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Las Vegas Is Learning
Courtesy MGM Grand Mirage

Las Vegas has become a barometer for architecture, though it’s usually a little bit behind the times. It was all glamorous modernism in the 1970s, but by the 1990s, local developers here were obsessed with postmodern fancies that brought the world close, and down to size: The Venetian had its own Grand Canal, and the Paris arrived with a scaled-down Eiffel Tower, while New York, New York went so far as to put maintenance staff in uniforms like those worn by Sanitation workers in the five boroughs. At the turn of the century, developers moved toward upscale, lifestyle-oriented resorts and boutique hotels like the Wynn and the Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

Now another shift is underway: The MGM CityCenter, still under construction, is creating iconic buildings in a dense, mixed-use environment. Believe it or not, Vegas is selling urbanism—or at least a local version of it—and taking a page from cities around the world by using big-name contemporary architects to generate interest.

The $7.8 billion, 18-million-square-foot CityCenter will be in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip (on the site of the former Boardwalk Hotel and Casino), and is set to open next year. Touted as the largest privately funded development in U.S. history, it will include hotel, casino, residential, cultural, retail, and entertainment uses connected via indoor and outdoor pedestrian passageways. The major buildings were designed by Daniel Libeskind, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, Foster + Partners, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Pelli Clarke Pelli, and the Rockwell Group, with Gensler as the executive architect, and Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn as master planner. The marquee names continue to the art program, which will include work by Maya Lin, Jenny Holzer, Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Frank Stella, and Henry Moore.


 
 

CITYCENTER UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN late MAY (TOP) AND AS RENDERED (ABOVE), with the adjacent monte carlo casino at far left.
 
 

While CityCenter’s 76-acre site measures about the same as most of MGM Mirage’s properties, it will be about three times as dense, said Sven Van Assche, vice president of design for MGM Mirage Design Group. The push for density was first necessitated by economic conditions: The sharp rise in land prices in the city forced planners at MGM Mirage (which owns a number of Vegas casinos including the Bellagio, the MGM, and the Excalibur) to consider other revenue sources when they first conceived the project in 2004.

“We quickly realized we were getting ourselves into a very urban condition,” said Van Assche. Mixing uses, he pointed out, is not new in Vegas, and most developments now contain hotels, casinos, retail, and even condos. But nowhere is that mix so tightly packed, so large, and so full of programmatic variety.

Van Assche explained that in order to promote CityCenter’s variety, MGM looked for several architects, and asked each to design something contemporary. New projects in the city are typically designed by the same group of local firms, but Van Assche said they decided to go beyond the standard modus operandi and “look at the project with fresh eyes.” This jump, he added, meant putting architects not accustomed to the Vegas scene through “an intense learning process.”

The interaction of the architects, said J.F. Finn, managing director at Gensler Nevada, started out with very few guidelines, but once a vision began to emerge, planners started to rein things in. Working with so many designers helped spur what Finn termed “happy accidents,” like the plaza between the casino and the Crystal. That came about when designers decided that Pelli and Libeskind’s buildings should have some breathing room. Likewise, a charrette between Libeskind and Jahn helped change their respective projects from one unified, mixed-use building to two very distinct entities.

All seven buildings will be connected by a meandering network of walkways that meet at larger nodes, usually marked with public art or a water feature. “We wanted to create places where people could gather that weren’t near slot machines,” said Finn, in explaining the nature of these nodes. Because of Vegas’ temperature, he added, the majority of these passages will be indoors, although a few outdoor walkways and bridges, landscaped with varied greenery, will act as connectors.

Is this urbanism? Finn argues that it is, and points to the functionally indoor nature of projects in other extreme climates like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Libeskind’s project was originally planned to be outdoors until the team realized it was not feasible. Still, having a retail project at the very front of a development in Vegas is rare. Inside it will resemble a small city with large public spaces, curving walkways, and changes in scale from small nooks to a 200-foot-high grand stair.

Van Assche and Finn both noted that other Vegas developers are looking at mixed-use and iconic buildings. Boyd Gaming’s Echelon will contain five separate hotels, 9,000 square feet of retail, and two large theaters. The newly-opened Planet Hollywood has a massive retail complex at its front door, and Harrah’s is reportedly considering a mixed-use, multi-building mega-development as well. “I think it’s the evolution of where the city is going to go,” said Van Assche.

Like anything in Vegas, CityCenter’s goal is to attract attention and stand out from the pack. And so it appears that like the flashing neon signs before them, the pyramids and Grand Canals will give way to Libeskind’s jagged steel forms and Jahn’s diagonal towers, the newest icons in a city full of them. 

Sam Lubell is the California editor of AN. 
 




 
 


Mandarin Oriental
Kohn Pedersen Fox

Unlike the majority of CityCenter, which attempts to introduce a new form of urbanism to Las Vegas through a pedestrian-friendly, open-access environment, Kohn Pedersen Fox’s Mandarin Oriental goes out of its way to create an isolated and exclusive world of luxury and tranquility, well-insulated from the crush of the city. Sited along the Strip, the 46-story, 1.2-million-square-foot hotel is separated from the development by its main access road, and is further delineated by a high-walled courtyard planted with bamboo trees. “The entry sequence was very important,” said KPF principal Paul Katz, “because this is a five-star hotel, guests will arrive from the airport in a limo and step right out into the world of the Mandarin.” From the courtyard, visitors take a shuttle elevator to the sky lobby, which is on the 26th floor; and from the sky lobby there is the option to ride down to the 400 hotel rooms, or up to the 215 full service condos. The building’s high-performance curtain wall combines insulated aluminum panels with ceramic-fritted, low-e coated glass in a 60/40 mix to create high levels of transparency while mitigating heat loading from the sun. AS


 

 


ARIA Hotel & Casino
Pelli Clarke Pelli

As the centerpiece of MGM’s development, Pelli Clarke Pelli’s 6.1-million-square-foot ARIA hotel and casino epitomizes the project’s spirit of interconnectivity, featuring easy or direct links to the buildings by Libeskind, Foster, Viñoly, and Jahn. It’s also permeable in other ways: In a revolutionary gesture for Vegas, the architects opened up the casino and convention center to daylight and views to the exterior. The facility also features a black box theater for the Cirque du Soleil, 4,000 hotel rooms, and a pool area arranged within a podium and tower. The podium’s plan of two interlocking circles helps to limit views down the long corridors to the tangent of the circles, creating more intimate environments within the massive enclosure. The tower also plays with views. The high-tech curtain wall combines fritted, low-e coated vision glass panels with shadow box panels of glass to achieve a shading coefficient appropriate for the desert sun while maintaining a consistent materiality. Also, the cladding over each room features an angle, or prow, which invites guests to look out at oblique angles, to take in more of the cityscape and mountains. AS



Veer Towers
Murphy/Jahn
(above, left)

Rising above CityCenter’s retail and entertainment district, Helmut Jahn’s Veer Towers distinguish themselves with a seeming feat of engineering. Inclined in opposite directions at 85 and 95 degrees respectively, the towers appear attracted toward each other, conveying the distinct relationship between them. The off-kilter forms, however, reflect the pragmatic logic of unit layouts. “Structurally, it looks challenging, but it’s not so mysterious,” said Francisco González Pulido, principal architect with Murphy/Jahn. The structure is created from a three-floor module composed of repeating unit plans. The 37-story towers will include approximately 337 units made up of studios, one- and two-bedroom residences, and penthouses ranging from a modest 500 to over 3,000 square feet. The transparent reflective glass facade with perforated aluminum framing includes fins to promote energy-efficient climate control. Yellow ceramic frit encased in the glass modulates sunlight and provides residents with privacy, while creating a checkerboard pattern on the facade, boldly expressing the building’s program on its skin. DR

The Crystal
Studio Daniel Libeskind 
(above, center)

Daniel Libeskind’s shopping and entertainment hub called the Crystal holds the center of the complex, not so much like the anchor of a mall, but organically, like a heart with main arteries and secondary conduits to enhance free-flowing circulation. “I am aiming for a new sense of orientation where people are not locked in a box with one way in and out,” said Libeskind. “It’s a shaped space with its own topography. There are many ways to come and go or move from level to level. It’s a work in the round.” The 650,000-square-foot structure is lapped in metal petals that break down into discrete volumes with large interstitial openings that Libeskind described (in terms of scale) as “beyond any skylights ever known.” Restaurant, entertainment, and retail interiors are being designed concurrently by the Rockwell Group and billed as a “natural and electronic landscape” for shopping and dining. Nesting between Foster’s Harmon and Jahn’s Veer, the Crystal aims to create the cosmopolitan urbanism of a European piazza within a highly climate-controlled environment. “This is no longer the signs-and-signals Vegas of Venturi,” said Libeskind. “It’s no longer just about surface. This is true urban growth.” JVI


The Harmon Hotel, Spa and Residences
Foster + Partners
(above, right)

If the strategy of CityCenter is to break out of the prejudices surrounding Las Vegas as a city of low-brow kitsch, then the Harmon Hotel, Spa and Residences, designed by Foster + Partners, is meant to be a defining structure that brings gravitas to glitter. Towering above Planet Hollywood across the Strip and diagonally across from the Paris’ faux Eiffel Tower, its walls are glass. Bear in mind that transparency has always been a taboo in this city of windowless casinos, where gamblers don’t know whether it’s day or night. Eschewing decadence, Foster has fashioned a column that borrows more from the Gherkin, his insurance headquarters in London, than from anything in Vegas. No surprise. In his film Casino, Martin Scorcese was telling us that the accountants were pushing aside the mobsters and cowboys, and the Harmon reads as a monument to the corporate domination of Sin City. There are no winks and no gambling in Foster’s austere column, but there’s something very Vegas all the same. Building higher and more expensively is another way of raising the ante, and Vegas gamblers love nothing more than a high-stakes game. DD




 
 


Vdara Condo Hotel
Rafael Viñoly Architects

In the Vdara Condo Hotel, a 57-story glass ascent of three overlapping curves, Rafael Viñoly echoes the message of the Foster tower at the nearby Harmon Hotel: There is no kitsch-theming here, beyond a cool corporate assurance that says, “Vegas, not ‘Vegas.’” Gambling won’t be among the offerings at this non-gaming facility, and owners of the more than 1,500 condominium units won’t share a lobby with retirees stampeding to the slots. Wedged into the dream-team ensemble, the Viñoly crescents stand in a corner—alone as any 57-story building can be, a block from the Vegas strip, at a distance from the Crystal, Daniel Libeskind’s retail and entertainment hub. And unlike the Crystal, the Vdara does not repeat forms that are signature elements in its architect’s style. The Viñoly design offers the promise of modernist, even minimalist elegance, once again echoing the larger ensemble’s ambition to refine—and perhaps redefine—Las Vegas. Yet the glass curves send a mixed message: It is part Miami hotel that opens to the sun and sand (the desert, rather than the beach), and part garden corporate headquarters (although the packed garden of highrises in CityCenter barely gives Vdara room to breathe). Its nostalgic simplicity gives off the welcoming feel of Brasília, rather than a hastily-built Dubai. But not too welcoming. The graceful curves form an enclosure as they turn their back to the street, which is marketed as exclusivity. And exclusive it is: 900 square feet in the Vdara starts at $1.3 million. DD



LEEDing Las Vegas

With all the blinking lights, splashing fountains, and blasting air-conditioners, Las Vegas is probably at the bottom of any list of places one would associate with sustainable design. But with rising energy costs and environmental awareness becoming increasingly mainstream, CityCenter hopes to be a model for green thinking in Sin City. Though all the buildings at CityCenter will seek LEED certification, most of their sustainable features are conventional and relatively modest: low-VOC paints, extensive use of daylighting, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and drip-irrigation for the landscaping.

Like the city’s privatized monorail, however, sometimes large-scale private development can yield green results through the creation of efficient infrastructure. Much of the development’s energy will be generated at an on-site cogeneration plant. The plant will recycle the heat generated by producing electricity for the hot water used throughout the complex.

Also, by striving to create a truly urban place with density and a diversity of uses, residents and visitors to CityCenter will be less reliant on cars and taxis, which, with gas prices continuing to climb, seems a very wise wager for the future. AGB


Air Rights Fright

It is far from difficult to spot a housing project in New York City. They tend to stick out like massive, redbrick sore thumbs, cookie-cutter in their incongruity. But despite their stature, many of these housing projects have unused air rights because they were built in the decades before the city instituted the current Zoning Law in 1961.

The New York City Housing Authority is now looking to sell some of its 30.5 million square feet of air rights in Manhattan to help fill a $195 million budget gap. That being his backyard, Borough President Scott Stringer has called on the agency to formalize its plans in a report his office released yesterday.

“NYCHA needs new revenues to support the buildings that house thousands of residents in Manhattan and around the city,” Stringer said in a statement. “But selling off development space in hot neighborhoods without a plan and no real public review is not the answer.”

The disposition of any such air rights to new projects within or adjacent to the agency’s properties can currently be pursued as of right. But Stringer believes that because of the volume—developments equivalent to 11 Empire State Buildings or a single-story building covering Central Park from 59th Street to 102nd Street, the report points out—and public stewardship of these lands, Manhattanites deserve a say in the process.

Especially since so many of them are affected: The report notes that all but one community board has a complex in it with at least 100,000 square feet of development rights. However, four neighborhoods in particular are hardest hit, with 25.8 million square feet, or almost 85 percent, of all unused air rights in the agency’s Manhattan complexes. The neighborhoods are, from most to least developable, East Harlem, the Lower East Side, Central Harlem, and the Upper West Side.

According to the report, the housing authority had generally eschewed plans for the development of its unused air rights until 2001, though it was not until 2006 that a project entered the planning phases, for a multi-site development in Hell’s Kitchen. Though that project has advanced amicably, Stringer still hopes the agency will pursue a more comprehensive plan concerning the disposition of its air rights.

“It is clear that NYCHA intends to pursue transfer or sale of its unused development rights and expects revenue from these dispositions to meet short-term budget needs,” the report states. “But the annual plan provides little clarity as to the agency’s ultimate goal—whether to build as much affordable housing as possible, to make as much money for NYCHA as possible, or to strike some kind of balance between the two.”

To prevent future fights over such issues, Stringer wants the agency to catalogue its unused air rights, develop a detailed long-term plan for how it might dispose of such air rights, and create a site-specific planning process for any dispositions. Stringer also urged the agency to bring the community into this planning process to better assess and influence any new developments. “We owe it to ourselves, and especially to the public housing community, to look carefully before we leap,” the report concludes.

A statement from the agency was appreciative but non-committal: “We welcome the Borough President’s analysis and recognition of NYCHA’s efforts to develop a pipeline of 3,000 units under Mayor Bloomberg’s historic plan to expand affordable housing in New York City. We will review the recommendations in the report and look forward to a continuing dialogue on these important issues.”

AN

New York City once boasted the largest port in the country, if not the world, and while the massive container complexes in Elizabeth and Bayonne remain the largest on the East Coast, it is safe to say New Yorkers have all but forgotten about their once mighty waterfront. Over the last decade or two, that attitude has slowly changed, as parks have sprouted where piers and factories once stood—and in some cases, they rise atop those that still remain. With a century’s worth of pollution finally leaching away, an idyll has returned to the waterfront.

Still, the waters of the Hudson and East rivers remain all but off limits, be this more through stigma than actual danger. Short of the occasional yacht, sailboat, or brave (make that wise) sea kayak, the New York shoreline remains a mystery. For 17 years now, the Municipal Art Society and the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance have been fighting to change that, and they were at it again last night with the launch of their annual summer boat tour. The cruise offers an almost alien view of the city, one of neglect and potential, of rebirth and real estate.

Setting sail promptly at six o’clock (this reporter, along with speedy architect Fred Schwartz, were seen running up to a receding gangway), the Circle Line ferry pulled away from Pier 83 into the admittedly drab and murky waters of the Hudson. (As one passenger explained, the West Side piers correspond to their streets, plus 40.) The air was still muggy, but as the boat picked up steam, a breeze overtook the decks and the 600 or so passengers began to relax, enjoying their paninis, soft pretzels, and cans of Corona Light.

Chugging down the western shore of Manhattan, MAS outgoing President Kent Barwick and MWA President Roland Lewis—replete in matching seersucker suits—took over the MCing duties. “We want to welcome you all aboard and just say that we hope you enjoy yourselves and what is a very different but no less important view of the city,” Barwick said.

That was the prevailing sentiment for the night: how the city was finally returning to its waterfront, how that mission could be furthered, but also how it could be jeopardized. Approaching the tip of Manhattan, Barwick was quick to point to Jersey City and Battery Park City, both ahead of their time in riverfront reclamation, but also dangerously close to privatization, which could still be a potential problem for some of the cruise's later destinations, like the Williamsburg waterfront and Brooklyn Bridge Park, both of which are still developing. “This cannot become a wall of condos,” Barwick said.

Councilmember Dan Garodnick happened to be on board as a passenger, but he was asked to say a quick word about another promising waterfront project, the Eastside Waterfront Park, which he spearheaded over the last year with the help of the MAS. (Asked if there was any word yet from Tishman Speyer on its Stuytown lawsuits, he said no, then looked at his watch and added, “Today’s the 30th, so they’ve got one more day.”)

A special trip was made up Newtown Creek to get a look at the new “egg-shaped digesters” recently completed by Polshek Partnership. Lewis praised them as an example of how the sewage treatment facility, which serves a 25-mile area including Brooklyn, much of Queens, and Lower Manhattan, could be beautifully designed, just as any other piece of infrastructure.

And what boat tour this summer would be complete without a stop by Olafur Eliasson’s waterfalls? While some critics have called them wasteful and underwhelming—at least from the land—from the water, they truly look spectacular. It could be that from this perspective they look more natural, but it is also the recognition that, as Barwick said at the beginning, everything looks better on the water.

Hopefully, more New Yorkers will come to realize this as well. Lewis was quick to note that at one point in its history, New York enjoyed 110 ferry lines crisscrossing the water. With congestion on the streets and subways only getting worse, Lewis said, this is one of the best options for alternative transportation in the city, and also one of the most affordable. If nothing else, it will provide New Yorkers with some much needed perspective on what can at times feel like a rather landlocked island. Just be sure to watch out for that kayaker down there.

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Block By Block
Courtesy Cultural Landscape Foundation

The story of New York development in recent years has been defined by mega-projects, the large-scale urban moves unleashed by a rip-roaring market, sweeping rezonings, and once-in-a-generation super-deals. But the current economic meltdown has made for a very different mood. Certainly not chastened—this is still New York, after all—but circumspect, even cautious. A number of ambitious projects we featured here in the past—the proliferating towers at Queens West, or the 14-acre Sky View Parc in Flushing—are still gallantly moving ahead. Yet other grand plans have been parceled out in phases, pared back, or quietly put on ice.

To take stock of this changing landscape, we’ve gathered a selection of new projects—large and small, flashy and unfussy—that are filling in the streetscape and skyline, from hotspots like Williamsburg to newly beckoning corners of the Bronx. Together they offer a portrait of a city shaped less by the bravado of master builders than the block-by-block business of architecture. And that might not be a bad thing at all.

Produced by Jeff Byles, Danielle Rago, and Olivia Chen.

All images courtesy respective developers.

 

Manhattan

Above 59th Street 

37-41 HILLSIDE AVENUE
Location: 37-41 Hillside Avenue
Developer: North Manhattan
Construction Company
Architect: Johnson Jones and
Mario A. Canteros
Size: 16 floors, 89 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


AMSTERDAM AVENUE SITE
Location: Amsterdam Avenue and West 100th Street
Developer: TBA
Architect: SLCE Architects
Size: 56 units, 72,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010 


180 EAST 93RD STREET
Location: 180 East 93rd Street
Developer: Greystone Property Development
Architect: Barry Rice Architect
Size: 7 floors, 9 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


535 WEST END AVENUE
Location: 535 West End Avenue
Developer: Extell Development Company
Architect: Lucien Lagrange Architects
Size: 20 floors, 22 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


GEORGICA
Location: 305 East 85th Street
Developer: The Ascend Group
Architect: Cetra/Ruddy
Size: 20 floors, 58 units, 134,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


2075 BROADWAY
Location: 2075 Broadway
Developer: 2075 Holdings
Architect: Handel Architects
Size: 19 floors, 196 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


Manhattan

Between 14th Street
and 59th Street 

250 EAST 57TH STREET
Location: 250 East 57th Street
Developer: World-Wide Group
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 2 buildings, 13 floors and 58 floors
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011–2013


1775 BROADWAY
Location: 1775 Broadway
Developer: Moinian Group
Architect: Gensler
Size: 26 floors, 625,000 sq. ft.
Type: Commercial (reclad)
Completion (est.): 2009


250 WEST 55TH STREET
Location: 250 West 55th Street
Developer: Boston Properties
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 40 floors, 1 million sq. ft.
Type: Commercial
Completion (est.): 2010


800 10TH AVENUE
Location: 800 10th Avenue
Developer: Alchemy Properties
Architect: FXFowle
Size: 96 units, 130,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential (conversion)
Completion (est.): 2010


CLINTON PARK
Location: 770 11th Avenue
Developer: Two Trees Management
Architect: TEN Arquitectos
Size: 911 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


53W53RD
Location: 53 West 53rd Street
Developer: Hines Interests
Architect: Ateliers Jean Nouvel
Size: 75 floors, 120 condominium units, 100 hotel rooms, 50,000 sq. ft. gallery expansion
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2012


55 WEST 46TH STREET
Location: 55 West 46th Street
Developer: Extell Development Company
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 40 floors, 800,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


455 WEST 37TH STREET
Location: 455 West 37th Street
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Handel Architects
Size: 23 floors with two levels of underground parking, 421,164 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HUDSON YARDS
Location: West 30th to West 33rd streets, 10th to 12th avenues
Developer: Related Companies
Architects include: Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Elkus Manfredi Architects
Size: Approximately 5,000 units, 5.3 million sq. ft. (residential), 5.5 million sq. ft. (commercial), 1 million sq. ft. (retail and hotel)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion Phase I (est.): 2014


450 HUDSON BOULEVARD
Location: 450 Hudson Boulevard
Developer: Alloy Development
Architect: Della Valle Bernheimer and Architecture Research Office
Size: 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013


MANHATTAN WEST
Location: 9th Avenue between West 33rd and West 31st streets
Developer: Brookfield Properties
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 5 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013


316 11TH AVENUE
Location: 316 11th Avenue at 30th Street
Developer: Douglaston Development
Architect: The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Size: 34 floors, 369 units, 387,500 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


GANSEVOORT PARK
Location: 420 Park Avenue South at 29th Street
Developer: Gansevoort Hotel Group with Centurion Realty
Architect: The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Size: 18 floors, 225 units, 200,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HL23
Location: 515 West 23rd Street
Developer: Alf Naman Real Estate Advisors
Architect: Neil M. Denari Architects
Size: 14 floors, 11 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ALMA
Location: 30 West 21st Street
Developer: Beck Street Capital
Architect: Karl Fischer Architect
Size: 11 floors, 11 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


15 UNION SQUARE WEST
Location: 15 Union Square West
Developer: Brack Capital Real Estate
Architect: Office for Design and Architecture with Perkins Eastman
Size: 12 floors, 36 units, 97,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


PRIMA
Location: 130 West 20th Street
Developer: EG West 20th
Architect: H. Thomas O’Hara Architect
Size: 36 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


57 IRVING PLACE
Location: 57 Irving Place
Developer: Madison Equities
Architect: Audrey Matlock Architect
Size: 12 floors, 9 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009

 

 

Manhattan

Below 14th Street

385 WEST 12TH STREET
Location: 385 West 12th Street
Developer: FLAnk
Architect: FLAnk
Size: 7 floors, 12 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


THE LEE
Location: East Houston Street at Pitt Street
Developer: Common Ground
Architect: Kiss + Cathcart, Architects
Size: 12 floors, 263 units, 99,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


350 WEST BROADWAY
Location: 350 West Broadway
Developer: RFR Holding
Architect: Moed de Armas & Shannon
Size: 10 floors, 8 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


BOWERY RESIDENCES
Location: 351 Bowery
Developer: 351 Bowery Associates
Architect: Scarano Architect
Size: 15 floors, 14 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


FIVE FRANKLIN PLACE
Location: Five Franklin Place
Developer: Sleepy Hudson
Architect: UNStudio
Size: 20 floors, 55 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


99 CHURCH STREET/FOUR SEASONS HOTEL AND PRIVATE RESIDENCES
Location: 99 Church Street
Developer: Silverstein Properties
Architect: Robert A.M. Stern Architects/SLCE Architects
Size: 80 floors, 175 hotel rooms, 143 condominium units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


375 PEARL STREET
Location: 375 Pearl Street
Developer: Taconic Investment Partners
Architect: Cook + Fox
Size: 32 floors
Type: Commercial (reclad)
Completion (est.): 2009/2010


BEEKMAN TOWER
Location: Beekman Street, between William and Nassau streets
Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Architect: Gehry Partners
Size: 76 floors, 903 units, 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


NOBU HOTEL AND RESIDENCES
Location: 45 Broad Street
Developer: Swig Equities
Architect: Rockwell Group/Moed de Armas & Shannon Architects
Size: 62 floors, 77 units, 128 hotel rooms
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


Brooklyn

TOREN
Location: 150 Myrtle Avenue
Developer: BFC Partners
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 37 floors, 240 units, 260,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


HOTEL INDIGO
Location: 237 Duffield Street
Developer: V3 Hotels
Architect: Karl Fischer Architect
Size: 22 floors, 172 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010


166 MONTAGUE STREET
Location: 166 Montague Street
Developer: United Management Realty
Architect: RKT&B
Size: 10 floors, 24 units
Type: Mixed-use (conversion)
Completion (est.): 2009


PARK TOWER
Location: 33 Lincoln Road
Developer: Henry Herbst
Architect: Gilman Architects
Size: 23 floors, 90 units, 180,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


80 DEKALB
Location: 80 DeKalb Avenue
Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Architect: Costas Kondylis and Partners
Size: 34 floors, 365 units, 333,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ATLANTIC AVENUE
Location: Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway
Developer: Habitat for Humanity
Architect: Dattner Architects
Size: 3 buildings, 4 floors, 41 units, 53,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


GOWANUS GREEN
Location: 5th and Smith streets
Developer: Gowanus Green Partnership
Architect: Rogers Marvel Architects
Size: 774 units, 675,000 sq. ft. (residential)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2014


GOWANUS CANAL HOUSING
Location: Bond Street between Union and Degraw streets
Developer: Gowanus Canal Joint Venture
Architect: RKT&B
Size: 11 buildings, 350 units, 355,000 s.f. (residential), 10,000 s.f. (commercial)
Type: Mixed-use
Completion: In design


80 METROPOLITAN
Location: 80 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Developer: Steiner NYC
Architect: GreenbergFarrow
Size: 6 floors, 123 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


Queens

L HAUS
Location: 11-02 49th Avenue, Long Island City
Developer: The Stahl Organization
Architect: Cetra/Ruddy
Size: 122 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


THE STAR TOWER
Location: 28-02 42nd Road, Long Island City
Developer: Roe Development Corporation
Architect: DeArch
Size: 25 floors, 180 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


10 COURT SQUARE
Location: 10 Court Square, Long Island City
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Size: 25 floors, 961,698 sq. ft.
Type: Commercial with ground-floor retail
Completion (est.): 2011


MURRAY PARK
Location: 11-25 45th Avenue, Long Island City
Developer: TerraMax
Architect: Fogarty Finger
Size: 7 floors, 28 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2010


EAST COAST 4
Location: Queens West Site 2 at Center Boulevard
Developer: Rockrose Development
Architect: Arquitectonica
Size: 39 floors, 737 units, 1.1 million sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


ARVERNE BY THE SEA TOWN CENTER
Location: Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 67th and Beach 69th streets
Developer: Benjamin Beechwood
Architect: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects
Size: 28,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009


Bronx

COURTLANDT CORNERS
Location: East 161st Street between Courtlandt and Melrose avenues
Developer: The Phipps Houses Group
Architect: Dattner Architects
Size: 323 units, 362,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2010


BORICUA VILLAGE
Location: East 163rd Street and 3rd Avenue
Developer: Atlantic Development Group
Architect: Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects
Size: 7 buildings, 8 to 13 floors, 689 units, 47,000 sq. ft. retail
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2009/2010


THE SOLARA
Location: 1259 & 1275 Grant Avenue
Developer: Grant/Briarwood
Architect: Danois Architects
Size: 2 buildings, 10 floors, 160 units
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


TIFFANY STREET APARTMENTS
Location: 922 East 169th Street and 1140 Tiffany Street
Developer: Atlantic Development Group
Architect: Atelier 22
Size: 2 buildings, 8 floors, 94 units, 110,000 sq. ft.
Type: Residential
Completion (est.): 2009


ST. ANN'S TERRACE
Location: St. Ann’s Avenue and East 159th Street
Developer: Jackson Development Group
Architect: Hugo S. Subotovsky Architects
Size: 8 buildings, 8 to 13 floors, 600 units
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2011


KINGSBRIDGE ARMORY
Location: 29 West Kingsbridge Road
Developer: Related Companies
Architect: GreenbergFarrow
Size: 5.6 acres, 550,000 sq. ft.
Type: Mixed-use
Completion (est.): 2013

 

You Get What You Pay For

For the last year-and-a-half, the New-York Historical Society has been locked in a bitter feud with its neighbors around Central Park West over plans for a 23-story condominium tower that would help finance the project. But in early July, it changed tack. “We don’t have plans for a tower,” Louise Mirrer, the society’s president, told The New York Times. “We think we can meet our needs over the next few years by focusing on our building.”

It is a rare sentiment these days, and while it may be changing in light of economic realities, the trend of governmental and not-for-profit institutions relying on the private sector for the financing or construction of capital projects has continued apace. As the number of such public-private projects continues to rise, touching everything from schools to parks to hospitals, so too does the debate over which side benefits more.

Don Elliot, chairman of the City Planning Commission during the Lindsay administration, when such programs became more popular as the city’s fiscal crisis grew, said it is an issue of political math. “If it means less public money to get the same building, that’s what politicians will do,” he said. “The question is, are you getting the same building?”

Then again, what if the alternative is no building at all? “The city and the private institutions, if they were able to do it efficiently and in a timely way, they would have done it themselves,” said Michael Slattery, vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, the powerful developers group.

A prime example of this dichotomy is the current fight in Greenwich Village over St. Vincent’s plans for a new hospital. Short on funds, hospital administrators partnered with the Rudins, one of the city’s storied real estate families, to swap its old facilities on 7th Avenue for a new hospital across the street. Of the project’s estimated $850 million budget, $310 million would come from the sale of those facilities. The Rudins would then adaptively resuse some buildings as condos while tearing down others.

On the other end of the city, in East Harlem, Mount Sinai Medical Center is pursuing a similar plan, and partnered with the Durst Organization, which agreed to contribute $250 million toward a new research facility in exchange for the new building’s air rights, which in turn would make way for a 540-foot luxury tower. Community opposition was swift and immediate, especially considering local dislike of the hospital’s Annenberg Building, the 436-story, blockwide black monolith that many see as a blight on the Central Park skyline.

“It’s a complex problem and we’re really alert to that,” said T. Gorman Reilly, president of Civitas, a local planning advocacy group that opposes the project. “The problem is, these community facilities do provide a lot of public good. But it’s gotten out of control because there are so few sites left.” But Brenda Perez, a spokeperson for the hospital, said it had no choice. “Mount Sinai considered multiple options,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Selling the air rights was the only option to make the financial equation work.”

No one questions the need for more hospitals. The question instead is one of public financing for such projects, or lack thereof. “There’s been an attraction in government to think that you can get the private sector to build infrastructure without having to pay for it,” said Kent Barwick, the outgoing president of the Municipal Art Society who also worked in the Lindsay administration. “The idea was, you’d pay for it with development rights, but we quickly learned that there are costs associated with such deals, as well.” Barwick points to the Education Construction Fund, which was created by Lindsay to offer bonds and air rights transfers in exchange for school construction. The fund created 18,000 school seats in a dozen schools, 4,500 units of housing, and 1.2 million square feet of office space, according to the city’s Department of Education. But Barwick highlighted its first project, the AT&T exchange tower (now Verizon) at 375 Pearl Street, which he called one of the city’s ugliest buildings, in part for the way it looms over the Brooklyn Bridge. “We have come to learn there can be hidden costs on the public realm that can negate the public gains offered by these projects,” he said.

Slattery countered that with developers’ experience, it is irresponsible of the city to otherwise use taxpayer dollars trying to complete these projects. “Developers have the kind of requisite experience to do this business, whether it’s schools or hospitals or parks,” Slattery said.“It’s compatible with what they do everyday.” He cited Battery Park City as a prime example of the private sector undertaking a project with public support that the government would have struggled to complete on its own.

The city, or at least the Bloomberg administration, seems to agree.“That’s our bailiwick,” said Janel Patterson, a spokesperson for the city’s Economic Development Corporation. “We take underutilized public land and work with the development community to develop it into something that benefits both parties.” She was also quick to emphasize the deep community involvement in creating such projects, which she said ensures local support and approval.

Still, some question whether the city is being taken advantage of, especially during the real estate bonanza of the past half-decade. “It’s not a positive trend,” said Tom Angotti, a planning professor at Hunter College. “It’s the neoliberal dream and what it leads to is the weakening of the public sector.”

Ron Shiffman, director emeritus of the Pratt Center for Community Development, believes such deals can work, though they require a balance that may be missing. “It’s a tool,” he said. “Tools can be used properly and improperly. At the moment, it’s being overused and misused. It’s not something I would throw out, it just needs to be used responsibly and accountably.”

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Profile: Dawanna Williams

Yoko Inoue
 
 

Dawanna Williams
Founder and Principal
Dabar Development Properties


From the perspective of an airship or an urban planner’s PowerPoint, the city may look like swathes of unified development along major avenues and big-acre sites like Rockefeller Center, Stuy Town, and Battery Park City. But on the street, urban dwellers experience the city block by block, building to building. It’s that smaller scale that appealed to Dawanna Williams, so much so that she left off lawyering to become a developer in what she calls “signature neighborhoods,” including Harlem, Fort Greene, and Bushwick.

In a field dominated by extensive family clans and an apprentice-eat-apprentice ethos, Williams, 38, comes from an atypical background. Raised in Atlanta by a single working mother, she went on to study economics and government at Smith College. She came to New York in 1997 and started working for law firms with a hand in corporate real estate. That led her to get involved in deals like the sale of the 1921 skyscraper 30 Wall Street and financing the rehabilitation of the Starrett-Lehigh in Chelsea. “I liked the idea of putting together projects that people would later enjoy,” said Williams and so, while still working as a lawyer, she started buying up townhouses in her own Clinton Hill neighborhood, renovating them into rental apartments and using the assets to make more purchases. “One of her strong qualities is Dawanna’s ability to address and resolve gracefully unforeseen issues,” said Hilary Weinstein, a vice president at the Community Preservation Corporation that financed Williams’ first Harlem project. “She has a great temperament for dealing with things, and that’s rare in developers.”

In 2003, Williams founded Dabar Development Partners and set out to work on small and medium-scale developments in emerging communities. The name Dabar comes from the Hebrew for “words from God,” which Williams came across while reading Deuteronomy in the Torah. “In the late 90s, I had seen how the big developers went for older buildings and vacant sites, and I thought I could apply that same approach in signature communities with undervalued assets.” Williams started scouting properties marked by what she calls “tangible and intangible hallmarks,” including historic resonance, architectural distinction, thriving churches, intellectuals, and artists. She found those qualities in Fort Greene and Bedford Stuyvesant where, while still a lawyer, she started working on townhouse deals with four to six units. It grew quickly into something she hadn’t really expected: a niche in high-quality housing in historic but undervalued communities.

The first significant project on her own was the $6.2 million Marshall building in Harlem. Taking two 1920s townhouses that had been vacant for some 40 years, Williams gutted them, added 34 feet to the back, and transformed them into ten one-, two- and three-bedroom condos with 11-foot ceilings, granite kitchens, and fireplaces. With the most expensive unit going for $872,600, the project sold out quickly.

Up until then, Williams worked for the most part with contractors, but then she met Paola Antonelli, a senior design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, and Thelma Goldin, director of the Studio Museum Harlem. Both encouraged her to take it up a notch and engage with more adventuresome architecture and emerging architects. Antonelli wrote in an email that Williams has “a deep understanding of the context where she is operating and on pushing herself always a bit beyond her own comfort zone in order to deliver not simply buildings, but meaningful additions to the urban and social landscape.”

She started working with Galia Solomonoff, an architect who designed, as part of OpenOffice, the Dia:Beacon museum and has also done time in such prestigious firms as OMA in The Netherlands and Bernard Tschumi and Rafael Viñoly in New York. For Dabar Development, Solomonoff is currently designing an unusual $26.5 million project on an enviable site smack in the middle of Central Park North. It’s a joint venture with the New York United Sabbath Day Adventists to rebuild a church on the site with a 15-story setback condominium tower. “Dawanna’s dual talent is her patience in bringing together seemingly opposite stakeholders—bankers, community, church—and her ability to seize on rewarding yet underestimated urban situations,” said Solomonoff. “She’s a dealmaker extraordinaire.”

Williams has also tapped Danois Architects, a firm with a background in sustainable design, including the completion of Melrose Commons in the South Bronx that won a top award for affordable green housing from the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association in 2003. Williams turned to David Danois in 2006 when Dabar was selected as one of 25 teams to participate in Mayor Bloomberg’s New Foundations Initiative for developing 236 city-owned abandoned or vacant lots. Dabar will build 22 town- and multifamily buildings on 17 sites in Bushwick and East New York, one-third of which will be affordable and all LEED-certified.

Casting an eye beyond the city, Williams discovered the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, a kind of sixth-borough Dumbo that has drawn artists to its warehouse conversions and new construction. With rapper/ producer Jay-Z as an investor, she is well underway constructing a 24-loft, eight-story condominium designed by the Philadelphia firm EM Architecture on a site with views of Ben Franklin Bridge and a block over from the 11-story American Lofts building designed by Winka Dubbeldam.

So far, Williams said that the biggest challenge she has had to face as a developer of projects over 15,000 but under 60,000 square feet is financing. “New York is loaded with tenement developers and visionary project developers,” she said, “but there’s not a whole lot in between. The banks are better set up for those extremes, while midsized developers tend to be undefined and have to structure deals case by case.”

One by one suits Williams just fine, and she is even sanguine about the current economic downturn. “I believe in, I am even thankful for, corrections because I believe that in the end, the most qualified will remain in play.”

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Profile: David Von Spreckelsen

Yoko Inoue
 

David Von Spreckelsen
Senior Vice President
Toll Brothers City Living

The Gowanus Canal is as far as you can get from a greenfield in this country, and the last place you’d expect to find a development by Toll Brothers, the suburban luxury home-builder better known for sprawling tracts of neo-Georgians built on fast-receding farmland.

But that’s where David Von Spreckelsen, senior vice president for the company’s City Living division, unflinchingly mapped out a 450-unit development—the first contract he signed in New York four years ago—that points to Toll Brothers’ future even as it has caused consternation back at the home office in Horsham, Pennsylvania. Company chairman Robert Toll vetoed the plan for the as-yet untitled project at 363-365 Bond Street when it was first pitched, said Von Spreckelsen, but he added, “Now it’s one of Bob’s favorite projects, because there’s so much potential.”

With nearly $1 billion in development and 1,200 units in New York, Toll Brothers is making the city a major part of its push into urban areas. Amid a longer-term trend to conquer new markets—and cushion the broader housing bust—Toll has diversified geographically (it’s in 21 states) and demographically with the launch of Toll Brothers City Living, the division that’s taken the company well beyond the ‘burbs.

“City Living really came out of Toll Brothers looking at who their customer was and where their customer was going,” said Von Spreckelsen, sitting in his notably unstuffy office near Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. “And they were seeing a trend toward people moving to more urban areas.” Young buyers and empty-nesters brought the company to Philadelphia, and from there the division hit Jersey City and Hoboken, where developments include Hudson Tea, a 1,200-unit condominium project. Success on Jersey’s waterfront whetted Toll’s appetite for the far shore of the Hudson.

Enter Von Spreckelsen, 45, a former director of real estate development for Silvercup Studios (he worked on the Queens rezoning that led to Silvercup’s Richard Rogers–designed expansion plans) who previously served at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. When he launched Toll’s local office in 2004, he figured cracking the Manhattan market would take a while. But through a broker he knew, Von Spreckelsen acquired a site near 14th Street, and soon built a 21-story glass tower designed by GreenbergFarrow. The project swiftly sold out, and this year the firm broke ground on a second tower by Perkins Eastman at 303 East 33rd Street.

But Brooklyn is where Toll has found the biggest upsides. Beyond Gowanus, the company led the wave of development along the rezoned Williamsburg waterfront with Northside Piers, a three- tower, FXFowle-designed project that is a joint venture with L&M Equity and RD Management. A few blocks away is a more modest Toll outpost, North8. (Another local project is 5th Street Lofts in Long Island City.)

New York hasn’t been without its challenges. While the hugely capitalized company rarely needs project-specific loans, cash flow can still be tight, since Toll builds suburban homes only after pocketing a down payment. “For single-family, you literally sell a house, and then you build it,” Von Spreckelsen said. “In New York City, you’re buying a piece of land, and then you’re putting up a multi-family building. It’s really building on spec.” And projects can get bogged down by the land-use process, as at Gowanus, where the team expects to finally be certified for public review in August. “When you’re still trying to get certified, there are basically no milestones at all,” said Von Spreckelsen. “That’s been a real challenge to convey back to the home office.”

Still, the company is adapting to the urban arena. In the suburbs, Toll has stakes in nearly the entire supply chain, with its own architecture, engineering, and marketing divisions. By contrast, New York’s 15-person staff outsources most services, but that will be changing. Halstead Property is the broker for projects currently in sales, for instance, but the second tower at Northside Piers will be sold in-house.

While grizzled urbanites might cringe at the thought of Toll tackling New York, the company’s reputation has already helped it grow. The brand resonates with buyers, said Von Spreckelsen: The company calls them Toll Groupies—a clan with friends or relatives who are Toll owners and eager to buy into new projects. Whether or not such loyalists will be enticed to Brooklyn’s Lavender Lake, of course, is a question taking Toll Brothers into uncharted territory.

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Profile: Jed Walentas
Yoko Inoue

Jed Walentas
Director of Daily Operations
Two Trees Management


Jed Walentas doesn’t get the same degree of media attention that’s been leveled at his father David, the scruffy, tennis shoe-clad founder of Two Trees Management. Walentas père made his fortune in New York real estate through rehabs and conversions, among them such landmarks as One Fifth Avenue, Alywn Court, and the Silk Building. Yet the younger Walentas, 33 and an only child, for the past seven years has been in charge of daily operations of Two Trees, and might well be one of the more intriguing young developers in the city.

In 1981, with Leonard and Ronald Lauder as investing partners, the senior Walentas had bought 11 19th-century factory and warehouse buildings in Fulton Landing, which was then a derelict section of Brooklyn more popular as a dumping ground for hit men than as an industrial zone. Walentas calculated that its zoning would soon change, and the area would gentrify as Soho had done—indeed, artists and artisans were already settling in. His hunch was right, but not his timing; it took 16 years for Dumbo (from Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, as the place was renamed) to get rezoned.

Meanwhile Jed, tutored in the business from the age of ten, graduated from the Penn with a degree in economics and went to work for Donald Trump, converting 40 Wall into one of the city’s first “wired” buildings. Walentas was working for Trump a little less than a year when his father called him to Two Trees to work on Dumbo’s redevelopment.

Low key in his sartorial and management style, much like his father, Jed Walentas controls somewhere between 2.5 to 3 million square feet of real estate in Dumbo. With Amish Patel, his best friend from college and now business partner, the younger Walentas has converted industrial buildings into offices and condos, and constructed a stylishly outfitted rental building, all while carefully cultivating Dumbo’s distinctively genteel but bohemian character. While condos with river views regularly fetch million-dollar-plus prices, there are still artists who pay their rent with artwork. Priced out of Williamsburg last winter, the Galapagos Art Space took up residence in a LEED-certified former stable on Dumbo’s Main Street, paying rent just short of $7 per square foot per year. The experimental theater St. Anne’s Warehouse, housed in an old spice mill, pays no rent at all. Sprinkled into this arty mix are trendy boutiques and design stores, specialty food purveyors, and a few restaurants and cafes. While there’s also a Starbucks, Dumbo still feels more like a gritty urban neighborhood than the posh open-air shopping mall that Soho has become. Nevertheless, many in the community gripe about the control the Walentas family wields over the place.

And there have been missteps, most famously in 1999, when Two Trees proposed a Jean Nouvel-designed steel-and-glass hotel, shopping, and entertainment complex, which would have jutted into the East River like a futuristic pier. The project’s outsized scale raised an uproar in the surrounding community, which was intent on turning the property into a waterfront park. Ultimately, Nouvel’s plan was aborted, and the park secured.

More recently, Jed Walentas has branched into downtown Brooklyn. Two Trees has constructed the Court House, a mixed-use condo/retail building with a fully outfitted YMCA at the corner of Court and Atlantic streets, and converted the old Board of Education building, a McKim, Mead & White landmark at 110 Livingston Street, into trendy condos. Walentas likes to put younger staff in charge of these “night and weekend projects” so “they can learn to solve problems on their own,” much the way he learned himself. “We give them a real ownership interest,” he said. The latest “goofy” project he’s considering is the construction of a small hotel in Williamsburg.

Given that Two Trees finances its own ventures and employs its own construction team, the company is necessarily focused and efficient. “We can only take on one or two big projects at a time,” said Walentas. “We’re looking now at possibilities in the BAM Cultural Zone. But there are a lot of public policy requirements, so there’s only so much economics there. And people want great architecture.”

Great architecture is exactly what he’s promising in his most ambitious project to date in Midtown Manhattan: a dramatic, zig-zagging, mixed-use building with landscaped roof terraces and louvered windows designed by Enrique Norten’s TEN Arquitectos. The massive, 100,000-square-foot site at 11th Avenue between 53rd and 54th streets affords “great opportunity and flexibility,” said Walentas. Not to mention risk, as it’s not yet zoned for residential use. Nevertheless, Walentas spoke confidently about the Clinton Park project. “Enrique’s office is a good fit, very practical, and not too big. The project is super important to them,” he said. “They understand that their design has to be buildable, not just sculpture.” And TEN sends the love right back. “They’re a fantastic client,” said Mark Dwyer, the project’s principal. “You couldn’t get many developers to be this adventurous with a skin on a rental building. But they’re invested in it. They want to know how to clean the facade years down the line. And they’re investigating LEED certification.”

Apparently, Walentas has learned a lot since his previous venture into the world of celebrity architects. He’s also learned a thing or two about community outreach. In addition to the 900-some rental apartments, 20 percent of which will be affordable, the building will house a car dealership, preserving 11th Avenue’s traditional commercial business; a supermarket, sorely needed in the neighborhood; and a state-of-the-art stable facility for the city’s mounted policemen. What’s not to love?

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Profile: Jonathan Rose
Yoko Inoue

Jonathan Rose
president and Founder
Jonathan Rose Companies


When designs for Via Verde, a 202-unit, mixed-income green housing development in the Bronx were unveiled, they made headlines. The dramatically stepped design by Grimshaw, Dattner Architect and landscape architect Lee Weintraub, which varies from towers to townhouses with green-roofs and terraced gardens, demonstrated that affordable housing, sustainability, and innovative design were possible in even the most hardscrabble corner of the city. What was less apparent, however, was that the developer behind the project, Jonathan Rose Companies, has a long record of civic-minded thinking that has paid significant social, environmental, and economic dividends.

In 1989, Jonathan Rose, founder of Jonathan Rose Companies, left his family’s real estate business to found his own “mission-based” development company. “My family has been in real estate for three generations,” Rose said. “I learned the trade starting with my summers working for the family business,” referring to Rose Associates, the New York-based real estate giant that controls over 30 million square feet of property. The much smaller Jonathan Rose Companies focuses on urban infill, transit-oriented sustainable development, reflecting the interests of its founder.

Unlike many developers trained in business or law, Jonathan Rose, 56, earned a master’s in regional planning at Penn under the landscape architect Ian McHarg, a pioneer of the regional planning and sustainability govements. There, Rose learned the principles that would guide his company: “a commitment to socially and environmentally responsible development that integrates good planning into the business,” he said.

One of Rose’s first forays into green, mixed-income development, a plan for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Center, came while he was still at Rose Associates. Working with Berkeley, California-based architect Peter Calthorpe, the plan called for a mix of office, residential, and retail space at a walkable scale with passive solar design. “I talked to a number of environmental groups, and in the early 80s, anything dense or urban wasn’t considered green,” he said. “It’s amazing how much the thinking has changed.” After community opposition, the site was sold to Forest City Ratner, and the bland, down-market mall that presently occupies the site was built in its place. (Rose, with practiced decorum, declined to comment on the Atlantic Center or on the Atlantic Yards development, also by Forest City Ratner, planned across the street.)

Current projects in the company’s portfolio reflect his philosophy at work. In Brooklyn, Jonathan Rose Companies is one of the partners in Gowanus Green, the Rogers Marvel/West 8 housing development along the Gowanus Canal. Another green housing project, the Joyce and David Dinkins Gardens in Harlem, was recently completed and includes a community center and 80 units of affordable housing.

With the arrival of high density and mixed use as hallmarks of environmentalism, Rose is happy to see his philosophy moving into the mainstream. He believes that because of rising energy costs, dense, transit-oriented, energy-efficient design will become the standard. “It only makes sense. People are looking to reduce their VMTs,” he said, referring to vehicle miles traveled. He also believes the New York region is better prepared to weather the ups and downs of a volatile real estate market. “We see two ends of the demographic spectrum, seniors and younger people, who are increasingly attracted to urban areas,” he said.

In addition to the company’s standard development practice, Jonathan Rose Companies has three other divisions: the owner’s representative studio, the planning studio, and the investment studio. The owner’s representative studio works on a fee basis for non-profits, institutional clients, and private developers to select architects and other consultants, arrange financing, manage construction, and direct marketing and sales. Current projects include the classroom building for Cooper Union designed by Morphosis, the Theatre for a New Audience in the BAM Cultural District by the H3 Collaborative, and a renovation and expansion of the UN International School by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Roger Duffy. The planning studio has been hired by the town of East Hampton to refine its 20-year development plan, and the investment studio manages the Smart Growth Development Fund, a $100 million fund that invests in socially, environmentally, and economically progressive real estate acquisition and development. This diversity of engagement with the field, in addition to the company’s social commitments, differentiates Jonathan Rose Companies from its peers, including Rose Associates. “They do very high-quality work, but we have a different approach,” Rose explained.

The company’s successes show that measured idealism in no way interferes with good business. And judging by the founder’s relaxed disposition and the company’s cheerful, light-filled office space (renovated to green standards, or course, by Weisz + Yoes), the company’s approach is a welcome alternative to the cut-throat world of New York real estate and development.

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So Long, Ray
Courtesy DCP

Today is Ray Gastil’s last day at work. On August 25th, Gastil, director of the New York City Department of City Planning’s Manhattan office, will travel across the country to take a job as Seattle’s Planning Director, marking a return to his hometown. The department has yet to name a replacement for the position.

During his tenure, which began in 2005 when he succeeded Vishaan Chakrabarti, Gastil shepherded through the land use process some of the largest projects in the city’s history. He presided over the rezoning of the Upper West Side, which provided contextual protections against out of character development and provided incentives for new and affordable housing along Broadway. He also worked on rezoning to preserve the character of the Far West Village that was done in concert with historic district designation by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as a major contextual overhaul of the Lower East Side, still in process.

But not all of his projects were targeted at preserving a neighborhood’s character. Gastil oversaw the controversial 125th Street rezoning, adopted in April, which, while it fosters economic and cultural development along the corridor, many in the community feared would only increase displacement and gentrification in greater Harlem.

Though the notoriously press-shy Gastil would not comment on his work at the department or his decision to accept the job in Seattle, his boss, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, had some nice things to say.

"Ray’s wit, intellect and proficiency will be greatly missed, as will his dedication to urban planning, to New York City, and to engaging a generation of young planners,” Burden said in a statement. “Ray brought to city planning a vast expertise of what makes great urban places and ensured that projects large and small contributed to and enhanced the urban fabric and public realm. I personally have benefited from his wisdom, his encyclopedic knowledge of world cities and their heritage, and by his friendship.”

Before working for the city, Gastil was the founding director of the Van Alen Institute: Projects in Public Architecture. He participated on the Memorial Center Advisory Committee for the World Trade Center site, and served as juror and adviser to a number of major urban projects. He also directed the regional and transit-oriented design programs for the Regional Plan Association, and taught urban design seminars and studios at Pratt Institute and University of Pennsylvania.

Gastil received his master of architecture degree from Princeton University, and is the author of Beyond the Edge: New York's New Waterfront (Princeton Architectural Press 2002).

Bracing for the Worst

The Numbers

While it lacks the dramatic symbols of Bear Stearns and Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac, the apparent architectural recession may be getting as bad as the one ravaging the financial sector at the moment, at least according to the AIA Architectural Billings Index. The overall index, which surveys the increase or decrease of billings at a panel of firms nationwide, rose slightly for June but still remained on the decline for the industry.

“These numbers are a continuation of weak conditions in the nonresidential construction sector,” AIA chief economist Kermit Baker said in a statement. “Given that inquiries for new project work have not seen much improvement, it’s likely we are several months away from a turnaround.”

In June, the index rose to 46.1, up from 43.4 in May, but only a measure of 50 or above means billings are rising; this change simply means the decline has slackened, though is still falling. The one positive note is that the index continues to rise, from a record 13-year low of 39.7 in March, though given that numbers fell two points from April to May, the gain could only be temporary. Inquiries also rose from a record low of 46.5 last month to 51.8, another positive sign, suggesting interest in new work may be returning.

Regionally, the Midwest remains the one region seeing growth, with a billings reading of 51.8, continuing a trend begun last month. In his statement, Baker called it the one bright spot in the industry. The South has seen steady one to two point growth since bottoming out in March at 45.3 points and has now reached 49.0. The West and the Northeast, however, continue to decline, with scores of 36.1 and 40.7 respectively.

On the ground here in New York, opinions remain mixed. “We’re on major alert,” Fred Bland, a principal at Beyer Blinder Belle, said. He said his firm’s work remains steady but he is beginning to see signs of concern. “You would start to see more highly competitive RFPs and a leveling off in inquiries,” Bland said. “It would be fair to say we are starting to see a little of that.”

Jon Kully, a principal and co-founder of architecture firm FLAnk, said his office actually began two new projects and is looking to hire, hoping to boost his staff of 15 by two to five employees. “It’s hard to say exactly what is happening,” he said. “Everyone is different.” He did add that he and his partner at the firm, Mick Walsdorf, are trying to gauge the market to “find the best talent for the best price.”

Kully does admit that he has been particularly fortunate, given what he has heard from friends. “It sounds pretty bad out there,” he said. “I’m knocking on wood as I say this, but we’re pretty good right now. At the same time, Mick and I, we were talking this morning, and we really think it will be Q1 of ’09 when everyone really sees this hit, when designers start to get laid off.”

Good Housekeeping

In its ongoing effort to reform the Department of Buildings in the wake of the two crane accidents earlier this year, the City Council passed three new pieces of legislation yesterday cracking down on what the council considers minor but important issues within the construction industry. The three bills passed by a unanimous vote of 45-0.

The first bill (text) tackles so-called housekeeping violations, basically the order and cleanliness of a given worksite. “There is a direct correlation between sites with housekeeping violations and serious life-threatening accidents,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said during today’s meeting. “We believe that by policing these sites, we can keep them from going down this path.”

The bill categorizes any housekeeping violations, such as tripping hazards, unsecured material, or unsafe storage of combustibles, as “immediately hazardous,” the highest level of violation. This means that such a violation will trigger a stop-work order and can result in fines if not addressed. Quinn put it simply: “When materials are not taken care of, they can injure people. We want that to stop.”

The next bill (text) addresses problems with vacant buildings, which, if unoccupied for over five years, will be inspected for structural soundness, with follow-up inspections occurring every five years. If violations or unsafe conditions are discovered, the owner is required to address them immediately or face fines.

Melissa Mark-Viverito, the representative for East Harlem and the lead sponsor on the bill, proposed the action after two such buildings in her district collapsed. “When we talk about construction safety, we shouldn’t just be talking about new construction and work sites but also existing buildings, and especially those that have been neglected,” Mark-Viverito said.

The final bill (text) requires that retaining walls be regulated in the same manner as building facades, putting them under increased scrutiny, oversight, and safety restrictions that strengthen the city’s ability to induce necessary repairs. Councilmember Robert Jackson, who introduced the bill, noted that it was long overdue, after the collapse of a retaining wall three years ago in his district, but he was happy to have it finally pass. “This legislation is a no-brainer,” Jackson said.

But if that was the case, then why did it, and all the other recent reforms, require a disaster to finally pass them? Councilmember Tony Avella, an industry critic, chocked it up to politics, adding that a great deal more work remains to be done. “These are good bills,” Avella said, “but there are a number of good bills and initiatives that are languishing in the DOB due to a lack of action on the part of the Speaker.”

A spokesperson for Quinn declined to address Avella’s complaints, but did say: “The bills passed are part of an extensive review of the construction safety in the city. We have passed several bills so far, and several will be passed in the near future.”