In her speech, Meeks mentioned that since taking over leadership of the NTHP and meeting with preservationists and architects all over the country, three themes kept coming up: 1) The need to make preservation more accessible, 2) The need to make preservation more visible, and 3) The need to ensure that preservation is fully funded. By addressing those three things, she said, historic preservation can be a "visible, dynamic, broadly inclusive movement." However, I thought the most salient point she made was that places are powerful: Whether a landscape like the Hudson Valley or a historic site like the Alamo, every place has a story to tell and, as Meeks said, "they help us tell our stories, as individuals and as Americans."For his part, the New Yorker's Goldberger spoke about how Austin embodied the Next American City, making it a fitting location for the conference. Unlike Detroit and St. Louis, which represent the Old American City, Austin is both connected to history and “energetically forward-thinking” thanks to the presence of the University of Texas as well as the corporate headquarters of Dell and Whole Foods. He pointed out that it’s not a city dependent on the so-called "meds and eds" solutions -- healthcare and education -- that many cities rely on in postindustrial America, and that Austin does not have the “new pseudo-urban landscape" of Tyson’s Corner or the Buckhead section of Atlanta, or the Galleria area of Houston, which he cited as "new places that aspire to urbanity but don’t really possess much of it and which show us that a certain amount of density and tall buildings alone do not a city make.” Goldberger also pointed out that “poverty is a great friend” of historic preservation, simply because there’s less money and therefore less of an impetus for building big and tossing aside historic buildings because they aren’t shiny and new. In light of that, he felt that Austin was yet again a good role model for the Next American City, since it has prosperity but also pays heed to its architectural past: Its “solid economy has not led to a complete indifference to preservation.” Hopefully, as the city goes forward with developing a denser downtown, especially in the residential sector, the powers that be will remember that historic buildings or streetscapes are of significant value to the community.
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Special Report from the Venice Biennale: This year's 12th International Architecture Exhibition featured a wide array of national pavillions ranging from a forest of pristine machine-cut lace to crashing wave of metal strips to a now-collapsed ethereal cage of rebar. Here is a collection of representative examples.
Courtesy Raumlabor Berlin.
Courtesy John Portman Associates
Read the companion feature, How Real is Real?, about the 12th International Architecture Exhibition by The Architect's Newspaper Editor-in-Chief William Menking.
Intellectuals in architecture form a tiny subculture in which most know most others and thus want to offend none. Architects’ careers are precarious and need protecting. We are trying to earn respect for good architecture in a culture that is not all that interested. So we believe that we should stay positive. All this produces a reluctance to be bold and candid when we come across sham and junk.
Negative criticism can seem mean-spirited. It’s more pleasant to be post-critical. But the prices we pay are to have too many delusions—especially delusions of grandeur—and to waste too much time foraging dead ends. It took a ferociously demanding critic, F. R. Leavis, to save my generation of English majors from having to spend much time reading mush like Tennyson’s poems or bloviation like much of Milton. To whom have we been able to turn for high standards and fearless iconoclasm? Sorkin sometimes. Huxtable back in the day. And within the academy? Sylvia Lavin and Jeff Kipnis are not timid. Some scholars like Barry Bergdoll are not afraid of wielding sharp edges.
We are often intellectually malnourished because we clutch a narrow set of ideas that we perceive, mainly through talk at juries and conferences, to be the only currently legitimate ones. If we look back 30 years, we see a parade of short-lived must-follows: Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze. The fold. Datascapes. The surface. Patterns and tessellation. Words ending in -ity. And a coming-to-acclaim of designers and design modes that are marginalized within two or three years.
With this comes a scorn for passé ideas. OK, Ptolemy was wrong. But was Chaucer “wrong”? Was Paul Rudolph “wrong”? Beyond science, the category doesn’t apply. Why are we feeding ourselves tiny bites when history offers us a huge banquet? In Harvard Design Magazine, someone said, about Sorkin’s position, “It’s so ’60s.” Of course times change, and we must change with them, but when something was created doesn’t determine its value.
In fetishizing newness, we ensure obsolescence: Issues of ANY were exciting in the ’90s, but do we turn to them now? And how carefully were they read back then? Robert Somol wrote in the final Assemblage: “Out of the 240-odd items published, I read about 12 all the way through. No shit. Five percent. Three of those were mine.” Many au courant ideas we don’t really think through, but merely think about, or, worse, think that we should think about.
Our subculture has a hard time keeping off the smudges of the adjoining larger cultures of fashion and status-seeking consumerism. Architects reach many more people through the pages of Elle Decor, Icon, Architectural Digest, and Wallpaper than they do through Log, Volume, Grey Room, and Praxis. The style sections of newspapers breathe down our backs and tempt us to bend our values. Is serious culture always the domain of a tiny elite? Should it bother us that there are over half a million purchasers of Elle Decor but only one or two thousand for periodicals like Grey Room, Log, and Praxis? Does intelligence in the latter publications eventually trickle down to the former?
Columbia’s Buell Center and its director Reinhold Martin recently posed this question to guide explorations in a 2009 conference: “How is contemporary architecture discussed and evaluated in public?” Here are some possible answers.
For every 200 of “us” there are two million like the person who wrote on Morphosis’ new Cooper Union building: “Aliens, please park spacecraft elsewhere.” Indeed, within our subculture, there are common modes of “serious” discourse that we should find troubling, and all have to do with a compulsion to move fast while frantically scooping up or tossing out tiny morsels along our paths. Let me offer a few examples:
Tossed-off tweets are fast food for the mind, no chewing required. We see this in blogs, but increasingly also in academic discourse. Tweets must be short. This doesn’t force them to be shallow, but it sure nudges them in that direction.
Increasingly content is composed of sound bites. Conferences are overloaded with speakers who are underloaded with time to develop thoughts and present information. So books become clip binders for conference papers and talk transcripts—loose compendia of qualitatively uneven short essays, prose quips, flashy graphics, and glamorous data presentations. Creating book content becomes merely accumulating.
Information overload induces ignorance. This lazy tossing in of everything that can be grabbed partly explains the publication of a few doorstop architectural books of a thousand pages or more. Can and does anyone read such books? Are they not made just to be flipped through like magazines, with at most five minutes of reading now and then? Putatively serious essays are of bite-sized briefness.
Then there are “boogazines,” which occasionally present scads of information through complex but cartoon-like charts—the overall look of the page is dazzling and this very dazzle discourages the patient taking-in of details. Sometimes this can be seen in exhibitions of countless words and images graphically arranged on walls. It would take a viewer many minutes to absorb just what is before the eyes, much less a whole gallery’s worth. Overall, there is a reluctance to be discriminating, to decide what is not worth thinking about. Data, data, more data! Magazines mount in piles to be zipped through once a month.
Lastly, we partake in a culture of glib, gnomic generalizing. Easy yet world-encompassing assertions of meaning reflect the vast influence of Rem Koolhaas, with his profound originality and revelatory perceptions, presented with shards of evidence but still striking one as diagnostically dead on. (See his essays on Atlanta and Singapore in S,M,L,XL.) But from Delirious New York on, he has also produced plenty of bloated, ungrounded utterance. His followers, lacking his astounding acuity, imitate just his mode of offering huge generalities about “contemporary conditions.”
The name of the game seems to be: Assert whatever you can about some special newness in our social/cultural moment. So when you cryptically write, for instance, about “the current crisis,” we join you in pretending to know precisely what you are talking about. We nod our heads in jittery conspiratorial intimacy. We suppress acknowledging that we don’t really know or understand.
This mental smoke screen has recently been most obfuscating among Dutch and American elites; in France it is long familiar. Intellectualism becomes a mental manner. Research—laborious, lengthy, uncompromisingly careful and responsible investigation—slackens into barstool musings. The compulsion to say something new leads to things like this real example from Volume: “Treating the [retail] big box as a potential form of high art could lead to an aesthetic breakthrough.” Or not.
Carefully cooked slow food for thought is still available for those willing to pull off the main drag. The New York Review of Books, for instance, offers lots of solid fare. There is even some on the main drag. Just take the pedal off the metal.
When a shrinking congregation forced the century-old St. Gerard’s Church to shut its doors in 2008, its fate was uncertain. The 800-seat church had been a pride of its neighborhood in East Buffalo, NY, boasting stained-glass windows, marble columns, and a basilica modeled after St. Paul’s in Rome. But its roof was collapsing and the parish could no longer justify maintaining it for a congregation that had dwindled from several thousand families in the 1970s to a mere hundred.
Meanwhile, in Norcross, a burgeoning suburb of Atlanta, the Mary Our Queen parish was looking to build a new home for its 3,000-and-counting members. Although parish leaders had drafted a preliminary design with an architect, they went to visit St. Gerard’s after hearing of its closing. “They were awestruck at how much it looked like their design,” said Pat Chivers, spokesperson for the Atlanta diocese.
The two groups negotiated an agreement: The church would be moved 900 miles from Buffalo to Norcross, in what Mary Our Queen touts as “preservation by relocation.” As the church is dismantled, every brick will be numbered and catalogued, and the dismantling process will be filmed to aid in its reconstruction. Contractors will take moldings of any pieces that cannot be easily removed, such as the plaster on the walls and ceiling, and re-cast them in Norcross.
So far, Mary Our Queen has raised $3 million toward the total $15 million required for the move. “But it’s building momentum,” Chivers said. Support is strong in the Atlanta area, as well as in Buffalo, especially among former parishioners who like the idea of the building continuing to operate as a Catholic church.
Local preservation groups would prefer to see the church stay in Buffalo, but have officially stated their intent not to oppose the move. The Buffalo City Council, however, has been explicit in its disapproval of the plan. “[Norcross] should develop their own vernacular architecture there, they shouldn’t be poaching ours,” said Buffalo City Council President David A. Franczyk.
Even if the move occurs as planned, the council need not worry about St. Gerard’s sparking a trend, according to Kevin Keenan, spokesperson for the Buffalo diocese. The church was constructed from large pieces of Indiana limestone, which are easier to take apart and reassemble, making it uniquely suited to a relocation. “This isn’t something we anticipate we will ever do again,” Keenan said.
What looked like a potential tidal wave for the architecture industry—one that would wipe out the relative economic gains of the past year—has turned out to be just another ripple in a still uncertain marketplace. In January, the Architecture Billings Index saw one of its steepest declines in months, but those losses were all but erased in February, according to numbers released by the AIA today.
That February has somewhat reversed such a precipitous drop—when inquiries fell the furthest they have since October 2008, when the market collapsed—is a promising sign, though it also means the slight gains seen in the index last fall were not yet signs of a permanent recovery.
“It’s not positive yet,” AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said of the billings index, “but I anticipate that in the coming months. It may not actually be supported by the numbers directly, but there are signs in the wider economy that we should be headed in the right direction.”
Billings for February rose 2.3 points to 44.8, nearly besting a 2.9-point loss the month before. A reading above 50 means billings are rising while one below means they are falling; the greater the spread, the greater the gains or losses. So while billings did increase in February, they are still in declining territory—things have gotten better instead of worse, but they are by no means good.
There are some surprising exceptions, however. The Midwest region has been on a tear the past few quarters, rising to 49.4 in February, the highest reading for any region since the recession began. Baker attributes this to strong manufacturing performance in the region. “People are increasingly looking domestic for such work,” Baker said.
The West has also made a comeback—of which Baker is more skeptical because of the continued troubles of California’s state budget, even as housing has stabilized somewhat. From a low of 36.4 in July, the West has risen to a comparably robust 43.6.
It is not all good news for the regions, though, as the Northeast has slipped slightly to 44.1 since its most recent high of 46.6 last November. And the South, which had been on the rise throughout much of last year, has fallen to 40.7 in February from a recession-best of 45.6 in October. “Regionally, I would have guessed the south would have carried us out of the recession, with its oil and agricultural commodities,” Baker said. “But the region is so diverse, and it has Florida in there and Atlanta hasn’t been doing so well, so that’s been a factor.”
Billings by sector have seen a similar rollercoaster. Multifamily housing has been especially strong, driven by gains across the housing market, and it was the first of any indicator to break the 50 threshold, reaching 50.7 in November. That said, it has sunk to 47.3 in February, from 50.1 the month before, with Baker waiting on a two-to-three month gain to declare anything decisive. While still low, mixed-use development has posted a slight comeback, rising to 43.3 from 40.3 in January, breaking a trend going back to August when the sector hovered in the high 30s.
Institutional work gained in February to 44.2 from 43.1 the month before, though that was following a fall from 47.3 October. And despite the success of manufacturing in driving the Midwestern economy, it has yet to have an impact on actual manufacturing facilities, as the commercial-industrial sector—which has also been hampered by problems in the office market—still struggles. The sector fell to 43.2 in February from 44.9 in January, though it has also seen some gains since a low of 39.6 last May.
“If people are not thinking about hiring back their workers yet, they’re certainly not going to be sitting down with their architects to work on capital projects or expansion plans,” Baker said. He does expect job growth by the second quarter, however, based on historical analysis looking at the past four recessions—much as the AIA predicted earlier this year. “If this recession is like past ones, I fully expect us to be back to work by the summer,” he said.
James Corner and Field Operations have beaten out formidable competitors including Gehry Partners and Peter Walker to design Santa Monica’s new Palisades Garden Walk and Town Square. The high profile project will include 7 acres of park space between Santa Monica City Hall and the Santa Monica Pier that will connect the area’s Civic Center to the rest of the city. Land for the project was made available when the RAND Corporation relocated its headquarters to the southernmost location of its 15-acre site back in 2004.
Out of the 24 teams that submitted for the RFQ, the six shortlisted teams included Field Operations, Peter Walker and Partners, Gehry Partners, Studio Works, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, and SWA Group. The selection panel for the project included Qingyun Ma, Dean of the USC School of Architecture; landscape architect Ken Smith, and Marc Fisher, Campus Architect at UCSB. They panel coordinated with staff from the city’s Community and Cultural Services, Planning, and Public Works/Architecture Services departments.
In the end Field Operations, best know for their work on New York’s High Line, won out because of their creative thinking about the site, their landscape expertise, their strong work in the public process, and their “commitment to making places for people,” said Barbara Stinchfield, Santa Monica’s Director of Community and Cultural Services. Teams did not present concept designs in their interviews.
Stinchfield stressed that the team was selected for more than just their impressive resume. “It wasn’t just this one really high profile project,” she said, referring to the High Line. “It’s their dedication to sustainability and public art and engaging the community.”
Lisa Switkin, an associate principal at Field Operations, believes it is her firm’s commitment to community involvement that helped it win the day. “We are good listeners,” she said. “We try to understand the site, not come in with a design and retrofit it to what people like.” Switkin added that while a design is far from being developed, the firm is interested in exploring the site’s historic significance, its local plant life, its bluffs and dunes, its significant grade changes, and even its nearby freeway interchange. “We like to amplify the site’s existing characteristics,” she said.
On the heels of the High Line, Field Operations is also working on major park spaces throughout the country. These include the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile loop of former rail tracks and embankments around the city; the huge Shelby Farms Park in Memphis; the Race Street Pier in Philadelphia; and the massive Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island, which is transforming the former landfill of the same name.
Passing over Gehry Partners was not easy, said Miriam Mulder, from Santa Monica’s Architectural Services Department. But the selection committee decided it was best to choose a team that focused on landscape architecture. “This particular piece doesn’t really have much architecture associated with it,” she said. “It’s nice to imagine there might be more architectural pieces that come up.”
Stinchfield said the project is being funded through $25 million in redevelopment agency funds, while the city hopes to tap into additional design department money. They hope to finalize the team’s contract and make a recommendation to the City Council at its last meeting in March. But Mulder thinks that the recommendation might not be made until the council’s April 13 meeting. From there, she said, the city hopes to have the design finalized by late 2011 or early 2012 and have construction begin in 2012.
The Town Square portion of the project, adjacent to Santa Monica’s City Hall, is set to be a space for cultural and civic events, while the Palisades Garden Walk, to its south, will focus on the city’s unique “cultural” and “horticultural” offerings, including a botanical element and water features. Adjacent streetscape improvements, as well as pedestrian and bicycle paths, will connect the parks to the city, while Moore Ruble Yudell’s Santa Monica Village will sit just adjacent.
We’re pretty built up at this point, so it’s definitely one of the last open spaces that we may have to develop for a long time,” said Mulder.
The General Services Administration awarded ten hefty contracts for Building Information Modeling (BIM) services in Septmber, each worth $30 million, with a retainer of up to five years. While work under the contracts has not yet been assigned, the GSA has clearly indicated that BIM services are an important factor for the federal government’s new construction projects, as well as for renovating and modernizing existing structures.
The Indefinite Delivery–Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contracts were awarded across the GSA’s regions, and six went to architecture firms: Ghafari Associates of Dearborn, Michigan; KlingStubbins in partnership with Tocci Building Corporation of Philadelphia; HNTB of Kansas City, Missouri; ONUMA of Pasadena, California; View By View of San Francisco; and Kristine Fallon Associates of Chicago. The four remaining contracts were awarded to construction management firm DPR Construction of Falls Church, Virgina; engineering and systems-based Hallam Associates of South Burlington, Vermont; and software development firms Beck Technology of Dallas and Applied Software Technology of Atlanta.
The ten offices will primarily act as project consultants, and depending on the services required for each assignment, a team may find itself modeling information as varied as energy analyses, operations and facility management, planning and programmatic organization, or cost estimating schedules.
“The IDIQ for BIM services will provide consulting services available to GSA to verify, model check, train, and prepare independent models on any American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects or future projects,” said GSA spokeswoman Mary Anne Beatty. The contracts promote the GSA’s commitment to “strategic and incremental implementation of BIM technologies and reflect the technological advances in the marketplace,” Beatty added.
Chris Leary, a project director at KlingStubbins, said that the firm had essentially been prequalified for a very broad assignment. “It’s up to the local GSA, or perhaps the national GSA office, to come up with specific assignments that meet these categories,” he said. “It’s a pretty clever way for an owner like the GSA to accelerate the adoption of this technology.”
Six additional IDIQ contracts were awarded for 3-D laser scanning services to provide accurate 3-D models of existing GSA facilities in advance of architecture or engineering work. In partnership with BIM services, scanning should help streamline the GSA’s vast portfolio of construction and renovation projects, which include federal office buildings, border stations, courthouses, and childcare centers.
Two of the winning 3-D scanning firms, Stantec Consulting Services of Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and Architectural Resource Consultants of Irvine, California, provide architectural and design services. Coign Asset Metrics & Technologies of New Brighton, Pennsylvania offers a broad range of capabilities, including facility and asset management, engineering, surveying, planning, information technology, and business process improvement. The remaining three offices—Quantapoint of Pittsburgh, Pharos Consulting of Orlando, Florida, and Beck Technology of Dallas—specialize in software development and laser scanning.
When Harry Rosen opened Junior’s in 1950, the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field and Brooklyn was in its heyday. The restaurant’s Flatbush Avenue neighbors included the Paramount and Fox theaters, where Brooklynites could hear Duke Ellington or, a few years later, Chuck Berry. Downtown was a real neighborhood, said Joe Chan, executive director of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), and the recent wave of development—no matter how chaotic in appearance—aims to make it one again.
The intervening decades saw the area along Flatbush decline into automotive uses and an uninviting barrier condition. In 2004, the nonprofit DBP and the commercial and academic stakeholders it represents, along with relevant city agencies, saw the area’s rezoning as a chance to recapture that history with residents, jobs, entertainment, diverse retail, and 24/7 street life. “It should have all the elements of economic sustainability,” said Chan, who spent five years as City Hall’s point person for the rezoning. The plan also incorporated PlaNYC’s principles for greening public space and guiding density toward transit nodes.
Much of the area’s physical and social healing depends on whether Flatbush continues to resemble a highway or evolves toward a boulevard with development that “knits neighborhoods together,” according to SOM’s Duffy. Flatbush needs to be “less of an edge, more of a permeable condition between pre- existing neighborhoods.”
Noting how vehicles and the “defensive” MetroTech buildings combine to separate Fort Greene from downtown, Duffy looks to design as well as programming for reintegration. Toren, with its dimpled facade of Argentine aluminum panels painted powder-coat silver, stands out from the area’s dominant masonry styles; at ground level, its facade “was meant to foster transparent activity at the street edge,” he said.
Schermerhorn House, designed by Susan Rodriguez and Polshek Partnership for a publicly-owned site near Hoyt-Schermerhorn station, is an intriguing exception to the highrise activity, performing a comparably mediating function on a 12-story structure. With a glass-tower design that Rodriguez describes as having two distinct faces—one reflecting Downtown Brooklyn’s larger scale, and the other stepping down to the brownstones of Boerum Hill—this multipurpose project spearheaded by Common Ground Community and Actors Fund of America includes studio units for special-needs populations like the formerly homeless, artists, and other low-income residents.
The vacant storefronts in commercial districts throughout New York City are among the most striking signs of the economic downturn. However, on old industrial sites and in neighborhoods where national retail has never ventured before, developers are betting that a new generation of malls will bring in hordes of shoppers. One such mall is the $500 million Gateway Center at the Bronx Terminal Market, which in May held a ribbon cutting for its first tenant, Home Depot.
Situated on a 16.5-acre site along the Harlem River near the new Yankee Stadium, this 950,000-square-foot project for the Related Companies represents a major departure from the traditional suburban mall. Instead of being enveloped in parking lots, this mall is pedestrian friendly. It has wide sidewalks, a small outdoor plaza with seating, and several street-level spaces for restaurants and retail. Sloped roofs and interior streets break up the massing of the enormous development.
Instead of big-box stores spread out laterally, here they are stacked on top of one another in two three-story retail blocks that flank a six-story garage for 2,341 cars. The two retail blocks are staggered by about 15 feet, allowing each big-box store to connect to its own dedicated parking deck by walkways that pass over interior streets. If a mall of this size were built in the suburbs, it would typically take up 100 acres.
The vertical design, with its relatively modest footprint, resolves many concerns that critics have about malls, said John Clifford, principal at GreenbergFarrow, which did the project’s master plan and retail design. A large share of shoppers, about 37 percent, are supposed to arrive by public transit and on foot. “There are a lot of urbanists who hate the suburbanization that these uses bring,” Clifford said, “but when you think about it, there couldn’t be a better use of land resources.”
Gateway is one of several vertical-style malls under construction in the city that GreenbergFarrow has helped design. East River Plaza, planned by the Blumenfeld Development Group on a three-block site between East 116th and 119th streets adjacent to the FDR Drive, is due to open this fall. Vornado Realty Trust’s Rego Park II in Queens will also open this year. And a GreenbergFarrow design for another Related project, the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx, is in the midst of a contentious public review process.
These massive developments will undoubtedly change the way that many New Yorkers shop. Gateway, which is 90 percent leased, will provide the Bronx with its first Bed Bath & Beyond and its first wholesale club, BJ’s. East River Plaza will house the first Costco in Manhattan. The new malls also promise thousands of jobs for low-income neighborhoods that suffer from high unemployment.
Yet many community groups and local business advocates are not thrilled by the new designs or the shopping opportunities these developments promise. While some opponents are willing to accept new malls if they commit to paying a living wage, others ask whether the new malls, which receive generous tax abatements and subsidies, are coming at the expense of more sustainable and less inherently auto-dependent forms of development.
Irwin Cohen, a developer who specializes in adaptive reuse, had plans to redevelop old industrial buildings at the Bronx Terminal Market into a multipurpose facility that would rent to independent food vendors, much as he did when he turned a former Nabisco factory into the highly successful Chelsea Market. Local operations would have been better anchors for the Bronx site than big-box national retailers, he argued. “Why should we have what is being done in the rest of the United States foisted on us—shopping malls and cars?”
For his part, Clifford has long pondered such questions. He began designing malls out of GreenbergFarrow’s Atlanta office for Home Depot, and helped introduce the big-box concept in New York in 1993, designing the city’s first Home Depot in Ozone Park, Queens. Since then, Greenberg Farrow has designed more than 6.5 million square feet of big-box stores and malls in New York City alone. In recent years, as developers have looked to more urban neighborhoods, new design strategies were required: hence the vertical mall.
Take East River Plaza. Instead of existing as a monolith that eats up three city blocks, the 650,000-square-foot project is broken up by an open-air galleria, similar to the one at Gateway, that lines up with 117th Street, providing orientation to the neighborhood and to stores on four above-grade retail levels. Here, every other level of retail is accessible from the adjacent, eight-story parking garage by pedestrian bridges that connect over the galleria.
The project also seeks to harmonize with its surroundings through a facade of masonry and brick, chosen to echo the texture of the neighborhood and to reference the 19th-century Washburn Wire factory, which occupied the site. While these are worthwhile tactics, one wonders if the factory might have been salvaged for reuse in the project, making a more than symbolic nod to neighborhood history.
A similar strategy has been used at Gateway Center, where remnants were incorporated from the art deco Bronx House of Detention, demolished to make way for the new mall. Eagles from the structure’s frieze, for instance, are perched on steel columns around the mall’s street-side plaza. The building also references heroic 1930s warehouse architecture through four 30-foot-tall glass towers, which conceal exit stairways and serve as beacons above the Deegan Expressway.
“We wanted to take a little bit of the history of the site and impart it onto the design of the building,” said Gregory Cranford, partner at BBG-BBGM, which served as design architects for the massing and exteriors of the buildings, and as overall architects for the project. “So we have done that with the massing and with the big forms. We wanted to have a little bit of the same scale, but in a modern vocabulary.”
Among the new malls, Rego Park II may best address its surroundings. First, the superblock is not out of place here—neighbors include tower-in-the-park residential developments, along with the original Rego Park mall. And instead of being primarily a retail zone dominated by big-box stores, the 1.675 million-square-foot development called for a more diverse mix of uses to animate the public spaces, including a 25-story residential tower atop a seven-story parking garage with ground-level retail. Currently, however, the tower is on hold.
Other elements of the project go well beyond window-dressing. A tensile fabric canopy covers a 50-foot-wide galleria along the central axis of the development. In contrast to the gallerias at Gateway Center and East River Plaza, which accommodate cars and pedestrians, the one at Rego Park is strictly a pedestrian mall that attempts to bring an urbanistic feel to the neighborhood. “We are trying to integrate open space into the community,” said Giovanni Valle, project architect for Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, which designed the facade for Rego Park II. (SLCE is the architect of record.)
Kingsbridge Armory, meanwhile, represents another approach. This project involves building a vertical mall inside the landmarked Kingsbridge Armory. Under the plan developed by GreenbergFarrow, the inside of the armory would be ripped out and a steel-truss-framed structure would be inserted inside the shell of the building.
The project, though, has been opposed by groups like the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), which demands that Related commit to have tenants pay a living wage, as well as add recreation space for children. There is also outrage about plans for a 60,000-square-foot grocery store, which residents say could drive out local grocery stores that pay union wages.
“We are not looking to create a poverty wage center in the middle of Kingsbridge,” said Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, a KARA spokesperson. (Glenn Goldstein, senior vice-president of the Related Companies, said that it was too early in the approval process to discuss plans for the armory.)
There is much to praise about New York’s newest vertical malls. They’ll revitalize old industrial areas, and relate more sanely to the city than earlier megaprojects did. But worries remain that these projects are still suburban—reliant on car and truck traffic, and a threat to local businesses.
That is a particular concern given the subsidies and tax abatements involved. Related, for example, received a $7.1 million city subsidy toward the expense of razing the original Bronx Terminal Market, as well as about $133 million in city tax abatements for Gateway. The company also received preliminary approval for subsidies and tax abatements on the mall it plans for Kingsbridge.
“These urban mall projects fit into a pattern of public dollars being used to fund the expansion of national chain retailers,” said Stacy Mitchell, the author of Big-Box Swindle, “while independent businesses never see a dime.” There is no reason why forward-thinking design couldn’t also serve a more balanced vision of community investment—and a still more sustainable wave of shopping in the city.