Architect and photographer Christopher Payne is fascinated with the afterlives of buildings. A chronicler of ruins, he has photographed disused factories on the East River, the High Line on the West Side, outmoded transit electrical substations throughout Manhattan, and, for the past few years, shuttered insane asylums and state hospitals across the country. Payne’s latest subject is the buildings and landscape of North Brother, a derelict hospital island in the Bronx under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, far removed from the cycles of development and change that are transforming the city. Evidence of habitation and of the island’s checkered history is literally disappearing into the woods.
In the 1880s, the island was home to a contagious disease hospital and was a model of reform-era hygiene and efﬁciency, earning the praise of the muckraking journalist Jacob Riis. Among its inhabitants was “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, the cook and notorious source of several outbreaks, who died there in 1938. The island was also the site of one of the nation’s worst nautical disasters, the 1904 downing of the steamship General Slocum, which sank just offshore carrying German immigrants on a holiday outing. Nurses and patients on the island rescued nearly 250 passengers, but more than one thousand people died. The tuberculosis hospital was completed in 1943, but was quickly repurposed to house World War II veterans who were attending college in the city through the GI Bill. By 1952, the island became a treatment facility for juvenile drug addicts before being abandoned altogether in 1964.
Today North Brother has largely slipped from public consciousness. It does not, for example, appear on the MTA Subway map: The place where the 29-acre island would be shows only water. “The city has an uncountable number of histories and events that are lodged, hidden away in some archive or someone’s memory,” said Randall Mason, a professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the island extensively. “But things have a way of coming back; they resurface.” He cites the African Burial Ground as an example. “Places become invisible if they’re not used,” he said. The Parks Department classiﬁes North Brother as a nature preserve. Department representatives visit only a few times a year and the public is prohibited because of safety concerns.
While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne ﬁrst saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.” On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.” In his photographs, trees sprout from the foundation line of the solitary staff house as layers of brick peel away from the facades. Brightly painted interiors are visible through the shards of glass in the robust-looking art deco tuberculosis hospital.
For the Parks Department, the island’s most important resident is the Black-crowned Night Heron, a rare bird that has slowly been returning to the region since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. North Brother is part of a chain of small islands throughout the region called the “harbor herons complex,” according to Bill Tai, director of natural resources for Parks. The much smaller South Brother Island came into the Parks portfolio this November, when the federal government bought it for $2 million and turned it over to the city. Acknowledging the island’s history and its crumbling architecture, Tai called North Brother “the most interesting of the heron islands.” He added, however, that “maybe its highest and best use is to preserve it for wildlife.” Parks is sympathetic to the island’s history and the concerns of preservationists, and according to Tai, the department is hoping to do a partial restoration of the dock to make it occasionally accessible for small groups, and has secured $500,000 in funding toward that goal. Restoration of one of the smaller buildings as an interpretive center may be possible, but he noted, “We have very reduced budget forecasts, so it’s not a very high priority.”
In this era of public-private partnerships, piecemeal development, and limited public resources, the state of limbo in which the island sits is not altogether uncommon. The scale and signiﬁcance of its architecture, once accessible by frequent ferry service, is a disquieting reminder that such limitations were not always commonplace. For Payne, abandoned public buildings hold a particular attraction, not just for the romance of their ruin but as vestiges of civic aspirations long since jettisoned.
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Brookfield’s Manhattan West. COURTESY SOM
Since the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced five bidders to buy air rights over its Hudson Yards that span the lower West 30s from 10th Avenue to the river, the Brookfield Properties bid has stood apart from the others. It rejected the MTA’s guideline to create a platform over the yard, arguing that it could keep the rail lines in service by locating buildings on the avenues and their entrances at street level. It also employed 11 architecture firms, including SHoP Architects and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, in a proposal that won the affection of members of the local community board and passersby at the MTA’s December exhibition. All of this has made the developer’s decision to abandon the bid raise eyebrows in the architectural community.
One reason that Brookfield may have dropped its scheme is that it violated the city’s 2005 zoning for the eastern portion of the site, meaning that a fresh rezoning would likely add at least 15 months to the schedule.
“Everyone who has worked on this will tell you they would like to relook at that zoning,” said a source associated with another bidder, who asked for anonymity. “I thought Brookfield’s proposal was entirely feasible from an urban design point of view, and there were good, intelligent principles in it.”
Those principles may yet drive some of the site’s planning. It will take at least a decade to build out the project, and no developer will want to sink a lot of capital into it without knowing the prospects for Moynihan Station just to the east. So most observers (and some participants) expect players to lean on or borrow from each other in executing the project. That means Brookfield could get back in, as an investor in a single building or by virtue of its control over the site’s eastern gateway.
Brookfield recently secured $105 million in predevelopment financing for Manhattan West, a 5.4 million-square-foot mixed-use project featuring twin SOM skyscrapers. That project, on a deck from 9th Avenue to Dyer Avenue, will abut Hudson Yards, so Brookfield will still affect how construction crews, buses, and pedestrians eventually cross from Moynihan Station (or Penn Station, if it doesn’t change) into the Hudson Yards site.
The local community board and other well-organized civic groups in Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen have advocated a plan integrating Moynihan and the Brookfield site into plans for Hudson Yards. Their advocacy has already led the MTA to release design proposals to the public: After the authority selects a bidder, support for the Brookfield idea may bring that model back into the picture.
The Hudson Yards version of the SOM towers.COURTESY ARCHIMATION
“We’re all wondering whether there’s going to be room for change in urban design,” said someone who has participated in the bid process since last year. “The community itself is looking for it. The problem is, I don’t think anyone is going to take the time to build consensus.”
Governor Eliot Spitzer, at a February 28 speech, promised resolution of Moynihan Station’s unsure financing: MTA spokesman Jeremy Soffin said the agency will consider bids this month. As economic assumptions change, Brookfield’s choice to sit out the term-setting on Hudson Yards may prove wise later on if zoning problems make the project seem less financially; it doesn’t mean the company won’t get involved at a later point.
The dome, the whole dome, and nothing but the dome: This was the demand from angry New Yorkers when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) discussed its plans to strip down the design for the Fulton Street Transit Center in a meeting with Community Board 1. “We want the Fulton Street Transit Center built as originally designed, and we want it built now,” said Alliance for Downtown New York president Elizabeth Berger at the February 11 meeting. “We can’t settle for less, and we can’t wait any longer.”
The MTA first announced its plans to rethink the Grimshaw Architects and James Carpenter Design Associates building at the end of January, when it revealed a paralyzing funding gap (“Folly at Fulton St.,” AN 03_ 02.20.2008). The project was budgeted at $390 million, but the sole bid for construction came in at $870 million. CB1 World Trade Center committee chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes called the towering glass dome that focuses sunlight onto the subway platforms below “an iconic design that the community fell in love with.”
At the February 11 meeting, CB1 passed a resolution demanding the building it says downtown was promised. “It would be utterly unconscionable,” the resolution reads, “to not build this project in a timely manner after 145 Downtown businesses were sacrificed to assemble the site and the entire population of Lower Manhattan has been forced to navigate around and through this massive dirty construction site for years.”
The dome would enclose 23,000 square feet of retail space that the Downtown Alliance and CB1 argue is crucial to the process of reinvigorating a neighborhood still struggling after September 11. But CB1 is worried that the city’s priorities don’t match its own. The Transit Center was supposed to open this year, according to Hughes, but it remains in pieces even as other redevelopment projects churn along. “After 9/11, we had meeting after meeting to go over the top priorities for downtown,” said Hughes. “The South Ferry Terminal is almost done, and it was at the bottom of the list, whereas Fulton Street was the top priority.”
The MTA argues the building itself is just the tip of the iceberg, and less pressing than the mess of train lines submerged underneath it. “Transportation benefits are the most important part of the project,” said spokesperson Jeremy Soffin. That part of the project is scheduled to open in 2010.
The MTA is in the middle of a 30-day reevaluation of the design and its funding. It hopes to have a revised plan by the end of the month. Meanwhile, the Downtown Alliance has suggested a public/private partnership to help distribute some of the project’s cost overruns. It’s unclear at this point what shape the Transit Center will take, but according to Soffin, “This is not going to be left as a hole in the ground.”
In the face of budget shortfalls and mounting construction costs, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center have been all but discarded. The glassy, conical transit hub designed by Grimshaw and James Carpenter Design Associates was meant to be the MTA’s showpiece at the new World Trade Center, an elegant solution to a mess of subway lines, but cost overruns could leave the site vacant for some time to come.
The decision to rethink the transit center, announced on January 28, arose when the MTA received only one bid for the aboveground portion of the project, a $870 million offer that far exceeded the $390 million budgeted for the project. (The underground portion of the project, which streamlines connections between a tangle of subway lines and was designed by ARUP, will be unaffected by the cutbacks.) MTA executive director and CEO Lee Sander said the MTA has gone back to the drawing board to consider all its options. “I would not say it can’t be done, but clearly we have to find a way to redistribute the costs of the current project or come up with a new one,” he told AN.
Sander declined to say whether Grimshaw was still involved with the project, and an MTA spokesperson, Jeremy Soffin, said he was not sure. A source with knowledge of the MTA’s plans, or at least what remains of them, did tell AN that the British firm was still involved with the project, but did not know what that involvement would entail, or even if the MTA did. “I don’t think they really know what they’re doing right now,” the source said of the MTA’s intentions. Grimshaw declined to comment.
Across the street, there had been speculation that Santiago Calatrava’s PATH station at the World Trade Center site could be sapping funds from the Fulton Street project, especially as its price tag has skyrocketed from $2.2 billion to $3.4 billion. Soffin insisted this was not the case and, whatever gets built, a high level of design would be maintained.
Initial reports from the hearings claimed that only Carpenter’s towering oculus, which is meant to bring natural light down into the bowels of the project, would be lost, but now the MTA is considering every available option, even nothing at all. Carpenter said the MTA has kept him in the dark so far.
No matter what happens, MTA board chair H. Dale Hemmerdinger stressed that the site would not remain barren. “Rather than leave an empty lot, I thought we could put something there that would be useful to the community,” Hemmerdinger told the Daily News on January 31. His alternative, a public park or plaza, did not leave much hope for the sort of design the previous plans presented, but that may be the best the MTA has to offer.
City planners have worried about maintaining New York’s web of roads, sewers, bridges, and public transit since commissioners drew up a blueprint for growth in 1811. Now, though, consensus is emerging that agencies must coordinate their upkeep if the city is to survive climate change and enormous population increases. Worries that our sewers are filling up and spewing wastewater into rivers are as old as city planning itself, but a coordinated response to those worries is new. Public officials from San Diego to Stockholm are addressing their cities’ ecological future, and they are less focused on technological fixes than on coordinating the way parks, transit, and economic development agencies share the land.
“We must think more holistically to achieve true, sustainable growth,” Empire State Development Corporation downstate chairman Patrick Foye told attendees at a New York Building Congress lunch on September 20. He’s got company. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s ambitious 127-point sustainability program PlaNYC 2030 asks Parks Department officials to work with transportation planners to develop standards that will make new parking lots into grassy sponges for stormwater. And the chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is responding to the aftermath of the storm that shut down subways on August 8 by surveying for sites where it can tap porous pavement or new vegetative landscaping to soak up water.
While the MTA consults landscape architects to make its far-flung properties more efficient, Foye’s agency is shelving its traditional emphasis on megaprojects like the Atlantic Yards development in favor of a measured approach. “The state’s historic focus on large-scale projects has actually short-changed our region,” Foye told the September 21 meeting. In the speech, Foye proposed a rezoning around the new Moynihan Station that would sprinkle air rights along the 34th Street corridor: This, he said, would “mean less disruption to commuters and tie development to the market.” In other words, it would temper demands on subways, sewers, and roads, lessening the odds of a catastrophe. That same incremental focus will guide Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 agenda, now six months old, through its implementation.
At the Hudson Yards site, which the MTA is selling to developers who want to link new buildings to the new station, PlaNYC has proposed a test site for a new system, called HLSS for “high-level storm sewer.” Such a sewer can sweep rain and snow into the river, reducing the risk that nearby older sewers will fill with combined stormwater and wastewater and shut down. “We emphasize backup systems for water supply, upgrading the energy grid,” said Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff in an interview with AN. “If we don’t upgrade our infrastructure, the risk to life and property and costs going forward are only going to magnify.”
These may seem like harsh words even from Doctoroff, a man who is known for his steely style. But he doesn’t come off like a Cassandra—his thinking is in line with his counterparts in London, Chicago, and other cities trying to increase housing densities and upgrade mass transit. Mayors in Sacramento and Boston are striking deals with big employers and adopting sustainability plans that will guide their public investment for the next generation. “Anybody who has eyes and ears and a brain,” he says of the city’s physical condition, “will be reminded that we are in a perilous state.”
That state demands clever collaboration across agencies. The crammed acreage that makes the city so logical for high density and mass transit also means that any effort to repair pipes and plumbing leads, logically and politically, to new patches of literal green. When the city wants to put a new water node or sewer line underground somewhere, explains assistant Parks commissioner Joshua Laird, it wants to make sure no developer builds anything on the site that would make it inaccessible for tests and repairs. So it creates new parks. “The land will have a park on it that we will manage with the caveat that if DEP needs to get back in there they will be able to,” says Laird. “There’s a new shaft site on Bowery adjacent to one of our houses. They had acquired an old Edison site, and when it is done, will be required to put a park on top.”
The MTA is also trying to keep development within its control by developing mixed-use hubs at some of its commuter rail stations, beginning with Beacon in Putnam County. Moreover, executive director Sander has convened a panel of green advisors. He promises the outlines of a masterplan for improving the MTA’s stormwater management, track upkeep, and energy efficiency by April 22, the first anniversary of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 kick-off speech. This would go beyond the MTA’s longstanding use of new energy-efficient technology to make existing tracks carry more trains and existing bus routes carry more customers. Sander hopes to cover some of the involved expenses with revenue from the mayor’s much-discussed congestion charge.
Congestion pricing has emerged as a point of solidarity among Sander, Doctoroff, and EDC chief Robert Lieber, who all have been known to approach isolated economic-development issues focusing on the priorities of their respective agencies. Lieber is using his influence to urge executives whose companies might generate jobs to urge legislators to stop bickering over congestion pricing. Lieber, whose agency coordinates all waterfront conversions around town and accordingly must clear a host of rotting piers and suspect industrial sites, told audiences at an Economist-sponsored powwow and a New York Building Congress breakfast that he plans to use his pulpit to fight for new sources of infrastructure funding from all levels of government.
That call will expose discord between the no-nonsense city government and the more theatrical lawmakers in Albany. After a Con Edison steam pipe exploded in July and forced Midtown traffic to grind to a halt, Doctoroff described the new authority as inevitable. “Con Edison has got to invest more money, but you also have to change the way you think about energy,” said Doctoroff at the time. “Demand for energy by 2030 is projected to grow about 45 percent, and our plan holds it constant. We want to take stress off the system, and that means distributed generation.” PlaNYC calls for a city-created Energy Efficiency Authority to help finance building retrofits and create scattered small power plants, but Albany must approve the authority’s creation.
Finally, leaders are trying to persuade the private sector to invest in unglamorous upkeep. The administration disclosed plans in October to connect private landlords with the Clinton Climate Initiative, which has amassed $5 billion in loans to finance building retrofits. And PlaNYC’s implementation will require owners of parking lots over 6,000 square feet to plant trees along their edges and will promise a property tax break to offset 35 percent of the cost of new green roofs.
This kind of broad-based, small-bore work will define planners’ mandates and architects’ work for the next several years, but even if it is entirely successful, its achievement will hardly make the city an oasis of efficiency. Sander exposed the city’s fragile bones at a planners’ conference in mid-October when he confidently answered a question about how congestion pricing fees would help the MTA improve service. “You’ll see a 19th-century transit system moving into the 20th century.”
The August 8 flooding and closure of the subway system left a lot of people wondering about the vulnerability of New York’s infrastructure. If a few hours of rain could bring the city to a halt, is its transportation network prepared for larger-scale natural or manmade disasters? While the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), Department of Transportation (DOT), and other agencies wrestle with the long-term answers to this question, a group of designers has been asked to figure out how to keep sheets of water from pouring into sidewalk subway gratings during heavy rains.
On September 11, the MTA’s Arts for Transit convened Grimshaw Architects, Rogers Marvel Architects, and Antenna Design to investigate ways to remake the subway grating at stations that are prone to flooding. “This is an emergency situation,” said Sandra Bloodworth, director of Arts for Transit, “so we called some minds together who have worked on these issues.” All three firms have worked on public space infrastructure, including Grimshaw’s street furniture (“Newsworthy Newsstands,” AN 16_10.03.2007), Rogers Marvel’s security bench/bollard combos in the Financial District, and Antenna’s new subway cars.
Subway grates provide fresh air as well as ventilation in case of fire, so the goal of the redesign is to keep the airflow open while raising the grates above the sidewalk’s surface. Grimshaw’s proposal is based on a standard kit of parts and forms a bench. Rogers Marvel’s is blockier but has an undulating seating surface that makes it difficult to use for skateboarding tricks. Antenna’s combines benches with planters, which help to absorb rainwater. All three are designed to plug into existing grate openings and require minimal work on the sidewalks.
“We are so excited to be working on another project for the city,” said Jennifer Carpenter, partner in TRUCK Product Architecture, Rogers Marvel’s industrial design department. “I think we all want this piece of infrastructure to be a public amenity.”
“The MTA’s director, Eliot Sanders, likes to talk about how his mother had to go pick up his father after the Queens Boulevard lines flooded 40 years ago,” said Jeremy Soffin, press secretary for the MTA. “So this problem has been around, but we’re trying to come up with innovative solutions.” Longer-term plans include modified streetscapes, with greater permeability and more greenery, and more powerful pumping systems.
Columbia University is expected to submit its official rezoning plans for a proposed expansion into Manhattanville to Manhattan Community Board 9 this month, a plan the board and local residents have vocally opposed. There is little support beyond a few student activists, but on April 1, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer lent the opposition some much needed support when he announced rezoning plans of his own intended to protect the interests and assuage the fears of Columbia’s future neighbors without impinging directly on the university’s plans.
Those plans, developed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore Owings & Merrill and released in July 2003, call for as many as 18 glass towers the on 17 acres bounded by 125th St., Broadway, 133rd St., and 12th Avenue, just north of Columbia’s main campus. Stringer’s proposal does not cross into this territory but instead surrounds it on three sides, stretching from the Hudson to Edgecombe Ave. between 125th and 145th streets. “We wanted to think beyond the footprint,” Stringer told AN. “How do you preserve the community so Columbia does not dominate West Harlem but coexists with West Harlem?”
The biggest concern for the borough president’s office is controlling gentrification and maintaining the neighborhood’s distinct character. In a study released as part of the zoning proposal, Stringer’s office found 22 percent of lots within its rezoning area to be residential “soft sites,” which are considered ripe for redevelopment because they are built below their potential floor area ratio (FAR). Furthmore, just over 50 percent could be soft sites if developed as community facilities, which allow developers to increase the FAR in exchange for public amenities. Academic uses fall into this category.
The borough president’s solution is to downzone buildings within the special district to protect their lowrise character, commonly between four and six stories. If developers wish to build above this threshold, they must include concessions for affordable housing or smallscale, locally owned businesses. The hope is these measures will protect local residents and business owners from being displaced. “Part of this is we realize there will be development, which is good for the city,” Stringer said. “But we also have to protect the city for those who have made it what it is.” To that end, the proposal also stipulates harassment and demolition safeguards to prevent unlawful evictions and encourage adaptive reuse.
The biggest concern for residents below 125th Street is that Stringer’s special district does not include them, unlike a non-binding CB9 proposal, which extends to 116th Street. “Our concerns are that the immediate area to the south of the expansion area is not protected,” said Tom DeMott, who lives on Tiemann Place, half a block south of 125th Street. DeMott, who is also a member of the Coalition to Preserve Community, said he gave Stringer the benefit of the doubt, but that he and his neighbors are still uneasy.
CB9 chairperson Jordi Reyes-Montblanc remains steadfast in his belief that the community will prevail in its fight against Columbia, with or without Stringer. “If the plan is not reflective in a complete way of the 197-a, the 197-c will not go very far,” he said, using the technical names for CB9 and Stringer’s plans. Like the borough president, Reyes- Montblanc insists locals are not opposed to Columbia, but he sees the university’s unwillingness to abandon eminent domain—Columbia controls two-thirds of the expansion zone while the MTAandVerizonownanother 20 percent—as a means of extortion that will not succeed. “We’ve had proposals for arenas, 75-story hotels, office towers, water-side condos, and all of them have been defeated,” Reyes-Montblanc said.
Courtesy WEISS / MANFREDI
Weiss/Manfrediis concept design for Park Row introduces a landscaped, terraced pedestrain connection to the elevated Police Plaza.
The mandate of the LMDC, formed by Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the aftermath of 9/11, was not only to oversee the rebuilding of the WTC site but to spearhead the comprehensive, integrated urban renewal of all of Lower Manhattan. To that end, it commissioned several major urban studies in areas below Canal Street by top-tier design firms, and encouraged them to truly think big-picture about rebuilding downtown. Weiss/ Manfredi, H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, Robert A. M. Stern, and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson were all awarded contracts, amounting to over $2 million in fees, according to research compiled by AN at the time of these particular planss completion in 2004 (see World Trade Windfall,, AN 19_11.16.2004). When the LMDC announced last July that it would dissolve in the months to come, it maintained that its primary responsibilitiess selecting a masterplan and memorial design for the WTC site and allocating more than $2.78 billion in federal grants toward fostering business, residential, and cultural growth downtownnhad been fulfilled. Construction of the memorial and development of urban design guidelines for the site has been since delegated to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but the fate of the urban studies the LMDC initiated has been more difficult to assess.
The LMDC was never intended to be the agency that implemented such plans. Moreover, there is never a guarantee that any commission will translate into a realized work. But the fact that so little has been publicly discussed with respect to urban design at the WTC site or its surrounding neighborhoods since 9/11 merits a closer look at these plans, and at how or whether the ideas they propose might be expressed in built form.
According to LMDC spokesperson John DeLibero, all of the above-mentioned plans have been transferred to the Department of City Planning (DCP). Rachaele Raynoff, DCP press secretary, confirmed that the DCP is in possession of them but could not specify how the plans are being prioritized. At present, the DCPPs biggest initiative in Lower Manhattan is the East River Waterfront Study by SHoP Architects and the Richard Rogers Partnership.
One piece of news that gives reason to be optimistic that the plans wonnt end up in a drawer is Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis announcement in May 2005 of a comprehensive allocation plann for the LMDCCs unspent $800 million. The plan earmarked $110 million to implement certain elements of the LMDCCs urban plans, including the studies conducted by Weiss/ Manfredi, H3, and Stern. For some of the designers, the announcement was the last concrete news they received regarding their projects.
Raynoff confirmed that the DCP, together with the Department of Transportation (DOT), is currently studying one aspect of Weiss/ Manfrediis larger plan, which looked at the area surrounding the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage (see A View from the Bridge,, AN 10_6.08.2005). The plan envisions connecting Chinatown to the seaport through streetscaping, and makes specific recommendations for reinvigorating the closed-off area under the Brooklyn Bridge and replacing the concrete retaining wall behind Police Plaza on Park Row with a grassy, stepped pedestrian path to connect the elevated plaza with the street.
After the architects presented the plan to the LMDC in 2005, the LMDC and other consulting city agencies focused on their recommendations for Park Row as a feasible project. Shortly after, as part of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis allocation plan, $32 million was granted to fund components of their study and a related Chinatown study, including Park Row. As of yet, however, the DCP and DOT have not announced any concrete plans or schedule for the project.
Courtesy H3 HARDY COLLABORATION ARCHITECTURE
H33s design for Greenwich Street South proposed roofing over the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to create a park along with new residential and commerical space.
Aspects of the Greenwich Street South Study, developed by a team of seven design and consulting firms headed by H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, also appear to have a promising future. This study proposes decking over the existing entry to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (owned by the MTA), which currently separates Battery Park City South from the financial district south of the WTC site. The plan suggests that the new surface area of the deck would create valuable buildable space in an area where opportunities for largescale development no longer exist. In that new space, it recommends the creation of a 2-acre park surrounded by residential and commercial developments, as well as a bus garage south of Morris Street that would decrease current street-level congestion and house buses that might be displaced by potential developments on the East River Waterfront and Pier 40.
At H33s last meeting with the LMDC in September, attending city officials agreed that if the engineering required to build the deck could be coordinated, the MTA would revisit the proposals. The DCP anticipates working with the Governor Eliot Spitzerrs administration to realize this plan. Though the prospects for the plan seem positive, principal designer Hugh Hardy still worried, With the fading of the LMDC, [the plan] doesnnt have a champion.. Senior associate John Fontillas added, The unfortunate thing is that [the LMDCCs former vice president of planning and development] Alex Garvin intended for all of these parts to knit together. With personnel changing, therees little institutional memory.. Though the designers have not received any updates on the status of the plan, it has been allotted $40 million under the 2005 Bloomberg-Pataki initiative.
By comparison, aspects of Sternns Fulton Street Revitalization seem to be moving forward. With $38 million (again, part of Bloomberg and Patakiis 2005 initiative) approved by the LMDC board of directors in February 2006, the parts of the plan that have been retained for implementation, according to the DCP, include: enhancing the 35,000-square-foot Titanic Memorial Park and Pearl Street Playground, both set for completion in 2008; improving retail, facades, and streetscape elements along Fulton toward the East River; and creating a new open space at corner of Fulton and Gold streets. It is difficult to know, however, how close these elements are to the original design recommendations of Stern and partner on the study, Gensler. A public presentation of the study in 2005 was cancelled at the last minute, and even then, the plan was reportedly only in draft form (see Fulton Street Plan Chugs Along,, AN 12_7.13.05). Moreover, both then and now, the designers have declined to comment, barred by the LMDC from speaking about the plan.
COURTESY SMITH-MILLER+HAWKINSON ARCHITECTS
Louise Nevelson Plaza is the result of a larger study by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects to identify open-space possibilities in the blocks east of the WTC site. View west toward William Street.
The most tangible results from any of the studies are from Smith-Miller + Hawkinsonns comprehensive urban study Strategic Open Space: Public Realm Improvement Strategy for Lower Manhattan. The study, which won a P/A Award in 2003, canvassed 500 acres of Lower Manhattan in the area roughly bound by Fulton, Church, and Water streets to identify possibilities for creating new public spaces and bolstering existing ones. One site, Louise Nevelson Plaza, a run-down traffic island at the corner of William and Liberty, stood out as a feasible location to move forward on right away. The architects worked with the LMDC and other consulting city agencies to draft construction documents, and had successfully gone through the majority of the approval process well before the LMDC began to phase out. Since the LMDCCs dissolution, the Department of Design and Construction has taken over execution of the project, and has folded it in among its general infrastructure improvements on Liberty Street.
The design for the plaza involves a series of changes meant to create, in principal Laurie Hawkinsonns words, a 24/7 open spacee in an emerging mixed-use neighborhood. The park will feature benches of cast glass, new lighting and planting, and seven restored Nevelson sculptures that the artist herself donated to the park in the 1970s. The project will break ground this summer, and is expected to be completed in 2009.
The LMDC has never been forthcoming about its undertakings, despite the fact that these compelling urban design studies are nothing to hide. Even now, no one from the LMDCC including Kevin Rampe, chair of the LMDC boarddwill comment on the planss respective fates. The arrival of Governor Spitzer, who has been critical of the way the LMDC has been operating, may bring a change in direction. A. J. Carter, spokesperson for Empire State Development Corporation, the LMDCCs parent body, offered, We are taking a fresh look at everything and re-evaluating whatts been done and what needs to be done as we get started with the [Spitzer] Administration..
SAMANTHA TOPOL IS AN EDITOR AT AN.
To date, the most realistic view of the future streetscape and urban environment of the WTC site is a drawing that Silverstein Properties released in late September (below) for the unveiling of the designs of Towers 2, 3, and 4 by Foster and Partners, Richard Rogers Partnership, and Maki and Associates, respectively. The site plan, credited to Fosterrs office, offers a dimensionality and level of detail that previous site plans offered by the LMDC do not. The irony of this situation becomes clear when you realize that the Foster-generated coordinating plan was not made by a public authority but by a private developer who is shaping one third of the original WTC sitees 16 acres. No such excellent, professional plan has been offered to the public by the public authorities that own and administer the land, and there has been no public discussion of urban design on or around the WTC site to date.
The Silverstein plan maps various vital open spaces and streetscapes, including the vast memorial (conceived by its designers as encompassing everything to the blockks curbline); the plaza areas around the Freedom Tower and 7WTC, the enigmatic Performing Arts Center, and WTC Transportation Hub; and the multi-level, glass-fronted commercial realms along Church and Greenwich streets, defined by the Silverstein towers.
Formal urban design guidelines, which until recently were expected to be released by the LMDC, would have formed these streetscapes. (Even as late as August 2006, LMDC board president Kevin Rampe was quoted in a New York Times article as saying that the agency would release guidelines in September.) Now the Port Authority is charged with the task of considering the voids between its real estate developments, voids that contain the civic life of the city. With so many of the sitees designs now in refinement phase, even the imminent release of commercial and urban design guideliness which the Port Authority promises to release in the coming monthss seems moot.
This sad situation might be contrasted with the more open process that accompanied the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, wherein vociferous critics challenged the developer, Forest City Ratner, leading to the projectts downsizing and improvements to Frank Gehryys design. No such democratic process has been applied to the WTC site since its inception nearly 40 years ago, when David Rockefeller, then the chair of Chase Manhattan Bank, influenced his brother Nelson, then state governor, to influence the Port Authority to create the corporate WTC complex. (David had something to gain: Chase had just built an expensive tower nearby and had a vested interest in the revitalization of the area.) The resulting WTC complex was recognized as an urban disaster long before it was destroyed on 9/11 with its vast, windswept podium and unremarkable, dull design.
Now we face a design disaster of a different order, with yet another dull tower looming over yet another roof-garden plaza. The title of Aradds memorial design, Reflecting Absence, states the current problem exactly: Absence of coordination now dominates all. There is no sense of a whole among the fragments, each of which will assert itself around the memorial. Each project stands on its own block, dealing with the landds slope toward the river with its own podium, stairs, and blank sidewalls.
Everything is subservient to the Twin Towerss absenceefrom the memorial design, with its landscaped terrace divided into small secure areas by the original towerss footprints, entry buildings, ramps, steps, benches, and side walls; to the surrounding towers that rise high from their sites, matching in volume the absent towers. The result is a disjointed streetscape that is only now being addressed as an afterthought by the Port Authority. We can only imagine what would have come from the site had it not been for the appealing distraction of Daniel Libeskindds original masterplan, with its sad central void and towering (though pointless) symbols.
D. GRAHAME SHANE IS AN URBAN HISTORIAN WHO TEACHES AT THE COOPER UNION AND CITY COLLEGE. HIS MOST RECENT BOOK IS RECOMBINANT URBANISM: CONCEPTUAL MODELING IN ARCHITECTURE, URBAN DESIGN AND CITY THEORY (JOHN WILEY & SONS, 2005).
The Silverstein-issued site plan, rendered
by Foster, shows the
WTC Memorial (H) surrounded by steps along West Street, Liberty Street, and
the southern part of Greenwich Street (I), with level access only
at the junction of Fulton and Greenwich (J), opposite the PATH Station/Transportation Hub by Santiago Calatrava
SOMMs drawings of the Freedom Tower (A) show its Fulton Street side as level with the street. Facing West Street, however, the site slopes gently upwards, with sets of stairs and terrace landings forming a triangular plaza (B). One drawing of the plaza also indicates a 6-foot-high wind break,, extending partially toward the plaza and raising the height of a retaining wallla
dead sheer walllthat appears to continue down Vesey Street (C). The tower neighbors Frank Gehryys Performing Arts Center (D), which the city has assumed responsibility for, but whose fate remains undetermined.
Though the entrance of Silversteinns 7WTC (E) by David Childs is transparent, art-enriched, and faces
a friendly plaza on Greenwich Street (F),
its Vesey, Barclay, and Washington elevations are featurelesss windowless and doorless facades that convey the deadly effect of fear on urban street life. The towerrs fortified base, housing several floors of Con Ed generators, is also a monument to our failure to learn from past mistakes, i.e., creating
a single transformer center (and easy target) instead of a system
of geographically dispersed transformer stations.
Silverstein and mall developer Westfield are locating two thirds of
the Foster towerrs (G) retail at or above grade, and one third below.
The tower is complex
in section because it contains trading floors on lower levels, with a hotel and offices above. The design takes into consideration the slope of the site, incorporating cascading steps into a multi-level lobby. With its prime location and more urban engagement, this building could easily upstage the Freedom Tower, making Patakiis tower entirely redundant.
The landscaped terrace of the WTC Memorial (H) is split into small secure areas by
the towerss old footprints/reflecting pools, entry building, ramps, steps, benches, and side walls that address the sitees slope. Itts plausible, too, that the memorial will have perimeter barriers for public safetyy (or to prevent spontaneous demonstrations). Animations on Silverstein Propertiess site (viewed in December 2006) pan across West Street to the base of the Freedom Tower and appear to show 10-foot-high security mesh fences in the park across from the base of the tower. It is difficult to read from Fosterrs site plan (at right), but lines appear to show fences parallel to West and Liberty as well, creating a penned-in area within the park. Meanwhile, the severely downsized Memorial entry pavilion and visitor center by Snnhetta (L) will no doubt be dwarfed by the surrounding towers and serves merely as a light cover and security gate to the underground realm of the memorial.
Grimshawws Fulton Street Transit Hub at Fulton and Broadway (not shown on the map) won a recent victory when the MTA agreed
to go ahead with the construction of a passage beneath
Dey Street, linking
to the Calatrava Transportation Hub (J), just one block west.
Calatravaas Transportation Hub (K) is a monument to
the power of the Port Authority, costing $2 billion to accommodate 33,000 commuters daily. Its vast scale is out
of proportion to its passenger flow (compare with the 500,000 commuters
who pass through Grand Central daily). The station also contains a part of the underground Westfield shopping mall, which will link to the adjacent Foster (G) and Rogers (M) towers, and an underground tourist bus parking garage. Tourists will pass through the underground mall to reach street level and then cross Greenwich Street to enter the memorial plaza.
Of the three tower designs Silverstein unveiled in late September, Richard Rogerss tower (M) was the least detailed. (All three teams are working to meet a March 1 deadline for schematic designs.) Rogerss crude, giant exterior trussessa signature that also appears in his design of the Silver Cup Studios in Long Island Cityywill loom above Calatravaas delicate and costly wings..
Makiis tower (N) has an enormous entry on its east side, facing Cooper Robertsonns Zuccotti Park (V).
The majority of the commuters who arrive at Calatravaas station and work in Wall Street will pass through the underground mall (which continues through the Rogers tower) and exit through Makiis portal. Inside, the retail space climbs 85 feet up on
the Church Street side
from the underground concourse and then crosses through the building to Greenwich Street, terminating in a restaurant overlooking the memorial.
Cooper Robertson, designers of Zuccotti Park (V), acknowledged the sitees natural downward slope and allowed the park to
drop diagonally from its Church Street corner toward Wall Street. If
the same idea had been applied to the memorial site, we might look forward to an incredible new civic space, wherein the natural slope creates a kind of open theater, allowing for performances or other free expressions.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) website shows that the PA will build a plenum under the recently reconstructed West Street to serve the PATH tunnels below, disrupting the street for the next three years. When completed, vent stacks will protrude from the sidewalk in front of the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center (O) and the traffic median (P). The DOT drawings also show a Proposed Pedestrian Concoursee connecting the underground shopping mall under Fulton Street via a bank of escalators (Q) that ascend to the Winter Garden.
Though the block below Liberty Street, between West and Greenwich, was originally designated to be Liberty Park, the park has been relegated to the northwest corner of the site (R). The rest of site is destined to be occupied by a sloping entry/exit ramp (S) leading to the belowground Port Authority Vehicular Security Center, which will house service areas for the memorial and route trucks and buses beneath the Greenwich Street towers to a parking lot beneath the Calatrava station. The site will be punctuated by 40-foot-high vents (T) for the underground security center. The site will also house Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church (U), which was on the southwestern portion of the WTC site but was destroyed on 9/11. The new church (whose design has not yet been approved by the Port Authority) will be wrapped in diesel exhaust as it is placed between the ramp and another 40-foot-tall exhaust vent at Liberty and Greenwich.
The DOT Environmental Impact Study (EIS) by Eng-Wong, Taub & Associates (posted on the Port Authorityys website) reveals that, in 2015, 100 percent of the tourist buses heading toward the Vehicular Security Center on Liberty Street (entrance ramp, S) will go down Greenwich Street, past the memorial. The study also reveals that 100 percent of the buses exiting the center will go up Church Street and 90 percent will turn left at Fulton Street, spewing their exhaust and noise beside the memorial on their way to West Street.
Five and a half years after 9/11, the WTC site and its surrounding streets are rumbling nonstop, with armies of workers laboring to finish site preparation and complex below-grade work. It will be more than a year before most of the key projects begin rising above grade. While the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, MTA, NYC Department ofTransportation, and private interests such as Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties coordinate underground work involving tunneling, linking pedestrian passageways, and threading utilities through the catacombs beneath the site and the cityys streets, the architects behind the iconic projects continue to refine their designs.
The process of design development and establishing construction schedules seems much clearer now that the LMDC is essentially out of the picture and the Port Authority has assumed control of the major WTC construction projectssa role it announced it would take last June and that was finalized on December 14. The Port Authority is overseeing the construction of the Memorial and Memorial Museum, the Freedom Tower, and the Transportation Hub. The agency is also producing Commercial Design Guidelines for private developments around the site, which should be released in the next few months. These guidelinesswhich are being produced with the help of Studio Daniel Libeskind and can be seen as a continuation of his work on the WTC Master Plannwill address issues such as massing, building heights, and street interface for commercial developments. The Port Authority is also in the process of contracting a consultant for streetscape design, following an RFP issued in December. The timing for these initiatives seems belated, given that the designs of the areaas most notable projectssincluding Silversteinns towers by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Makii are well underway. With most of the projects looking at completion dates well beyond 2009, however, hopefully latee will prove better than never..
CATHY LANG HO
Courtesy WTC Memorial Foundation
The WTC Memorialls beleaguered design process is close to clearing another obstacle: resolving the treatment of victimss names. In Michael Aradds original design, the victimss names were randomly arranged in a ribbon surrounding the twin pools, viewed from contemplative below-ground galleries that encircled the pools. Following Frank Sciamees June 2006 cost-saving recommendations that eliminated underground components of the memorial, designers were asked to propose ways of integrating the names with the above-ground pools. Another new design requirement, which was ratified by the WTC Memorial Foundation in early December, is the grouping of victimss names according to where and with whom they might have been during the attack.
The designers are now exploring ways of integrating the names with the parapet surrounding the twin pools. Weere concerned with how to treat [the parapet] as not just a utilitarian object but as a contemplative one,,said Arad. Weere thinking about how a visitor approaches the edge of an enormous void, and how we can create an area of quiet reflection around it.. While he couldnnt offer specifics, Arad pointed out his desire for a parapet height that induces visitors to bow their heads, and a treatment of the inscriptions that allows visitors direct contact with names while discouraging behavior that might undermine the sacredness of the space.
With the memorial raised to the plaza level, consulting landscape architect Peter Walker has been called upon to revise his park design..Now therees pressure on the areas around the pool to have a more spiritual quality,, he said. Hees reexamining the space behind the parapets, considering densifying the canopy of trees or other measures that will give people a greater sense of a private space,, he said.
Walker is also studying the northeast corner of the plaza. The original design of the cultural center [by Snnhetta] provided an archway, which acted as a natural gateway into the park,, said Walker. Now the plaza itself must serve as a gateway, and our dilemma is how to create a meaningful sequence into a space thatts hallowed and quiet..
The Port Authority and Memorial Foundation expect to have design options for these memorial elements in the first quarter of this year. Also expected to be unveiled in the coming months is a revised design of the much smaller Snnhetta facility, which will now function only as the Memorial Museum and visitors center.
WTC Transportation Hub
Courtesy Port Authority
When Santiago Calatrava unveiled his design of the birdlike Transportation Hub in January 2004, the $2.2 billion project was heralded as an optimistic symbol for the rebirth of the WTC site. Located kitty-corner to the memorial plaza, the sculptural building has taken on new importance since the Snnhetta project was reprogrammed and no longer spans the northeast corner of the memorial plaza, anticipated to be the memorialls busiest entrance point.
This change in plans opens the station to more space and sky, but has also presented a new dilemma: The northeast corner of the plaza will now serve as the prime gateway to the memorial, and must be designed to convey a dignified approach. The problem is, the plaza is also the roof of the underground stationns mezzanine area, which Calatrava designed to be lit with skylights. At present, he and landscape architect Peter Walker are working intently on a solution that will preserve the capacity for light to descend into the mezzanine while also ensuring that the space shapes an appropriate procession to the memorial itself. The Port Authority anticipates that design options will be presented in the next few months.
Meanwhile, this month construction crews began work on a pedestrian concourse that will link the hub to the Winter Garden across West Street.
Couretsy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
The Freedom Tower has been a magnet for skepticism, since its first vague envisioning by masterplanner Daniel Libeskind as a soaring symbol for freedom, through its bumpy process, which included a complete design overhaul in 2005 due to 11th-hour security concerns raised by the New York Police Department. Many still question whether or not the project, by David Childs of SOM, will really materialize, with detractors persistently vocalizing alternative plans for the site. (As recently as January 18, at a Downtown Alliance event, Rafael Viioly issued a call to scrap the tower and divert its funding subsidies to the WTC Memorial, which is still shy of its fundraising goals, and cultural facilities, which have all but disappeared from the site.)
Itts time for skeptics to put away their doubts. The 82- story, 2.6-million-squarefoot tower is indeed rising: Foundation work is essentially complete and on December 19, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg showed up to watch the first three 25-ton steel columns installed on the site. Theyyre the first of 27 extra-large steel columns that will line the perimeter of the tower base, to be in place by May. By the end of the year, more columns will brace the lower level and a second tier will bring steelwork to grade.
Of course, design goes on until the last day because field conditions change,, said Childs, but basically the building will look like how we showed it in June.. At that time, the designers revealed that the 186-foot-tall, 200-by- 200-foot base would be clad in 13-foot-tall glass prisms. I wanted to make sure the facade would be as lively as possible,, he explained. At present, the designers are working with three different glass manufacturers to test a range of options. The glass might be cast, or rolled, or milled,, he said. We want an interesting texture and a reflectivity that will cast a multicolored spectrum of light..
Childs has brought on top collaborators, including Washington, D.C..based lighting designer Claude Engel, who worked with Norman Foster on the Reichstag project, and New Yorkkbased sculptor Kenneth Snelson, an innovator in tensegrity structures, who will advise on the design of the towerrs broadcast antenna. (The Port Authority is in the midst of negotiations with the Metropolitan Television Alliance over the antenna.) Childs is also working closely with landscape architect PeterWalker on the design of the towerrs surrounding grounds (terraced plaza at Vesey and West streets, pictured). The choice of Walker, who is also working on the memorial, was especially sensitive given that itts been left to individual designers to addresshoweach project relates to one another.
Fulton Street Transit Center
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
As recently reported by William Neuman and David Dunlap in The New York Times ((Planners Clash Over Transit Hub, and Riders Win,, January 8, 2007), the Fulton Street Transit Center has overcome its latest hurdle, with theMTAagreeing to fund the difference between the $847 million in federal funds committed to the project and the current estimated cost of $888million.The funds secure the future of a passageway beneath Dey Street, leading to the WTC Transportation Hub one block west.
The project, which will serve as a headhouse for a multitude of linessthe A, C, E, J,M,Z, R,W, 2, 3, 4, and 55 has had its share of hairy moments since it was commissioned to Grimshaw Architects in 2003. The initial design, a bulbous, glasssheathed steel cone, unveiled in May 2004 and budgeted at $750 million, had to be modified one year later due to budget problems: To build the center, the MTA had to acquire all the real estate on Broadway between Fulton and John streets, and no one anticipated real estate prices would skyrocket as they did.
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
In spring 2006, the architects offered a scaled-back design that included the elimination of a sub-basement, the relocation of MTA offices to a ring around the domed atriummoccupying what principal Vincent Chang described as found spacee?and a reconceived dome. It was a different program, so we had to design a different building,, said Chang. Importantly, the new design preserves the architectss essential concepts: providing a strong civic icon as a response to the previously hidden, building-embedded subway entrances scattered in the area; bringing natural light and some of New Yorkks vibrant street quality to the stationns subterranean depths; and clarifying views within the station to aid in wayfinding. Performance and light were the conceptual drivers,, said Chang, explaining how their terms of analysis applied equally well to the new design. For the dome, which is not only slightly shorter but has lost its outward bulge, designers have decided on an elegant diamond cable-net (left, below) suspended from a steel ring that will form an oculus, outfitted with glass blades that will filter incoming light (left, above). From the projectts outset, the firm, in collaboration with James Carpenter, has been conducting extensive studies to predict the angle and nature of lightts reflection inside the cone and how it is redirected to the spaces below.
The team is still finalizing the design of the facade of the rectangular glass pavilion, following requests last August from the NYPD for a more beefed-up perimeter to withstand blasts. (Chang assured that the amount of glass and transparency would remain the same.) Construction drawings will be finished in March, and a completion date is set for 2009.
Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
All renderings courtesy respective firms The development of the Queens waterfront is modeled after that of Battery Park City. Now on the drawing boards are (from left to right) residential highrises by V Studio/Walkergroup, Arquitectonica, Perkins Eastman, and Handel Architects.
The future skyline of Queens bears a superficial resemblance to Jersey City: More than a dozen tall buildings are planned to rise along the Queens Waterfront and, as a result of Special District zoning, many others are in the works in Long Island City and Hunters Point. As D. Grahame Shane reports, the Department of City Planning's surgical approach to zoning is stimulating strategic development throughout the borough, promising a series of dynamic urban patchess as well as some awkward seams.
While New Yorkers witnessed an epic battle for the top-down control of the World Trade Center site, replete with power players channeling Robert Moses, the New York Department of City Planning (DCP) has been quietly leading an urban planning revolution with a small-scale, bottom-up approach throughout the boroughs. The unveiling last month of Richard Rogers Partnership's design of a massive mixed-use project on the Queens waterfront for Silvercup Studios portends a dense, monumental future for the low-scale, still-industrial area. But various rezonings throughout Queenssincluding Long Island City, Hunters Point, and a dozen other neighborhoodssare in fact setting the framework for more incremental development in the borough, encouraging a unique fabric of mixed uses, spaces, scales, densities, and textures.
From its colonial beginning New York was part of an archipelago, a network of small patches of European settlements connected by boats, New Amsterdam, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Harlem. The large open spaces of Queens have always attracted those unable to find accommodation in Manhattan, from the farmers and fishermen of the colonial period to the industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries who deposited their ports, factories, warehouses, oil refineries, cement plants, and more in the marshy headland bound by the East River and Newtown Creek. With its evolving transportation linkssbridges, tunnels, ferries, and raillheavy industry thrived in the area. The huge spaces that were carved out by industrial uses have taken on new meaning today, with Manhattan's squeezed housing market and changed attitudes about commuting. Suddenly, the rust-belt patches around Long Island City are attractive real estate.
In 2001, the Museum of Modern Art's temporary move to LIC highlighted the area's nascence as a cultural district. The same year, the Group of 35, a panel created by Senator Charles Schumer representing public and private interests, issued a report calling for the creation of a new business district in LIC, suggesting 15 million square feet of office space and citing the benefits of a planneddthough sadly now defunctt?word-class intermodal transit stationn at Sunnyside Yards. (The yard has a small LIRR stop and a ferry terminal nearby; the plan for the hub would have folded in stops for Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the MTA, whose routes all cross there.)
The intensification of development in Queens has actually been in process for some time. In 1984, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA) took over a large portion of the Queens docklands and, together with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), created a 74-acre development patch under the auspices of the Queens West Development Corporation (QWDC). QWDC follows the Battery Park City model of development (also created by the ESDC), with phased parcels bid to separate developers. Two buildings have been completed (one by Cesar Pelli, 1998, and another by Perkins Eastman, 2001), and more than a dozen more are planned. Though far from complete, Queens West already appears to be isolated and out of scale with its surroundings, despite well-intentioned efforts to create open spaces and waterfront views.
By contrast, the DCP has adopted a more targeted approach to the rest of Queens, with timely responses to particular urban actors in particular locations. The DCP is actually building on an approach that was pioneered in the 1960s by Mayor John Lindsay's Urban Design Group (members included Jonathan Barnett, Alexander Cooper, Jaquelin Robertson, Richard Weinstein, and Richard Dattner), which abandoned masterplanning on a city-wide, regional scale and introduced Special District zoning. Based on a 1916 zoning ordinance addressing skyscrapers downtown, Special Districts under the Urban Design Group began as relatively simple mechanisms to protect small residential communities like Little Italy and Chinatown from large-scale development. Later, the concept was applied to create a Theater Special District, to protect Broadway theaters and allow the transfer of their valuable air rights to neighboring sites. This system of controlled zoning patches evolved into a complex, three-dimensional, multifunctional, incentive-based design methodology that paved the way for Cooper and Eckstut's 1978 masterplan of Battery Park City.
Under Amanda Burden, who has been planning commissioner and director of the DCP since 2002, Special Districts zoning has evolved further still, to encompass micro-patches of upzoning, downzoning, mixed-use, and historic and industrial preservation. Her LIC Mixed-Use Special District was in fact her first exercise, and presaged similar strategies in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, East Harlem, and Chelsea.
This finely calibrated approach to zoning can be seen in three of current hot patchess of development in Queens:
Queens Plaza Special Improvement District
Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Adult Entertainment Zoning of the late 1990s exiled some of Times Square's porn shops, strip clubs, and prostitution to this long-neglected industrial gateway. Few paid attention to the area, until 2000 when Michael Bailkin and Paul Travis of the Arete Group tried to buy two large sites, including a large city-owned garage, at the junction of Queens Plaza and Jackson Avenue. The same developers bought the air rights to part of Sunnyside Yards. Their moves prompted the DCP (then directed by Joseph Rose) to devise the Queens Plaza Special District (approved in 2001) that featured incentive bonuses and Urban Design Guidelines that called for broad setbacks, new parks, and ground-floor retail to enliven the street. The lots that Arete sought (which have since gone to Tishman Speyer) were upzoned to Floor Area Ratio (FAR) 12, signaling a dense future for LIC.
The city has also responded to pressure from public interest groups, like the Municipal Arts Society, the Regional Plan Association, and the Van Alen Institute. The latter organized the Queens Plaza competition in 200112002, which addressed the need to do something about the gloomy stretch of roadway beneath the noisy Queensborough Bridge. In 2002, the city selected Margie Ruddick as a lead consultant (on a team that initially included Michael Sorkin and Michael Singer) to develop a landscape design that would improve the public spaces, lighting, traffic flow, and general streetscape of Queens Plaza. Ruddick, who is now collaborating with Marpillero/Pollak, described her intention to make the left-over spaces legible as a landscape that helps you get from one place to another, making connections across the space under the bridge.. Her scheme emphasizes improved circulation; bicycle and pedestrian paths and crossings abound. Near the waterfront section, she has planned a cathedral-like space under the bridge, which will act as a seam between the planned Silvercup West project and the Queensbridge Houses, a massive housing project built by the New York City Housing Authority in 1941. The plan is currently under review by the Fine Arts Commission.
Long Island City Mixed-Use Special District (2004)
Compared to the crude zoning of Queens Plaza, the LIC Mixed-Use Special District is more finely textured and varied. The DCP divided the area into three sub-districts, which form a triangle around a gritty industrial core that will be preserved: The Long Island City Core Sub-District is a small enclave driven by developers and already contains Citigroup's skyscraper at Court Square, the borough's first tall building. This very compact, high-density patch (zoned at FAR 12) has many tax incentives and has already attracted a second Citigroup tower and United Nations Federal Credit Union building, both under construction. The 1989 Citigroup tower, with its interior cafeteria and attached car park, never sponsored street life. Under the revised Urban Design Guidelines, both the new buildings will have street level retail to foster pedestrian activity and new plantings, furniture, and parks. The neighboring Jackson Avenue Mixed-Use Sub-District (approved 2004) borders the Sunnyside Yards. Here, warehouses and factories, like the 254-unit Arris Building, are being converted to residential lofts and offices. The upzoning to FAR 7 and Urban Design Guidelines under study by the Volmer Group are aimed at remaking Jackson Avenue into a densely built commercial boulevard, containing 3 million square feet of offices stretching from Court Square to Queens Plaza's subway node. The aim is to create a vibrant street life, with cafes, restaurants, and stores,, said Burden. The plan calls for widened sidewalks, tree planting, kiosks, seating, and night lighting.
The density on Jackson Avenue decreases in the Hunters Point Mixed-Use Rezoning Sub-District (approved in 2004). Individual urban actors predominate in this area, with small-scale housing, auto-body shops, galleries, and artists' studios. Burden saw this area as containing the soull of LIC. Fearing the large scale of development on the nearby waterfront, residents have been organizing themselves into groups, like the 49th Street Block Association and the Hunters Point Community Organization. The city downzoned this patch within a general FAR 5 intended to protect the arts area around the P.S.1 cultural center.
Queens Waterfront (1980s to present)
The small-scale flexibility of LIC's new mixed-use subdistricts is nonexistent on the waterfront. As a state agency, the ESDC formulated Queens West with almost no community input, though pressure from Hunters Point residents did ensure that a continuous landscaped riverfront would be publicly accessible.
The completion of the 42-story City Lights tower by Cesar Pelli for Manhattan Overlook Associates (1998) and 32-floor tower by Perkins Eastman for Avalon Bay (2001) have skyscraper-shocked local residents into paying attention to what is happening to the rest of the waterfront. Local groups are starting to pressure the QWDC to break down Queens West's 1980s masterplan and work at a smaller scale. To deflect criticism, in 2004 the ESDC revised Phase II of the 1980s masterplan, which includes seven buildings by Rockrose, with designs by Arquitectonica and Handel Architects. Last year, State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan was quoted in the Queens Chronicle as saying, I think it is appropriate and past due time for Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg to review the plan for Queens West and begin a dialogue with the community as to the importance of affordable housing for the work soon to be scheduled on the southern portion of the site.. The southern portion, known as Queens West South (Phase III), was most recently publicized as the site of the proposed Olympic Village, with a winning masterplan by Morphosis. Though New York lost its Olympic bid, the exercise offered a vision of the area as a new vibrant neighborhood.
Burden is currently negotiating with Frances Huppert, the design director of the ESDC, to get the corporation to break down the scale of their development into more manageable patches, including mixed-income housing, which could link to the surrounding Hunters Point Special District. Burden also hopes that a pedestrian bridge across Newtown Creek can someday connect the Queens West esplanade to the waterfront planned for Greenpoint-Williamsburg.
North of Queens West lie two of the hottest patches in Long Island City. The first project is River East, a scenographic, set-piece street of mixed-use townhouses and lofts with two glass-skinned 30-story towers at the riverside, designed by Jay Valgora and developed by Vernon Realty. The buildings bracket a street that frames a view of the United Nations. Beyond River East lies an empty Con Edison site, and next to that is Silvercup West, the expansion of Stuart and Alan Suna's film and production studios. The Sunas took advantage of an extension of the upzoning of the Queensborough Bridge Plaza Special District to create a 2-million-square-foot, hyper-dense, mixed-use matrix of film studios, roof gardens, office and residential towers spread over 6 acres, unveiled by the Richard Rogers Partnership last month after the plan received its Uniform Land Use and Regional Planning Review (ULURP) letter of certification. The scheme offers a 40-foot-wide riverfront esplanade designed by the Laurie Olin Partnership that will link to Margie Ruddick's Queens Plaza landscape scheme (see sidebar).
Queens waterfront demonstrates the limits of the patchwork approach, where heterogeneous patches are connected by a weak link, the waterfront.
The advantage of a patch-by-patch approach is its specificity and its ability to capture the dynamic of relationships between various actors in various patches. The complex narratives of LIC actors and their efforts to shape their sites shows that there are multiple ways to develop a patch, ranging from top-down utopian masterplan that is fixed and inflexible to the bottom-up approach where every actor has a distinctive voice in the polyphonic dialogue. Long Island City shows this range, and it is to the DCP's credit that it has tried to deal with each situation individually. Eventually, an emergent system of urban design will be able to provide the means of balancing and managing the flows between the fragments. Until then we will have to rely on our intuition to sense the flows between the patches in the emergent ecology of the urban archipelagos that constitute our cities.
D. Grahame Shane is an adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University GSAPP. He is the author of Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design, and City Theory (john Wiley, 2005).
Development Descends on Queens
Courtesty Department of City Planning
1 Silvercup West
Owned by Alan and Stuart Match Suna and designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, Silvercup West is a $1 billion mixed-use project spread over 6 acres, and includes residential, commercial, cultural, and civic spaces, in addition to 1 million square feet of film-production studios.
2 River East
44402 Vernon Blvd.
Developed by Vernon Realty and sited on 6 acres just south of Silvercup West, River East will contain 1.2 million square feet of residential and commercial space. Rows of townhouses will lead to two 30-story towers on the river and a newly landscaped esplanade. The WalkerGroup of New York and its in-house V Studio, led by architect Jay Valgora, are masterplanning the site and designing the buildings.
3 Queens West
The Queens West Development Corporation (QWDC), a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, has divided their large waterfront site into four development phases.
Phase II, contracted to Rockrose Development Corporation will contain seven buildings with 3,000 residential units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The first two buildings have been designed by Arquitectonica; one will be completed in May, and the other broke ground this month. Handel Architects have designed a third building, with construction to begin late 2006. Arquitectonica will design at least one more building, and the other two are as-yet uncommissioned.
Avalon Bay Communities is developing phase I, just south of Rockrose's. Its first residential tower was completed in 2001 and the second broke ground early this year, and will be completed by May of 2007. Both were designed by Perkins Eastman. A third lot on Avalon Bay's site will likely serve as either a public park or a branch of Queens' Public Library.
Phases III and IV, located partially on the Olympic Village site, have no developers attached, but will likely see the type of mixed-use projects as the first two phases. The QWDC is considering keeping parts of the Olympic site plans.
4 Power House
50009 Second St.
Cheskel Schwimmer and CGS developers will add 100,000 square feet to the former Pennsylvania Railroad Power House's existing 150,000, converting the structure into a residential complex. The new building, designed by Karl Fischer Architect, will contain 190 condominiums.
5, 6 The Gantry
5515 49th Ave. and 48821 5th St.
The Milestone Group, based in New York City, will develop an existing warehouse into 64 condos, designed by local firm Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects. The Gantry will be ready for occupancy early this summer.
7 50th Ave. and 5th St.
Developers Joseph Escarfullery and Joseph Palumbo are planning an 11-unit, high-end co-op on the site of a current parking lot.
8 5549 Borden Ave.
535 Borden LLC has been working with New York architect Juan Alayo to develop a 12-story, 132-unit residential building. The project's backers are presently closing on the sale of the lot to another developer. The sale includes the architectural plans, which, as of now, will remain unchanged.
9 East View Condos
10040 46th Rd.
The East View Condos are in development by owner Henry Khanali and the New York architecture firm Bricolage Designs. The ground-up construction will be five stories, with an as-yet undetermined number of units, and should be completed by the summer of 2007.
10 41143 47th Ave.
No information available.
11 Vantage Jackson
10050 Jackson Ave.
This 13-story building is being developed by the Lions Group with Emmy Homes, and will contain 35 to 40 units.
12 10063 Jackson Ave.
MKF Realty is planning a 40-unit building just west of the Polaski Bridge. Completion expected in early 2007.
13 Badge Building
10055 47th Ave.
Bricolage Designs is designing an eight-story ground-up building that will be attached to an exisiting and soon-to-be-refurbished four-story factory, which once manufactured medallions and badges. The building complex will contain 44 condos; interiors will be designed by Front Studio. Badge Building Development LLC is a group of independent investors led by the building's current owner, who has been sitting on the property for the last ten years.
14 12201 Jackson Ave.
Hentze-Dor Real Estate is developing a 35-unit rental on an irregularly shaped lot on Jackson Avenue.
15 Echaelon Condominiums
13311 Jackson Ave.
Ron Hershco of Jackson Realty LLC is planning a 52-unit condominium designed by Newman Design Group of Cold Spring Hill, New York. Occupancy is scheduled for late spring of 2006.
16 Venus Site
Queens Plaza North and 24th St.
Developer Moshe Feller is reportedly working on a condo building that will house 320 units.
17 24415 Queens Plaza North
Karl Fischer Architect is planning alterations to an existing 50,000-square-foot office building for an unnamed developer.
18 42237 Crescent St.
Owner Ruben Elberg of Royal One Real Estate and Karl Fischer Architect are planning a 16-unit condominium building with two ground-floor commercial spaces. Completion is expected mid-2007.
19 42259 Crescent St.
Adjacent to 42237 Crescent Street, the same developer-architect team will build another residential project with retail space. 42259 Crescent will be slightly bigger, at 24 units, and completed by early 2007.
20 45556 Pearson St.
Rosma Development of New York is set to build a 20-story project on a 30,000 square-foot site, creating 120 condos that should be ready by 2007.
21 Arris Condominiums
27728 Thompson Ave.
The Andalex Group is planning an $80 million conversion of a 1920s warehouse into a mix of 237 lofts and 17 studios. Costas Kondylis and Partners is completing the design, which will involve a total overhaul of the interiors as well as exterior restoration.
22 Vantage Purves
44427 Purves St.
Another development in the area by the Lions Group and Emma Homes Partnership, the Vantage Purves will have 57 units.
23 42251 Hunter St.
A small group of investors under the name 42251 Hunter Street LLC is developing a seven-story condo building with Manhattan firm Israel Peles Architects.
24 41123 Crescent Street
No information available.
25 The Queens Plaza
41126 27th St.
The Developers Group of New York is planning a 10-story, 66-unit condo building just north of the Queens Plaza Improvement Project.
26 27714 41st Ave.
41st Avenue Property LLC, with Queens-based architect Surja Widjaja of Maison Design, is planning a 24-unit, 8-story residential building.
27 Gaseteria Site
Northern Blvd. and Queens Blvd.
Oil company Gaseteria has partnered with Lowe Enterprises Real Estate to develop a site bordering Long Island City's Sunnyside Yards into a mixed-use complex with a projected 400 housing units, in addition to office and retail space.
1 Silvercup West
2 United Nations Federal
24th St. and 45th Dr.
With a tentative completion date of this September, the $65 million United Nations Federal Credit Union building, designed by HLW international, will be the second all-commercial highrise in Long Island City, after the 1.4-million-square-foot Skidmore, Owings and Merrilll designed Citigroup tower, completed in 1989.
3 Citigroup, Phase II
Citigroup is several months into the construction of its second office buidling in the neighborhood, next door to its 48-floor tower, the tallest building in the boroughs. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the second building will be significantly smaller, at 475,000 square feet and 14 floors. An estimated 1,800 Citibank employees will be housed in the new building, which will be completed in 2007.
4 Queens Plaza Municipal Garage
Tishman Speyer recently signed a 99-year lease for the city-owned parking lot, and plans to raze the lot to build an office building with underground parking. Recently upzoned to 12 FAR, the site could accept 1.5 million square feet of development.
5 QP Site
Tishman Speyer is razing several low-scale commercial buildings and a parking lot, the former site of the QP flea market, and likely building office space in addition to that across the street at the Queens Plaza Municipal Garage. The lot is owned by businessman Bill Modell.
6 Gaseteria Site
Queens Plaza Improvement Project
In 2001 the Department of City Planning began implementing a plan to improve Queens Plaza, the boulevard that runs from Sunnyside Yards to the Queensborough Bridge. The plan includes extensive infrastructural improvements, including new roadways and subway station renovations, as well as an extensive landscape scheme by Philadelphia-based Margie Ruddick, which would extend a lush, pedestrian-friendly esplanade to the East River waterfront.
produced by Jaffer kolb, with research by jesse finkelstein, teresa herrmann, and stephen martin.Silvercup City
Silvercup West by Richard Rogers Partnership. The north tower (closer to the bridge) will house offices while the two south towers will contain 1,000 residential units. On the north corner, Rogers plans a public, outside escalator. The towers' x-bracing echoes the structure of the Queensborough bridge. Sound stages fill the base of the complex, which will also have ground-level retail and restaurants.
The history of Silvercup Studios shows why the city is right to encourage small entrepreneurs and big businesses alike. It wasn't long agoojust over 25 yearsswhen Silvercup founders Stuart and Alan Suna, with their late father, Henry, bought Silver Cup Bakery for Henry's sheet metal business. The brothers, who both trained as architects, later stumbled on the idea of renting the former factory's vast spaces as sound studios, because such spaces were scarce in New York.
With Silvercup West, their new development down the street, the Sunas are building more than just sound stages; they're building a mini-city, a massive mixed-use complex designed by Richard Rogers Partnership. Stuart Suna explained that they chose Rogers because they felt his high-tech design aesthetic matched their program: high-tech production studios in an industrial context. He added, We read and admired his books on the ecology of cities, like Cities for a Small Planet.. As an infill, high-density, mixed-use project near a transit hub, Silvercup is already sustainable in a sense.
The complex is comprised of four big boxes, with double-stacked sound stages totaling 1 million square feet. Three towers rise from the studio volumessone commercial and two residentialland the studios will be topped with roof gardens. All told, Silvercup will bring 1 million square feet of studio space, 665,000 square feet of retail and office space, 100,000 square feet of cultural space, and nearly 300,000 square feet of residential space to the area. The project also includes the preservation of a historic terra cotta factory, which produced the cladding for the Woolworth Building.
The scheme offers several civic gestures, such as a publicly accessible waterfront esplanade designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin that will link to Margie Ruddick's Queens Plaza park underneath the bridge. Stuart Suna boasted of riverfront cafes and ground-floor retail that would animate the esplanade, as well as an outside escalator to a rooftop terrace or caff, echoing Rogers' original intention for the escalator at the Georges Pompidou Center.
Despite its tasteful and civic moves, the complex is not without design problems: the towers encroach on the bridge; the base volumes are essentially superblocks; there is an extreme scale shift between Rogers' blocks and the terra cotta factory; and the largest rooftop garden will be will be closed to the public. But the Sunas and Rogers seem to be responsive to criticism. Already, they acceded to Amanda Burden's request for the corners of the towers to meet the street rather than float above blank boxes, giving more identity to the street. A good sign. DGS