All posts in East

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Moving Forward

NYC launches new website outlining timeline and process for the BQX streetcar
After much uncertainty and relative quiet, an updated timeline has been announced for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX streetcar) that would connect 11 miles of Brooklyn and Queens. The City’s Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Transportation have launched a new website detailing the proposed streetcar, along with previously released and new reports, which would run from Red Hook to Astoria and connect 13 subway lines and 30 bus routes. The BQX team proposes having at least five community board presentations and a minimum of five workshops this winter, and intend to collect public opinion on the $2.7 billion project via the new website and engage in on-the-ground outreach. There will be public hearings and the collection of comments in May and June, followed by a draft environmental impact statement in the spring of next year, with the final version to be released in fall of 2021 following public comment. Alternative options to the light rail line will reportedly be considered (the website gives the example of a dedicated bus lane). Currently, the city aims to open the line in 2029. If all goes according to plan, the city will then seek federal funding (as much as $1 billion according to previous reports) and undertake a land-use review, get the necessary approvals, and select designers, contractors, and companies to run the BQX. Funding has been a major hurdle for the streetcar. The federal government has certainly not been generous with infrastructure projects as of late, especially in areas the current administration sees as opposed to it. While it was suggested that Amazon (which was going to receive nearly $3 billion in subsidies, tax breaks, and incentives) might have footed part of the bill when they had planned to build their HQ2 in Long Island City, that option is obviously off the table. Many City Council members have questioned the price tag relative to the streetcar's projected ridership and the desperate need for upgrades to transit options elsewhere. Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to advocate for the project, however.
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Exclusive First Look

New Museum and Onassis USA will launch a mixed reality lab in Leong Leong–designed space
The New Museum’s NEW INC and Onassis USA, the American outpost of the Greek arts organization, have announced a new joint venture focused on mixed reality projects. Called ONX Studio (for Onassis, NEW INC eXtended Reality Studio), the project will begin as a two-year pilot program and will function as an accelerator, workspace, and gallery located in a 4,000-square-foot space in Midtown’s Olympic Tower, in a space being redesigned by Leong Leong ONX Studio has in part grown out of projects by NEW INC members and the challenges they’ve posed. “One of the thrilling things around NEW INC is that mixed reality has organically become a huge area of focus for the members,” explained Karen Wong, deputy director of the New Museum and cofounder of NEW INC, noting that many past residents, working with AR and VR, have found success at forums such as Sundance, South by Southwest, and the Tribeca Film Festival. However, mixed reality is new, and festivals, museums, and galleries are still exploring how to best incorporate it into their programming “Mixed reality is an area that’s growing by leaps and bounds but there’s no bespoke spaces in New York for this artist working with it,” said Wong. The new Leong Leong–designed space is being built specifically for year-long residents to experiment and create in, as well as to provide a platform to exhibit and share their work. Christopher Leong described ONX Studio as a “hybrid space,” one that blends its roles as both workspace and exhibition space. It will be focused around a large room that acts as an “immersive toolbox.” Secondary spaces, such as an acoustically-isolated exhibition space, as well as basics like kitchens and conference space will flank the center room, which is lined by an acoustic curtain. Furniture will be flexible, creating a kind of "cast of characters," that can be relocated throughout the studio. A theatrical grid of outlets, tracks, lighting, and other technological infrastructure will be built-in into the space, allowing for a flexible use of the studio, which could also be further subdivided or opened up. “The hope is that it’s open-ended in the way that it can be used,” explained Leong, “whether it’s for recording bodies in space with volumetric capture, as an artist's studio, or as a place to exhibit projections or sound pieces or mixed reality live performances. Our goal was to create an infrastructure that could support artists in many ways. We wanted to create a sense that the space could be transformational.”  Wong noted that she saw the partnership with Onassis as especially compelling given the international organization’s penchant for commissioning radical theatrical works, and for their underway development of a program in Greece that shares sympathies with NEW INC, the Onassis Lab. ONX Studio plans to announce its initial dozen residents and open this spring. The artists—including previous NEW INC alumni—will spend a year developing mixed reality projects to be exhibited during a month-long showcase next winter. The program is being overseen by Wong along with NEW INC director Stephanie Pereira, Onassis USA artistic and executive director Vallejo Gantner, and the Onassis Foundation’s head of digital and innovation Prodromos Tsiavos.
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River Revamp

Governor Cuomo unveils $300 million plan to reimagine the Erie Canal
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a $300 million proposal to upgrade the Erie Canal with recreational hotspots and a series of environmental improvements to combat flooding, restore wetlands, and enhance agricultural irrigation across New York State. Revamping the 19th-century waterway, which spans 363 miles from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River, is expected to bring a wave of economic development to the 225 communities that surround it.  The news comes based on research conducted by Governor Cuomo’s Reimagine the Canals task force, a group assembled last May to produce a report on how the Canal’s historic infrastructure could be used to advance the health and well-being of area residents, economies, and ecosystems. BuroHappold Engineering was selected to head up the task force as the lead consultant.  The first phase of funding will be granted this year and will provide $100 million in investment to support projects that innovatively reuse canal infrastructure, according to the governor’s office, and create new ways to enjoy the water. A separate $65 million will go to helping prevent ice jams along the Canal and flooding.  Last restored in 1999 and designated as a National Heritage Area the following year, the Erie Canal has long-been underutilized, the task force noted. Cuomo aims to repurpose it to “fit our state’s 21st century needs.” “This bold and visionary plan to transform this historic waterway will build on the success of the Empire State Trail,” said the Governor in a press release, “grow tourism across Upstate New York, improve the resilience of today’s Canal communities, and ensure the economic sustainability of the waterway into the future.”  The Empire State Trail, stretching 750 miles long, is expected to be finished later this year and will further tie in the Canal improvements as they are built-out over the several years. The second phase of the initiative will involve the remaining $135 million and any further project recommendations suggested by the task force.  In an email to AN, Alice Shay, an associate in BurroHappold's Cities practice, said all phases will heavily involve the input of canalside residents. "It's critical to ensure that local communities are brought into the process and that the reimagining celebrates the history and heritage of the canal," she said. "We're looking at ways to adapt the system's assets for new uses that tap into this heritage, including transforming historic structures into tourism and recreation destinations and celebrating the canal's infrastructure with hydro-powered illumination."
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Marcel Marsold

Marcel Breuer's iconic Pirelli Building will be readapted into hotel
The Marcel Breuer-designed Pirelli Tire Building in the Long Wharf district of New Haven, Connecticut, is about to have new life breathed into it following 32 years of vacancy. Local developer Bruce Becker purchased the 2.76-acre property late last December for $1.2 million with plans to turn the brutalist structure into a hotel with up to 165 rooms, as was originally reported in April of 2018. Becker purchased the property from IKEA, which has been using the building as a billboard since moving next door in 2003. IKEA was the first to propose the reoccupation of the vacant building as a hotel in November 2018 when its members spoke to the City Plan Commission. IKEA and the city officials of New Haven have both since been eager to find a buyer for the building that would be dedicated to its preservation and reoccupation, and the choice to treat it as a hotel aligns with the city's growing tourism economy as well as its plan to redevelop the Long Wharf district. Future plans for the hotel call for improvements to the structure's stormwater management and landscaping while reconfiguring the adjacent surface lot. The building's iconic exterior will be preserved to its original condition without any alterations. Two hundred square feet of bicycle storage will also be added to the building's void below the current IKEA sign. “The Pirelli Building is one of the most architecturally significant mid-century modern buildings in the United States,” Becker told The New Haven Independent, “and has the potential to be preserved and transformed into a net-zero energy boutique hotel and conference center.” The building was originally completed in 1970 for the Pirelli Tire company, which vacated the property in 1988. The structure's most iconic feature, the one-story void between the building's two main volumes, was intended to reduce noise levels between the development labs below and the offices on the upper floors. Becker has not yet revealed which hotel company will occupy the space when the conversion is complete.
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No More Walls!

Will Related Companies build a giant wall around Hudson Yards?
New Yorkers may have told themselves over the last year since Hudson Yards opened to the public that there could never be and will never be anything worse than the luxury mega-development—what some view as an architectural ode to capitalism. But today, news broke that things could possibly get worse. Michael Kimmelman revealed for the New York Times that the real estate giant Related Companies may build a 720-foot-long, 20-foot-high concrete wall around the western and southern borders of Hudson Yards, effectively creating a shadow over the northernmost portion of the High Line. This could potentially be part of the development's highly-anticipated second, the phase aptly named Western Yard, which will include a slew of new towers by Herzog & de Meuron, Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava, and Robert A.M. Stern, as well a new public school and 12-acre park designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz The landscape, or green deck as it's referred to in renderings, was initially conceived as a covering to the platform that will bridge over the existing Amtrack rail yard on-site. Renderings of the project showed the park spilling over and onto 12th Avenue at West 30th Street. But according to the NYT, recently Related has been discussing the idea of adding a parking garage under the deck instead and elevating its edge from east to west with a curved wall. Not only would a wall separate the development's veritable "front yard" from the public, but it would cast a dark shadow and potentially dangerous presence onto the High Line. Kimmelman said it best:
"Among other things, the wall would visually and perhaps otherwise obscure public access from the High Line and from the street into the yard, turning Related’s development into a man-made promontory, its occupants gazing down on the High Line’s visitors. It would also make the High Line seem the equivalent of an old city fire escape: a piece of aged infrastructure stuck to a wall."
A spokesperson for Related told NYT the idea has only been part of preliminary discussions with neighborhood representatives and that “connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods and the High Line will be critically important" moving forward.  The final decision has yet to be determined, but whatever Related does settle on will have to pass approval from both Community Board 4 and the City Planning Commission.
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Cost and Cost and Cost versus Benefit

New York's original offer for Amazon HQ2 included an extra $800 million
Nearly a year after Amazon abruptly canceled plans to build its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, new information has surfaced revealing that New York officials offered $800 million more in incentives and grants than initially disclosed to lure the tech giant to the state. Documents revealed from a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) by The Wall Street Journal showed that the $2.5 billion deal also included reimbursements for construction costs, additional tax credits and grants, and even the potential for the state to pay some Amazon employees' salaries.  After the company's much-publicized courting process to find a (suspected) home for HQ2 in 2017, the decision to split the project and place one headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and the other in Queens was met with immediate pushback from New York residents and as local politicians. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose district borders the potential HQ2 site, strongly opposed the deal to give away billions to the tech giant, while others worried that the influx of thousands of tech workers would raise housing prices and displace locals. Yet, New York’s deal still seem to pale in comparison to other offers—New Jersey topped the list at $7 billion in incentives.  State officials defended the inflated offer, citing initial expectations of a larger HQ2 in Queens. “Throughout the negotiating process, we sharpened our incentive package and ultimately secured a better return on investment for the state and the biggest economic development opportunity in New York’s history,” Matthew Gorton, a spokesperson for Empire State Development, told the Journal. The new information reignites debate about the cost versus benefit of Amazon’s nixed plans. Supporters claim that the revenue and investments from the online retail giant—over $27 billion in 25 years by some estimates, as well as thousands of jobs—would have made the initial subsidies a small price to pay. “I’ll change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that’s what it takes, because it would be a great economic boost,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo jokingly told reporters during the bidding process. Criticisms over the state’s eagerness to appease Amazon at whatever cost, however, ultimately prevailed. 
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Pain or Pleasure

Omar Sosa gets comfortable at Friedman Benda
One's threshold for discomfort can vary widely as can their need for comfort. Conditioned by external forces, these psychological extremes have a strong impact on the behavior, identity, and the social norms we adopt. Collective expectations of convenience and satisfaction often mirror economic and societal shifts. In the past, we might have been unknowingly content to live without the amenities we've grown accustomed to since. Exploring the split between comfort and discomfort through a visual, material, and referential lens, Omar Sosa mounts the Comfort exhibition at the Friedman Benda gallery, on view until February 15. The cofounder and creative director of maverick interiors publication Apartamento was commissioned by the collectible design platform as part of its annual guest curator program. In his research, Sosa sought to investigate comfort's correlation with aesthetics, and the tension that occurs between the visual and physical properties of utilitarian objects, sculptures, photographs, and paintings. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Jenga Juicing

Construction begins on the towering Center for Computing and Data Sciences at Boston University
Boston University will soon receive a tower that could make its campus an architectural destination up there with those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University on the opposite side of the Charles River. Toronto-based firm KPMB Architects and national building contractor Suffolk broke ground earlier this week on a 19-story tower for the university's new Center for Computing and Data Sciences. When completed, the tower will be the university's first major teaching center in over 50 years, as well as the campus's tallest building. With nearly 350,000 square feet of interior space, the new center will combine Boston University's departments of mathematics, statistics, and computer science under one roof to further interdisciplinary research in the field of data science. The building's verticality and distinct profile were designed to maximize opportunities for interactivity among its students and faculty while signaling the university's emphasis on STEM research to the world abroad. The terra-cotta-colored envelope was chosen to stand out against the campus's primarily grey buildings. The project's largely transparent ground floor will occupy nearly the entirety of its rectangular site to draw the public in, as well as to complete the streetscape along Commonwealth Avenue, the university's main thoroughfare. The facility will be the largest carbon-neutral building in Boston since the Boston Climate Action Plan Update was enacted in 2019, which aims to significantly reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases for all newly constructed buildings in the region. The facility will not only be fossil fuel-free but will also feature energy-efficient elements including advanced solar shading devices, geothermal energy production, and triple-glazed windows. The cantilevering design makes room for several green roofs and balconies that will bring occupants closer to fresh air and city views. While the materiality of the building was not resolved when KPMB's proposal was first showcased in 2018, the cantilevering floor plates were carried through to the final design. Construction is expected to move quickly as the project is slated to be completed by 2022.
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High-Speed Pushback

Maryland towns band together to fight high-speed rail route
As plans move forward for a high-speed magnetic levitation (maglev) train line between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., an increasing number of small towns are banding together to fight the railway, which spans 40 miles and would provide service between two major business districts in 15 minutes. The towns are scattered across Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties in the direct path of maglev project construction. The Baltimore–D.C. segment is the first step in a proposal to eventually provide high-speed rail service between Washington and New York. Pushback has increased as the 20-year planning phase of the project has moved to its next steps: An environmental impact statement draft is expected in early 2020, according to The Washington Post. Although the train will run 75 percent underground at depths of 80- to-200 feet, residents between the two cities would bear the brunt of the construction, in close proximity to their homes without much payoff in return—the train, which stops only in Washington, Baltimore, and at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, would be of little use to those living in these small communities. Residents of Greenbelt, Maryland, have been some of the most vocal opponents of the project and formally denounced the proposal for the high-speed train two years ago. Now, the city of 23,000 is requesting legal counsel to aid its effort to halt the maglev route, sparking a debate over NIMBY mentality and the grassroots efforts to protect communities. Amanda Kolson Hurley, a journalist on urbanism who profiled Greenbelt’s history in her book, Radical Suburbs: Experimental Living on the Fringes of the American City, offered insight via Twitter: “We really screwed up by not building more subway & light-rail lines already. Greenbelt residents are not wrong to say they will bear the inconvenience while the main benefits go to DC and Baltimore… Greenbelt got carved up by the BW Parkway & Beltway, so there’s a history of being imposed on by big transpo projects.” Support for the high-speed rail project, however, comes from its potential to ease regional traffic congestion and create thousands of jobs. The railway is backed by Maryland's Governor Larry Hogan, and impact studies were aided by a $28 million federal grant. Pending the release of the environmental impact report and final approval, construction could begin as soon as next year.
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From Moderne to Contemporary

Kennedy & Violich Architecture are redeveloping the interior of MIT's Hayden Library
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Hayden Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is about to receive a significant interior renovation. To better carry out its mission as a rigorous research space at the center of campus, Boston-based firm Kennedy & Violich Architecture (KVA) has developed a design concept titled "Research Crossroads" that aims to renew and restore the library's multiple programs and produce the optimal environment for the internet age of research. “We asked KVA to create spaces that reflect the library of the future—participatory, creative, dynamic—while also preserving what makes Hayden such a popular study destination: quiet, restful space with beautiful views,” said Chris Bourg, director of the MIT Libraries, in a press release. “Their design will not only make the library more open and welcoming; it will invite community members to make connections between ideas, collections, and each other.” While the ground floor of the library was for decades only accessible during business hours, the renovation will transform the 10,000-square-foot space into a dynamic and flexible community space open 24 hours a day and will include a cafe, study rooms, and an event room for lectures and exhibitions. The ground floor will also receive two new double-height glass pavilion structures that will overlook the Lipschitz Courtyard on one side and the Charles River on the other. “This design puts research physically and figuratively at the center of the library,” said Bourg. “The research rooms will be visible as you enter, signaling that the library is an active and vibrant space where people are interacting with knowledge and each other.” The study spaces are designed to support a wide variety of learning and research styles to allow students to 'hack' the library's resources as they see fit. The second-floor reading room will be accessible from the first via a central staircase as well as a full-size elevator to improve the building's ADA compliance. Hayden Library was originally completed in 1951 by Voorhees, Walker, Foley & Smith and remains one of the finest examples of the post-World War II Art Moderne style in the state. While the interior will be transformed by the renovation, minimal work is being performed on the exterior. The library's northeast entrance will be refurbished while the north and south windows, as well as sections of the limestone facades, will be renovated to their original conditions. The renovation is currently in the construction phase and is anticipated to be completed in time for the start of the 2020 fall semester in September.
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Modular Measure

Shipping containers amass a cost-effective bungalow in Amagansett
When one thinks of a house in the Hamptons, they usually picture a beach-front McMansion with large shingle roofs and endless windows. These colossuses often contain innumerable bathrooms and bedrooms; all aptly fitted out with country-style wainscoting and ornamental fixtures. This all too real illustration isn't complete without a three-car garage, sprawling lawns, tennis courts, and Olympic-sized pools; as if adjacent ocean beaches weren't enough when it comes to swimming. Though this trope tends to describe what most homeowners and seasonal renters have come to expect from a summer house in Sagaponack or Montauk, the South Fork of Long Island boasts far more architectural diversity than this timeworn cliche might suggest. While a return to mid-century modernism has spawned a number of recent developments and wild postmodern statement piece by Norman Jaffe and Ricard Meier stand as jarring reminders of a bygone era, few Hamptons-based projects have sought to push-the-bill when it comes to dealing with a restrained budget. Set on a wooded elevation near Amagansett’s bay-front, this compact house was designed by local firm MB Architecture for a client with a modest brief. Making the most of the triangular property’s perch and sunset views, the firm implemented a sparing, LEGO-like scheme that incorporates a great room, a kitchen, four bedrooms, and three shared bathrooms; all within 1800 square-feet of shipping containers. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Cold Weather Convos

Winter Stations 2020 is meant to draw Torontonians to the beach
Winners of the sixth annual Winter Stations Design Competition will once again grace the beaches of east Toronto beginning February 17. The three winning installations will be joined by a fourth from the local Centennial College. This year’s theme was Beyond the Five Senses, and organizers asked the 273 entrants to create freestanding pavilions that either engaged visitors’ senses and connection to the environment or distorted it. To that end, here are this year’s winners, which each aim to encourage visitors to explore and discuss an under-used section of Toronto in the winter. Kaleidoscope of the Senses, by Charlie Sutherland of Sutherland Hussey Harris (SUHUHA), reimagines the typical lifeguard chair as a carefully balanced sculpture. The horizontal bar laid across the structure’s center frames the horizon across the water, while the sounds of a bell, and the smells of aromatic oils are dispersed around the pavilion, engaging all five senses. Noodle Feed, by iheartblob, uses an accompanying augmented reality app to let visitors drop drawings, photos, and notes at the installation, transcending the physical world. Noodle Feed’s sinuous tubes will be made from rough, repurposed sailcloth, and passerby can rearrange the cushioned noodles to form different arrangements. Mirage, top, by Cristina Vega and Pablo Losa Fontangordo, is aptly named; the reflective yellow sphere either shows a bright rising sun diffusing light across the snow, or a setting red sun, depending on the angle one approaches it from. Only by actually getting close to the installation can one discern that it’s just a reflective disc. Finally, The Beach's Percussion Ensemble from Centennial College, will arrange three stacked wooden columns in a circle around a central steel drum. Graffiti artists will have free reign to decorate the piece, and visitors can play with the drum as wind from the nearby lake triggers the bells that will hang from each structure.