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Coney's New Big Top
Grimshaw has designed a new amphitheater as part of the Coney Center.
Courtesy Grimshaw

It has been rough sailing out at Coney Island of late, with the destruction of Astroland last winter and simmering tensions about the city’s rezoning proposal. But good news has started to trickle in this week, with the announcement Monday that $15 million in stimulus money would go toward replacing parts of the decaying boardwalk. That was followed yesterday by word of the possible creation of an “interim” amusement park next year so the summer escape will not be a total wasteland when the city rebuilds it.

And now comes the biggest show by the sea since Dreamland burned down, the new Coney Center, a $47 million amphitheater designed by Grimshaw. The project will replace a 1980s bandshell located in Asser Levy Park with a new 8,000-seat entertainment complex meant to attract marquee acts. Capping it all is a swooping, 60,000-square-foot roof in the shape of a hyperbolic paraboloid—picture a massive Pringles potato chip, but made of steel and translucent fiberglass, supercharged by hundreds of strobing stage lights.

Mark Husser, the partner-in-charge, sees the theater as the latest in a long line of Coney icons, both historic and geographic: the Parachute Jump, Keyspan Park, the defunct Elephant Hotel, the Cyclone, and now Coney Center. “What is the context of Coney Island? It’s that there is no context,” Husser said. “Everything is unique, everything is a spectacle, but in that uniqueness, Coney’s icons find unity.”


The roof took the form of a hyperbolic paraboloid that helped keep weight—and thus costs—down.

Borough President Marty Markowitz first announced the “state-of-the-art recreation facility” in his 2007 State of the Borough address, with the intention of competing with the other summer concert venues in the area, like Jones Beach and Westbury. While smaller than some of its rivals—the former holds 18,000—the real attraction is new amenities, such as green rooms, of which there are currently none, and a better sound and lighting system, not to mention the appeal of Coney Island itself and its proximity to the city.

And while amenities and location are nice, the real hallmark of Coney Center is its shimmering roof. Husser said the shape was chosen for a number of reasons, mainly the lightness of its structure. “It’s like a bicycle wheel with a massive steel rim and a ring at the middle for a hub,” he explained. “It’s a much lighter structure than one operated by trusses.” By bending the roof, it provides its own tension and thus requires less structure, which means less weight and less cost. The shape also helps minimize noise to adjacent housing and keep out the rain. The peaked end at the east side also achieves one of the project’s other main goals: to create a new gateway for Coney Island on perhaps its most common point of entry, Ocean Parkway. (Far more people drive to the area each year than ride the subway.)

At one point, the designers had considered a retractable roof, but a number of issues prevented its inclusion. First, the cost of construction and maintenance would have been considerable, especially given the corrosive seaside air. But more importantly, Coney Center is intended as a year-round facility: During the off-season, the 5,000 fixed seats beneath the canopy will be removed and replaced with an ice-skating rink.

The amphitheater has seating for 8,000 and is intended to draw bigger acts to the Coney Island shore.

Beyond the amphitheater, Grimshaw is also redesigning the playground that currently sits in the park, both to modernize it and because it is located on the footprint of the new and expanded back-of-the-house. Working with landscape architects Mathews Nielsen, the designers have created an elevated climbing structure that wends its way up, down, and around trees. The idea is to disrupt as few trees as possible while also creating a structure that recalls the nearby roller coaster. The team will also refurbish the popular handball courts across Surf Avenue.

Through a spokesperson, Markowitz praised the park as the latest step in the revitalization of Coney Island. “Replacing Asser Levy’s antiquated band shell with a state-of-the-art one will ensure that free community programming—it was used for 45 different community events last year—remains in Coney Island,” he said. “Moreover, it will be a key component of a revitalized Coney Island for the community and visitors in the days ahead.”

The project has come under some fire from locals who have complained about the possibility of increased noise and crowds, as well as the fact that some concerts will be paid, instead of free. But both the borough president and the designers counter that money generated from paid shows will go to putting on more free ones. “It’s win-win for the community and the city,” Husser said.

Construction is due to begin at the end of this summer’s concert searon, and the project is expected to be completed by the end of 2011.

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Stimulus, Coming to a Street Near You
First Recovery.gov, now the NYC Stimulus Tracker. Yesterday, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg unveiled the $1.1 billion in new infrastructure spending resulting from the city's cut of the federal stimulus bill, he also announced the creation of a special website to lend transparency to the process, not unlike the model set out by our dear mayor. (Judging by WNYC and ProPublica's Shovelwatch map, though, everyone's getting in on the act, with all but five states and numerous municipalities launching such sites.) There are six projects receiving direct stimulus funding, including $47 million for the repair of the Brooklyn Bridge, $175 million for rehabilition of the St. George Ferry ramps in Staten Island, and the $9.7 million repairs of a dozen roads throughout the five boroughs. The mayor also announced 25 projects that will receive funds allocated at the state level, also known as displaced funds. Below is a list, but for more on both, see the mayor's release. As a whole, he said the projects will create or preserve 32,000 jobs. But to be sure, check the Stimulus Tracker. Individual projects by borough, with amount of stimulus money recieved and expected completion:
    BRONX
  • Improvements to Hunts Point, $22 million, Fall 2012
  • Reconstruction of Paulding Avenue (Bronxwood), $21 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of the Claremont Parkway Bridge (Bathgate), $7.0 million, Summer 2012
  • Reconstruction of the Decatur Ave Retaining Wall (Bedford Park), $7 million, Fall 2011
  • Improvements to Hugh Grant Circle (Parkchester), $3.5 million, Summer 2011
    BROOKLYN
  • Improvements to Brooklyn Navy Yard, $4.7 million, Summer 2011
  • Streetscape Improvements to Flatbush Avenue (Flatbush), $3.5 million, June 2011
  • Reconstruction of Nassau Avenue and Monitor Street (Greenpoint), $12.9 million, Fall 2011
  • Reconstruction of Coney Island Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Shore (Belt) Parkway East 8th Street Access Ramp (Bath Beach), $14 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Eastern Parkway (Prospect Heights), $6 million, Spring 2012
  • Improvements to Bedford Stuyvesant Gateway Business District, $7.1 million, Winter 2011
  • Replacement of Protective Coating on Steel Structure of Six Belt/Shore Parkway Bridges, $6.8 million, Fall 2011
    MANHATTAN
  • Reconstruction of West 125th Street, $1.9 million, Fall 2014
  • Reconstruction of East Houston Street, $23.5 million, Fall 2011
    QUEENS
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase I, $22 million, Spring 2011
  • Improvements to Long Island City Queens Plaza – Phase II, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of Rockaway Boardwalk, $15 million, Spring 2011
  • Reconstruction of College Point / 32nd Avenue, $12 million, Fall 2011
  • Replacement of Hillside Avenue Sidewalk (Jamaica), $10 million, Fall 2010
  • Extension of 132nd Street / Linden Place Extension, $7 million, Winter 2014
    STATEN ISLAND
  • Rehabilitation of 11 Staten Island Railway Bridges, $8.2 million, Summer 2010
  • Completion of the St. George Ferry Terminal Retail Area, $6 million, Fall 2009
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Shovel Oh So Ready
Architect and friend of AN Jeremiah Joseph writes in with this report of the March 27 WORKac lecture, "Shovel Ready," at Parsons. Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, of the 2008 PS1 Warm-Up pavilion fame, tag team presented their work to a standing room only crowd. With a range of projects, from buildings to urban proposals, the duo showed the office's penchant for both intelligence and wit. Like many young offices most of WORKac's work is still in the realm of unbuilt projects, but with five competitions already completed in 2009 this office has no intention of waiting around casually for the work to knock on their door. Of the work presented, two New York buildings showed off the office's intelligent concepts executed through reduced forms. They push the ideas, but are careful to not allow overly exuberant design blur the intent of their work. The Headquarters' for Diane von Furstenberg in the Meatpacking district showed their aptitude for laying out simple concepts that are translated, quite directly, into built reality. The project uses the stair, one of the most commonplace and yet ceaselessly studied elements in architecture, to turn what could be a mundane office building into an object of both clarity and poetry. Starting at the ground floor entry the stair slips up through the old warehouse building to reveal in single moment the sky above. A relatively simple move, but deftly handled, it flips the reading of the building's dark brick exterior by lighting the interior and yet at the same moment pulls visitors sense of the space up, through, and out the roof. In their proposal for the Kew Gardens Library in Queens (a project soon to start construction) WORK ac inverts the interior methods of the Diane von Furstenberg HQ by wrapping an existing building with a new facade and roof. Expanding the building's footprint towards the street they apply a new double-bent gull wing roof covered with flora. The new form, boosting the height of the building and allowing clerestory lighting into the interior, is clad at the upper portion of the facade with pre-cast concrete panels and new, open curtain wall down to the street. It is important to credit New York City's Design and Construction Excellence program for allowing WORK ac produce a project like this. It may be a bit self-serving to suggest this project gives hope to the architecture community that it will be able to continue producing good/smart/important work during a time of economic turbulence. But with the likely (and potentially healthy) collapse of the opulent condo market, the program sends a positive message to the community-at-large that quality design benefits everyone, not just the wealthy few. Of the work shown it was interesting to see that to date WORK ac is strongest in their urban proposals. The Green Belt City competition for Las Vegas started off with clear-minded analysis of the site issues. By the middle of the presentation they revealed their OMA pedigree, a tendency to tackle problems as the witty prankster who actually does know best. Yet at the end they zoom past overly reduced forms and slight of hand design moves to produce something both smart and beautiful. With their final project, a preview of a competition yet to be made public, they showed an amusing foray into the world of paper architecture. The project, a tower in lower Manhattan, was commissioned as a real world study of an urban condition, but the architects believe they, the client, and the architecture community are best served by going for broke. With an appropriate suspension of disbelief they stack and pin-wheel a series of slabs composed of archetypal sections of the city's urban fabric onto a hyper-eco-energy-friendly core. Although little of this piece itself is feasible, WORK ac likeably reveals untapped potentials in tower design and brings to light the potential for subtler, real-world solutions that would be just as relevant and powerful. With the amount of work produced so far it is a good bet WORKac will continue to generate engaging architecture. A risk the office faces is becoming typecast as new eco-architects. Although this may help bring attention, and put work on their boards, it would be too narrow of a category for their talent. An exhibition on WORKac is on view at Parsons The New School for Design, 25 East 13 Street, Second Floor, through April 18. A second exhibition, called 49 Cities, will be on view at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare Street, starting on April 14.
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Allied in Ann Arbor
While unlikely to receive the scrutiny or attention of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, the new addition to the University of Michigan Museum of Art is something of a return to form for Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works. The extension is uncompromisingly modern, tasteful, light-filled, and restrained enough to be a good neighbor to its beaux arts other half. The Detroit News sings the project's praises, and says that the museum now displays ten percent of its collection, up from a mere three percent prior to the expansion. With at least four museums now under his belt, Cloepfil has become a home grown Renzo Piano. The UMMA addition is likely to expand his reputation further. Next up, the Clifford Still Museum in Denver.
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Strong But Civil
The new home of the Center for Civil & Human Rights is located on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta.
Courtesy CCHR

The Center for Civil & Human Rights in Atlanta has selected the Freelon Group of Durham, North Carolina and HOK of Atlanta to design a new museum and justice center on the edge of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown. Freelon and HOK have called for two interlocking L-shaped buildings surrounding a courtyard and topped with green roofs.

The design represents “interlocking arms, people coming together,” said Phil Freelon, a firm principal. “It’s a symbol of solidarity and we hope a fitting way to convey the story of the Center.” The jury responded to the design’s strong and highly recognizable architectural presence on the site, according to executive director Douglas Shipman.

Approaching the museum from the park.

The Freelon/HOK design bested designs by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Stanley Beaman & Sears, Huff + Gooden Architects with Hammel Green and Abrahamson, Moody•Nolan of Columbus with Antoine Predock Architect and Goode Van Slyke, Polshek Partnership Architects with Cooper Carry and Stanley, Love-Stanley. “We are so honored to have competed in such a distinguished group. To prevail is just amazing,” Freelon told AN.

Among dozens of commercial and institutional projects, Freelon Group has designed the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture in Baltimore, the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, and the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts and Culture in Charlotte.


Designed to resemble interlocking arms, the museum presents a highly recognizable face to the city.

The Center will celebrate the history of civil and human rights, especially the contribution of Atlantans, and will display the King Papers as well as host events relating to current civil and human rights activities. The 100,000-square-foot, $125 million project is expected to open in 2012.

Doomsday for MTA

New Yorkers looking for a legislative express to rescue the flailing Metropolitan Transportation Authority got the bureaucratic equivalent of a garbage train this morning, as the MTA made good on threats to pass a budget and four-year capital plan marked by daunting service reductions and fare hikes.

In a series of 12-1 votes, the agency’s board approved the so-called “doomsday plan” that would slash service on train and bus lines and raise the monthly unlimited MetroCard’s cost to $103 from the current $81, among other desperate measures taken amid continued gridlock in Albany, where state legislators were still toiling to reach an agreement that would bolster the MTA’s budget.

On that front, the most powerful person in state government, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, kept pushing for a compromise among the state’s lawmaking bodies in the last hours before the vote. In February, the assembly appeared set to pass a plan to add tolls to East River bridges, along with a payroll tax to keep MTA capital projects alive. But the state senate, under fledgling majority leader Malcolm Smith, let that plan stall, and Silver has struggled to emerge as the straphanger’s hero.

“We’re trying very hard to reach a negotiated settlement,” Dan Weiller, a spokesperson for Silver, told AN yesterday. “Both the speaker and Malcolm Smith have said they may not make tomorrow’s deadline, but the MTA has said there’s a little wiggle room.”

In voting to turn a contingency budget into an operating plan, the MTA has strongly signaled that time’s up. The plan axes two subway lines—the Z, serving much of northeast Brooklyn from Bushwick to the Queens border, and the W to Astoria. Throughout the boroughs, 35 bus lines would also disappear, in addition to punishing weekend service cuts across the system. As New York’s transit-riding population keeps growing, and job centers disperse from midtown Manhattan, the cutbacks could well harm productivity and hamper access to jobs.

Yet Senate Democrats, new to the majority this year, did not organize to support either a previous plan spearheaded by former MTA chief Richard Ravitch or Silver’s compromise proposal, which lowered bridge tolls from their recommended level to around the cost of a subway ride. Said one transit advocate, insisting on anonymity due to ongoing discussions with the legislature: “Smith, who’s trying to say it’s all about MTA accountability, really can’t get the votes.”

Gene Russianoff, staff attorney for the advocacy group Straphangers Campaign, argued that Silver could bring lawmakers around to his way of thinking, even after the MTA’s vote. And how might he do that? “The way he can direct any major expenditure,” Russianoff told AN. “The power of the purse. He says to them, ‘You want your annual appropriations?’”

At this stage, Silver’s political gamesmanship is the last recourse for New Yorkers who’ll otherwise have to dig deeper into their pockets for $2.50 for a single ride beginning May 31.

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Q&A: Gehry at 80
Courtesy Bustler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly how did you come onto the computer?


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

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

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

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

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

What gave you the idea that it was even possible?

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

But those buildings were full of fine-scale detail.

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

That’s a major insight.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will you cut back on working and heavy travel?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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Announcing Winners: A New Infrastructure
An image from the winning entry, Mas Transit, by Joshua G. Stein/RadicalCraft, Aaron Whelton/AAW Studio, and Jaclyn Thomforde with Jacob M. Brostoff
Stein/Whelton/Thomforde/Brostoff

On March 21, SCI-Arc's SCI-FI program and The Architect’s Newspaper announced the winners of their open ideas competition, A New Infrastructure: Innovative Transit Solutions for Los Angeles.

The competition, inspired by LA County Measure R—a half-cent sales tax hike that promises up to $40 billion in transit funding for the city— attracted 75 proposals from around the world. It offered architects, engineers, urban planners, and students a chance to propose new ideas for the city's transit infrastructure. Their entries focused on specific rail extension projects in the city and also take a look at larger-scale, interrelated planning challenges.

The competition jury included architects Thom Mayne, Eric Owen Moss, and Neil Denari;  Aspet Davidian, director, Project Engineering Facilities, LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Cecilia V. Estolano, chief executive officer, CRA/LA; Gail Goldberg, director of planning, City of Los Angeles; Roland Genik, urban planner and transit designer; and Geoff Wardle, director, Advanced Mobility Research at Art Center College of Design.
 

PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

First Prize
Más Transit: Joshua G. Stein/RadicalCraft, Aaron Whelton/AAW Studio, and Jaclyn Thomforde with Jacob M. Brostoff

Más is regional high-speed rail for Los Angeles with a landscape to match. Promoting dense, organic development, it diversifies the communities in the built environment, making travel less necessary, easier and more predictable, and bypassing roadway congestion through a new raised infrastructure. Looping around the city, with connections to subways and buses, Más links local and inter-regional commuting; providing frequent service that will also sync up with the California High Speed Rail network. San Diego via más is less than an hour away, including transfer times; San Francisco is less than three hours away.

 

Second Prize
Infrastructural Armature: Fletcher Studio: David Fletcher, Dylan Barlow, Ryan Chandler, Daniel Phillips, Tobi Adamolekun

Recognizing the vital role that mobility, water, and sewage will play in Los Angeles' future, the city must begin to invest in a core armature of new bundled infrastructures which will allow the city to survive the impending reality of peak water and peak oil.  The city must reorganize along the matrices of transportation, water and sewer networks, and grow infrastructural tentacles out into the world to ship and receive.

 

 

Third Prize
Mag Luv: Osborn: Holly Chisholm, Kate Harvey, Armen Isagholi, Takeshi Kobayashi, Michael Pinto, Jared Sopko, Esmeralda Ward, Yuju Yeo

The scheme proposes eroding a portion of the freeway and supplanting it with a new object, mode, and form for adoration—Mag Luv. The high speed magnetic levitation peripheral train appropriates freeway, right of way, and “dream space” to become the mega structure of the Los Angeles transit system. The loop circumnavigates the city providing 12 hubs of activity, transportation, and power production.
 

HONORABLE MENTION: PROFESSIONAL

 

Mobility on Demand: RSA: Dwight Bond, Diane Tadena, James Wong

A combination of rail, light-rail, smart cars, bike share, and different bus systems will provide easy connections in and between cities. Multiple vehicle types provide users with choices among combinations of cost, comfort, and functionality. A commuter might choose to ride the train to work, pick up a smart car to attend a meeting, go to the gym, or pick up groceries before going back home. In creating a dense commercial and residential environment to support and foster the inevitable expansion of the transit system, the scheme also investigates alternative development strategies that are adaptable to the ever-changing conditions of our urban culture.

 

Green Tech City: NBBJ: Harry Bairamian, Hrant Bairamian, So Eun Cho, Tony Choi, Scott Hunter, Byoung Kweon, Anthony Manzo, Nnamdi Ugenyi, Jonathan Ward, Tim Zamora

This scheme created green-tech districts along the Westside expansion corridor stretching from downtown to Santa Monica. The plan likened itself to a living organism, including a Skeletal System composed of new green districts between stations; a respiratory system that included a 2.5-mile green park along the length of the transit system; and tendons, which were linkages to the community, like freeway bridges, human-scaled densities, walkability plans, urban parks, and agricultural zones.

 

Go Mixed-Modal: Tom Beresford

In 2000, LA Metro gambled that it could increase both ridership and transit efficiency by making a bus a little more like a subway: The Metro Rapid. Mixed-modal goes even further to suggest that any bus has the potential to go “local,” “rapid,” or “express” at coordinated points along its route to flexibly serve transit demand. A bus may go “express” by entering grade-separated express lanes shared with planned or existing rail modes, with the help of new frictionless electric power-transfer technologies and hybrid rail/road drive surfaces. The mixed-modal project offers a vision of what the Expo line might look like if it operated as the “trunk” of a regional transit tree with “branches” extending up and down existing Metro Rapid lines.


 

STUDENT WINNERS

First Prize
Glocalizing Los Angeles: Ryan Lovett

The physical separations between places of work and play have become outdated and burdensome. Meanwhile the divide between commercial, residential, agricultural, and manufacturing zones have become so exaggerated that the infrastructures needed to connect and sustain them crumble in lack of upkeep and congestion. In conjunction with newer, faster transit systems, this plan proposes a simple development strategy that collapses the distances between all the elements needed to support our lifestyles by suggesting that workplaces, as well as production of food and goods, be within walking distance.
 

 

Second Prize
Modular Diffusion: Alan Lu, Yan-ping Wang

In a car, the passenger can go from any given point to another in one continuous trip.  To achieve this level of mobility in tandem with an increase in roadway capacity, we introduce a mass transit system based upon a Modular Transit Vehicle (MTV for short).  This modular system would allow passengers to (1) board from a wide range of street stops, (2) travel along the freeway, and (3) take the freeway exit closest to the destination and drop passengers off there, all in one ride.

 

Third Prize
Freeways Are For Trains: Ben Abelman, Vivian Ngo, Julia Siedle

This team believes that Los Angeles need not invest in a “new” public transportation system but transform its existing transportation system of freeways into “trainways.”  By taking over “freeways” with rail tracks, a comprehensive expansion of the LA Metro will respond to the projects that are indicated in Measure R and will commence at a much lower cost due to taking advantage of the rights of ways established by the freeway.

 

HONORABLE MENTION: STUDENT

Feeding Community and the Gold Line
Roe Goodman
University of British Columbia

If we are to develop along a freeway we need to keep in mind that the surrounding residential neighborhoods need to access the train in a way that encourages a shift away from car dependency. This entry proposes a string of micro-scale infill developments along a bus line that feeds into the Eastside Transit Corridor. Positioned along newly developed commercial corridors, stops have waiting rooms that store bikes, serve as markets, and create a center of community.
 

 

Interstate 10
Tim Do, George LaBeth, Randy Stogsdill
SCI-Arc

This scheme proposes a reconsideration of the existing freeway corridor as a multi-function transit corridor. The existing freeway would be retrofitted with a new structure that over a series of stages adds layers of public and environmentally friendly transit options. As this second tier becomes more populated, greenscaping is added, converting the freeway corridor into a vibrant public space.

 

Cross-Link/Cross-Program
Minjeong Gweon
Cal Poly Pomona

Los Angeles’ current subway network relies too much on a centralized spoke-network approach. A more effective subway system should also include cross-linkages. This subway design project looks to develop a new cross-link between the existing red line (which connects Hollywood and Downtown) and the future purple Westside Extension line. The proposed connecting line would add three new stops: the first at Santa Monica Blvd. and Highland Ave, the second at Santa Monica and Fairfax, and the third at La Cienega. The connecting point to the red line would be at Hollywood and Highland, and the connecting point to the future purple line would be located at the Beverly Center.


  

ORGANIZERS' SELECTIONS

Fast, Fluid & Free: ODBC/ Odile Decq

This project takes advantage of LA’s polycentric character, developing a grid of multimodal transit systems, articulated on different levels within the existing city. On the scale of the city, the plan proposes a Free Car Transport System, on the model of free bike systems largely developed in Europe today. Electric cars will be available for hire throughout the city. Other proposals include Smooth Jumps over Motorways: stations that combine the urban proposal of green park links between the two sides of the freeways by building a station over them, and containing contain carparks, commerce, Free Car and Free Bike  stations.

 

The Answer Is Not Mass(ive) Transit: Wes Jones

Instead of the massive, resource-intensive, and inflexible infrastructure that results from top-down approaches to planning, this proposal argues, why not consider a flexible, pragmatic, small-scale, bottom-up approach? Introducing the Elov, a small, pod-like vehicle that fits into less space than a smart car and reduces the volume of traffic by serving the same number of occupants in only one quarter of the space. Because of its light weight and micromotor efficiency, the Elov can be charged overnight using home outlets, further reducing the required infrastructure.

 

EVENTS

Friday, March 27, 2-4 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Competition Winners and METRO Transit Officials
Metro Headquarters
Windsor Room, 15th Floor
One Gateway Plaza
Los Angeles
 
Thursday, April 2, 7-9 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Transit And The City Panel Discussion
MAK Center at the Schindler House
835 North Kings Road
West Hollywood

Tuesday, April 14, 7-9 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Transit and The Community Panel Discussion
GOOD Space
6824 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles

Friday, June 26, 1:45-3:15 pm
A New Infrastructure Discussion:
Architects And Transit Panel Discussions
AIA Mobius/ Dwell Conference
Los Angeles Convention Center
1201 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles


Sponsors for A New Infrastructure include AECOM, Arup, and Sussman/Prezja. The project is also funded in part by a grant from the City of Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs.

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Ship Shape
The Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved SHoP's designs for Pier 15.
Courtesy LPC

On Tuesday, Gregg Pasquarelli and his partners at SHoP Architects moved ahead on a much-anticipated project when New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 7-1 in favor of a new pier and promenade for the South Street Seaport district, part of the firm’s larger East River Esplanade. It was the last major regulatory hurdle for the project, a portion of which began construction last fall near Wall Street.

It’s been rough sailing for the SHoP crew of late, given the firm's struggles with the commission over its plans for a mixed-use project at the adjacent Pier 17. That design was rejected as out-of-touch with the district's maritime history, but for Pier 15, the commissioners largely agreed with Pasquarelli, who emphasized its antecedents in the multistory working and recreational piers that once lined the New York waterfront.


The pier, with boats docked alongside, as seen from the promenade.
All images courtesy LPC

“While I don’t agree with every detail of this, I think the overall approach is an appropriate, 21st-century interpretation of its historic forebears,” commission chair Robert Tierney said. Some of his colleagues even argued that it was not so much the design as the reactivation of the waterfront that was the project’s focal point—the return of New Yorkers to the shore.

“The most important preservation part of this effort is pulling people to the pier, pulling them underneath the FDR and to the water,” commissioner Margery Perlmutter said. “Whatever you have to do to achieve that is appropriate.”

The plans for Pier 15 have not changed much since they were unveiled in November 2007. The major components remain a new pier constructed upon the site of one that collapsed decades ago—a sign of just how far the waterfront had fallen in the city. On the main level, there will be fendering and bollards for the Seaport Museum's historic ships to dock, as well as a small boat launch and a maritime-themed pavilion, all of which were major demands from the maritime community.
 


SHoP used examples of historic two-story piers, many of them built for similar recreational purposes, as precedents for its design.

Local residents had called for ample open space, which SHoP delivered by adding a second level to the pier, a feature the firm found was once very common on the waterfront and which helped win support for the idea from the commissioners, who especially admired the use of a hull-like wooden shape for the base of the second level.

What did not impress them was the inclusion of three grass plots atop the pier. “The green space is not within the historic character of the district,” vice-chair Pablo Vengoechea said. “There was once a green edge on the water, but it is long gone, especially within the seaport.”


neighborhood groups applauded the project's upper-level plots of grass, but commissioners deemed such green spaces anachronistic.

Preservation groups remain divided by the project. “The architects have done a good job of balancing the many different viewpoints of what the East River waterfront landscape should be, and we believe this pier design should be approved by the LPC,” Melissa Baldock, a fellow at the Municipal Art Society, told the commission. But Nadezhda Williams, preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council, disagreed. “HDC supports the rebuilding of a pier originally in the district and lost," she said. "We strenuously object, however, to the gussying up of a pier with a structure designed for leisure in a district defined by its working history.”

That working history, however, is so far gone from Lower Manhattan that the commission seemed eager to leave it in the past. “Although it is not a recreation of a historic pier, it is a modern interpretation that serves the needs of the community,” said commissioner Diana Chapin. And that, her colleagues agreed, was appropriate enough.
 

A drawing shows the multilayered nature of the pier.
 
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Hacking Robert Moses
If you've seen Watchmen already, then you know Richard Nixon is still president and there are a few extra skyscrapers along the Manhattan skyline. In that case, things are probably a little different down at street level, too. Perhaps, like Tricky Dick, Robert Moses stuck around and realized all of his grand schemes. If so, Google Maps would still be there to document it all. Or so we'd like to think that's the story behind Vanshnookenraggen brilliant mock-ups of the Lower Manhattan Expressway (above) and Mid-Manhattan Expressway in Google Maps. There's a certain evil genius to the maps, as their creator explains. Because they look so real, we believe they're actually there, which is part of the problem:
A map, after all, is a representation of reality with certain things omitted (or in this case, added). As mapping software becomes even more ubiquitous now that they are in the palm of our hands (Blackberrys, iPhones, etc), I think it will become all too easy for people to just accept what they see as reality. This is a dangerous prospect but one I think can be taken advantage of when trying to communicate certain information, such as what a neighborhood you know pretty well would look like with an elevated highway slammed through it. This was true for me, at least, while I was making these; Hand erasing buildings through SoHo, TriBeCa, and the LES was an eery experience as I tried to imagine what these places would really look like if my brush was a bulldozer. And thus I began to understand the failing of Robert Moses (well, this one anyway). He didn’t drive and lord knows he didn’t think much of these areas which he tossed off as “slums."
Kind of explains why so many projects look better in renderings than in built form, too. (via Curbed)

Up Is Still Down

After reaching yet another record low in January—for the third time in the past year—the AIA Architecture Billings Index has risen slightly for February, though it remains far from positive territory. The good news, however, is that inquiries have risen considerably over the last two months, approaching the break-even point.

“My take is, if you twist the graph sideways and squint a little, you can see some improvement,” Kermit Baker, the AIA chief economist, said in an interview. “It isn’t much, but at least it’s heading in the right direction.”

Billings bounced up two points to 35.3 from 33.3, though similar up and down fluctuations have occurred since the wider economy went into freefall in October. Inquiries reached a promising level of 49.5, though, up from 43.5 in January and a record-low 37.7 in December.

“That’s a great sign,” Baker said of the inquiries, though he also cautioned that should inquiries reach the 50 mark but not move up much further, that does not mean a recovery, but instead a bottoming out of the market. The same goes for billings: not until the numbers reach the low 50s on a consistent basis can a true recovery be declared, a point that is probably still months, if not years, away. (Any reading below 50 means billings or inquiries are falling while those above mean they are rising.)

More importantly, Baker said he was surprised by the results of the monthly survey question, which asked whether it was the credit markets or the wider economy that was causing firms’ woes. He said that 20 percent of respondents blamed the frozen credit markets for causing their projects to stall compared to 33 percent who blamed general economic malaise.

While this may sound bad, Baker said he expected the numbers to tip far more toward the economy than the credit markets, and that nearly half of respondents either blamed both or could not decide between the two, which still means that should the markets normalize, it could mean a rapid, even unexpected, resumption of work.

Baker was reluctant to provide an explanation for the rise in inquiries, though he did acknowledge it could be more residual good feelings about the stimulus bill. He gave his own assessment of the package, which countered the increasingly common notion there would be no money for architects, instead saying he found between $40 billion and $45 billion in the bill, mostly for building and refurbishing housing. But, he added, that money would not work its way into the economy until the middle of this year.

One indication that stimulus money has made no impact yet is that institutional billings have reached new record lows, hitting 36.8 last month down from 37.1. Historically, the institutional sector has remained strong during downturns because schools, hospitals, and governments tend to build, especially because labor and materials are cheap. The continued deterioration of the institutional work suggests just how pervasive the current recession really is.

Meanwhile, the residential sector saw a decent uptick to 33.3 from 29.5, which jibes with recent home starts. The mixed-use sector was up slightly to 40.1 from 39.6—that sector’s historic low—but the commercial/industrial sector slid further to 32.0 from 33.8, though still above its all-time low in November of 26.7. Regionally, there were gains and losses of a point or two, though the Northeast, Midwest, South, and West are all still languishing in the mid- to low-30s.

Editorial: Pedlocking Broadway

General gladness and near unanimous support greeted Mayor Bloomberg’s February 27announcement that he was malling Times and Herald squares by closing off portions of Broadway in the interest of easing traffic, widening sidewalks, and reclaiming some three acres for pedestrian use. The Regional Planning Association has been pitching the idea since 1974, and so the group’s president, Robert Yaro, was triumphant: “This plan is a win-win-win strategy for New York’s motorists, its residents, workers, visitors and property owners. All will benefit as the City’s Broadway plan is brought quickly to reality.” Streetsblog called it “a bold transformative new vision.” And what’s not to like? The $1.5million plan is supposed to reduce southbound motor vehicle travel times by 17percent on 7thAvenue, and northbound travel times by 37percent on 6thAvenue. And the Naked Cowboy will have someplace to sit down.



The notion of banning cars on Broadway has reared up every decade or so since the 1960s, when a malling craze seized the entire country from Kalamazoo (where the first downtown pedestrian zone opened in 1959) to Atlanta. Only 15percent of 200pedestrian malls survived, according to Sam Staley, director of urban and land use policy at the Reason Foundation; the ones that did not were absent two essential ingredients: plenty of pedestrians and a unique sense of place, with viable retail. Those two are resoundingly on hand in Times Square, and always have been, along with efforts to subtract the traffic. In 1977, a $500,000federal grant was paid to the city to create an “experimental pedestrian mall” with trees and potted plants that—just like the one announced by Bloomberg—would become permanent if it worked. And that was the last we heard of a plan that made local businesses fear they’d lose curbside traffic; annoyed taxi drivers for the inconvenience; and flew against the city’s thinking at the time that only more and wider roads could make traffic flow faster. This time around, things are different, not least because the plan seems motivated in part by the mayor’s determination to have something highly visible go his way after congestion pricing went so wrong. The attitude of other stakeholders has also changed—except perhaps the taxi drivers—reflecting more enlightened thinking about public amenities and transportation. They get it now: Cars in the city are headed for extinction.



And yet as radical as the plan is, it was disappointing to see it quite so completely devoid of design. As Deborah Marton, executive director of the Design Trust for Public Space, pointed out, “No one thinks these plazas should look this way. Just claiming the ground was kind of heroic; they can always go back and rethink the detailing.” That’s true, but why doesn’t the Department of Transportation, which is spearheading the plan, have a landscape design consultant on call to sketch up a vision that’s a little less ad hoc, more layered, and not so isolated from side streets? The agency’s so-called piazza islands—like the new pedestrian spaces at Madison Square and 14thStreet—are risible for their smatterings of cafe tables and glued-in-place gravel. Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan deserves enormous credit for shaking the lead off this decades-old plan and making something happen that this time might stick. It’s still a shame, however, that landscape designers seem to belong to the second wave of the solution, not the first.