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Step inside COOKFOX’s new Brooklyn tower complex
Prolific construction watcher Field Condition recently toured phase two of COOKFOX's under-construction City Point development in Downtown Brooklyn. The firm's new pair of towers are already standing out in Brooklyn's bummer of a skyline with their non-glass facades and series of setbacks. The shorter of the pair—standing 19 stories tall—is 100 percent affordable and clad in grey-blue metallic panels. It stands next to the 30-story market-rate tower that has a primarily terracotta facade. The two buildings are scheduled to be completed next year, but why not take a look at where things stand now.
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The View for a Few
Courtesy Dirtworks

150 Charles Street

Designed by Dirtworks Landscape Architecture atop a new building by COOKFOX Architects, 150 Charles includes 30,000 square feet of landscaped and outdoor space, including rooftops, public and private terraces, and courtyards.

 
 

“We thought of it as a vertical landscape that helps to give the building its identity,” said Dirtworks principal David Kamp. Plantings change from lush, wooded courtyards up to meadow-like roof landscapes.

Architect: COOKFOX Architects
Landscape architect: Dirtworks Landscape Architecture


 
Courtesy Shigeo Kawasaki, Thomas Balsley Associates
 

Gotham West

This three level project, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, includes an at grade garden with a reflecting pool and specimen tree, a mid level lounge area overlooking the garden below, and a rooftop lawn and lounge with a projection wall and bar. “I’ve been around the city for a while,” said Balsley. “There’s a newer, younger buyer for these condos, who have a very active and very social lifestyle.”
Architect: SLCE Architects
Landscape architect: Thomas Balsley Associates


 
Courtesy Workshop/APD and Gunn Landscape architecture
 

Printing House Mews

Workshop/apd and Gunn Landscape Architecture are transforming this disused private alleyway on the south end of the West Village into an intimate courtyard for two townhouses and three maisonettes, as well as a viewing garden for the condominiums above. “The space is well crafted, and the paths, planters, and seating reinterpret the architecture of the townhouses,” said Workshop/apd principal Andrew Kotchen. “There’s also a carefully calibrated balance of privacy and open views that makes the small space work.”

Architect: Workshop/apd
Landscape architect: Gunn Landscape Architecture


 
Courtesy Future Green Studio
 

345 Meatpacking

The young Brooklyn-based firm Future Green Studio is known for incorporating vegetation into architecture in innovative and surprising ways.  For this building, designed and developed by DDG, Future Green drew on the informal vegetation of the High Line, integrating plantings into the building’s parapet, cantilevered marquee, and on the 8,000-square-foot shared and private roof. “Landscape can help situate a building in its context,” said David Seiter, principal at Future Green. “People are drawn to the wildness and style of the Highline.”

Architect: DDG
Landscape architect: Future Green Studio

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COOKFOX’s second Pacific Park tower in Brooklyn breaks ground near the Barclays Center
This morning, Greenland Forest City Partners broke ground on 535 Carlton Avenue—the second tower to rise at Pacific Park in Brooklyn, the development formerly known as Atlantic Yards. The COOKFOX-designed masonry tower will rise 18 stories and include nearly 300 affordable units: 50 percent middle-income, 20 percent moderate, and 30 percent low-income. COOKFOX is also designing the nearby 550 Vanderbilt, a market-rate condo tower that is expected to get underway shortly. An eight-acre, Thomas Balsley–designed park—called "Pacific Park"—will run between these two towers, replacing what is currently a surface-level parking lot. Today's groundbreaking also came with the unveiling of a glossy new website for Pacific Park and some new renderings of 535 Carlton, seen below.
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Problems Stacking Up
Courtesy SHoP

Just when it appeared that work was picking up at B2—the long-delayed, modular tower at Pacific Park Brooklyn (formerly Atlantic Yards)—the project screeched to a complete stop. In late August, Skanska USA, the contractor of the SHoP-designed high-rise, announced it was halting production of the building’s 930 modules at its factory in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Skanska blamed Forest City Ratner, the project’s developer, for design errors that it said delayed the project and put it tens of millions of dollars over budget. Forest City disagrees. According to the developer, it is actually Skanska’s construction process that is to blame for B2’s slow and expensive climb. At the time, Forest City said Skanska was trying to “weasel out of” its contractual obligations by issuing a stop-work notice at its factory.

It did not take long for this back-and-forth to find its way to New York State Supreme Court. On September 2, Skanska sued Forest City. About 15 minutes later, Forest City sued Skanska. Nearly two months later, work on the project remains stalled.

 

This high-profile legal battle is just the latest setback for the tower that was supposed to rise faster and cost less than its conventionally built peers. It was supposed to be a shining example of the possibilities of modular construction. In New York City, and at Pacific Park specifically, building modular was seen as a way to more quickly deliver affordable units. But since breaking ground in December 2012, only 10 of B2’s 32 stories (half of which are designated for low- and middle-income households) have been completed. When B2 is topped off, it will be the tallest modular tower in the world.

James Garrison—the founder of Garrison Architects, which has done multiple modular projects—said it did not have to be this way. “What [Forest City] is trying to do is amazing, but it required more resources, care, and deliberation than it knew,” said Garrison who drew up initial plans for a modular tower for Forest City in the project’s early stages. He said he left the project after the two parties could not agree on a contract.

Garrison explained that modular construction, which has been compared to clicking LEGO pieces into place, is significantly more complicated than many people realize. “It is not a fly-by-night, pick it up on the run body of knowledge,” he said. “It is not easy, it takes expertise. It is like putting together an automobile.”

The challenge of building modular, he explained, is compounded when constructing tall towers. “When you stack these things up 30 stories, you have collective error,” he said. At B2, explained Garrison, the many modules had to be placed within a steel frame to create a stable, self-reinforcing structure that also has the proper internal connections. To accomplish that, every piece of the puzzle has to be perfect.

While Forest City said it hopes to build another modular tower at Pacific Park, there are currently no plans to do so. Despite the setbacks with B2, the development is continuing to grow. Two COOKFOX-designed, non-modular towers—one affordable and the other luxury condos—are scheduled to break ground before the end of the year. And another SHoP tower is scheduled to get underway next year. In the meantime, cranes have arrived next to the Barclays Center to install its long-awaited green roof.

Garrison said that the very public failings of B2 could make developers hesitant about building modular, but that the practice is not entirely doomed. “In the end,” he said, “this business of designing and prefabricating buildings is happening, and it is not going to stop.”

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Pacifying Brooklyn
Courtesy COOKFOX

Even with the SHoP-designed Barclays Center open and a modular tower (also by SHoP) slowly climbing to 32 stories alongside it, the details surrounding the Atlantic Yards redevelopment are still frustratingly difficult to nail down. Eleven years after Frank Gehry unveiled his master plan for the 22-acre site, it is still not clear what exactly will fill most of it in.

That changed slightly this week as Curbed reported that COOKFOX is designing two residential towers that will rise on the site’s eastern edge: 535 Carlton, an 18-story, brick tower that has 298 affordable units, and 550 Vanderbilt, a market-rate condo tower, which is still in the design phase. An eight-acre park, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, is being planned between the buildings on what is currently a surface-level parking lot. The affordable tower is scheduled to break ground in December and 550 Vanderbilt is expected to follow shortly after.

 
 

Before going into COOKFOX’s design approach, it should be noted that Forest City Ratner has scrapped the name “Atlantic Yards” for the development. From this point on, the project will be known as “Pacific Park Brooklyn.” The new name plays into the site’s southern border (Pacific Street) and the Balsley-design park. It could also be an attempt by Forest City Ratner to detach itself from a name that has been surrounded by controversy since day one.

There are only a few blocks separating SHoP’s rising tower and 535 Carlton, but the two sites are entirely distinct—one crowded with Brooklyn Nets fans and concertgoers and the other quiet, residential, and lined with brownstones. This marked difference is reflected in each tower’s design: SHoP went with bright panels and stacked boxy masses, COOKFOX opted for more modest massing and a stately brick facade.

Rick Cook, a founder of COOKFOX, told AN that he views the two sites “as totally different” and that he wanted to create a building that fits more within a neighborhood than a master plan. To do that, the firm modeled the building’s massing so that it does not loom over the homes of Prospect Heights. Setbacks at 60 feet and 85 feet create rooftop terraces that will contain community gardening plots.

To further contextualize the building, Cook said it was immediately clear that they should use masonry (both 535 Carlton and 550 Vanderbilt will be masonry). “I don’t know of a better tool than an eight-inch brick to make a scale transition,” he said.

For added dimension on 535 Carlton’s facade, COOKFOX placed the building’s windows within pronounced metal frames—this technique has recently appeared on multiple high-end projects in New York City, but is fairly unexpected for an affordable housing building.

 

“After looking at a lot of affordable housing projects, something that is really missing is depth,” said Cook. “A masonry skin with no-depth just does not feel right; it feels like wallpaper.” The metal frames, he explained, play-off light and shadow and “accent the architectural intent” of the structure.

This building is still rental—and affordable rental at that—so air conditioners are tucked beneath each window. Instead of covering the AC units with standard metal-grids, COOKFOX employed a laser-cut screen that resembles a dragonfly’s wing.

The other key aspect of the newly branded Pacific Park is the park itself. While there are no full renderings yet, the two COOKFOX buildings are designed to create a connection between the open space and the street. That is partially done through the buildings’ lobbies, which provide “open vistas” onto the park, according to a press release from Forest City Ratner.

 
 

As for the rest of Pacific Park, construction is starting to finally pick up. As the New York Times reported in June, Forest City Ratner and New York State struck a deal to speed-up construction at the site—specifically the construction of affordable units. Now, all 2,250 affordable units at Pacific Park must completed by 2025, a decade ahead of schedule. And if the developer does not break ground on the first 600 affordable units—split evenly between 535 Carlton Avenue and SHoP’s second tower, 30 Sixth Avenue—within the next year, it will have to pay a $5 million fine. To that end, 30 Sixth Avenue is scheduled to break ground next summer.

As these new towers start to rise, though, they only represent a small piece of the six-million-square-foot site. In order for more towers to follow the actual rail yards have to be capped, which, according to Curbed, must be finalized by 2017.

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Historic Districts Council Design Awards
Courtesy COOKFOX

The Historic Districts Council, one of New York’s leading historic preservation organizations, has announced the winners of its first annual design awards. The goal of the awards program is to “broaden perceptions of the possibilities of design in historic settings,” according to a statement from the organization. AN served as a media sponsor for the awards, and I served as a juror for the awards along side jury chair James Stewart Polshek; Leo A. Blackman, principal, Leo A. Blackman Architects; Jean Caroon, principal, Good Clancy; Andrew Scott Dolkart, director of the Historic Preservation program at Columbia; and Adam Yarinsky, principal at ARO. Drawing over 70 entries from within the five boroughs, the award winning projects exemplify the power of contemporary design to engage with history and enrich the life of the city.

Award Winners

Historic Front Street at the South Street Seaport (Pictured at top)
COOKFOX Architects

Nic Lehoux
 

Weeksville Heritage Center
Caples Jefferson Architects

David Sundberg / ESTO
 

McCarren Pool and Bathhouse
Marvel Architects

Honorable Mentions

Catherine Tighe
 

48 Bond
Deborah Berke and Partners

Courtesy HDC
 

Corbin Building
Page Ayres Cowley Architects

Christopher Wesnofske
 

Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center
Belmont Freeman Architects

Jimi Billingsley
 

Wythe Hotel
Morris Adjmi Architects

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Rick Cook of COOKFOX Discusses His Proposed Building Along the High Line
A new "class A" office building adjacent to the High Line, 510 West 22nd Street, is now in the planning stage and the developers have released a video of its designer, Rick Cook of COOKFOX Architects, describing the building. But is anyone worried that the High Line may become a dark walkway through forest of buildings? Not Cook, who bases his design on the public qualities of the old elevated rail line that transformed 10th Avenue from the "end of the world to the center of the universe." But has there been a bigger boon to real estate development in New York since Central Park?
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High Energy Demands at One Bryant Park Tower Cast Shadow on LEED Ranking
Last fall, new data revealed that Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, revered since its 2010 opening as one of the most sustainable skyscrapers in the world, is actually a bigger energy hog than similar New York City buildings. As the first skyscraper to earn a LEED-Platinum certification, the BOA Tower, designed by COOKFOX, was praised by press, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Vice President Al Gore, who is currently a tenant. Yet, despite its superb rating and efficiency promises, Sam Roudman of The New Republic reports that the high-rise “produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan,” including its similarity with a lower LEED rating, the Goldman Sachs headquarters. Roudman comments that this vast chasm of difference between One Bryant Park’s reality and its expectation can be accredited to the daily operations of the building, namely Bank of America’s several trading floors of constantly running computers. The energy needed to maintain and cool these machines has caused power consumption to spike, but was purposely overlooked during the certification process. Rated under the pretense of the United States Green Building Council’s Core and Shell Program, the Tower gained points for the developer’s energy efficient initiatives and design to the exterior and core—plumbing, mechanical, electrical, etc.—of the building with the claim that the developer had no control over the tenants’ fit-out. The surprising energy use at the Bank of America Tower brings into question requirements for LEED certifications themselves. With a checklist of green initiatives, some as simple as locating its entrance within a half-mile of an existing subway station, or protecting and restoring habitat in Bryant Park, the Program’s environmentally conscious marks leave grey area in their ratings. Surely, Bank of America had an idea that they would be powering hundreds of computers round the clock, yet as a commercial building with other tenants, were allowed to be certified at the highest level of green design.
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Upjohn One Upped
Rendering of Pelli Clarke Pelli's tower.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli

Nestled amid the towers of the world’s biggest banks and finance companies, Trinity Wall Street, a relatively diminutive neo-Gothic structure designed by Richard Upjohn in 1846, might seem quaint. But with assets estimated at more than $2 billion (thanks, in large part, to a colonial land donation in 1705), Trinity is right at home with its wealthy neighbors. Though its bank account would be the envy of many parishes, it is generating internal strife since the church must now decide how to best deal with its considerable real estate holdings.

At the moment, the source of this tension is the building code of its 90-year-old administrative office at 68-74 Trinity Place. Faced with a $33 million price tag for building-related work aimed at meeting 2018 code compliance, the church’s vestry, or overseeing board, is considering razing the existing structure and building a new, fully-compliant one for an estimated $35 million. As a way to explore this option, it engaged two design firms—COOKFOX Architects and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects—to carry out conceptual designs.

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli
 

On July 24, the Vestry of Trinity Church announced it had selected Pelli Clarke Pelli to build a new tower. “We are delighted to be able to engage the extraordinary talents of Pelli Clarke Pelli as we move forward in the design and development process to create an inspiring new mixed-use ministry building that complements Richard Upjohn’s historic Trinity Church,” Rev. Dr. James H. Cooper, rector of the church, said in a statement. “The new structure will include a six or seven-story base dedicated to mission activities and related offices, topped by a 25-story residential tower. The building will provide a source of revenue so we can begin to prepare for significant expansion of our core ministry activities, which include philanthropic grant-making, homeless outreach, and the program life of one of the city’s most diverse congregations.”

The church asked other teams to submit designs, but it was COOKFOX and Pelli Clarke Pelli that answered the call. “Our criteria for inviting these architects was that they would be committed to great design, that they had done a number of buildings in New York, and that they would be excited and challenged by the commission,” said Linda Hanick, Trinity’s vice-president of communications and marketing.

   
The COOKFOX design included heavily planted terraces.
Courtesy COOKFOX
 

Both schemes included six or seven stories of administrative offices topped by a 25-story residential tower that will pay for the project and help keep the church coffers full. Prior to the announcement, the firms were barred from speaking about the project, but the church released renderings of each design and a video of comments by the architects. Pelli Clarke Pelli’s glass-and-steel tower is meant to minimize its impact on the historic site. COOKFOX proposed a stone-and-glass structure with heavily planted outdoor space.

For Hanick, this is an exercise in due diligence. “This is a big decision and we have taken a very careful approach,” she said. Some parishioners still need convincing, including Jeremy Bates, who, in February, filed a lawsuit stemming from what he saw as the church’s distraction from its core values. A public meeting on June 30, attended by 50 people, provided a venue to comment on the plans and architectural designs. When asked if it had been contentious, Hanick remarked, “it was an exciting opportunity to ask questions.”

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Healthy Street
Courtesy Stoss Landscape Urbanism

Five blocks on Syracuse’s Near Westside neighborhood is undergoing a public space makeover to help rebrand and promote activity in the historically low-income area. On April 15, Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism, working with Höweler + Yoon Architecture, was named winner of the Movement on Main: Designing the Healthy Main Street competition for their playful approach to promoting an active public realm.

“There has been some revitalization in the Near Westside neighborhood, but it still feels like it has been left out,” said Marc Norman, a jury member and director of UPSTATE: Center for Design, Research and Real Estate at the Syracuse University School of Architecture. He made reference to a previous competition for the area in 2009, which led to the completion of three sustainably designed houses, one by COOKFOX, one by Della Valle Bernheimer, and one by Onion Flats. That competition helped lay the groundwork for the collaborative approach taken with Movement on Main.

 
The streetscape expands into a parking lot for added recreational space (left). Colorful topographic alterations using readily-available materials makes for a cost-effective approach to urban design (right).
 

Stoss’ concept—called “Light Play!”—uses readily available and inexpensive off-the-shelf products to create a playful streetscape designed around a series of outdoor rooms and “activity mounds.” Along the Wyoming Street corridor, faceted shards of earth rise from the sidewalk to form gathering areas and impromptu playgrounds. There are also small plazas in vacant lots along the route. Vibrant colors provide a sense of energy while helping to offset the gloom of upstate New York’s long winters.

The design encourages active uses during all seasons to get locals on their feet.
 

“Initially, the strong point of Stoss’ project is its degree of pragmatism and that it realistically responded to the budget,” said Richard Weller, jury chair and chair of Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Realizing the limitations of a $1.5 million budget, Stoss chose to redesign only the side of the street closest to residences. “The challenge is, can you deliver a cost-effective streetscape to act as a catalyst for improving the sociology of an area, to get people out on their feet?” said Weller.

Weller applauded Stoss’ attention to the street’s nightscape, which uses light to create a sense of activity. Reflective and glow-in-the-dark tape and paint catch light from passing cars and passing pedestrians trigger motion-controlled LEDs of varying intensities. “Stoss’ design made what’s normally a banal issue of security into a sort of art project,” said Weller.

Stoss will use affordable elements to create an interactive nightscape along Wyoming Street that responds to pedestrians and motorists. (Click to enlarge.)
 

Besides the new streetscape, the design introduces traffic-calming elements such as chicanes—jogs in the road that force cars to slow down as they pass—and rain gardens that catch runoff from the street and sidewalks.

“The design doesn’t really conform to known typologies. It’s not a pattern book approach,” Weller said, noting that Stoss delivered a new streetscape, linear park, and piazza in one. “It’s a hybridization of all three typologies yet it manages to look bold and new and remain interesting.”

This summer, Stoss will meet with the neighborhood residents and city officials to further develop the design, but Norman said no construction timeline has been set. When the streetscape is complete, Norman said he hopes to see not only increased numbers of people on the street, but also improved health statistics in an area known for high rates of chronic asthma and diabetes.

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300 Lafayette
Courtesy COOKFOX / DBOX

300 Lafayette
Designer: COOKFOX Architects
Client: Marcello Porcelli
Location: Manhattan
Completion: TBD

The Soho Cast Iron Historic District is about to get a little bit trendier. Last night the Landmark Preservation Commission held a hearing on COOKFOX Architect’s design of a new retail and office development that will transform the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets. The verdict: unanimous approval by the commissioners. “It was amazing and so encouraging to hear the commissioners comments,” said architect Rick Cook.

The architects were drawn specifically to this intersection because, explained Cook, “We love to look at these empty landmark districts, the missing teeth, missing corners of Manhattan.” Since the 1930s, the site has remained home to giant billboards and a gas station. The sidewalk surrounding the lot also houses two of Manhattan’s busiest subway stations—Bleecker Street and Broadway-Lafayette—making it one of the most frequented spots in the city. When designing the building, the architects made sure to consider the historic character of the neighborhood as well as the bustling nature of the intersection.

Courtesy COOKFOX / DBOX
 

In creating the design for 300 Lafayette, the architects were primarily focused on connecting the building’s users with nature. “The practice is called biophilic design,” said Cook, “people feel good when they feel connected to nature.” The firm worked with landscape ecologist Dr. Eric Sanderson to develop a list of plants and trees indigenous to Manhattan. “What it feels like to watch the seasons change, watch the birds come, it’s beyond description,” commented Cook. The architects included 11,000 square feet of natural indigenous green space into the building design, mostly in the form of balconies and window box planters.

In addition to nature, the design responds to two prominent 19th century buildings located nearby: The Little Singer Building (1902) by Ernest Flagg, whose large windows and balconies are delicately laced with wrought-iron railings, and the Bayard-Condict Building (1897) by Louis Sullivan, whose ornamental terracotta facade was radical in its day.

Current site view shows the existing gas station.
Courtesy Bing Maps
 

Ernest Flagg’s use of large windows is echoed in the new building by deep-set glass walls that give the illusion that one floor floats above the next. The floor-to-ceiling expanses of glass allow ample natural light to flood the interior while providing clear views of the Puck Building across the street (the two-story high retail base was specifically designed to line up with the Puck Building’s massing). The facade recalls Louis Sullivan’s design by featuring a limestone base that transitions into a cream-colored terracotta cladding system.

As is typical of COOKFOX Architect’s designs, 300 Lafayette will be built using sustainable technology, most notably a post-tensioned, voided-slab, flat-plate concrete construction technique. The process leaves spherical voids in the slabs that not only reduce the weight of the floors but also reduce the amount of concrete, steel, and carbon in the structure.

The project is awaiting approval from The New York Department of City Planning before construction can begin.

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As City Point Prepares to Start, Unions Protest
City Point in Downtown Brooklyn. (Courtesy COOKFOX) With phase two of Brooklyn's City Point development set to break ground this week, the Wall Street Journal reports on bubbling labor troubles at the COOKFOX-designed pair of residential towers that will be partially built by non-union workers. The Journal noted that while many mega-developments across New York City are being built with union labor, such as Atlantic Yards' B2 Tower, Hudson Yards, and Hunters Point South, the City Point example "underscores how the city's powerful construction unions are losing their grip on development projects."