Search results for "Downtown Brooklyn"

Placeholder Alt Text

Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

A few days before his 80th birthday on February 28, Frank Gehry sat down with his good friend, the author and historian John Pastier. The two ranged widely over the architect’s life and work, touching on how he’s been hit by the economy, energized by Obama, and inspired as ever by new technology. They speak candidly about Gehry's frustration with his postmodern peers and the fate of favored projects, among them Brooklyn's controversial Atlantic Yards.

John Pastier: Looking back, did you ever hope or imagine that you would get this far professionally?

Frank Gehry: No, and even though I’m conscious of where I am professionally, I’m actually unconscious of it because psychically I don’t feel any different from where I’ve always been—I’m always nervous, insecure, etc. I think it’s a positive thing, it helps keep you grounded. I’m just more comfortable there, so I do that. But it’s pretty exciting, much of it.

Originally I wanted to do city planning and big-scale urban design projects and social housing. But there was no interest in having architects involved in that. The social housing projects all stopped—HHFA, NFA, etc., didn’t continue.

You started your career working for Victor Gruen. What prompted your leaving in 1960?
 
They were promoting project managers while the design types were being marginalized. I wasn’t the same Frank Gehry back then. I couldn’t get up and do public presentations. I was very shy and had a hard time with all that. The guys that could do it were promoted and made associates of the firm.

I was productive, but they weren’t promoting me. In hindsight I think they felt that I was angry. I went through a period where I was always angry and they didn’t know what to do with that. They wanted me to be happy and I couldn’t be, I couldn’t fit in. I wasn’t comfortable even though I often got to work with Victor very closely, and with Rudy Baumfeld, and Edgardo Contini, people who I adored and respected.

The office had people like Fred Usher, Marion Sampler, Gere Kavanagh, Kip Stewart, Greg Walsh, and John Gilchrest. It was a place that was interested in art and culture and design. Some of them came out of the Eames office. There was a lot of energy and it felt good. It was a very vibrant group and Rudy loved it, he loved all the younger people, as did Victor. They all used the energy of it, they loved the meetings and would have evening parties, inviting all of us. They were us and we were them. But then it became corporate because they weren’t making money I suppose. Suddenly all of us were marginalized for these manager types, so I decided it was time to go.
 
I see a great watershed between the earlier and later parts of your career, when you went from straight, angular, diagonal—linear skewed geometries—to compound asymmetrical curves. That was a huge change.

Well, what ushered in that change was more what happened in the design world. People had turned to postmodernism, so all my friends were doing historicist buildings. Venturi, Johnson, Graves, Moore—I always considered them important friends, people I loved very dearly. But I was pissed off that they were going backwards. We’ve just gone through the modern thing, and before that the Beaux Arts, now do we have to go back to the Beaux Arts just because the architecture curator at the Museum of Modern Art decided that it’s time to go back?

This made me angry, and I thought, “If you’re going to go back, then go back 300 million years before man, to fish.” That’s when I started to realize the forms. Earlier, in the Norton Simon House, I was trying to create a sense of movement because he had a Shiva dancing figure on his dining-room table, and you’d look at it and turn around, and you’d swear it had moved! It was made of bronze and had a sense of movement. I was trying to capture that in wood with a tumbling trellis, but he said, “This looks like it’s your unfinished symphony.” I protested: “But Norton, Schubert died, and I’m still going strong.”

I kept searching for that motion and one day started looking at fish. They were architectural to me and had movement—that’s when I did the big wooden GFT Fish in Italy, the “kitsch” fish I call him. Standing beside it you felt the movement of the tail. So I asked how much of this kitsch stuff can you cut off and make abstract, yet still get the sense of movement? That’s when I did lead-clad fish for the Walker Art Center and for Jay Chiat in Venice, continuing to develop the forms and began to understand how to do it. Finally, I used the computer to help me—that’s when I cut loose.

Clearly, doing these curvilinear forms by hand limited how far you could go.
 
Yeah, I just couldn’t do it. If you were to think of Erich Mendelssohn with his beautiful drawings, he couldn’t do it. If he had the computer these things would have been easy. When you look at the Einstein Tower, you realize how incredible that is.

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?


The turning point was the spiral staircase at the Vitra Furniture Museum. I drew it using descriptive geometry, but since there was a kink in it, the contractors couldn’t build it from my drawings, so that’s when I asked the people in the office, “Isn’t there a way to describe it digitally?” They took us to IBM, who took us to Dassault [creators of the CATIA], and that’s how it happened. In the end I had to build a company around it so they could serve me and now the company is doing other people’s work, and so it spun off into something totally independent.

Your two greatest monuments have arguably been Bilbao and Disney Hall. Obviously you’ve done a lot of other work. One favorite of mine was the New York Guggenheim on the East River in the Financial District.

Yeah, but that was never real. I knew you couldn’t build out over the water there. The Corps of Engineers would never allow it.

What impressed me about that project was its immense scale. More recently it’s struck me that Disney Hall and Bilbao are not just radically different form departures, but also represent a major jump in scale for you—not physical scale so much as aesthetic scale. They’re very monumental but still very accessible. They’re not off-putting. The first time I visited Disney, I rounded a corner and saw it all at once. I thought, “My God, how did he do that?” It was immense and looming like a mountain range, yet was also something very intimate, very human-scaled, even friendly. How do you do that?

You’ve got to want to do it, consciously.

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

Well, if you look at antiquity it’s possible. Great buildings of the past had it. Borromini did it, Bernini did it.

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

I know, but that’s the point. By using the sense of movement you replace the details.

That’s a major insight.


That’s why I did the whole thing with the fish and then moved into this, because once I understood how to characterize movement at a big scale then I knew I had something. I could play with it, and I let it evolve, that’s all. It was a real breakthrough for me.

But during the design process, even working with really big models, how do you make that jump? How do you know what it’s really going to be like at full scale? Is it a leap of faith or can you actually visualize it that precisely?

No, I visualize it because we make models at several scales, which forces me to shift scale. It makes me think, “Real.” So I don’t let the model become the object of desire. I continually challenge myself about that, to keep myself in “real scale.” It’s worked for me a lot. And then we also build full-scale mockups of parts of the building before I “print it,” so to speak.

I’ve spent a lot of time with that idea because during that same period, Michael Graves had the great trouble with it, and we’d talk about it. The drawings were beautiful and a lot of my colleagues’ drawings were beautiful, the models were beautiful, but then the building didn’t deliver. I do lots of drawings, too. They are exciting to people because they’re so scribbly and free, but the important thing is to deliver that feeling to the final building. You have to focus on it and want to do it, you can’t just let it happen. You have to really control it from beginning to end.

Looking back on your work, which projects do you like the best and which have been especially significant to your development? Let’s consider residences.

They allow freedom because they were easier to play with—the scale is easier. The Smith House, a little addition to the first house I did [in 1959], that let me do my first “still life” village. Then the house for the filmmaker where I separated the pieces and you had to go outside to go to the bathroom—that kind of thing. But I was thinking of production houses then—tract houses—and got the idea of separate pieces so you could put the shapes in the computer, and somebody could pick four shapes and then, on the computer, place them on their lot. They could be mass-produced and delivered to your site. I still think it’s a good idea, but nobody did it. 

That all came out of houses, and it led to the still-life strategy that I’ve used in many buildings. It’s present in a lot of things, not so much in Bilbao and Disney but many other projects use that idea. But I don’t like doing houses because I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for society. Although it’s nice doing it for a friend. I even have trouble doing it for myself because it gets into closets and things like that. I played with it over and over—after 60 versions I gave up.

Which other unrealized commissions do you most wish had been built?

The Corcoran Gallery in DC, the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn—I don’t think it’s going to happen. There are projects underway that are being threatened, and may not be completed. That would be devastating to me. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles is also on hold.

But now we’re working on the Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum in Paris, and that’s exciting. It’s a pretty big building, bigger than Disney Hall.

Do you feel some need to adjust to age now that you’re hitting 80? Will you give up playing hockey?
 
Well, I gave that up a couple of years ago. I had a back operation and I was having trouble.

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

I talk about that, but in fact I don’t, and now I’m more excited. I guess you might say I’m Obama-ized—watching him before Congress last night was amazing. It’s not about black or white anymore, it’s about how he’s a real president. He’s the real thing and what he’s talking about is a new revolution in technology—I’m really excited about that. The world’s energy concerns can lead to new architectural models, and not just by that part of the profession that’s using it to get business, putting on their Boy Scout uniforms and doing terrible buildings in the name of “greening.” Now there’s finally traction on this issue, and it’s become something that clients are asking for. We’ve tried it for years and nobody would pay for it—they just wouldn’t do it.
 
So you’re sensing a change in that perception.

I really think there is. What Obama is talking about is certainly going in that direction. There’s a lot of technology out there. I was recently called by somebody asking if I could play with new materials that could become photovoltaic. I said yes, and I’ve been very interested in it.

I can see you experimenting with that and having a lot of fun, so you’re in no danger of burn out there.


No, I’m not going to go there at all, and I’m having fun with the young people in the office. The only problem I’m dealing with is how do I exit. What do I leave here, and should I worry about it?

You’ve cut back on staff size—what was the peak?

About 250, about a year and a half ago. We were doing Brooklyn and Grand Avenue, they were big staffs, 40 to 50 people each. Now we’re at about 120 to 125.
 
Will you keep shrinking until the economy improves?

No, I think we’re pretty steady there unless Abu Dhabi were to stop. You never know about that. I’m doing a Guggenheim museum there with Tom Krens and it’s really exciting to work with him.

Placeholder Alt Text

Built for the People of the United States
The Triborough Bridge was built in 1936 with $44.2 million from the Public Works Administration.
Jet Lowe/Courtesy Library of Congress

In 1931, New York Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat in on a roundtable conversation with the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA) in Charlottesville, Virginia. There, RPAA members including Lewis Mumford, Benton MacKaye, and Clarence Stein presented the future president with a powerful argument that fallout from the economic collapse of 1929 might be best attacked by following a “new road” of regional planning at a national scale. The governor seemed sympathetic to their ideas, and helped MacKaye launch his ambitious plans for the Appalachian Trail, which began in New York State.

Two years later, when FDR began the historic 100 days of legislation that kicked off the New Deal, the RPAA’s lobbying seemed to have paid off. Roosevelt placed MacKaye in a planning position with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and selected Stein’s partner, Robert Kohn, as the first head of the Housing Division of the Public Works Administration (PWA). But while the RPAA’s progressive goals were embodied in these programs, as the New Deal wore on, its idealism and the scale of its ambition became muddled through political compromises.


MODELED AFTER ENGLISH GARDEN CITIES AND COMPLETED IN 1937, GREENBELT, MARYLAND WAS ONE OF THREE GREENBELT TOWNS CREATED UNDER THE FEDERAL RESETTLEMENT ADMINISTRATION.
COURTESY LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

The Greenbelt Town program, which was supposed to change the face of America with a series of highly rational garden cities, was whittled down to three small projects. And the TVA’s initial steps toward creating a “dynamic regional and interregional economy” were soon shed by its director, Arthur Morgan, who steered the authority toward becoming merely a source of electricity for the industrializing south. This tension—between those with plans to use government action and money to transform the country and those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach focused purely on temporary job creation—is very much alive today as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) works its way through Congress. Like today’s stimulus package, the New Deal started as a jobs-creation program, but it gave rise to profound changes in the landscape and culture that were a natural outgrowth of the era’s newfound belief in the federal government’s ability to play a transformational role. As we debate what many call “the New New Deal,” the lessons of the 1930s remind us that a focus on job creation need not preclude a commitment to the broader progressive agenda that made the New Deal so far-reaching.

The New Deal’s largest and best-known agency, the one that became synonymous with the entire program, was the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Enacted in 1935, it received more money and attention than any other of the Roosevelt administration’s initiatives. By 1941, the WPA had spent approximately $11.4 billion ($169 billion in today’s money). Of this massive investment, $4 billion went to highway and street projects; $1 billion to public buildings; $1 billion to publicly owned or operated utilities; and another $1 billion that funded initiatives as varied as school lunch programs, the famous Federal Writers Project, and sent photographers like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans out to document the American landscape. By the time it was disbanded by Congress in 1943 as a result of the manufacturing boom created by World War II, the WPA had provided some eight million jobs and had left its mark on nearly every community in America by way of a park, bridge, housing project, or municipal building.


in 1935, the Public works administration allocated $5 million for the original brooklyn college campus.
courtesy brooklyn college

The magnitude of the change created by the WPA’s modernization program was unprecedented among direct federal interventions, and the current recovery bill has the potential to be as, or more, effective. At this writing, ARRA promises $825 billion in economic stimulus, $275 billion of which is tax cuts and $550 billion of which is actual investment. Much of this $550 billion will go to construction projects to bring America’s flagging schools, health care facilities, and infrastructure up to standard and beyond. A recent analysis of the bill from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the following run-down on infrastructure spending: $30 billion for highways, $9 billion for transit, $1.1 billion for Amtrak, $10 billion for science facilities, $3 billion for airports. The list goes on, including appropriations for clean water and restoration of brownfields, but also money for other architecture-related building work: $16 billion for school modernization, $9 billion for Department of Defense projects like VA hospitals and child care centers, and $2.25 billion for rehabilitating public housing.

While the rough balance of funds in the current bill and the WPA evinces a kinship, they will be disbursed in a very different fashion. Harry Hopkins, FDR’s handpicked director of the WPA, worked directly with the states to evaluate and select projects. Other agencies, such as the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), also had their own directors, their own budgets, and the power to choose how best to spend them. The money in the current stimulus package will be apportioned to the states not through newly created agencies based in D.C.— as was the case in the 1930s—but by existing formulas. These formulas evaluate the needs of various localities by calculating factors that range from demographics, to income levels, to official reports on structures and efficiencies. The formulas have the benefit of distributing funds by objective measures rather than political ones, as goes one criticism of the WPA. However, these measures change little from year to year, and a formula-based system has done little to address infrastructure failings at a regional or even national scale.


the 1940 segment of manhattan's east river drive, sketched by hugh ferriss, received a pwa grant for $4.8 million.
from east river drive (federal works agency. 1940)

What has not changed between now and then is the imperative to choose projects that are ready to start construction immediately. What we might call “shovel-ready” projects were a big part of the WPA agenda, and there were a number of regional plans in place, notably those developed by Robert Moses in New York, that captured an enormous share of federal funds. By 1936, New York City was receiving one seventh of the WPA allotment for the entire country, employed 240,000 people with this money, and was considered “the 49th state” within the WPA. Meanwhile other municipalities floundered in their attempts to draw up plans, and the WPA canceled more than 100 major grants to 11 northeast cities because the blueprints for those projects were not ready. Today’s analog is the “Use it or Lose it” provision in the bill that demands the return of funds if they are not put to work within 120 days. Because of this urgency, many are wary that we will spend $100 billion filling potholes.

There are a few significant projects in New York that promise to make a real difference to the region. One is Access to the Region’s Core, or the ARC tunnel, which will improve transportation between New Jersey and Manhattan. East Side Access, a project that will do the same thing for commuters coming from Long Island, is already under construction, but in dire need of funds. The same can be said for the MTA’s 2nd Avenue Subway project. And then there’s the Fulton Street Transit Center, which promised to become a central element of downtown’s redevelopment before the MTA’s own parlous financial situation put it in jeopardy. These projects, which stand to receive substantial stimulus funding, will undoubtedly improve transportation in the New York region and lay the groundwork for increased demand in the future. But what about transportation between New York and Boston, or New York and Chicago? What about developing a framework for wind power in the tri-state area? What about a comprehensive plan for regional watershed management?


the new deal's heroic ambition is exemplified by the tennessee valley authority's norris dam, completed in 1936.

There is no agency to think about the changing infrastructure needs of the country as a whole. In 2007, a bill was put forth to do just this: The Infrastructure Investment Bank Act would have established a national institution to evaluate project proposals and assemble investment portfolios to pay for them, much like the World Bank does on a global level. The fact that it did not pass Congress speaks to a reluctance in the U.S. to put planning power in the hands of the federal government—the same reluctance that the RPAA came up against in the 1930s.

One of Roosevelt’s first acts of the New Deal, an act some say he first mentioned at that RPAA roundtable meeting in Virginia, was the creation of the TVA. This ambitious project targeted the poorest part of the country, the one hardest hit by the Depression, and took it upon itself to modernize and reinvigorate it. Through a comprehensive regimen of education and infrastructure building—including the construction of 29 hydroelectric dams and even the building of one town—the TVA turned this rural backwater into the nation’s biggest producer of electricity, and one of the backbones of mobilization during WWII. Though it faced determined opposition, and proposals to implement similar regional plans were shot down across the country, the TVA stands as a high water mark.


After the Interstate Highways Act of 1956, the federal government covered 90 percent of costs for road construction, like the 1963 Alexander Hamilton Bridge.
Jack Boucher/COurtesy Library of Congress

The only time in American history that the federal government has been able to enact a national plan was through the Federal Highway Act of 1956, a project whose skeleton was drafted by the NRA during the Depression. While many today dispute the merit of this program, it is instructive to note that the only way Eisenhower was able to sell the highway act to the country was by declaring it vital to national security.

Today we face not nuclear Armageddon but a danger that could, in the long run, prove all the more crippling: our national infrastructure on the brink of collapse. It seems time to draft our own “new road,” one designed not just to pull us out of economic crisis, but also to lay the groundwork that will carry us undiminished into the future.

Placeholder Alt Text

Landmarks in Plain Sight
A row of houses in Alice Court.
Courtesy LPC

The designation of a new city landmark is sometimes greeted with shock that the building in question hadn’t been designated long before. This was especially true today, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized two icons of the Manhattan skyline—4 Irving Place and One Chase Manhattan Plaza—as well as a lesser-known development in Bed-Stuy: the Alice and Agate Courts Historic District.

“This has it all,” said chairman Robert Tierney of 4 Irving Place, though he could have been talking about all three. “No wonder people assume it’s already a landmark.” Commissioner Fred Bland concurred. “It’s hard to believe this hasn’t been designated already,” he said.


SOM's One Chase Manhattan Plaza.
 
 
The Consolidated Edison Building at 4 IRving Place.
COURTESY LPC
 
 

Better known as the home of Consolidated Edison—the first piece of the building was built for Consolidated Gas and completed in 1914—4 Irving Place is one of that trio of beacons—along with the Empire State Building and the MetLife clock tower—that have long illuminated the night sky. That is, after 1928, when Warren & Wetmore completed two wings and the tower addition to Henry Hardenbergh’s original design. “This project is especially important because its two pieces were completed at the end of the careers of two very important New York architects,” Bland said.

Bland added that the building also had a personal importance for him because he used it as his clock when his office was located nearby. “I had to go out and buy a watch when we moved,” he said. Summing up the designation, Commissioner Diana Chapin said, “It’s already a landmark in the New York skyline. Now it will be a protected landmark, as well.”

The same could be said for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s One Chase Manhattan Plaza. As the first modernist skyscraper to be built downtown, the building not only redefined Lower Manhattan’s architecture but resurrected the area’s appeal as a commercial center. “It turned around a section of New York that was in free fall,” Brandes Gratz said. “It made all the difference for the future.”

In addition to the signature work of Gordon Bunshaft, the commission recognized the important role art played in the project, namely the recessed rock garden and adjacent sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. But above all else, commissioners celebrated the plaza at the base of the building, which provides ample public space in an area better known for its narrow, canyon-like streets. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said that the contrasting elements of art, architecture, and open space made the ensemble a work of art in its own right. “With the mix of scales, it almost becomes sculptural,” she said.

Not everything the commission recognized today was so well-known. Also designated was one of the smallest historic districts in the city, Alice and Agate Courts: two adjacent half-block cul-de-sacs in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. They were developed and built by Florian Grosjean, a kitchenware manufacturer, in 1888 and 1889 as rental apartments for his workers. The commission was particularly impressed by the longstanding maintenance of the 36 Queen Anne­–style row houses.

“Brooklyn really surprises with its hidden jewels like these,” Perlmutter said. “You wander around past all these bland developments and then you suddenly come upon this amazing architecture. It has to be preserved. It’s miraculous they’re still intact.”


Isamu Noguchi's Sunken Garden at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. The integration of art into the project was seen as one of its crowning features.
wallyg/flickr
 
An aerial view of the tiny alice and agate courts historic district in bedford-Stuyvesant.
Courtesy Google
 
Placeholder Alt Text

Cutting the Nets?
At Monday's Coney Island charrette kick-off, hosted by the Municipal Art Society, a number of stakeholders from the area gave presentations to the design team to help them form ideas for leading the charrette in a few weeks. (To share your own, visit the imagineconey.com, which just launched today.) One of the presentations was given by Jon Benguiat, the director of planning and development for Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who spoke about Asser Levy Park, a small outdoor amphitheater and park across Surf Avenue from the aquarium, which is getting a dramatic $64 million retractable roof courtesy of Grimshaw. (More on that soon, we hope.) As with all these things, there was a Power Point presentation, and as with all Power Point presentations, the whole thing took some time to boot up. In the interim, Benguiat decided to tell the story of how he became Marty's planning direct, during which he let some shocking news about the Atlantic Yards, or at least the fate of the Brooklyn Nets, slide. But first a caveat: We had considered letting this news go on Monday, in light of the off-hand circumstances and the fact that AN is not one for "gotcha journalism." After all, it would not come as a surprise to most people following the project that it is in trouble, what with Forect City's stock plummeting, its credit rating following suit, and, speaking of suit's, DDDB's got picked up by the state appeals court. Granted the IRS ruled in Bruce Ratner's favor on some tax-exempt bonds, but that's got to be small consolation. However, when reports about the possible sale or relocation of the Nets began to circulate the past two days, as Atlantic Yards watchdog Norman Oder has pointed out, we felt it out duty to relay Benguiat's words. Waiting on Monday for the projector to warm up, Benguiat told the crowd that, when Marty got elected, he had served as the previous borough president's director of land use. Asking if Markowitz was looking for one, the beep-to-be said no, but he did need a director of planning. "Without even thinking about it, I said yes," Benguiat said. "Then I spent the whole night fretting, wondering what I'd gotten myself into." Benguiat said his anxiety only grew when he showed up for the first day of work and Markowitz rattled off the list of initiatives he hoped to pursue: the revival of Coney Island, return of pro sports to the borough, realization of Brooklyn Bridge Park, and redevelopment of the Greenpoint/Williamsburg waterfront. "I won't repeat all the expletives I spewed when I heard this," Benguiat said. "But here we are, nearly all of them complete. I'm not sure if we're going to get the Nets or not. We should have groundbreaking in December, but we'll see." How much Benguiat knows--even Ratner has admitted that the groundbreaking will likely be pushed back due to the lawsuit--is uncertain, but his statement is one of the most dire to come out of the Markowitz administration, which is uniformly unwavering in its support for the project, no matter the legal or financial circumstances. Asked to clarify his comments afterwards, Benguiat declined to comment, instead directing AN to the borough president's press office, which released the following statement from Markowitz:
The current state of the American economy underscores the importance of moving ahead with projects like Atlantic Yards, and I am confident the project will happen. It will create union jobs and much-needed affordable housing, as well as bring professional sports back to Downtown Brooklyn—becoming just the kind of investment magnet that Brooklyn and New York City need right now
Now that the team is in doubt, would the Atlantic Yards project still enjoy the full support of the borough president without one of its foremost reasons for being? Markowitz's office has yet to respond on that front. No word yet from Forest City Ratner, either.
Placeholder Alt Text

A Prospective Landmark or Three
Courtesy Landmarks preservation commission

Talk about a busy day. Following a meeting at the New School yesterday morning, for what many members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission called their hardest decision ever—voting on the demolition of Albert Ledner’s National Maritime Union in favor of a hospital—the commissioners then had to hustle downtown for a full day of work. Fortunately for them, this included the first hearing on the proposed Prospect Heights Historic District and the designation of two considerable landmarks—decidedly happier occasions than overseeing the demise of one of the city’s most unique buildings.

Unlike the highly divided vote on St. Vincent’s, and the divisive hearings that preceded it, all 27 speakers were in favor of designating Prospect Heights. “Brooklyn will breath a sigh of relief if Prospect Heights can be designated,” Christabel Gough, secretary for the Society of the Architecture of the City, said in her testimony, adding that the neighborhood was “due for Manhattanization, if present trends continue, and the city does not act soon.”

Indeed, development, and particularly the Atlantic Yards project to the proposed district’s north, were seen as the primary threats to Prospect Height’s preservation. Some speakers even pointed out that a small section of the neighborhood that falls within the Atlantic Yards footprint had been left out of the proposal. (Asked for comment, a commission spokesperson had not yet responded at the time of this story’s publication.)

With about 870 properties in the district, it would become the second largest in the borough and largest designated in 18 years. In its designation report, the commission lauds the neighborhood for its distinctive, cohesive mix of masonry rowhouses, many rendered in brownstone, that incorporate Neo-Classical, Renaissance Revival, and Romanesque Revival styles.

Letitia James, the local council representative, said the neighborhood had been under development pressure for more than a decade, and so it was time for the commission to act. “This area has already suffered from the demolition of historic buildings and out-of-scale construction,” she said. “The loss of more of our past, this fabric of our historic neighborhoods, will be prevented with this historic designation.”

Marty Markowitz, the borough president and Atlantic Yards booster agreed with James, a usual adversary. “The better Prospect Heights does, the better it is for all of Brooklyn,” he declared. Other supporters included the local community board, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, Crown Heights North Association, Vanderbilt Avenue Merchants District, Municipal Arts Society, Historic Districts Council, and more than a dozen residents.

The commission also designated two individual landmarks, the St. Stephen’s Church in Murray Hill and the former F.W. Devoe & Company factory in Greenwich Village. The church, completed in 1854 in the Romanesque Revival style by architect James Renwick Jr., is located at 151 East 28th Street and was once the largest Roman Catholic church in the city, boasting 28,000 parishioners. “St. Stephen’s restrained, elegant, design belies the powerful influence its congregation and pastors wielded in the closing decades of the 19th century,” commission chair Robert Tierney said.

Founded in 1754, F.W. Devoe and Company, a producer of oil- and varnish-based paints, built its five-story factory at 110-112 Horatio Street in 1883-1883. “Like so many other factory buildings the commission has designated, the Devoe factory vividly recalls New York City’s industrial past,” Tierney said. Because the number of factory buildings remaining in the Far West Village has dwindled in recent years, the commission was especially interested in preserving this terra cotta gem.

Placeholder Alt Text

Waterfalls of Revenue
Though some people were more than happy to see Olafur Eliasson's New York City Waterfalls dry up a few weeks ago, one person who will dearly miss them is the mayor. Standing beneath the Scandinavian artist's massive mirror installation at P.S. 1 yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced with great excitement that, according to a study undertaken by the city's Economic Development Corporation, the falls generated $69 million in economic activity, exceeding the $55 million initially expected and countering criticism that the $15 million project was wasteful. "Art also has the power to invigorate neighborhoods, as you know, and catalyze new investment" Bloomberg said. "That's why we've made investing in culture a major part of our efforts to diversify the economy." He added that this would be especially important in the wake of the collapsing financial sector--long the bedrock of the local economy. While it will likely never reap the dividends Wall Street once did, it is good to know we can put our art to work for us, rather than simply embracing art for art's sake. Other findings of the report include:
  • An estimated 1.4 million people visited the Waterfalls in the 13 weeks it was up this summer. Of those, 79,200 would not have visited the city or otherwise extended their trip, and 590,000 people from the metropolitan area made special trips to view the falls. They drew people from all 50 states and 55 countries.
  • As part of the administration's plan to revitalize the Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts, 23 percent of visitors, or 320,000 people, visited those areas for the first time. Of them, 44,500 were residents of the five boroughs.
  • About 95 percent of all out-of-town Waterfalls viewers participated in at least one other cultural attraction during their stay. About 43 percent of visitors attended one or more Broadway shows; 42 percent attended a visual art, photography, or design museum; 34 percent visited a history museum; and nearly 27 percent viewed a public art installation other than the Waterfalls.
  • Circle Line Downtown offered between 25 and 30 tours a day, with sell-outs on many tours, particularly during its evening cruises. Between June 26 and October 13, more than 213,000 passengers bought tickets for Circle Line Downtown's Waterfalls tour, Zephyr and Shark boat tours that all went past the Waterfalls.
  • The Public Art Fund's official Waterfalls website, nycwaterfalls.org, received more than 512,000 visits between January and October 2008. More than 6,000 photographs were posted to Flickr, 1,200 blog posts were written, and 200 videos with 235,000 viewers uploaded to YouTube. [Here's a personal favorite because, you know, who doesn't love models.]
  The full report [PDF] Video of the press conference
Placeholder Alt Text

Diving Right In
The new look of McCarren Pool.
Matt Chaban

Hipsters, grab your swim trunks, because the new McCarren Park Pool is officially on its way. Today, the Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously approved plans from the Parks Department to restore and renovate the pool to its Moses-era glory, along with new amenities called for by the community. After a three-year reign as North Brooklyn’s premier concert venue, and three decades of disuse before that, the pool should be back to its intended use by 2011.

The plan, designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, calls for a thorough restoration of the original bathhouse, completed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, as well as reconfigured wading and diving pools, a “beach” platform that can accommodate an ice-skating rink, and new year-round recreational and community spaces within. “You have to respect the existing architecture and open space and at the same time create a 21st-century facility,” Jonathan Marvel told AN after the commission voted 7-0 in favor of the project.

Given the pool’s high profile in the Williamsburg community, both new and old, as well as its widespread coverage in the press, the hearing was sparsely attended, drawing only minor criticism from the few preservationists who spoke, all of them in favor but for this minor ahistorical detail or that. “We are sorry to see the Parks Department adopt an agenda that fills so much of the formerly open space with concessions, administrative paraphernalia, and alien attractions,” Christabel Gough, secretary of the Society for the Architecture of the City, told the commission. “It turns a sophisticated design of the 1930s into kitsch with a beach.” One speaker lamented that one walkway would be five feet deeper than its counterpart, disrupting the pool’s symmetry.

Marvel countered that, like all successful restorations, the needs of past and present had to be balanced, a sentiment the commission strongly agreed with. “For the resources the city is dedicating to this, we’re going to need year-round use from this facility,” commissioner Elizabeth Ryan said, responding to attacks on the skating rink. Commissioner Pablo Vengoechea said that the architect’s attention to detail was homage enough. “I think the work is certainly monumental, the amount of work being done to restore this,” he said.

Some feared that the decision to place the swimmers' changing pavilions outside the bathhouse might diminish that monumentality, however. The architects wanted to get them closer to the water and free up interior space for new uses, as well as to create shaded space on the promenade. Though preservationists argued that they distracted from the building’s scale, the commission disagreed. “I was worried they would block the view of the robust building behind them,” Fred Bland, the newest commissioner, said. “But I find they do not cover up too much. The transparency and lacy feel of the design is modern, deferential, and appropriate.”

Marvel said the architects had the good fortune of a nearly complete set of drawings on file at the Parks Department. This is how the decision was made to keep a spray park on the northern side of the pool separate, as drawings and photographs suggested that had always been the case, despite the seeming asymmetry it brought to the overall design. The drawings also allowed for carefully matching new windows and doors that have long been destroyed and boarded up. The designers even hope to peel back decades of graffiti to reveal the original rare bricks, though paint will be used if necessary. “There is a kind of ruggedness of the McCarren complex, and we love that ruggedness but we also want to make it as beautiful as possible,” Marvel said.

Another dispute arose during testimony when some speakers brought up a proposal for a glassed-in, rooftop restaurant, not wholly unlike the architect’s proposal for a hotel atop the Battery Maritime Building. Though the plans had been shown last week to the community and preservationists, a Parks Department official told the commission that the restaurant was not presented today because it would come at a second phase, with a separate review, if it was pursued at all.

As for concerts, Stephanie Thayer, the executive director of the local nonprofit Open Space Alliance, which advocates for park space in the neighborhood, said she remains optimistic for concerts to continue in the pool during the off season—between swimming and skating—as well as during the summer at one of the numerous parks developing along the waterfront. Thayer was also recently hired by the Parks Department, as its North Brooklyn administrator, which could help the new venue become a reality, whether in the pool or elsewhere.

“On a personal level,” Thayer told AN, “I’d like to see it closer to an industrial zone. Three years ago, this area was industrial, but now it’s beginning to bump up against some other spaces. I obviously want it to happen, but the problem is finding the right space. It’s out there. We just have to find it.”

Matt Chaban


The new changing facilities.
 
An interior view.
 
Before and after shots of the pool, with minimal changes. The beach/rink can be seen in the foreground of the bottom shot, with the changing pavilions to the sides.
 
The proposed Second-phase restaurant.
 
East and west elevations of the pool with glass additions for restaurants.
 
Placeholder Alt Text

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?

Placeholder Alt Text

Comment: Ups and Downs in Dodger Town
The proposed Dodgerland preserves the 1962 stadium amid retail and parkland development.
Courtesy Johnson Fain

The recent announcement that the Los Angeles Dodgers plan not to raze their revered stadium overlooking downtown but instead revitalize it with a parklike themed mall has been greeted with guarded optimism by both fans and a faithless public.

No one but the most imprudent publicist wants to lend the ambitious $500 million proposal his blessing just yet—certainly not in this hype-happy city, annually promised new architectural icons, fanciful ephemeral attractions, and a championship baseball team.

Then there is the down-and-dirty concern of how people are supposed to get to the new, improved, and pricey stadium, if not by private car. There already are hints of an attendance fall-off because of the increasing crush of traffic, though I suspect the team’s mediocre performance so far this season has also been a factor.

Though close to downtown, the stadium was designed and built 50 years ago in a suburban mode, surrounded by sprawling surface lots and served by a web of freeways that was adequate for the first few decades but has since become a nightmare. If “Dodgerland” is to attract the crowds needed to viably take its place in the Southland’s galaxy of themed attractions alongside Universal City and Disneyland, it is going to need a rail connection to the nearby Gold Line in Chinatown or to the Union Station transit hub serving downtown. Buses just won’t do.

Another possible connection would be the construction of a less costly tramway or trolley. This also would pay homage to the origination of the team’s name in Brooklyn, from a popular description of its fans a century ago, who when going to Ebbets Field to see a ballgame would have to dodge the streetcars converging there.

Indeed, I remember fondly in the 1940s in that beloved borough of my birth paying three cents to ride the Coney Island Trolley to the Parade Grounds and the bandbox of a ballpark beyond, to sit in a 25-cent bleacher seat. The ticket was courtesy of The Brooklyn Eagle where I worked as a newsboy.

Both the Dodger management and Mayor Villaraigosa heartily agree that a transit connection is needed, and at the press conference announcing the stadium plans, pledged to actively explore possibilities. However, given the present meltdown of the municipal budget along with federal aid to the city, no one is holding his breath.

Whether a real hope or hype, the plans for “Dodgerland” read well, taking advantage of the stadium’s dramatic hilltop site. Featured is a welcoming entry marked by a tree-lined promenade and grand plaza, conveniently connected to a relaxed landscaped pedestrian street encircling the ballpark. Christened Dodger Way and lined with eateries and an array of stores, the street is designed to entice fans to come early and stay late, to shop and dine, and not incidentally to reduce the crush of traffic around the stadium immediately before and after the games. Also in the offing is something labeled The Dodger Experience, described as a museum “showcasing the history of the Dodgers in an interactive setting.” Welcome to Dodgerland, but don’t forget your Visa card.

Playing to LA’s benign climate, the team’s culture, and the Southland’s consumerism, the plans were fashioned with appropriate flair by the design team of the locally based firms of Johnson Fain and Rios Clementi Hale Studios for architecture and landscape, together with the HKS Sports and Entertainment Group.

To their credit, the plans also respect the local concerns, especially among fans, that the landmark stadium not be compromised. Hailed as the epitome of the modern major league ballpark when it opened in 1962, the stadium now is the second oldest in the National League, and when Yankee Stadium is demolished this year, will be third oldest in the majors, ranking behind Chicago’s Wrigley Field and Boston’s Fenway Park. Given its potentially valuable site for housing on the edge of the central city, the stadium over the years has been subject to various threats. These have included its wholesale relocation downtown, to be gift-wrapped in a nostalgic urban design in the mode of the recent ballpark re-dos in San Francisco and San Diego. These proposals have been belittled by the Dodger faithful and the city’s landmark police. Also roundly razzed and promptly dismissed was a pie-in-the-sky proposal by Pritzker-award-winning architect Thom Mayne to demolish the stadium for a residential and recreational development and rebuild it a few miles away on recently dedicated city parkland. The plan alienated almost everyone, from park advocates to Dodger fans and community groups.

In addition, there’s an inherent distrust of the team’s ownership among fans. Baseball being a sport of traditions, fans have long memories, particularly Dodger fans who have not seen a World Championship in 20 years as the team passed through the hands of the miserly O’Malley family and the otherwise engaged media mogul Rupert Murdoch to the migrant McCourts, freshfaced and full of vim and vigor from chilly Boston where their nouveau ways were not appreciated as they are here in California.

Not forgotten by some is the team’s relocation from Brooklyn a half-century ago. That broke the collective hearts of the hapless faithful in the then-diminishing outer borough, mine included, until of course I moved to Los Angeles (like so many other New Yorkers). It will be interesting how that tidbit of history will be handled in The Dodger Experience museum, that is, if the team can find the financing for its plans while still looking for a center fielder who can hit.

Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

OH, MY STARS AND GARTERS!

Forget about the fist bump: Butt pats are the subject of the day (and yes, we have been watching way too much basketball on TV, but these are of a more intimate type). Or rather, for those who fear that the youth of today are unshockably jaded about matters amorous, you can relax. Two young editors at this fine publication arrived at work one recent morning in a state of great agitation and flabbergastery. What had caused their unblemished cheeks to blush so? The pair had been at the Phillips de Pury party for Atmospherics, a limited edition of furniture and objects by Asymptote’s Hani Rashid, and had a grand old time while wandering through a crowd including Rashid’s partner and wife Lise Anne Couture, brother and designer Karim Rashid, architect Thomas Leeser, fashion designer Carlos Miele, industrial designer Tucker Viemeister, and Museum of Modern Art chief Glenn Lowry. All was well until one of our rosy cherubim spotted Lowry pinching the bottom of the fair lady standing next to him. “Did you see that,” he spluttered; “Oh sweet Jesus he goosed her!” The two surreptitiously watched as it happened again, and then again, and yet again, until our squeamish spies were forced to refresh themselves at the bar, aghast and perhaps a little bit delighted. It was quickly determined the next morning at the office that the lady was none other than Susan Lowry, wife of our uxorious museum director. There was some giggling and hat tipping, and then all was forgotten.

Until! A week later, an Agnes Gund–sponsored party at MoMA for Adriaan Geuze of West 8, landscape urbanist extraordinaire and head of the superstar crew designing the public spaces at Governors Island. Fellow project members Liz Diller and Ricardo Scofidio were there, as were commissioner Amanda Burden and Charlie Rose, urbanist Alex Garvin, and Governors Island chief Leslie Koch. Maybe it was the wine, or perhaps the glamorous company, but we were emboldened enough to make a tasteful and rather tentative joke about Fannygate to Mr. Lowry himself, who laughed, looking entirely unrepentant and frankly rather pleased with himself. He retorted, “Pretty good for thirty years of marriage, eh?” We’ll say!

REALITY BITES

We might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, sure, but we often find ourselves downright perplexed by the offerings of PR agencies touting the manifold virtues of one new development or another—Breakfast in bed! Yoga! Doggy spa! Hot doormen! (OK, we’ve never gotten a press release about that last one, but would definitely schedule a visit.) Rarely, though, does a company trumpet something that seems like an honest-to-goodness disincentive to plunk down a million or two for an apartment. But the management of the BellTel Lofts on Bridge Street in downtown Brooklyn recently announced that the soon-to-be complete project will host the 21st season of MTV’s Real World, arguably the first reality TV show, and thus morally responsible for a national disgrace like Living Lohan. The building looks great and we like the show, so we hate to break it to our well-intentioned friends on Planet PR, but sharing a building with a bunch of hard-partying narcissists and their attendant camera crews is not luxury living at its most urbane—it’s the seventh circle of hell.

Send gossip and the complete DVDs of The Wire to eavesdrop@archpaper.com.

Comment: A Shaken Neighborhood

When we residents of Yorkville said the crane on East 91st Street would probably kill us one day, it wasn’t something we actually expected to happen. More of a sick joke, really: “Yeah, one day it’ll probably crush a bunch of people, like that one farther downtown.” We’d laugh sardonically and keep walking, figuring it unlikely for such a disaster to happen twice. 

That Friday, I left my apartment near 90th and First at 7:50 a.m.—barely ten minutes before the collapse. Once I heard the news at work, I spent the morning in fevered unproductivity, refreshing Curbed and the Times every few minutes looking for details. Which buildings were damaged? Was anyone hurt? Information came in contradictory bursts: two people were killed, then only one, then two again. My apartment was spared, but the buildings on two sides were emptied as a precaution—I avoided homelessness by fewer than fifty feet.

As a refugee of 475 Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, evicted without warning on a frigid January night only months earlier, I sympathized with the displaced tenants of 354 East 91st Street and nearby apartments. That startling moment when the future evaporates, the mind lasers in on immediate concerns: “Who owns a comfortable couch?” and “For how long can I sleep there?” My own sudden homelessness was the reason I moved uptown in the first place, where I assumed structures would be safer.

It was dark when I returned from work that Friday, when I rounded the corner of First Avenue and 86th Street and stepped into a blindingly lit, but eerily quiet, disaster zone. Spotlights and the spinning red flashes from emergency vehicles illuminated the adjacent buildings, where NYPD officers perched to watch the recovery operation.

The following day, I watched four boys play touch football in the middle of First Avenue, the end zones marked by metal crowd-control barriers at either cross street. The avenue remained desolate for days, as if waiting on a morbid parade that never showed up. It is still partially blocked while the investigation continues, and a nearby wine shop and a soccer store have been shuttered all week. 

But for those of us who didn’t lose family or our homes, the strangeness quickly passed. My roommate said he knew normalcy had returned when the taxis, impatient as ever, resumed honking at First Avenue’s newly bottlenecked traffic. Mayor Bloomberg may have displayed shocking insensitivity by saying, “We’re not going to tolerate any rate of accidents any higher than it has to be.” But if a collapsing real-estate market barely slows the skyward race to build new condos, many people suspect that two additional casualties will not stop it either. And at least the construction industry is grumpily accepting the need for greater oversight.

For the moment, many of us rest secure knowing that, when it comes to construction accidents, our neighborhood will probably be the safest in the city for some time. After all, it cannot possibly happen again. Right?

Placeholder Alt Text

Unveiled: Beekman Tower
Frank Gehry's 76-story Beekman Tower will be among the latest to rival the Woolworth Building on the Lower Manhattan skyline.
Artefactory/Courtesy Forest City Ratner Companies

At a sparsely attended press conference today, near the busy construction site, Frank Gehry talked up his first Manhattan residential tower, a structure that is already two stories out of the ground on Spruce Street near City Hall Park.

The event had been cancelled out of respect for the fallen crane on the Upper East Side, but a few journos still showed up for the white-glove event, where mini-burgers, filet mignon crudités, and even cotton candy were served. Ensconced near a table of chiseled Plexiglas models showing the family of reject towers, Gehry seemed more interested in the appetizers than the main event: himself and Beekman Tower.

Renderings depict a gleaming, stainless steel–clad skyscraper of the old school with muscular—almost six-pack-style—undulations rolling up its 76-story sides and setbacks that, Gehry said, “respect the New York building type.” In spite of the shiny envelope, the 1.1-million-square-foot Beekman Tower is not all luxury: the 903 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments (from 500 square feet to 1,600 square feet) are all market-rate rentals, a rarity among new buildings in Manhattan. Gehry said that he would have liked to use titanium, but it seems that the wonder material is too fragile for New York window-washing equipment. A six-story industrial brick podium (Gehry said to think “Starrett-Lehigh”) will include space for a 630-student public school for grades Pre-K through 3; offices for doctors from New York Downtown Hospital; and 1,300 square feet of retail, for dry cleaners and drug stores, not Jean Georges and Chanel. Two plazas on William and Nassau streets will be landscaped by Field Operations. Gehry himself is still working out the details of the kitchen and bath designs, and the lobby will be beribboned with signature wavy bits of steel, reminding residents that they are indeed renting a real Gehry.

As questions about the tower petered out—Gehry himself said there was no architectural derring-do, just “a typical T-shaped apartment block and very efficient”—the conversation picked up when the architect answered a newsgal’s question about “green” with a spirited rejection of eco-friendly fashion. Features like gray water were often just a gimmick, he said, adding that photovoltaics were too ugly and expensive to use all the time.

Asked about his friend and developer Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, and whether he would ever pull out, Gehry declaimed loudly: No! He did admit, however, that he was taking the long view on a project that might require 20 years to complete. “And I am 79 years old,” he added. “So who knows what that means?”

Architect: Frank O. Gehry
Client/Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Location: 8 Spruce Street
Completion: 2011

Gallery: Beekman Tower

all images artefactory/courtesy Forest City Ratner unless otherwise noted

Oh, what might have been: Frank Gehry's study models on display at the Beekman Tower unveiling.
Julie V. Iovine