had many buyers fall out of escrow before it opened in July. But they were able to resell those units as the property got closer to completion. 

“Buyers feel that if they buy today, the price might go down tomorrow,” he said. “There’s no incentive to buy six to nine months out anymore.” Their Evo project will be one of 2008’s largest debuts in a market many consider glutted. But Atkins says traffic to their sales office is good—relatively. “There’s still quite a bit of demand,” he said. “But there’s not as much as there was a few years ago.” 

Placeholder Alt Text

Vert En Vertical
Courtesy Atelier Jean Nouvel

On February 8th French architect Jean Nouvel unveiled plans for a 45-story luxury tower in Los Angeles’ Century City, just on its border with Beverly Hills. The building, 10000 Santa Monica Boulevard, is being developed by Irvine-based developer SunCal. 

Nouvel referred to the tower, expected to be submitted for entitlements this week, as the “green blade.” And for good reason. The “blade” will have an extremely thin 50-foot depth, permitting north and south glazing for all of its 177 units. Each unit will also be wrapped outside with plants, resting on projecting podiums, giving the building an organic aesthetic and lending living spaces a combination of light, calm, and privacy, a rare combination for this type of building. Nouvel says his firm is investigating two types of irrigation systems for plants: a hydroponic, soil-less system using mineral-rich nutrient solutions (he may work with artist Patrick Blanc, with whom he recently collaborated on a green wall for his Musée du Quai Branly in Paris), or a more conventional soil system. Reflecting the landscapes of Southern California, the north side of the building will be planted with lush greenery and the south side will be planted with desert vegetation. 

“This is the idea of the green city,” explained Nouvel, who noted that the building will reflect LA’s context of “beautiful homes surrounded by greenness.” 

The concrete-framed building will sit close to Santa Monica Boulevard to its north, to engage with the street and to leave room for a 40,000-square-foot garden to its south, which is being landscaped by local firm Rios Clementi Hale. That firm recently completed a study for the Century City Chamber of Commerce called “Greening of Century City,” which suggested more green spaces, a better pedestrian experience, and more sustainable projects. Local councilman Jack Weiss pointed out at the press conference that projects like the new tower are aimed at undoing the original scheme for Century City, which focused on offices, cars, and concrete. The developers hope the building will achieve at least a LEED Silver rating. 

This is definitely not affordable housing. Prices have not been determined, said SunCal, but units will range from about 3,400 square feet to 9,500 square feet, and penthouses will have two stories. The building marks SunCal’s first foray into urban infill. The developer is known mostly for its gated communities and sprawling suburban developments throughout the state. 

“We’ve decided to get in the urban business,” explained Frank Faye, SunCal’s chief operating officer. 

Nouvel’s commission comes shortly after his unveiling of a new 75-story residential tower in Manhattan, adjacent to the Museum of Modern Art. That building’s exposed structure, intricate patterning, and varied morphology makes it one of the most promising new buildings in New York. 

This will be Nouvel’s first project in Los Angeles. The executive architect will be local firm House & Robertson Architects, which has worked in a similar role on projects with OMA, Allied Works, Koning Eizenberg, and Philippe Starck. French architect Olivier Touraine, of Venice-based Touraine Richmond Architects, is also working with Nouvel on the tower. Once the project is approved, construction is estimated to take 37 to 40 months, said SunCal. 


Jean Nouvel

Jean Nouvel  10000 Santa Monica Boulevard

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You're the Tops

 General Contractor


Michaels Residence, Tolkin Architecture, Winters-Schram Associates 
PETER MAUSS/ESTO


One Window House, Touraine Richmond Architects, Brown Osvaldsson Builders
BENNY CHAN / FOTOWORKS 


Brown Osvaldsson Builders really listen to what we are trying to do. They understand it, and come in with solutions and original ways to deal with problems.They are really respectful of the design and try to match the architectural expectations.”
Olivier Tourraine 
Touraine Richmond ARchitects


“Robert Vairo of Vairo Construction is like a saint. On Skid Row, he’s seen like an angel.”
Michael Lehrer
Lehrer Architects
 



JFR House, Fougeron Architecture, Thomas George Construction 

BBI Construction
1155 Third St., Oakland, CA; 
510-286-8200
www.bbiconstruction.com

Bernard Brothers
1402 W. Fern Dr.,
Fullerton, CA; 
714-671-0465

Brown Osvaldsson Builders
1333 Pine St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-392-8899
www.bob-inc.com

Bonomo Development
1523 Linda Ct., 
Simi Valley, CA;
805-407-0578

CW Driver
468 North Rosemead Blvd., 
Pasadena, CA;
626-351-8800
www.cwdriver.com

Hawkins Construction
4177 Yale Ave., 
La Mesa, CA ; 
619-463-1222

Matarozzi/Pelsinger
1060 Capp St., 
San Francisco; 
415-285-6930
www.matpelbuilders.com

Matt Construction
9814 Norwalk Blvd.,
Santa Fe Springs, CA; 
562-903-2277
www.mattconstruction.com

McCarthy
20401 S. W. Birch St.,
Newport Beach, CA; 
949-851-8383 
www.mccarthy.com

Roman Janczak Construction
942 South Harlan Ave., 
Compton, CA;
310-637-8765

Shaw & Sons Construction
829 W. 17th St.,
Costa Mesa, CA; 
949-642-0660

Thomas George Construction
8716 Carmel Valley Rd., 
Carmel, CA;
831-624-7315

Thompson Suskind
415-699-5274
www.thompsonsuskind.com

Vairo Construction
1913 Balboa Blvd., 
Newport Beach, CA; 
949-673-2010

Winters-Schram Associates
11777 Miss Ave., 
Los Angeles; 
310-473-8490

Young & Burton
345 Hartz Ave., 
Danville, CA; 
925-820-4953
www.youngandburton.com 

Engineers


Cancer Center at UMC North, CO ARchitects, John A. Martin


Lou Ruvo Alzheimer’s Institute, Gehry Partners, WSP Cantor Seinuk


Gilsanz Murray Steficek are really flexible, and react quickly. We called them the day before yesterday about a project detail and they were able to turn it around in a day. It’s a small detail, but with other firms it could take much longer.”
Paul Zajfen 
CO Architects


IBE are mechanical engineers who have the same sort of sensibilities as architects. They’re very concerned about sustainability and look at engineering from a global perspective; problem-solving at a large-scale level. And they’re very interested in exploring new ideas.”
Paul Zajfen 
CO Architects


“With principal Mike Ishler, you can really have a collaborative design experience. If you want to push your design technologically and structurally, he’s your guy.”
Barbara Bestor
Barbara Bestor Architecture

Arup
12777 West Jefferson Blvd., 
Los Angeles;
310-578-4182
www.arup.com

Buro Happold
9601 Jefferson Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
310-945-4800

WSP Cantor Seinuk
5301 Beethoven St.,
Los Angeles;
310-578-0500
www.cantorseinuk.com

Davidovich & Associates
6059 Bristol Pkwy.,
Culver City, CA;
310-348-5101
www.davidovich.com

DeSimone Consulting Engineers
160 Sansome St., 
San Francisco; 
415-398-5740
www.de-simone.com

Dewhurst MacFarlane
2404 Wilshire Blvd.,
Los Angeles;
323-788-7038
www.dewmac.com

Flack+Kurtz
405 Howard St.,
San Francisco;
415-398-3833
www.flackandkurtz.com

GMS 
(Gilsanz Murray Steficek)

29 West 27th St.,
New York, NY; 
212-254-0030
www.gmsllp.com

IBE
14130 Riverside Dr., 
Sherman Oaks, CA; 
818-377-8220
www.ibece.com

John Labib & Associates
900 Wilshire Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-239-9600
www.labibse.com

John A. Martin
950 South Grand Ave., 
Los Angeles; 
213-483-6490
www.johnmartin.com

Gordon L. Polon 
Consulting Engineers 
310-998-5611

Thornton Tomassetti
6151 W. Century Blvd.,
Los Angeles; 
310-665-0010
www.thorntontomasetti.com

Christian T. Williamson Engineers
3400 Airport Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-482-3909

Yu Strandberg Engineering
155 Filbert St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-763-0475
www.yusengineering.com

Civil/Environmental Consultants
Atelier Ten
19 Perseverance Works, 
38 Kingsland Rd., 
London; 
+44 (0) 20 7749 5950
www.atelierten.com

Cosentini Associates
Two Penn Plaza, New York;
212-615-3600
www.consentini.com

Converse Consultants
222 E. Huntington Dr., 
Monrovia, CA;
626-930-1200
www.converseconsultants.com

Transolar
145 Hudson St., New York; 
212-219-2255
www.transsolar.com

Zinner Consultants
528 21st Pl., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-319-1131
www.zinnerconsultants.com 

Lighting 


BENNY CHAN / FOTOWORKS

"Plug Lighting has a great selection, a high level of professionalism, and they have lights that work with our work. That’s important to me because it’s very difficult to find good lighting.”
Lorcan O’Herlihy
LOHA

 

Designers
Dodt-plc
2027 Oakdale Ave., 
San Francisco;
415-821-6307

Fox and Fox
134 Main St., 
Seal Beach, CA;
562-799-8488

Horton Lees Brogden
8580 Washington Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
310-837-0929
www.hlblighting.com

KGM Lighting
10351 Santa Monica Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
310-552-2191
www.kgmlighting.com

Lightvision
1213 South Ogden Dr.,
Los Angeles;
323-932-0700
www.lightvision.net

Lam Partners 
84 Sherman St., 
Cambridge, MA; 
617-354-4502
www.lampartners.com

Lighting Design Alliance
1234 East Burnett St., 
Signal Hill, CA; 
562-989-3843 

Vortex Lighting
1510 N. Las Palmas Ave.,
Hollywood; 
323-962-6031
www.vortexlighting.com

Fixtures
Artemide
www.artemide.us

Bega
www.bega-us.com

Flos
www.flos.com

Gardco
www.sitelighting.com

Hess
www.hessamerica.com

Hubbell Lighting
www.hubbelllighting.com

Ivalo
www.ivalolighting.com

Lutron
www.lutron.com

Louis Poulsen
www.louispoulsen.com

Showrooms
City Lights Showroom
1585 Folsom St.,
San Francisco; 
415-863-2020

Plug Lighting
8017 Melrose Ave.,
Los Angeles;
323-653-5635
www.pluglighting.com

Revolver Design
1177 San Pablo Ave., 
Berkeley, CA; 
510-558-4080
www.revolverdesign.com
 

Materials


Felkner Residence, Jennifer Luce, Bendheim Glass


“JU Construction did fantastically good work. They’ll try anything.” “The intimate success of our projects is this idea that there’s a balance between material and texture. The fact that we can have that conversation with Basil Studio and play with that balance together makes the collaboration really strong.” 
Jennifer Luce
Luce et Studio

Deglas’s Heatstop is amazing. It’s twice the R value of insulated glass at half the cost. And it comes in 24-foot-long sheets that you can cut on site.”
Whitney Sander Sander Architects

Benchmark Scenery have a lot of expertise in making very complicated things very quickly.” 
Peter Zellner 
Zellner + Architects





Hyde Park Library Hodgetts + Fung JU Construction


JU Construction did fantastically good work. They’ll try anything.” 
Craig Hodgetts 
Hodgetts & Fung

Glass
Bendheim Glass
3675 Alameda Ave.,
Oakland, CA;
800-900-3499
www.bendheim.com

Giroux Glass
850 West Washington Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-747-7406
www.girouxglass.com

JS Glass
12211 Garvey Ave.,
El Monte, CA;
626-443-2688
www.jsglass.com

Pilkington
500 East Louise Ave.,
Lathrop, CA; 
209-858-5151
www.pilkington.com

Schott
www.schott.com

Supreme Glass
1661 20th St.,
Oakland, CA;
510-625-8995
www.supremeglass.net

Viracon
800 Park Dr.,
Owatonna, MN;
800-533-2080
www.viracon.com

Metal Fabricators
Scott Ange
310-562-3573

Basil Studio
1805 Newton Ave., 
San Diego, CA; 
619-234-2400
www.basilstudio.com

Dennis Leuedman
3420 Helen St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-658-9435

Plastics
3Form
2300 South West, 
Salt Lake City, Utah; 
801-649-2500
www.3-form.com

Gavrieli Plastics 
11733 Sherman Way,
North Hollywood;
818-982-0000 
www.gavrieli.com

Deglas
888-2 DEGLAS

Extech
200 Bridge St., 
Pittsburgh, PA;
800-500-8083
www.extech-voegele.com

Panelite
5835 Adams Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
www.e-panelite.com

Polygal
265 Meridian Ave.,
San Jose, CA; 
408-287-6006
www.polygal.com

Tiles
Daltile Ceramic Tile
www.daltileproducts.com

Flor Carpet and Tile
1343 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
310-451-4191
www.flor.com

SpecCeramics
1021 E. Lacy Ave.,
Anaheim, CA; 
714-808-0139

Stone Source
9500 A Jefferson Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
213-880-1155
www.stonesource.com

Vetter Stone
23894 3rd Ave., 
Mankato, MN;
507-345-4568
www.vetterstone.com

Woodworkers
Benchmark Scenery
1757 Standard Ave.,
Glendale, CA; 
818-507-1351
info@benchmarkscenery.com

Dewey Ambrosino
www.deweya.com

Michael Yglesias
323-712-0645
www.yglesiaswoodwork.com

Jacobs Woodworks
3403 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA; 
619-293-3702

JU Construction
1442 Chico Ave., 
South El Monte, CA; 
626-579-5996

 

Kitchen and Bath 


K2, Norbert Wangen for Boffi
 

Boffi
1344 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-458-9300
www.boffi-la.com

Brizo Faucets
www.brizo.com

Bulthaup
153 South Robertson Blvd.
Los Angeles; 
310-288-3875
www.bulthaup.com

California Kitchens Showroom
2305 W. Alameda Ave., 
Burbank, CA; 
818-841-7222
www.californiakitchens.com

Jack London Kitchen 
and Bath Gallery

2500 Embarcadero St., 
Oakland, CA; 
510-832-2284
www.jlkbg.com 

Dornbracht
16760 Stagg St., 
Van Nuys, CA; 
818-304-7300
www.dornbracht.com

Duravit bathroom furniture and accessories
www.duravit.com

Gaggeneau kitchen appliances
www.gaggenau.com

Grohe bathroom and kitchen fittings
www.grohe.com

Kohler bathroom furniture
www.kohler.com

Miele appliances
www.mieleusa.com

Thermador appliances
www.thermador.com

Vola fixtures
www.vola.dk

Waterworks
www.waterworks.com

Wet Style
16760 Stagg St.,
Van Nuys, CA; 
818-304-7300
www.wetstyle.ca 

Landscape Design 


Lengau Lodge, Dry Design UNDINE PROHL


Bestor House, Barbar Bestor Architects, SB Garden Design 
ANDREW TAKEUCHI 


Stephanie Bartron’s background is sculpture, and I think she brings a more artistic perspective and architectural edge to landscapes.” 
Barbar Bestor 
Barbara Bestor Architecture

Burton Studio
307 South Cedros Ave., 
Solana Beach, CA; 
858-794-7204
www.burton-studio.com

Dirt Studio 
700 Harris St.,
Charlottesville, VA; 
434-295-1336
www.dirtstudio.com

Dry Design
5727 Venice Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
323-954-9084
www.drydesign.com

Elysian Landscapes
2340 W. Third St., 
Los Angeles; 
213-380-3185
www.elysianlandscapes.com

EPT Design
844 East Green St.,
Pasadena, CA; 
626-795-2008
www.eptdesign.com

Mia Lehrer + Associates
3780 Wilshire Blvd., 
Los Angeles; 
213-384-3844
www.mlagreen.com

Nancy Goslee 
Power & Associates
1660 Stanford St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-264-0266
www.nancypower.com

Pamela Burton & Company
1430 Olympic Blvd., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-828-6373
www.pamelaburtonco.com

Spurlock Poirier
2122 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA; 
619-681-0090
www.sp-land.com

SB Garden Design
2801 Clearwater St., 
Los Angeles; 
323-660-1034
www.sbgardendesign.com 

 

Consultants, Services & Suppliers


Mills Center for the Arts, Competition Entry, Pugh + Scarpa, Mike Amaya


Mike Amaya listens to you. He’s not fixated on a certain way of doing things. Hisrenderings have life, but they don’t try to duplicate what reality would be. We’re more interested in capturing the spirit of the place.”
Larry Scarpa
Pugh + Scarpa Architects
 
 

Audio/Visual
A’kustiks
11 North Main St., 
South Norwalk, CT;
203-299-1904
www.akustiks.net

Cost Estimating
Davis Langdon
301 Arizona Ave., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-393-9411
www.davislangdon.com/USA

Expediter
McCarty Company
725 S. Figueroa St.,
Los Angeles; 
213-614-0960

Renderers
Mike Amaya
310-592-6693
www.mikeamaya.com

Robert DeRosa
1549 Columbia Dr., 
Glendale, CA; 
818-243-1357

Tech Support
Ideate
44 Montgomery St., 
San Francisco; 
888-662-7238
www.ideate.com

Microdesk
633 West Fifth St.,
Los Angeles, CA;

Waterproofing
SC Consulting Group 
6 Morgan St., Irvine, CA; 
949-206-9624

Window & Door 
Manufacturer 

Fleetwood Windows & Doors 
395 Smitty Way, 
Corona, CA; 
800-736-7363 
www.fleetwoodusa.com

Goldbrecht Windows
1434 Sixth St., 
Santa Monica, CA; 
310-393-5540
www.goldbrechtusa.com

Metal Window Corporation
501 South Isis Ave., 
Inglewood, CA;
310-665-0490
www.metalwindowcorp.com

Construction Suppliers
Anderson Plywood
4020 Sepulveda Blvd., 
Culver City, CA; 
310-397-8229
www.andersonplywood.com

Beronio Lumber
2525 Marin St., 
San Francisco; 
415-824-4300
www.beronio.com

Cut and Dried Hardwood
241 S. Cedros Ave., 
Solana Beach, CA; 
858-481-0442
www.cutanddriedhardwood.com

Taylor Brothers 
2934 Riverside Dr.,
Los Angeles; 
323-805-0200
www.taybros.com 
 

Placeholder Alt Text

Villa NM Destroyed by Fire

The Villa NM, a stunning hilltop house in the Catskills designed by UNStudio, burnt down on Febraury 5.

Michele Haskell / Courtesy Times Herald-Record

It had been called this generation’s Glass House, a modern marvel of materials, machinery, and magic. But less than a year after its completion, the Villa NM lays shattered in the Catskills, destroyed by a fire on February 5. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Sullivan County Fire Coordinator Richard Martinkovic, who oversaw the rescue effort, said he expects to know more within a week or two.

The house, which sits on a small rise in Sullivan County about 115 miles northeast of New York City, enjoyed expansive views of the verdant, hilly landscape, which the architect Ben van Berkel of UNStudio in Amsterdam embraced in his design. In October, he told AN how this approach influenced the design:

  Integrating the villa fully into its surroundings was a challenging aspect of this project. The house is designed in such a way that it does not dominate its environs, but rather fits seamlessly into its context. The curves in the form follow the sloping landscape, whilst the color of the exterior is based on the surrounding earth. Windows mirror the environment, providing privacy but not limiting views. This means that at times the house can almost disappear into the landscape, then re-emerge from a different viewpoint. Also, through the use of large window elements, and differing levels, the experience inside the villa is one of truly living within this landscape.

Martinkovic said that a number of issues conspired against the house on the night of the fire, beginning with the fact that it was not reported until it was “a glow in the sky.” “It’s not very busy out there,” Martinkovic explained. “It wasn’t like someone smelled some smoke in the house and called us. It’s what we would call a ‘full-working fire.’” The Times Herald-Record, the local newspaper that first reported the blaze, described it as “a roaring, smoky fire with blue and orange flames.”

Martinkovic said other problems confronting first responders were an ice storm that night, which made the house harder to access, and its construction materials, which made it more susceptible to fire. “There wasn’t a lot left for the fire department to save,” he said. Contacted by AN, the owner declined to comment.

As the first U.S. project for UNStudio, the house has received lavish attention in the architectural press, and beyond. Aaron Betsky, director of Cincinnati Art Museum who has also written extensively about the firm, called the loss of the Villa NM a tragedy.

“It was especially innovative in the way it traced the cycles of daily life as it looped through space, like a domesticated version of the turbine twist at their Mercedes Benz headquarters,” Betsky said fondly. “It’s very sad and responded so well to the site like Frank Lloyd Wright crowning the brow of the hill but twisting to take in even more.”

TROUBLED CONTRACTOR STILL SWINGING IN CITY

Little has changed since deadly accident at Trump Soho
Despite complaints for months of an errant crane and other unsafe work conditions at the Trump Soho construction site; despite biweekly inspections by the city’s Department of Buildings; despite a previous tragedy on another of the general contractor’s worksites; despite all these warnings and precautions, it was not until the death of Yuriy Vanchytskyy, a construction worker from Greenpoint who fell 40 stories when a portion of the 42nd floor collapsed on January 12, that Bovis Lend Lease’s crane fell silent on the 46-story project. But they are still at large throughout the city. Construction accidents are nothing new. And though their numbers had fallen in the city in recent years, last year they shot up by 83 percent. Tony Avella, chair of the city council’s zoning and franchise subcommittee and an outspoken critic of the Department of Buildings, sees this as the result of two factors. On the one hand, Avella said, there are so many projects underway that talented contractors are spread thin and hard to come by, and on the other hand, there is such pressure to complete these projects before the market grows worse that the breakneck pace has created an untenably dangerous work environment. “When will this city learn?” he asked. “When will this city learn to put safety before money?” It is not just small projects but major ones as well, including incidents at the New York Times Building, One Bryant Park, and the new Goldman Sachs headquarters in Battery Park City. The city’s Department of Buildings is still trying to determine the exact cause of the collapse at the Trump Soho at the corner of Spring and Varrick streets. If numerous reports are correct— it is still not official that it was the project’s crane carrying a massive concrete hamper that caused the accident—it would not be the first issue with the crane. Since the project began rising in July, there have been complaints to the department at least once a month since September and as recently as January 5, a week before the accident, that the crane was erratic, either hitting nearby buildings or dropping debris. At least eight previous violations had been filed concerning the crane by the department, though it was allowed to continue “once the contractor [had] a preventative plan in place,” spokesperson Kate Lindquist explained. Lindquist said they had been placed under increased scrutiny but appeared to be in compliance. “Buildings has been and will continue to step up enforcement at the site,” she said. Despite the department’s redoubled efforts, Lindquist could not explain how the accident happened with inspectors on the watch. Bovis Lend Lease was also the contractor at 130 Liberty Street, the former Deutsche Bank Building that was heavily damaged on 9/11. When a fire broke out there (“Many Question in Ground Zero Fire,” AN 14_09.05.2007), two died in part because a faulty standpipe robbed them of necessary water to combat the blaze. The standpipe was missed during a routine inspection. Calls for comment to the Trump Organization and Bovis Lend Lease were not returned. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and one of the loudest critics of the Trump Soho, said the city has long been complicit in the disastrous handling of the project. He decries the deal cut by the city council and mayor that allows the condominium project to masquerade as a hotel by restricting the number of days it can be occupied to 100. Adding insult to injury, while a lawsuit filed by the Soho Alliance and a claim to the Board of Standards and Appeals wend their way through the city’s bureaucracy, the project has hurtled ahead at a pace of two stories a week, which many believe contributed to the dangers on the site. The further along the project is, the harder it becomes to defeat or overturn. As Berman wrote in an open letter, “This building was already a monument to greed and hubris; now, sadly, it will be a monument to tragedy as well.” Ali, a hot dog vendor who has worked for years at the corner of Broome and Varick streets, heard but did not witness the collapse firsthand. But he has seen other accidents, such as the flight of a half-dozen plywood panels off the top of the building, which damaged several cars nearby. He has a simple explanation for the troubles plaguing the project: “I think people jinxed the building. They didn’t want it in the first place.”