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.
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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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 $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.”
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.
Michaels Residence, Tolkin Architecture, Winters-Schram Associates
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.”
Touraine Richmond ARchitects
“Robert Vairo of Vairo Construction is like a saint. On Skid Row, he’s seen like an angel.”
JFR House, Fougeron Architecture, Thomas George Construction
1155 Third St., Oakland, CA;
1402 W. Fern Dr.,
Brown Osvaldsson Builders
1333 Pine St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
1523 Linda Ct.,
Simi Valley, CA;
468 North Rosemead Blvd.,
4177 Yale Ave.,
La Mesa, CA ;
1060 Capp St.,
9814 Norwalk Blvd.,
Santa Fe Springs, CA;
20401 S. W. Birch St.,
Newport Beach, CA;
Roman Janczak Construction
942 South Harlan Ave.,
Shaw & Sons Construction
829 W. 17th St.,
Costa Mesa, CA;
Thomas George Construction
8716 Carmel Valley Rd.,
1913 Balboa Blvd.,
Newport Beach, CA;
11777 Miss Ave.,
Young & Burton
345 Hartz Ave.,
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.”
“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.”
“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 Architecture
12777 West Jefferson Blvd.,
9601 Jefferson Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
WSP Cantor Seinuk
5301 Beethoven St.,
Davidovich & Associates
6059 Bristol Pkwy.,
Culver City, CA;
DeSimone Consulting Engineers
160 Sansome St.,
2404 Wilshire Blvd.,
405 Howard St.,
(Gilsanz Murray Steficek)
29 West 27th St.,
New York, NY;
14130 Riverside Dr.,
Sherman Oaks, CA;
John Labib & Associates
900 Wilshire Blvd.,
John A. Martin
950 South Grand Ave.,
Gordon L. Polon
6151 W. Century Blvd.,
Christian T. Williamson Engineers
3400 Airport Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA;
Yu Strandberg Engineering
155 Filbert St.,
19 Perseverance Works,
38 Kingsland Rd.,
+44 (0) 20 7749 5950
Two Penn Plaza, New York;
222 E. Huntington Dr.,
145 Hudson St., New York;
528 21st Pl.,
Santa Monica, CA;
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.”
2027 Oakdale Ave.,
Fox and Fox
134 Main St.,
Seal Beach, CA;
Horton Lees Brogden
8580 Washington Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
10351 Santa Monica Blvd.,
1213 South Ogden Dr.,
84 Sherman St.,
Lighting Design Alliance
1234 East Burnett St.,
Signal Hill, CA;
1510 N. Las Palmas Ave.,
City Lights Showroom
1585 Folsom St.,
8017 Melrose Ave.,
1177 San Pablo Ave.,
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.”
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.”
Zellner + Architects
Hyde Park Library Hodgetts + Fung JU Construction
“JU Construction did fantastically good work. They’ll try anything.”
Hodgetts & Fung
3675 Alameda Ave.,
850 West Washington Blvd.,
12211 Garvey Ave.,
El Monte, CA;
500 East Louise Ave.,
1661 20th St.,
800 Park Dr.,
1805 Newton Ave.,
San Diego, CA;
3420 Helen St.,
2300 South West,
Salt Lake City, Utah;
11733 Sherman Way,
200 Bridge St.,
5835 Adams Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
265 Meridian Ave.,
San Jose, CA;
Daltile Ceramic Tile
Flor Carpet and Tile
1343 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
1021 E. Lacy Ave.,
9500 A Jefferson Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
23894 3rd Ave.,
1757 Standard Ave.,
3403 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA;
1442 Chico Ave.,
South El Monte, CA;
Kitchen and Bath
K2, Norbert Wangen for Boffi
1344 4th St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
153 South Robertson Blvd.
California Kitchens Showroom
2305 W. Alameda Ave.,
Jack London Kitchen
and Bath Gallery
2500 Embarcadero St.,
16760 Stagg St.,
Van Nuys, CA;
Duravit bathroom furniture and accessories
Gaggeneau kitchen appliances
Grohe bathroom and kitchen fittings
Kohler bathroom furniture
16760 Stagg St.,
Van Nuys, CA;
Lengau Lodge, Dry Design UNDINE PROHL
Bestor House, Barbar Bestor Architects, SB Garden Design
“Stephanie Bartron’s background is sculpture, and I think she brings a more artistic perspective and architectural edge to landscapes.”
Barbara Bestor Architecture
307 South Cedros Ave.,
Solana Beach, CA;
700 Harris St.,
5727 Venice Blvd.,
2340 W. Third St.,
844 East Green St.,
Mia Lehrer + Associates
3780 Wilshire Blvd.,
Power & Associates
1660 Stanford St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
Pamela Burton & Company
1430 Olympic Blvd.,
Santa Monica, CA;
2122 Hancock St.,
San Diego, CA;
SB Garden Design
2801 Clearwater St.,
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.”
Pugh + Scarpa Architects
11 North Main St.,
South Norwalk, CT;
301 Arizona Ave.,
Santa Monica, CA;
725 S. Figueroa St.,
1549 Columbia Dr.,
44 Montgomery St.,
633 West Fifth St.,
Los Angeles, CA;
SC Consulting Group
6 Morgan St., Irvine, CA;
Window & Door
Fleetwood Windows & Doors
395 Smitty Way,
1434 Sixth St.,
Santa Monica, CA;
Metal Window Corporation
501 South Isis Ave.,
4020 Sepulveda Blvd.,
Culver City, CA;
2525 Marin St.,
Cut and Dried Hardwood
241 S. Cedros Ave.,
Solana Beach, CA;
2934 Riverside Dr.,
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
I winced when I saw the Times’ headline, “Next to MoMA, Reaching for the Stars.” Jean Nouvel’s new 75-story tower alongside the Museum of Modern Art reached back to Lyonel Feininger for inspiration, finally realizing his vision of an expressionist tower. It’s hard to imagine a stronger contrast to Cesar Pelli’s safely office-like MoMA housing or Yoshio Taniguchi’s recent, buttoned-down expansion. “To its credit, the Modern pressed for a talented architect,” Times’ critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote, but he went on to praise Hines, the tower’s “remarkably astute” developer. “Hines asked Nouvel to come up with two possible designs… and made the bolder choice.” That’s Hines in New York.
This fall, Hines also won the right to develop the Transbay Tower in downtown San Francisco. Pelli’s proposal for the transit hub component of the project is well done, but the tower is a version of his International Financial Center mega-tower in Hong Kong. As usual for Hines—they really are “remarkably astute”—Pelli was a smart choice. The Airport Express station that serves Hong Kong’s financial district anchors the twin-tower IFC complex. From a credentials standpoint, that’s valuable experience. Plus a tower that’s up-and-running is easier to price, even with differences in construction, than one-offs like Richard Rogers and SOM’s competing finalists. Armed with that knowledge, Hines played its trump card, offering up to $350 million for the land—more than twice what the other two developers were prepared to pay. That’s Hines in San Francisco.
Hines is Hines—the same smart operators, east and west. Given what they’re proposing for New York, blame for San Francisco’s less-than-stellar tower falls somewhere else.
Jokingly called Dean Macris’ last erection, the Transbay Tower benefited from the recently-departed planning czar’s determination to fulfill his long-time vision of a city skyline marked by three accentuated “hills”—two real and one manmade. This is the same vision that gave us One Rincon Hill, the first in a two-tower wonder by Chicago’s Solomon Cordwell Buenz. Compared to it, Pelli’s proposal is definite progress.
A lot of people have questioned the logic of Macris’ idée fixe, but that’s another article. The question here is how a competition that was advertised as being all about design proved to be all about money. Not that this is surprising, but—in light of promises made—it feels like a bait and switch. And if I feel this way, imagine how SOM feels!
I wasn’t privy to the jury’s deliberations, but a few things stuck out along the way. In the initial interviews, Norman Foster failed to appear and his team was eliminated. While architect no-shows don't go over well (confirming Woody Allen’s maxim that “85 percent of life is showing up”), their reaction struck me as a surefire sign of provinciality. Another sign of that was the dearth of interesting architects in the mix.
Again, I didn’t make the rules, but at roughly the same time that the Transbay schemes were being unveiled, Thom Mayne won a competition for a new tower at La Défense in Paris that clearly breaks new ground. This was another reason to wince, since a second major work by Mayne might finally put San Francisco on the architectural map.
Of course, Calatrava made the cut, only to have a falling out with his developer. Perhaps he was chosen, like Icarus, to exemplify the dangers of the creative edge. That left SOM, whose tower—while drawing on a Chinese precedent—alone showed the originality that the competition promised. With its blend of structure and sustainability, it presented a credible future for tall buildings in the earthquake-prone west coast. Plus, it was new, and that seemed to be what was wanted. (Unlike SOM’s, Richard Rogers’ peculiar tower was a throwback to his high-tech, frame-and-infill days, but vastly toned down with no real gain in use value, especially as office space.) SOM’s tower fit the bill, if the object had been to build a tower in San Francisco that broke the mold. In retrospect, no such luck.
The Transbay Tower reminds me of the new east span of the Bay Bridge, a chance squandered to do something on a par with the Golden Gate. San Francisco rises to its own occasions with about the same frequency as its earthquakes—maybe less frequently. In that sense, there’s no real mystery about the latest outcome. Still, it makes me wince.
COURTESY WEST 8/ROGERS MARVEL, ET AL.
On December 19, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor Eliot Spitzer announced that the team of West 8 / Rogers Marvel Architects / Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Quennell Rothschild / SMWM will design the 90 acres of open space on Governors Island. The design will begin the island’s transformation from a disused harbor site to a recreational magnet between the booming Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said that once complete, the public spaces will lure visitors from “across the water to experiences [they] could not have anywhere else in the world.”
West 8, a Dutch firm that has completed similar restoration jobs in Toronto, Utrecht, and Madrid, beat four finalists to create a grand waterfront promenade and trio of public parks on the stretch of the island closest to Manhattan. Field Operations, Hargreaves Associates, REX’s New York office, and WRT led other bids; the REX bid, which proposed a grid of developable lots, drew buzz for its unsentimental take on the broad economic challenges facing the island’s transformation.
The West 8 scheme focuses on converting the midrise barracks currently on the site into a hilly landscape of rubble and on creating what principal Adriaan Geuze called a “warm enclosure” of 90 acres with a botanic garden behind a 2.2-mile promenade. Geuze drew some notoriety by arriving at a public design presentation this past summer astride a wooden bicycle, but the team’s original idea of providing 2,000 similar bikes for free use by visitors has slipped off the agenda.
So, for now, have questions about how the improved landscape will encourage private investment for a fuller restoration of the island. The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) issued a Request For Proposals for large-scale development plans in February 2006, but after considering the submissions, deemed them financially unfeasible and decided to go forth with the public spaces first (AN 04_03.08.2006, “A Lift for Governors Island”). The New York Harbor School, a public high school currently in Bushwick, was the sole proposal GIPEC approved; it will relocate to the island in fall 2008 or 2009.
At the announcement, officials talked all about beauty and recreation: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, praised the selection for promising green space to an area where “recreation is in short supply.” Both Doctoroff and Lieutenant Governor David Paterson said the public space could match legendary urban parks in Luxembourg, Sweden, and Singapore.
“As beautiful and expansive as [those parks] are,” said Doctoroff, “Governors Island has the potential to outshine them. If you don’t believe me, walk up to the top of one of those buildings that will be demolished and turned into hills and see the 360-degree views.”
For the next two years, such views will remain accessible only via scheduled summertime visits while the team prepares a design and GIPEC oversees an environmental impact study. Any eventual full-scale development would follow a Request For Proposals to academic, research, and philanthropic organizations.
Officials hope the park planning will fix Governors Island in New Yorkers’ consciousness and provide a focus for what Doctoroff calls an emerging “Harbor District” linking Hudson River Park, the planned South Street esplanade and pier playgrounds, the East River Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Gregg Pasquarelli, whose firm SHoP Architects is masterplanning both the public East River work and the South Street Seaport, served as a juror for GIPEC.) Doctoroff promised that GIPEC, whose chairmanship he will soon cede to Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chief Avi Schick, would reach out to “community residents and other stakeholders” for input on modifications to the design.
And broader realities, from the city’s crowded political agenda to the complexity of upgrading the island’s infrastructure and transit links, may challenge the whimsy that design jurors praised. But Geuze seems serious about the patience and political savvy his job will require, which means that the wooden bikes may be back. “We need an iconic element to stay in people’s minds in the first years,” he told AN. “It could be a festival that people remember, but maybe bikes could be the draw. It’s simple and pragmatic.”