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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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Sedum City
Researchers at Columbia's Earth Institute used a thermal map developed by NASA to determine hot spots in New York's urban heat island. Areas of high temperature appear red, and cool zones, mostly parks, appear white and blue.
NASA Landsat

A roof fitted with solar panels signals that a building is equipped with technology at the leading edge of sustainable thinking, a hard-edged surface with easily quantifiable energy and financial dividends. Green roofs elicit a different response, more emotional and somewhat ambiguous. Their benefits, though diverse, are not so easily tallied. Green roofs provide numerous payoffs for individual buildings, but their impact at the scale of the city is only beginning to be studied. While some cities and states are developing requirements or incentive packages to promote vegetated roofs, more precise tools need to be developed to address urban-scale issues like the heat island effect or storm water runoff, a major contributor to water pollution. These issues take on greater urgency as architects and planners turn to sustainable design as a means to mitigate climate change and resource scarcity.

As most architects know, green roofs consist of a watertight barrier, a growing medium, and a layer of plants, typically sedum or other drought-resistant plants (referred to as extensive green roofs), though more elaborate designs can include grasses, food crops, or even trees (called intensive green roofs). Vegetated roofs lower energy costs by reducing surface temperature in the summer and providing insulation in the winter. They also last longer than conventional roofs by blocking ultraviolet rays and rapid temperature increases from degrading roofing materials. They reduce runoff during storms, which can reduce water pollution, though it would take very significant acreage concentrated in a single area in order to have an impact. In addition, advocates argue that widespread use of the technology could reduce urban heat islands, which would have broad-based implications for energy use and air quality, such as asthma rates.

According to a 2007 report by the Toronto-based trade group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the industry grew by 30 percent over 2006. Chicago led the way with 517,000 square feet constructed in 2007, more than double that of its nearest competitor, tiny Wilmington, Delaware, which planted an impressive 195,600 square feet. New York placed a meager third with 123,074 square feet. “New York is very far behind Chicago. Installation costs here are much higher,” said Sarah Wayland-Smith, a landscape designer at Balmori Associates who specializes in green roofs. Wayland-Smith cites high up-front costs and an underdeveloped network of suppliers and installers, as well as, until recently, a lack of government incentives as barriers to construction in New York.


An extensive green roof in Long Island City, designed by Balmori Associates, at one of the hot spots in the region. 
Courtesy Balmori Associates

 

Students at the Art Institute of Chicago’s architecture program mapped the dozens of green roofs dispersed across that city.
Art Institute of Chicago
 

New York City government has adopted a cautious approach to green roofs, according to Rohit T. Aggarwala, director of the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. Working with the state legislature, the mayor and the governor recently pushed through a $4.50-per-square-foot tax credit to encourage green roof construction. The mayor’s sustainability blueprint, PlaNYC, encourages green roofs but does not require them. Aggarwala, too, cites high up-front costs. “New York is already the greenest city in the United States,” he said. “We should not jeopardize the economic sustainability of the city with financially onerous requirements.” Aggarwala argues that reflective roofs can reduce cooling costs, and “blue roofs,” or simple gutter lips that slow runoff, can reduce sewage overflows, both at a fraction of the cost of green roofs. Still, he hopes the tax credits will encourage development and bring down costs. “We’ve got to get more experience. As they become better known, they become less threatening to landlords,” he said.

Since Chicago Mayor Richard Daly famously planted sedum and native grasses on City Hall in 2000, more than approximately two million square feet of green roofs on dozens of buildings have sprouted across that city. Following a brutal 1995 heat wave that killed hundreds during a blackout, the City Hall roof was conceived as a pilot project for mitigating Chicago’s urban heat island. This proliferation has been fostered by a number of incentives and requirements. Chicago’s program has also helped to bring construction costs down and increase the number of growers, suppliers, and installers in that region. While the surface temperature of City Hall and several other projects has been monitored, little research has been done on the effectiveness of green roofs at the urban scale in Chicago, according to Larry Meredith, spokesman for Chicago’s Department of Environment. Even with the impressive number of square feet planted, there may be limits to the effectiveness of the rollout, at least thus far. A map developed by architect Linda Keane and her students at the Art Institute of Chicago shows how the roofs are scattered across the city, and how modest the area of green roof coverage is at the urban scale.

The most extensive modeling of the urban-scale benefits of green roofs in the United States has been done in New York. A study by the Center for Climate Systems Research (CCSR) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute estimates that in New York, fully 50 percent of all roof space would need to be greened in order to have a significant impact on the city’s heat island. The multidisciplinary study group, which relied on data and expertise from Pennsylvania State, Michigan State, and Columbia University, settled on the 50 percent baseline after deciding that 75 percent coverage was an overly ambitious figure. Their modeling indicates that 50 percent coverage would shave 1.4 degrees off the city’s heat island, which ranges from 5 to 7 degrees. What accounts for the relatively small impact even at half coverage? Remarkably, in a city as densely built as New York, roof space accounts for only 19 percent of the city’s total area (when seen from above as a single plane). While the difference between a 93- and a 94-degree day may not feel significant, it can have a massive impact on energy use. According to estimates by CCSR for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, every degree of temperature increase outdoors triggers demand for an additional 60 gigawatt hours of energy per day.

CCSR relied on a thermal map of the city produced by NASA, an aerial satellite image that shows hotspots in the city. Vivid in its coloring, the map includes some surprises. Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the most densely built areas of the city, are cooler than lower-scale parts of Queens and Brooklyn. “The tall buildings of Midtown and Lower Manhattan prevent solar penetration at street level,” said Stuart Gaffin, an associate research scientist for CCSR and one of the authors of the report. “They act like trees, at least in terms of shading. Parking lots, low-scale buildings, large expanses of roof space and roadways create hotspots.” Massive hotspots occur in industrial areas and at the airports, and cool spots are clearly legible in Central and Prospect parks. The map suggests that targeting certain hotspots for green roof development might be a faster way of tackling heat islands, rather than an ad hoc approach of scattering green across the city. “I believe targeting could be very effective, though I’m not sure how it could be implemented,” Gaffin said. Balmori Associates has for some years advocated such an approach for Long Island City, one of the hotspots on the NASA map, which they estimate has a roof space area equal to half the size of Central Park.Working with business owners, they have completed two extensive green roof projects on industrial buildings in the neighborhood. “There are private benefits for building owners, as well as public benefits, but the public benefits are more difficult to quantify,” Gaffin said.

PlaNYC’s Aggarwala said that the city is aware of heat island hotspots. “We’ve thought about it and talked about targeting those areas, but we haven’t identified hotspots as an urgent public concern.” He argues that the city’s MillionTreesNYC program, which calls for intensive tree planting, addresses many of the same issues and will be easier and more cost effective to implement.

Green roofs appear to be more immediately effective in controlling storm water runoff. The CCSR study found that individual green roofs retain 80 percent of storm water, and slow the release of the remaining 20 percent. During rainstorms, runoff can overwhelm the sewer system, causing raw sewage to be discharged directly into waterways, a major source of water pollution. Using the same 50-percent-coverage model, CCSR estimated that ten percent of runoff would be cut, greatly reducing the number of sewage spills. “The benefits in terms of runoff are indisputable,” Gaffin said. “They are like rooftop holding tanks.”

Assuming CCSR’s goal is a desirable one, how does New York, so far behind Chicago, even inch toward 50 percent coverage? “I don’t think it’s an impossible goal if we keep hammering away at it,” Gaffin said. “Traditional roofs provide no additional benefits.” Given New York State’s recent passage of a tax rebate for green roof construction, and pending a recovery of the building industry, there is likely to be an increase in green roof construction in the region. Gaffin points out that roofs are replaced every 20 years or so. “Of all urban infrastructure, roofs are changed most frequently,” he said.

The data suggest that green roofs are an important and effective tool in addressing urban heat islands and storm water runoff, but alone, even in great numbers, they are not likely to fix these problems using a scattershot, incremental approach. Chicago’s example shows that incentives can dramatically increase square footage of green roofs built. Columbia’s modeling shows, however, that the living system of a green roof has a fine-grained impact in the urban landscape. Precise incentive packages and deeper study could increase their effectiveness within the greater organism of the city.

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Share the Road

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
Tom Vanderbilt
Knopf, $24.95 

Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic
David Engwicht
Envirobook, $23.00 

The High Cost of Free Parking
Donald Shoup
Planners Press, $59.95

When my wife and I visited Lebanon in 1998, we rented a little Renault and spent a couple days on the road, and saw one working traffic light the entire time. The streets of Beirut were packed with a chaotic tangle of aggressive, pushy cars, and I was sure we’d hear steel shrieking on steel the moment we rolled off the car rental lot. We safely got out of the city, and while driving on the winding, two-lane Damascus Road in the foothills of the Chouf mountains, we found ourselves driving next to another car, each going at a good clip. Just then, a third car roared between us, making its own lane. I realized at that point on Lebanon’s roads, all bets were off. And yet, for the rest of our visit, I became more and more convinced that this was one of the safest places I’d ever driven: It was predictably unpredictable.

The time many of us spend getting from one place to another comprises most of our interactions with fellow citizens; it is as much a social experience as anything else. Since time in the car shapes our impressions of each other and of our cities, it might explain the appeal of Tom Vanderbilt’s Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us).


 
 
 

Vanderbilt adroitly navigates a mountain of findings and opinions from traffic engineers, economists, psychologists, and even entomologists. Like an excited and precocious teenager, he parenthetically mentions one psychological study while describing another, adding, “more on that later.” But far from being overwhelmed, the reader is swept up in his enthusiasm.

Traffic is the latest in a series of books like Freakonomics and The Tipping Point that draw on diverse and sometimes arcane academic fields to create a coherent narrative for the lay audience. But I hope Vanderbilt will reach more than the casual reader: Planners, architects, and policymakers would do well to read his book.

Perhaps Traffic can best be summed up by one of its innumerable takeaways: You don’t drive as well as you think you do. And if you knew this, you’d drive better. But we don’t even know what we don’t know. That Rumsfeldian quip alone sums up so much about how we behave on the road that awareness of it on our part would make us safer as motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians. Also, awareness of behavior among the people who design our roads and set transportation policy could change our cities for the better. Traffic engineers—who, for the most part, do not appear to be familiar with many of the psychological studies cited in Traffic—try to make our roads safer with more signage, wider lanes, shoulders, and gentler curves. But a growing number of dissidents are pointing out that a safe environment, surprisingly, is one that appears to be dangerous, because it forces us to be more attentive.

The idea that the perception of danger is good for us runs counter to standard reasoning in road design, which argues that since people will make mistakes, the road should provide a comfortable margin of error. This is generally thought to have worked well on highways and arterials, but in cities and towns where different types of users vie for a share of the same space, designing a margin of error into a road for the benefit of motorists is dangerous. They’ll just typically drive faster around that turn, and they’ll be less attentive in that wider lane. To paraphrase the late Hans Monderman, a Dutch traffic engineer whom Vanderbilt interviews, when you treat people like idiots, they will behave like idiots.

Monderman also features prominently in David Engwicht’s Mental Speed Bumps: The Smarter Way to Tame Traffic, a slim and entertaining read that, while nowhere near as broad in its scope as Traffic, is nonetheless insightful. Engwicht, an Australian traffic consultant whom Vanderbilt discusses, had grown increasingly frustrated with the standard traffic-calming measures like speed bumps, neckdowns, and chicanes, and began to develop strategies to deal with aggressive driving in a completely different way. Rather than use negative stimuli to get people to slow down, he argues for positive stimuli—intrigue, uncertainty, and even humor—to engage motorists in their social environments. In other words, pull motorists out of the “traffic world” and into the “social world”—make them interact with each other and with others on the street via eye contact.

In Mental Speed Bumps Engwicht describes how, in his work with neighborhood groups all over the world, he advocates that everyone reintroduce the social world to their streets: bring their chairs outside into the car’s realm, and let their kids play there. In one city, a traffic engineer insisted that cones be placed in the center of the street to separate vehicle traffic from the neighbors socializing and playing, and that signs be erected to warn passing motorists. “It was without doubt the most dangerous street event I have ever conducted,” Engwicht writes, because “the signs and cones were a [false] promise of predictability and certainty.”

The streets of New York City display engineers’ best efforts to introduce predictability for motorists into a town rich in intrigue and uncertainty. They seem always to be fighting an uphill battle: There is nothing to be done about falafel guys pushing their carts in the streets, or brooding hipsters jaywalking while glued to their iPhones. Unfortunately, some of New York’s long-standing policies reinforce the misguided efforts of traffic engineers, and are pulling us out of the social world and into the traffic world. As Donald Shoup observes in his excellent book, The High Cost of Free Parking, the off-street parking minimums that city planning departments require of builders wildly distort the transportation market and wreak havoc on the public realm and on real estate development. The transportation market is distorted because motorists receive a benefit at low cost, subsidized by everyone. When presented with free goods, we consume them.

A professor of urban planning at UCLA and an economist by training, Shoup, who is also profiled in Traffic, is an engaging and passionate thinker, and The High Cost of Free Parking, while it looks thick enough to stun an ox, is as entertaining as it is informative. The book pulls the curtain aside, revealing all the parking space calculations for what they are: best guesses, often padded, and often based on just a single survey of actual conditions. Or, as Shoup says, “pseudoscience.” This pseudoscience is driven by the notion that parking lots should be able to handle peak demand. A Toys R’ Us parking lot has to accommodate shoppers the day after Thanksgiving. But what about the other 364 days of the year?

Parking is essential to transportation in any city. As Shoup points out, though, “food also produces enormous benefits, but this does not mean that we need more food, or that food should be free.” Economists, Shoup says, “do not define the demand for food as the peak quantity of food consumed at free buffets where overweight diners eat until the last bite has zero utility. Nor do economists, when asked for policy prescriptions, recommend that restaurants should be required to supply at least this quantity of free food no matter how much it costs. Yet planners do define parking demand as the peak number of spaces occupied at sites with free parking, and cities do require developers to supply at least this number of parking spaces, whatever the cost. Planning for parking is planning without prices.”

This might seem irrelevant to New Yorkers, whose neighborhoods are more likely to have parking maximums than minimums; however, there are a surprising number of minimums in place, especially for new development. Even plans for dense areas of New York—Hudson Yards, Willets Point—include shockingly high numbers of parking spaces. As Shoup argues, parking not only meets demand, it fuels it.

Traffic, Mental Speed Bumps, and The High Cost of Free Parking are all testaments to the complexity and centrality of social interactions and behavioral economics to our public lives and the fabrics of our cities. Drawing primarily from observations about psychology and economics, these authors show us that what characterizes our cities is much more than an aesthetic experience, traffic flow, or standard land-use metrics. The best urban thinking is done by those who truly observe and understand how we behave.

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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