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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
 
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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.
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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.

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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
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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.
 
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Profile: Jed Walentas
Yoko Inoue

Jed Walentas
Director of Daily Operations
Two Trees Management


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

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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

 

 

Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS
In these trying times for real estate, we’ve heard of all sorts of sneaky tricks developers are using to woo tenants—free Mini Coopers, gift certificates for modern furniture, those guys spinning the big arrows. But the latest ploy is not only getting attention, it’s stopping traffic. Drivers heading northbound on the 110 through downtown LA last month were treated to what looked like strippers gyrating in day-glo windows of the Canvas LA apartment buildings. Curbed LA editor Josh Williams was drawn to the “big 80s poofy-style Whitesnake-video hair” of the mysterious dancing lady of the night: “It was like the iPod ads but without the iPod, or like something out of Amsterdam’s Red Light District.” Leave it to the local FOX affiliate to crack the case. Turns out, these sexy thangs aren’t available for rent; they’re simply projections: The DVD series known as Shadow Dancers also “appear nightly” at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas and the Crown Plaza, Dubai. The DVDs are available at shadowdancers.tv for all managers of low-occupancy properties looking to step up their marketing, or curious potential renters wanting to, ahem, experience this technology in the comfort of their own homes.

SAY GOODBYE
Santa Monica bid farewell to its iconic Ferris wheel spinning over the Pacific Ocean, as a winning bid on eBay rolled it from its former home on the end of the pier to halfway across the country. The auction, which closed at $132,400, was won by real estate developer Grant Humphreys, who said it will be installed somewhere in his hometown of Oklahoma City. Not one to wallow in nostalgia, Pacific Park installed a shiny new deluxe model on May 22. And in other Goodbye news, although not officially confirmed by anyone at the firm, it’s been widely reported that Frank Gehry laid off more than 20 people in late April, just ahead of announcements of even more funding delays for Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards and The Project Formerly Known As Grand Avenue. So, about that April groundbreaking…

FIELD OF DREAMS
When sports and real estate magnate Ed Roski, Jr. rolled out his plan for a new Los Angeles football stadium on April 17 it was hard not to compare his wide-eyed optimism to a certain Ray “If you build it, they will come” Kinsella. Sure, the proposed stadium is being designed by Dan Meis (who also stood by Roski’s side for Staples Center), and it has a snazzy promise of sustainability and acres of retail space for shop-happy Inland Empresses.

But it was hard not to notice everything that’s working against Roski’s plan to bring football back to LA: hundreds of millions needed in non-taxpayer funding, a seedy location that’s practically in Nevada, and, uh, how about the fact that LA doesn’t have a football team? But no one ever said Roski was a realist. Last year, Roski paid $200,000 to be among the first to fly Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic into space. He’s also embarked on other theatrical adventures, chartering a submarine to the Titanic site and climbing to Mt. Everest’s base camp. Which makes you wonder what other voices he might be hearing in his head.

Send tips, gossip, and grand prizes to slubell@archpaper.com.

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Water Works
Low-lying harbor zones are vulnerable to even modest storm surges. Areas flooded by Category 1 storms are shown in dark green, Category 2 in light green, Category 3 in orange, and Category 4 in red.
COURTESY 2007 LATROBE PRIZE TEAM

One tenth of an inch may just be a splash. But sea level in New York creeps that much higher every year, and worsening climate impacts could make that splash several feet deep by the end of this century, meaning a soggier future for nearly one million of the region’s residents who live within three feet of the spring high-water mark. Factor in worsening storm surges, and today’s 100-year flood zone may well become a 10-year flood zone—wreaking $350 billion in damage to New York City under the severe scenarios the state’s Emergency Management Office is now studying. 

“If you look where major development projects are going in New York, many are located right in harm’s way,” said Klaus Jacob, the outspoken Columbia University expert on sea-level rise, pointing to condos sprouting in Williamsburg or Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, sited at a vulnerable low point near the Hudson River. “That campus will start to look like Venice in a hundred years,” he warned. 

London has its Thames Barrier. Dutch cities are fortified for the 10,000-year storm. But New York? “Coastal cities around the world that intend to be around for the next hundred years have done incredible work,” said Michael Fishman, founder of the consulting practice Urban Answers. “In North America, we have very little to show.” 

That is starting to change as architects, ecologists, and engineers grapple with a hybrid of structure and landscape that is well-suited to the world’s rusting wharves. Some call it aquatecture—a new, blue alternative that is catching up with the green building movement as the next wave of sustainable urban design. “It’s not a building, not a pier, not a boat,” said Fishman, who teaches a waterfront studio at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP). “It’s part water, part wildlife. Major development around the world is going to embrace this adaptation of post-industrial megastructures.” 

In our wet new world, the postapocalyptic attitude is this: Bring it on. “Existing waterfront wetlands are going to be swamped,” said structural engineer Guy Nordenson, who is studying the consequences of sea-level rise with a multidisciplinary team that won the American Institute of Architects’ 2007 Latrobe Prize. They’ve hatched a radical proposal to revamp Upper New York Bay with an archipelago of hundreds of islands that would temper the destructive energy of storm surges. The proposal, which won a $100,000 award and will be refined in the coming months, presents a larger vision of New York Harbor as a focal point for regional development, like St. Mark’s Basin in Venice—a watery Central Park for the coming century. 

Designers in New York and beyond are taking small steps toward Nordenson’s grand aquapolitan vision. A pair of projects from Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism shows how modest interventions in the marine edge can prove paradigm-shifting in their own right. The firm lets flood conditions have their way with a waterfront site at Erie Street Plaza, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the confluence of the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. In the midst of a rough-edged working waterfront, the park contends with lake levels that rise and fall by as much as 6 feet over roughly 20-year cycles. Stoss’ solution was to slice slots into an existing steel bulkhead, allowing high lake levels to inundate a new zone of native grasses and revive a marsh condition long obliterated by industry. 

stoss erie
At Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, Stoss’ carpet of hillocks (below) fuels the free play of complex ecologies. Rising lake levels nourish a new marsh (above) at Milwaukee’s Erie Street Plaza, by the Boston-based Stoss. 
COURTESY STOSS LANDSCAPE URBANISM

stoss erie  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It also makes a larger public point. “We’re allowing people to engage with this momentary high point of the lake cycle, so that it becomes very much an actor in the experience of that open space,” said principal Chris Reed. A similar strategy informed Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, a 2.5-acre parcel that rests on land that was once salt marsh. Stoss designed zones of red cedar, sand plain, wet meadow, and salt marsh, each of which vies for botanical dominance amid changing climate variables. “We’re building in resilience and flexibility from an ecological standpoint,” Reed said. “No matter how high or low the sea level is, there are places where these individual plant communities can thrive.” 

Showcasing water’s presence in the urban landscape required a complex approach for Margie Ruddick of Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), who has helped lead the design for a one-acre park at Queens Plaza. Working with artist Michael Singer, designers created a permeable paving system that features runnels with weep holes to collect water from paths and open spaces. A rain garden at the base of the Queensboro Bridge captures bridge runoff during storms, directing it to lush plantings. Below grade, a lozenge-shaped subsurface wetland detains water once it has filtered through street-level plantings. But working with water requires updated design chops. WRT and collaborators Marpillero Pollak Architects, who won a 2008 AIA New York chapter design award for the project, note that architects need to embrace a more unruly aesthetic. “A couple of years ago this project would have looked incomprehensible to a lot of architects,” Ruddick said. “There’s a kind of terror of things that don’t look organized and orderly.” 

 
A subsurface wetland forms the heart of WRT’s design for Queens Plaza (above, left); runoff from the Queensboro Bridge feeds a lushly planted rain garden (above, right).
 COURTESY WRT DESIGN / MICHAEL SINGER / MPA


For areas atop a newly graded edge at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates positioned significant plantings to skirt the 100-year-flood zone. 
COURTESY MICHAEL VAN VALKENBURGH ASSOCIATES
 
 

If a Category 4 cyclone hits the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park will be exhibit A of that messiness. But it should still be around. In Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ design for the new public space, the sharp-edged bulkhead is banished in favor of a more natural riparian edge among adaptively reused piers. Careful thought is being given to storm threats, said principal Matthew Urbanski. “We’ve gone to great pains to shape the land in such a way that the significant tree plantings are above the 100-year flood level, so we don’t get salt-water inundation,” he explained. Beyond a calm-water basin that shelters small islands of natural habitat, a stabilized riprap edge protects against wave energy. Upland hills are planted with meadow grasses and canopy trees, while farther inland, freshwater swales capture stormwater from adjacent asphalt before it reaches the river. 

“There’s a general consensus that we have to start working within the natural systems and reinforcing them,” said David Hamilton, principal of Praxis3, which won a recent round of The History Channel’s City of the Future competition with a proposal to liberate Atlanta’s natural streams from 1,900 miles of buried pipes and catchments. Contending with severe drought in the Southeast, Hamilton’s Atlanta-based team, in collaboration with EDAW, BNIM Architects, and environmental engineering firm Metcalf & Eddy, proposed a series of “waterscapes” to restore the natural watershed and spawn piedmont forest instead of sprawl. Existing drainage systems would be converted into aquifers to store ever-scarcer precipitation. The team aims to develop the idea as a model for drought-prone cities, where bureaucrats are perking up their ears. “When you start running out of water, politicians start paying attention in a hurry,” Hamilton said. 

praxis3
Breaching New Orleans’ levees would blunt the harm from Mississippi River floods, as in this high-density housing concept from Praxis3. COURTESY PRAXIS3 AND KEAN ARCHITECTS

New Orleans officials might want to consult his firm’s entry for a post-Katrina design competition that rethinks that city’s levee system. Collaborating with architect Lee Kean, Praxis3 proposed breaching floodwalls to create softer berms that ease over a block-size parcel in the Bywater neighborhood. Elevated green space weaves this natural terrain back into the city; a reflecting pool and cistern collect water on site. “The Mississippi River could actually go through its flood stages without doing any damage,” Hamilton said. 

If there’s a bright side to climate change, it may be the opportunity to drag bolder designs out of the closet. “Some of these visionary projects are really legacies of the 1960s and ‘70s,” said architect Lindy Roy, who is studying the impacts of climate change in Africa with her students at Columbia’s GSAPP this semester. “We need to look at things with that kind of breadth. Otherwise, we make the sexy forms, and then all of the environmental stuff gets handed over to sustainability experts and engineers.” 

 
In ARO’s vision of Manhattan now and in 2106 (left and right), melting polar ice caps make for a much soggier city. COURTESY ARCHITECTURE RESEARCH OFFICE
 

In other words, thinking the unthinkable can be an adventure. “Our goal is to make people excited instead of terrified,” said Adam Yarinsky, principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO), who is working with Nordenson’s Latrobe Prize team. ARO’s provocative entry for New York’s City of the Future episode did just that, making a virtue out of Gotham’s waterlogged fate. Envisioning low-lying neighborhoods deep-sixed under some 36 inches of water due to melting polar ice caps, ARO designed an optimistic new city for the year 2106, built of thin, pier-like buildings rising above Manhattan’s flooded downtown streets. Kayakers paddled languidly among ruined storefronts, as verdant public promenades bridged the waters overhead. 

Take that, Rotterdam. When the big one hits, we may not be high and dry. But at least we’ll be floating in style. 

JEFF BYLES IS AN ASSOCIATE EDITOR AT AN.