Search results for "east"

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Naval Battle Along East River
Courtesy SHOP Architects

When SHoP Architects unveiled schematic plans for the East River Esplanade at a meeting of the waterfront committee of Community Board 1 on October 22, the designs became the latest component of the battle over the future of the city’s waterfront. After years of dereliction and neglect, the city has finally cleaned up its rivers, and both people and fish are returning, thanks in part to a string of parks that now ring the city. While most people seem pleased with this, the city’s maritime community is not. For them, SHoP’s plans are just the latest slight in an ongoing fight over the soul of the city’s rivers.

It would be hard for anyone to deny that SHoP’s proposal is a vast improvement over what it will replace. Running for two miles underneath FDR Drive from the Battery north to East River Park, the East River Esplanade will replace a wasteland of worn-down bricks and asphalt strewn with broken glass. It will provide restored views of the waterfront and pavilions for public space. The question for the city’s mariners, though, is whether or not it will be inviting for boats.

“You probably mentioned planters 60 times, boats never, and ships twice,” Lee Gruzen, chair of SeaportSpeaks, told SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli at the committee meeting. “For 350 years there has been a kind of excitement on the waterfront. This makes us couch potatoes. I want to do something new you can’t do anywhere else.” The biggest concern is a rebuilt Pier 15, which has two levels, one for watercraft and one for recreation. SHoP sought to carve out pieces of the pier to expose its foundational structure. The pier in part resembles a fractured hill, covered in jagged slopes and topped with trees that will no doubt startle those driving by on the FDR. Julie Nadel, chair of the waterfront committee and a member of the Hudson River Park, called the designs more of the same. “They forgot to do the part where the boats dock,” she told AN. “It’s a very good, fanciful design, but it doesn’t do what it was asked to do, which is provide a place to dock a boat. Until it does, the plan is a failure.”

Pasquarelli insists these fears are unfounded. “They’re just staking out their position,” he said. “It’s a schematic design, and you can’t make judgments based on that. Just because I haven’t specified the cleats yet doesn’t mean there won’t be sufficient access.”

“Boating is one of our top priorities,” he added. “They’ve got 50 percent of the site, they just don’t realize it yet.”

While nautical access may still be in dispute, there is no question the plan vastly improves connections to the water from the land. This begins with the “calming of South Street,” Pasquarelli said. “It will become a typical New York City side street.” There will be one-lane in each direction with the remaining pavement given over to a 12-foot bicycle lane separated from the street by a planted berm.

Cyclists are set apart from the promenade by the FDR’s concrete pylons. Beneath the overpass stand glassed-in pavilions that serve a range of potential public uses, from shops and cafes to dojos and galleries. Beyond that is a 60- to 120-foot boardwalk edged by 30 to 40 feet of landscaping and a final 20 feet of boardwalk. A sinuous railing provides protection and, at its widest points, a table complete with bar stools. At night, these features are illuminated by light reflected off the FDR’s girders.

Most of these features disappear at the cross streets, where SHoP has devised what Pasquarelli called “get downs.” Part step, part aquatic amphitheater, their true purpose is to provide unblocked views of the water down the area’s historic slips. “It reminds you that this is a place where ships used to come right up into the city,” he said.

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Goodbye, Dolly!
Courtesy No Land Grab

On October 5, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz announced that he would not reappoint Dolly Williams, a developer who has served, at times controversially, as his representative on the City Planning Commission. “When there are many voices to be heard on land use matters, it would be best for a new appointee to assume the planning commission position,” Markowitz said in a statement. Many of those voices, it turns out, belonged to local bloggers.

Brooklyn bloggers, especially No Land Grab, which formed in opposition to Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan, have been tracking Williams’ every move since August 2004, when The Brooklyn Paper revealed that she was a partial investor with Bruce Ratner in the New Jersey Nets. It was not yet known whether the project would go before the commission—it went to the state instead—but it was seen as a major conflict of interest. Bloggers picked up that story, and others, so when they covered Markowitz’s announcement, it was with an air of self-congratulation.

Though there was a mix of old and new media reporting on Williams and her activities, the latter emphasized her work on the commission. After all, many of the stories, like the aforementioned Nets investment, ran in the papers first, but it was the additional attention they received from the blogs that gave voice to frustrations.

“The outrage in the comments surely was noticed by someone in Markowitz’s office,” Norman Oder, of the Atlantic Yards Report, told AN in an email. (Williams and Markowitz’s office declined to comment.)

For the commission itself, the issue is more complex. “These are commissioners who have an expertise in a particular field,” Department of City Planning spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff said. “Some projects will come up that they have a connection to and that will require them to recuse themselves. There is nothing inappropriate about that.”

Commission chair Amanda Burden agreed that there was no reason developers should not have a role on the commission. “Being a commissioner is about being smart, knowing the city, and doing your homework,” she said. “There are both citywide and neighborhood perspectives you have to consider. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

For Oder and his fellow bloggers, the commission may finally take them seriously. “I do think that the media, and perhaps especially the blogs, may at least cause the next commissioner to recognize that his or her activities will be scrutinized,” he wrote.

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Subcompact Hybrids
Designed by Openshop|Studio, this compact structure contains the family bedrooms and a futon that can slide out the side for guests.
craig mccormick

Architect Adam Hayes often refers to one recent project as “the thing.” Indeed, it’s hard to put a name to the faceted structure he and his firm, Openshop|Studio, designed as part of an extensive interior renovation of a Brooklyn loft. A sculptural-looking, perforated form, it resembles some sort of alien pod or perhaps a rough gemstone.

It may look wild, but the structure is intensely practical. CNC-milled plywood ribs provide structural support for the orientedstrand-board-clad facets, which contain a tight configuration of rooms, including a study, kid’s room, master bedroom, bathroom, and myriad storage nooks. Outside the pod lies a conventional loft space, its airy quality and sight lines only minimally disturbed by the blobby form in the corner. (Hayes compares the overall effect to a blimp in a hangar.) The efficient use of space and inexpensive materials helped them meet a budget of $109 per square foot in the 1,200-square-foot space.

The renovation is just one of a number of New York residential projects making creative use of limited resources. In this expensive, overcrowded city, many clients are asking architects to be ever more ingenious in planning living spaces; in effect, they want something out of nothing, or at least not much. Openshop|Studio and several other young firms are helping their clients tackle both problems by designing unconventional but highly efficient, flexible hybrid spaces.

Not long ago, John Hartmann of Freecell Architecture did some design work for a client who isn’t much of a cook and loathes clutter. As a result, the client decided he’d be just as happy with a part-time kitchen in his 450-square-foot Manhattan studio. Freecell designed a giant, piano-hinged door-cum-cabinet that swings closed when that kitchen area isn’t in use. Though Hartmann says the unit rolls easily enough, even he is still a bit incredulous at the concept. “Most people would say, ‘What is this? I have to roll a 200-pound door to get to my refrigerator? This is insane!’“ he says.

Movable parts were also the name of the game in a more ambitious project by workshop/apd. Within the spacious confines of a 2,400-square-foot Midtown loft, the firm designed a smaller cube in which all of the living functions interlock. It contains a study; two bathrooms; and a kitchen, which features a sliding door that offers division from the adjacent living area as needed, as well as a table that can slide out from a slot under the countertop to create an informal breakfast nook. Nearby, two bedrooms can be easily converted to three, by pulling apart a central pair of wheeled doors in opposite directions. The entire effect could be described as “a kind of an interactive box,” says principal Matt Berman. “You’re pushing and pulling on this thing from each side and interacting with it in different ways.” Designing such a flexible space was strategic, since the architects designed the space for a developer on spec, without knowing who the eventual inhabitants would be. The strategy paid off, since the loft sold quickly, says Andrew Kotchen, another principal at the firm.

“A lot of our projects deal with this idea with collapsing activity programming into more efficient spaces, and it’s clearly stemmed from doing a lot of New York interior renovations, because space is so finite,” Kotchen says. “The more efficient we can be in the way we use and configure our space, the more sustainable that environment will be,” he adds. “It’s more compact, uses fewer materials, costs less, and so on.”

For architecture- and furniture-design firm 4-pli, one innovative project stemmed from a client’s complaints about her husband’s clutter taking over their open loft. “She wanted to literally contain his mess; to give him a space where she didn’t have to see it so they didn’t have to fight about it,” says partner Jeffrey Taras.

Using Baltic birch plywood to help keep within a $20,000 budget, the firm crafted dividers that double as storage spaces for books and other materials. The husband’s office pod has a striking curve that’s smooth on the outside but lined with shelves to help contain his clutter. The 1⁄8-inch-thick plywood doesn’t provide much sound insulation, but it did let the architects bend the wood into graceful, organic-looking shapes. A ladder leads up the outside of the office to a guests’ sleeping berth on top, which doubles as the wife’s writing area. Another wavy divider features shelves on the living room side and a smooth surface on the master bedroom side. A matching wardrobe in the bedroom offers yet more storage space. Naturally, highly customized projects such as this one and Openshop|Studio’s carry their share of headaches. Openshop|Studio’s faceted form required more than one hundred individually cut pieces for the geometrically irregular surfaces. Likewise, the varying forms of the structural ribs had to be custom milled on a CNC cutter. 4-pli’s design was an experiment in how much 1⁄8-inch thick plywood can bend. In the end, the design for one of the panels in the office pod had to be redone because the wood wasn’t pliant enough for the original design’s double curvature, says Bill Mowat, another of 4-pli’s four partners.

“I think, in a way, this project was our most intensely experimental project,” says Taras. “For the most part, it worked out…but we learned a lesson; we wouldn’t experiment this much in a single project now.” The project was a learning experience that led them to launch a fabrication branch, Associated Fabrication. For their Odd Couple clients, it was a step toward peace and quiet.

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40/40 Vision

With star-powered, high-stakes condos sprouting up as quickly as bank branches in this city, it is ultimately the details that will inform the way the owners will live in them. After the hype has ebbed, residents will continue to come home tired, pad around the living room in their socks, and appreciate that the electrical outlets are strategically placed.

On paper, 40 Mercer and 40 Bond seem to share one common idea—a modern take on the loft buildings indigenous to the neighborhoods in which they are both located. Those original cast-iron structures may have been rugged, but they provided unprecedented open spaces with abundant natural light, qualities the two 40s deliver in spades. The hoteliers-turned-developers Ian Schrager and André Balazs both know the ropes when it comes to luxury product with flair, but each provides markedly different notions about the downtown living experience: Mercer delivers simplified luxury; Bond, idealized simplicity. Both visions cost more than $3,300 per square foot to realize.

40 Bond, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is in some ways surprisingly traditional for the Swiss duo. The luminous, cast bottle-green glass grid (fitted to the structure with bolts concealed under an enamel frit behind the glass) that orders its large windows feels organic, as if utilizing some age-old technique that was related to cast iron but fell out of favor. The apartments themselves feel like, well, lofts—the floor-to-ceiling windows, the wide plank floors, white kitchen cabinets and countertops. But here the simplicity is idealized, the materials top-notch. Flooring is smoked Austrian oak, the windows cleverly operative (they tilt inward with a crank mechanism), the cabinets high-gloss lacquer, the counters intricately wrought Corian. Even the door handles are polished chrome designed by Konstantin Grcic for Colombo.

In the master baths, there is a sauna vibe with more smoked oak covering the walls and floors and double vanity sinks in an arched niche (more Corian) with theatrical, globe-shaped fixtures. The seamless “wet room,” a combination tub/shower area is a marvel of fabrication. The tub alone is made of 40 pieces of precisely cut Corian, and some of the shower surfaces feature a computer-routed graffiti pattern reiterating a main theme in the lobby. The bathrooms took nine months to fabricate, according to Chris Whitelaw, the senior engineer for Evans and Paul, the Queens-based company that did the work.

The lobby could easily exist in one of Schrager’s hip hotels. Twenty-foot high, graffiti-etched undulating panels of white Corian line a narrow corridor (under a gleaming punched steel ceiling) linking the reception area (an Alpine oak box, also graffiti-carved) with a back garden. The effect is a bit planet Krypton (or, if your Haldol dosage needs adjusting, a scene from The Shining). The walls are made up of more than 280 pieces of Corian, which was first etched, then heat curved, a process that can (and did) expand the panels slightly, causing problems with pattern matching. To compensate, pieces were made slightly larger than needed and later trimmed to make the designs realign; even then, hand shaping was sometimes necessary to create the seemingly seamless fit. “The lobby is awe-inspiring,” says Whitelaw, whose crew spent about three weeks gluing and polishing the seams on-site following two months building parts in the workshop.

The now-famous gate/fence, a graffiti-inspired, Gaudí-esque, cast-aluminum semibarrier between the gritty outside world and pristine white lobby within, will also guard private entrances to the five townhouses on the ground floor. The theme is repeated (and repeated) in the concrete out front, on embossed aluminum that wraps the entranceway, and even the interior walls of the elevators in oak.

Designed by Jean Nouvel, 40 Mercer is, from the outside at least, a simpler affair. From Mercer Street, the building reads like a discreet medium-scale residence or hotel. Upon rounding the corner, it takes on the look of a massive office with a large expanse of glass and steel. But the block-long structure has a mirrored alley or “cut” in the facade (ingeniously reflecting the brick building across the street) dividing the building into two less massive parts—one of its many, subtler charms. Some corner windows on the Mercer side are bright red; some larger ones on the Broadway side are blue. Not quite Boogie Woogie, but definitely Mondrian.

The lobby, lined on the downtown side with a double wall of glass printed with black trees, is at once moody and elegant. It is dark and night-crawler cool, punctuated here and there with red or blue armchairs. (It takes your eyes a moment to adjust before the trees emerge from the forest.) “It’s a nighttime building by design,” Balazs says. “Night is Jean Nouvel’s time of day.”

Upstairs, the apartment landings are signature Nouvel—perforated black steel grates suspended beneath dim lighting reflecting off welcome mats made of steel floor tiles. One half expects the apartments to be industrial minimal chic, but they are in fact rich, nuanced, and warm. The use of wood is exceptional—the kitchens alone feature custom Molteni cabinetry in wenge, Italian walnut, and tanganika. Countertops and shelves are laminated mixes of these woods, which warm the brushed stainless countertops, sinks, and backsplashes, lit with halogen lights hidden beneath the cabinets. Throughout the apartment, door handles are Nouvel-designed, wood-clad Valli & Valli.

Flooring is 3-inch-wide white oak with a clear finish, save the master bedroom (and some secondary bedrooms) where walnut is used. Giant moving walls, also walnut and with steel and cable shelving units, can close off a section of the main space creating an office or guest room. But these are child’s play compared to 12 units that have 17- or 20-foot-wide windows that, with a touch of a remote, can slide open, turning the living room into a virtual outdoor space.

Bathrooms are decidedly swank and busy with more wood (walnut, white oak, and mahogany) cabinets, plus floors and showers in Calacatta Gold marble, painstakingly matched with mirror grain patterns to form Rorschach-like effects. Counters are back-painted glass, in white; flattering lighting is vertical, wall-mounted fluorescent tubes. “People spend an inordinate amount of time in bathrooms,” says Balazs.

Asked about the overall attention to detail at 40 Mercer, Balazs’ response could just as well apply to his arch-rival’s 40 Bond: “You can’t take the hotelier out of our company’s psyche. A typical developer builds it, sells it, and gets out of there. When we build something, we have to live with it forever and sell it over and over, every night.”

Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

Just two months after LA Architect relaunched as FORM, it’s losing its editor, Jennifer Caterino. “At this point it seems like the right time to take the plunge and find a new challenge,” she told us. Reformatting an AIA publication as a national magazine seems like quite a challenge, actually. We can’t imagine it came with a raise.

For over a week in September, Los Angeles drivers were treated to the ultimate symbol of the crumbling housing market when a house—yes, a house—was abandoned on the Hollywood Freeway. Patrick Richardson ignored CalTrans instructions when told to take his Santa Clarita-bound mobile home up the 405, and instead smashed the roof into an overpass on the 101, temporarily installing the prefab in heavy traffic. The house endured torrential rains, excessive tagging, and was even graced with a “For Rent” sign near the end. 

Eight wine glasses shattered on the cement floor during the much-anticipated Moss Los Angeles opening in August. Each time we cringed and looked to Murray Moss, who was cringing along with us. Or perhaps it was at the handful of children who had not only infiltrated his no-kids policy, but were seated at the Maarten Baas set of table and chairs (to be fair, it does look like it’s made for kids). Moss partner Franklin Getchell scurried around with extra “Please do not touch” signs, which he placed on the pieces which were fondled, sat upon, or otherwise violated, most notably a Tord Boontje sofa. At the end of the evening Baas sat down to play the 1938 Steinway Baby Grand he had fire-sculpted and, almost as if in response, droplets of condensation dripped from the air conditioning duct above, sprinkling guests in line for white wine. But architect Clive Wilkinson said: “Hey, at least you can keep cool at Moss this summer.”

The Dwell on Design conference transformed San Francisco’s Concourse and Exhibition Center into a neat pastiche of prefabs and post-consumer recycled furniture in mid-September. Alice Waters reigned as the crowd-pleasing organic queen after detailing her inspiring work for the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley. Craig Hartman used his stage time to stump for SOM’s Transbay proposal, and Gwynne Pugh managed to make pejorative comments about Irvine twice (what, no love for The OC?). San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom made a surprise end-of-day appearance on Friday, touting his city’s green building agenda and commitment to architectural excellence. In fact, San Fran’s architecture scene is so hot, said Newsom, that even Frank Gehry, who swore he’d never design a building there, is considering it. 

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Spaceport Blasts Off
Foster's hangar evokes the shape of a nearby rock formation
Courtesy Foster + Partners

In early September, a competition-winning plan by UK-based Foster + Partners and design and engineering company URS was cleared for lift-off, as details were finalized on the hangar and terminal facilities for Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world. The 100,000-square-foot complex located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is expected to be fully operational by 2010, with two or three suborbital flights daily, five days a week.

The $31 million hangar by Foster is a small portion of the $200 million spaceport complex, funded by New Mexico and a 0.25 cent gross receipt tax adopted by local counties. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will serve as the spaceport’s anchor tenant, occupying training facilities, pre- and post-flight lounges and two maintenance hangars.

The competition included two other finalists: Dallas-based HKS working with Antoine Predock of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a San Francisco-based Gensler team in association with Rohde May Keller McNamara Architecture, also of Albuquerque.

URS Spaceport
The hangar is bermed into the earth.

A major requirement of the design was that it could not disturb the uses or views of nearby El Camino Real, a historic trade route that traverses the valley. Completely concealed from the west, the spaceport will be bermed in earth materials sculpted into low-rising berms. An undulating roof will mimic the rise of a formation called Point of Rocks located in the valley.

The shape of the structure is meant to evoke the dimensions of a spacecraft, with the double-height hangar rising along the linear axis, administration offices to the west, and areas for preparation and viewing in the larger eastern flank. Passengers will enter the building through a deep channel cut into the ground, walking along retaining walls housing exhibitions by the region’s residents and about the history of space travel. Views of the main “superhangar” will also be revealed before passengers reach the terminal, building drama with glimpses of the spacecraft and simulation area. A similar technique will be used for the terminal, where the control room will be visible but not open to the public. 

The facility hopes for a LEED Platinum certification, with passive energy solutions, consolidating glazing to the eastern elevation to minimize heat gain, and using the building’s massive size to draw ventilation into cooling subterranean chambers. Photovoltaic panels will supplement power production.

Acknowledging the element of spectacle certain to be associated with the structure’s novel use, while playing upon New Mexico’s rich space travel history, resulted in “flowing, dramatic spaces, and a form using natural materials that are essential, and awe-inspiring,” says Antoinette Nassopoulos, a partner at Foster + Partners. Viewing platforms are incorporated as large windows into the concrete shell, designed to best deliver the experience to both space-bound astronauts and the general public. “Visibility of mission control and take-off and landings from the spaceport add to the drama,” Nassopoulos added. Groundbreaking is set for next year. 

Extending the Finger

The excavation and foundation work for the so-called Finger Building at 144 North 8th Street in Williamsburg began in fall 2004, a few months after the passage of the rezoning of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in May. It was a significant ground breaking: if the developers could complete their foundation by the following May, it could be vested under the old zoning. This would allow the building to rise to 16 stories, as opposed to the five stories set out by the new regulations. And once the new zoning took effect, nothing could rise to match it, and the community couldn’t oppose it because it was built as-of-right.

Three years into the embattled project’s top-and-start construction (“Stubbed Finger,” AN 08_05.09.2007), a number of vested buildings in the neighborhood, including the Finger Building, have come before the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) to have their construction permits extended, and Community Board 1 (CB1), which covers Williamsburg and Greenpoint, has been given a chance to speak out. Ward Dennis, chair of the CB1 Universal Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) committee, said “It’s the only time we’ve had our opinions heard.”

The only problem is, the BSA may not be listening very closely. In addition to having only a one-year window in which to lay their foundations, developers only receive two-year building permits under which they can complete the rest of their buildings, after which time the BSA must agree to extend them. To receive an extension, developers must show they have, as per the zoning regulations, completed “significant construction” and made “significant expenditures.” But the regulations are no more specific than that, leaving the board to decide what qualifies as significant.

Dennis and his fellow committee members said at a September 25 meeting that they have a hard time seeing how the two buildings before them could be considered significant construction. Though the Finger Building has reached ten stories, it is currently bound up in litigation to add an additional six, taking it from 125 feet to 210 feet. “It’s years from completion and half done at best,” Dennis said. The other building, 55 Eckford Street, was even further behind, comprising eight stories of superstructure and little else because of financing issues.

When asked what would qualify, Jeff Mulligan, executive director of the BSA, admitted that it doesn’t take much. “Historically, at least some superstructure suits the board,” he told AN. He also acknowledged that the community board was playing more of an advisory role than anything else.

Mulligan said he would not address specific buildings, but given a theoretical one—ten stories with some walls and interiors completed and an expenditure of $13 million out of $22 million, with more stories to be built—he said it stood a very good chance of passing. When Dennis was told this, he was bothered. “As far as I can tell, this only rewards bad behavior, not discourages it,” he said. The only way to know for sure is when the BSA rules on October 16.

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Delirious Newark
Downtown Newark
Courtesy Regional Plan Association

When two poodles sauntered from a freshly converted apartment house in downtown Newark this summer, it made the news. No, the dogs weren’t in any trouble, they were merely tethered to a well-heeled woman out for a stroll: a perfect specimen of that species beloved to real estate brokers, the highrise urban dweller. For New Jersey Business magazine, which reported the incident, they are a sign of better things to come.

As Mayor Cory A. Booker swept into office in 2006 on a platform of radical reform, he vowed to make Newark a “national standard for urban transformation.” And in June, he took a big step forward by appointing Toni Griffin as director of community development, charged with rebuilding the planning machine of New Jersey’s largest metropolis nearly from the ground up.

To many New Yorkers, this city of about 280,000 on the Passaic River has long been a tattered way station, glimpsed from passing Amtrak trains or en route to Newark Liberty Airport. But beyond the image of shells of buildings and broken windows is what planners call a robust urban infrastructure primed for a new half-century of growth. Though Newark’s population had dwindled dramatically from its peak of more than 440,000 in the 1930s, a boomlet since 2000 made it the fastest-growing major city in the Northeast. With commuter-friendly transit links to New York, dormant development capacity, and ample urban amenities waiting to be tapped, the Booker camp is betting hard on Newark’s future.

“With the coming of the Booker administration and changes in the region, Newark is in quite a different position than it was a few years ago,” observed Max Bond, partner at Davis Brody Bond. “As housing in New York gets more expensive, more and more people are looking at the possibility of living in Newark. In the regional context, there really are terrific opportunities.”

Shortly after the 38-year-old Booker came to office, he delighted planners by sitting down with the Regional Plan Association (RPA) and volunteers like Bond to draft a vision plan that would knit together the 100-odd neighborhood studies, urban renewal plans, and sundry agendas that had been moldering in City Hall file cabinets. This remarkable document, the product of dozens of planners, architects, city and state officials, and faculty of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, sprang from a three-day charette in 2006. With groups brainstorming about specific projects—from airport economic growth to the new downtown arena—a focused plan emerged: Revamp the 17-year-old masterplan. Overhaul the 1960s zoning ordinance. Ban sky bridges. Establish rapid-transit bus routes. Make mixed-use a mantra. At public meetings presenting the report, administration officials got an earful from residents keen to put Newark’s plans into practice.

Enter Griffin, who grew up in Chicago and studied architecture at Notre Dame, as well as at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (where she is now a visiting design critic). Launching her career at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Chicago office, she gravitated to planning and was hired to direct planning and tourism development for New York’s Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation. She then moved to Washington, D.C., where she oversaw large-scale redevelopment for the city’s planning office, taking charge of downtown, waterfront, and commercial corridors. She later served as vice president and director of design for the Anacostia Waterfront Corporation, helping to make 2,000 acres along the Anacostia River corridor into a model for rebuilding inner cities. She is known for hitting the ground running.

"As an architect,” Griffin said, “my training is in problem-solving and in building. I see planning in the same way. I’m not interested in doing plans that sit on the shelves.”

Digging in on the first phase of Newark’s masterplan, Griffin convened a team including SMWM, Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, Justice and Sustainability Associates, and Chan Krieger Sieniewicz to define a vision that will lead to a more proactive and transparent planning process. Staff will also draw on the RPA’s draft vision plan and local design firms with the aim of revising the master plan and zoning ordinance for the 24-square-mile city, a task expected to be a multi-phase, multi-year effort. To build a central planning department out of what had been, in the James era, splintered among varied boards and offices, Griffin also aims to beef up her own staff, now home to four planners. “I want to hire a mix of planners with design backgrounds, designers with planning backgrounds, and economists,” she said.

Shifting to more immediate goals, the Booker team has targeted downtown residential development as a priority, citing 1180 Raymond Boulevard, a long-vacant Art Deco office tower in the heart of downtown. Recently converted into 317 rental units, it is rapidly filling with, yes, the aforementioned poodles—and just the commuters the city hopes to attract. (Eighty percent of the tower’s occupants work in New York.) “We’re aiming to build upon the trend started by premier new residential buildings like 1180 Raymond Boulevard,” said Stefan Pryor, Newark’s deputy mayor for economic development. Pryor, who led the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation through its forced quiescence before arriving as a high-profile hire for the Booker administration, is actively working on projects that have been thwarted by Newark’s outmoded regulations. He cites the city’s incoherent zoning rules as a persistent problem for developers who want to convert commercial buildings into housing. “There are side yard requirements and backyard requirements and onerous parking requirements,” he said. “We are going to eliminate those.”

Bringing momentum downtown is New Jersey Transit’s mile-long light-rail link between the city’s two major transit hubs, Newark Penn Station and Broad Street Station. Opened in 2006 at a cost of $207 million, the line connects New Jersey Transit, Amtrak, PATH trains, and the city’s subway. It will hopefully extend residential and retail growth north across I-280, and to the two gemlike Mies van der Rohe towers known as the Pavilion Apartments. Opened in 1960, along with a third Mies apartment building near Branch Brook Park called the Colonnade, the towers today look lonely amid Colonial-style townhouses built on the site of the Christopher Columbus Homes public housing project, which were razed in 1994 after becoming a symbol of neglect and poverty.

Back near Broad Street, which Griffin sees a as focal point for the 45,000 college students who attend Newark’s five colleges and universities, there’s the Barton Myers-designed New Jersey Performing Arts Center, widely hailed as the project that put Newark back on the map when it opened in 1997. “It’s an area that can help to change the whole image of the city and brand it as a waterfront downtown,” Griffin said. Work has slowly progressed on the Joseph G. Minish Passaic River Waterfront Park, which would stretch north from the dominantly Portuguese and Brazilian Ironbound district (and its swinging tapas bars) to the downtown core. Griffin looks toward a teeming, two-sided waterfront along both banks of the Passaic; plans are already progressing across the river in Harrison, where the first phase of a development with 1,800 residential units, a soccer stadium, and a riverfront park is under way.

For many watching Newark’s redevelopment, the most bothersome legacy of the James administration may be Prudential Center, the city’s new downtown arena. Branded a boondoggle by Newarkers who questioned its $375 million price tag and prospects (it is home to the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils), the arena was nonetheless under construction by the time James left office. Mayor Booker, who once denounced the project as a “betrayal of the public trust,” has determined to embrace the squat, brick-and-glass behemoth, which opens this month with a ten-night stand by Bon Jovi. Ever the optimist, Griffin thinks the arena could catalyze restaurant and retail development just as the MCI Center (now Verizon Center) did for Washington.

The city’s hottest vehicle of change, however, is less likely to be Bon Jovi than the Port of Newark, because it has one thing Newark needs most: jobs. The city is closely studying how to redevelop land and capture job opportunities at the port, which employs relatively few locals. A similar strategy is taking shape around the airport, which Griffin suggests could be groomed as an “aerotropolis,” surrounded by efficient business and residential nodes. “Cities like Dallas are looking at neighborhoods around airports,” she explained, “and developing them as attractive places to live.”

Newark’s real estate boom has had unintended effects. As the market revived in former no-go neighborhoods, suburban-minded builders found a cheap formula to fill empty blocks: the Bayonne Box. A source of consternation to Newark planners, the narrow, three-story house has deep setbacks, vast curb cuts, and car-forward frontage (“a machine for parking,” growled one planner). The now-ubiquitous Bayonne Box is anathema to a rich and lively public realm, and Griffin’s team is looking to tweak zoning regulations to reduce curb cuts, hide vehicles, and create greener front yards. Her office has also drafted guidelines for new housing typologies, and will be hiring architects to test those concepts throughout the city. A similar program is under way to check the growth of car-centric shopping hubs. “We want to look at guidelines for how mixed-use town centers can fit back into the fabric of Newark,” she said.

Community groups, long inured to promises, are guardedly optimistic about their city’s future.

“So far Ms. Griffin has been sensitive and responsive to what we see as critical issues,” said Richard Cammarieri, chair of the master plan working group for the New Community Corporation, a network of citizen groups. “The biggest challenge is going to be ensuring that the planning process is in fact internalized for the entire city government. Everyone really has to buy into this.”

Longtime Newarkers have an endearing knack for looking at the bright side. “At least we have a planning department now,” Cammarieri dryly noted, “which we’ve never had before.”

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Commodity and Delight
Tom Dixon's Glowb installation in Trafalgar Square.
Courtesy London Design Festival

People were clamoring to honor Zaha Hadid during this year’s London Design Festival. Her Urban Nebula installation of jagged concrete modules sat in front of the South Bank Centre beside the Thames, her Aqua table was rendered in marble for furniture company Established and Sons, and London’s mayor Ken Livingstone awarded her the inaugural London Design Medal at the event’s opening.

The fifth annual London Design Festival, which also incorporates the longstanding tradeshow 100% Design, was—like Hadid herself—an intriguing mix of hard commerce and entertaining experimentation. The polished concrete wall commissioned by the festival organizers as part of the project Size + Matter aimed to blur the boundaries between architecture, design, engineering, and sculpture by partnering Hadid and Future Systems’ Amanda Levete with manufacturers of precast concrete and Corian, respectively, to create installations to be auctioned off by Phillips de Pury & Co. When asked to make a sales pitch for the installation during a series of talks hosted by Blueprint, Hadid expressed a desire to make her work accessible.

You might be forgiven for thinking there weren’t any other designers in the city, but not everything was Zaha-related. Tom Dixon demonstrated deft skills in public relations and reaching the public with his Glowb giveaway, in which 1,000 Dixon-designed energy efficient lightbulbs were given away on a first come, first served basis. His site-specific chandelier, a suspended carpet of his “Blow” bulbs, was the flame to crowds of mothlike customers swarming Trafalgar Square during the festival’s opening days.

The first Tent London product design show, set up by 100% Design founders Ian Rudge and Jimmy MacDonald, was staged in the former Truman Brewery building in East London. Rather than products, the highlight here was the Urbantine Project, an open competition aimed at budding architecture and design practices to design and construct a temporary pavilion that responds to the need for flexible workspaces. The winner, architect Alex Haw, built an concertina-like system of interlocking plywood panels to form a sequence of work/leisure spaces.

It was clear that the thriving and affluent commercial design scene and the designers/ makers still emerging remain disparate entities. Unlike in Milan, where the furniture show has roots in the city’s manufacturing industry and retains an affinity with the production process, it was evident this year that the lack of a coherent focus in London is what gives the festival its character. The charm lies in finding the oddities and individual highlights.

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Of Photography and Fame
Weston, Byles & Rugolph's Roberts Residence, Malibu, California (1953)
Julius Shulman/Courtesy J. Paul Getty Trust

In the realm of architectural photography two figures stand alone in terms of their impact on how we view, consider, and consume images of modern design and architecture. Ezra Stoller on the East Coast and Julius Shulman on the West Coast are the acknowledged masters of their discipline, influencing a generation of younger photographers, including myself. Shulman, who will turn 97 in October, continues to produce and occasionally still accepts the odd commission.

Architectural photography, often brilliant in technique, can be staid in concept. Most architects who commission photographs are not looking for individual expression, but rather a well-crafted document of the subject building. Julius Shulman’s images defy this formula and although he will forever be identified with West Coast pioneers in architecture such as Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and the architects of the Case Study Houses in Los Angeles, his iconic photographs have burned themselves into the popular imagination, transcending their subject to become objects in themselves, independent of the buildings they depict. -Richard Barnes

Richard Barnes: How did you get started on a career in architectural photography, at a time when there was really no established field of work in photographing architecture?

Julius Shulman: My architectural work began when I met Richard Neutra by chance in March 1936. I had been going to UCLA for five years and spent two more years up in Berkeley when I realized this wasn’t what I wanted to do. Here, I had spent several years walking through the campus and going to lectures without any direction in my life. I was living with a friend in a two-bedroom apartment—$25 a month, by the way—when one morning I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and the thought entered my mind, ‘Julius, you better go home.’ It was a signal.

But I did have a little Vest Pocket Kodak from my parents. Then by chance this young man, an apprentice in Neutra’s office, said he wanted to show me a house that had just been completed by Neutra. I said, ‘Who’s Neutra?’ I had never met an architect before but I went to the house—it was the Kun House—and took six snapshots with my little Kodak, made some 8x10 prints, and gave them to him. Immediately after that, this fellow called me up and said, ‘Mr. Neutra loved the photographs and he’d like to meet you this coming Saturday.’

I went down to the studio in Silver Lake. I met Neutra who said he’d never seen such photographs and he wanted extra copies. He asked who I was and was I studying architecture or photography? When I told him I was at the university doing nothing, he said, ‘Would you like to take more photographs for me?’ Boom! So on March 5, 1936, I became a photographer.

Were there other architects you met and worked with at the time?

Well, that same day Neutra told me about another apprentice, named [Raphael] Soriano, who’d just done his first house up in the hills above Silver Lake. So I drove up there and met him the same day. We hit it off beautifully; he was sitting on the floor eating a sandwich. He gave me a sandwich; I sat down on the rug and we talked for about two hours. ‘Now that you’ve met Neutra,’ he said, ‘would you like to photograph this house, too?’ And that was Soriano’s Lipetz House with the curved wall looking out over the lake and a grand piano in the middle of the floor because the lady was a pianist. Soriano became famous from the very beginning, and so
my photographs were immediately published.

I went on to meet all the young architects [Gregory] Ain, [Rudolf] Schindler, Pierre Koenig. We were all in the same boat, young people beginning our work. And in 1947 when I bought some property, two acres up in the Hollywood Hills, I hired Soriano who was a good friend by then.

Why would you hire Soriano, and not Neutra?

Soriano was so wonderfully friendly and warm. Neutra was fine, but he wasn’t my kind of person. I did work with him from 1936 until he died and it was through Neutra that I was destined to become a ‘world famous’ photographer. No question about that.

Do you think your images also helped to make him a ‘world famous’ architect?

(Laugh) It takes two, I guess. But I think it was just destiny that I became an architectural photographer. Before I met Neutra, I had no idea, no indication, no inkling of what I was going to do with my life.

But at the time there was no such thing as an architectural photographer. Maybe there were photographers who did commercial work, but you really carved out a whole new field.

Maybe. But in the course of my work I started seeing work published in magazines. Ezra Stoller came a little later, true, in the late 1930s to early 1940s, but up in San Francisco there was Roger Sturtevant—we became good friends— and Ulrich Meisel in Dallas. Then, of course, there was Hedrich Blessing in Chicago; and then, Maynard Parker who was a commercial photographer in Los Angeles. In those days, magazines called commercial photographers. Elizabeth Gordon of House Beautiful called Parker to do her house and he was really good. But, really, there was just a handful of us.

Did you have a sense as you took them that some of your images transcended the documents you were producing for the architects—the view of the two women at Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 comes instantly to mind? Or was it something about LA the city itself that shaped your approach?

No, I’ll tell you what happened. From that very first photograph that I took of the Kun House, I found I could just catch things on film that we—the architect and myself—didn’t see ourselves or didn’t even realize existed. Benedikt Taschen [publisher of the new book] says I extract the essence of a place.

What about Los Angeles? What was it like when you arrived?

It was a really particular moment. LA had become a mecca for people from all over the world. Everyone wanted to come. Even my father who had a small clothing business and a 75-acre orange grove wrote to his friend, ‘Max! You’ve got to come. The streets are paved in gold’—he meant the orange grove. But back then in 1920 when we came to California from New York, the population in Los Angeles was about 576,000. It was a small town.

If you had stayed out East and, instead of working for Neutra, Ain, Koenig, and the rest, you worked for Saarinen, Gropius, and Mies (although they were later, after the war). But let’s say you’d lived on the East Coast, how would your work have been different?

I wouldn’t have become a photographer! I wouldn’t have been taking those snapshots while I was wandering around Berkeley. I did have a friend who was a writer and he had a nice little office in Rockefeller Center in the 1940s. He said I should open an office in New York. Without any hesitation, I said, ‘I love New York!’ You see, I was born in Brooklyn. But I was already established in Los Angeles and all the architects jumped at me because there was no other photographer who did architecture.

At that level.

At any level.

How did you get along with the individual architects? Did you consider them friends. Did you learn anything from them?

I established close friendships with them all. I seemed to speak their language, not only with my camera. With Gregory Ain, there was something about his architecture that I liked, and my liking the work made me respect it, and as a result I was able to create these great compositions. I could transcend or transfigure or translate what the architect saw in his own work. Something just came through. They didn’t know how I did it; they’d just shake their heads. Even Frank Lloyd Wright wrote me a letter about my photographs of Taliesin West: ‘How did you ever achieve such beautiful photographs?’ Doesn’t matter: the point is, it’s a gift. I was raised close to nature, maybe that’s part of it. My spirit is close to nature.

Regarding your technique, you have a great facility with lighting and also for using people in your photographs. You used color film early on and your images have this naturalness to them which is also, and I realize this is contradictory, strangely theatrical, without seeming forced or over the top.

Can you talk about that?

As a matter of fact, it came home to me just recently when Paul Goldberger wrote in the New Yorker that if I hadn’t become a photographer, I might have been a good lighting expert. And it’s true that one of my innate qualities is knowing how to use lighting. I don’t use it to dramatize but to express what the architect wants. When I line up something, you never see the source of the light, but you do know it’s there.
Most photographers today rely on Polaroids, or computers, to test for composition and lighting before committing the scene to film. You couldn’t do all that and yet you still achieved these amazing results.

Most photographers I knew did not use flash bulbs before the days of strobe lighting. I would use flood lights then put flash lights in to balance the indoor and outdoor lighting intensity. As a result my lighting appeared very natural and balanced. And then I used people—not abundantly but more than most—to occupy the space, not posing, but doing something the space was designed for. Neutra didn’t like it when I started putting in people. He did not want them. He didn’t want anything to attract attention away from his architecture.

I read somewhere that in one of your most iconic and famous images of all—the Kaufman House in Palm Springs—you used people and Neutra wasn’t happy about it. But what makes that photograph really work for me is the figure in the foreground. Were you using her as a “gobo” [go between] to block the light?

Yes! That’s Mrs. Kaufman. And what happened is this: It was a very complex composition and that one photograph took me 45 minutes. I was supposed to be doing the interiors. But when I went out there I saw how beautiful the twilight was, and I knew it wouldn’t last long. Mr. Neutra grabbed my elbow and said we had a lot more interiors to do, but I tore away from his grasp and ran outside to set up the camera. I knew exactly where I wanted to stand.

Inside, the floor lamps and the table lamps were all burning. Outside the sky was beautiful and I asked Mr. Kaufman, who was standing there with Mrs. Kaufman and Neutra, to turn on the pool light. But the light was too intense and it was facing in the direction of the camera so I laid down a mat and asked Mrs. Kaufman to please lie down a moment so her head blocked the pool light. She asked me not to take too long because it was hard propping herself up on her elbow.
I counted the three seconds.

One. Two. Three.

Did Neutra know what you were trying to do?

Not ‘til later.

Architects Not Welcome

Were Thomas Ustick Walter, fourth Architect of the Capitol, asked today to make the same expansions to the Capitol building he completed 144 years ago, Washington might be without one of its most iconic and recognizable landmarks. “When he added the north and south wings, he realized the proportions were off with [Charles] Bulfinch’s rotunda and so added the cast-iron dome everyone now knows so well,” Alan Hantman, the tenth Architect of the Capitol, who retired in February, said in an interview. Though the cost of the dome skyrocketed from $100,000 to $1.47 million, and the nation was on the verge civil war, Congress suppoprted Walter’s vision.

If only Hantman had it so good.

For the last decade, Hantman has been in charge of the daily operation and preservation of the Capitol Complex, including the management of 2,200 employees overseeing 15 million square feet. But during this time he was also tasked with directing the construction of the Capitol Visitor Center, a subterranean complex beneath the East Capitol Grounds. But as costs and delays mounted, largely due to security concerns and expanded plans, Congress grew restless, laying much of the blame on Hantman and his office. Now, as the Senate considers Hantman’s replacement, it has come to light that non-architects are also up for the job.

“The post is called the Architect of the Capitol, but it is largely a job of managing the facilities,” said Howard Gantman, staff director of the Senate Rules Committee. The committee recently submitted three names to the White House to fill the position, “some of which were architects,” Gantman said. None, however, came from the American Institute of Architects, which submitted four names, as it had a decade earlier, when the selections were met with approval by senators and President Bill Clinton. This time, Gantman said, the Senate sought “significant, very significant management experience,” which, according to Gantman, none of the AIA candidates possessed.

Instead, so-called facilities managers were considered, many with campus or military experience. Hantman struggles to understand why. “I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive,” Hantman said, referring to facilities management and architecture. He emphasized that at a historically significant building like the U.S. Capitol, an architect’s expertise is essential. “With a bottom line person, who’s interested only in getting things done instead of how you get things done, well, you would end up destroying a national treasure,” Hantman said.

Still, it is hard to argue money with Congress. Initially budgeted in 2000 at $225 million, with a completion date of 2004, the Capitol Visitor Center will not open at least until next year and costs are pushing $600 million. A number of inconceivable events, namely 9/11 and an anthrax scare a month later, lead to expanded security messages, which in turn lead to an extensive redesign. Contending with layers of Congressional oversight lengthened this process, while prices skyrocketed amid a building boom. “He did an incredible job under very difficult circumstances,” Florida Representative John Mica, a Hantman booster and former member of the Capitol Preservation Commission, said. “Unfortunately, he got caught up in the politics.”

Paul Mendelsohn, vice president for government and community relations for the AIA, said politics has played a definite role. “The plans went from 170,000 to 550,000 square feet, along with all these Congressional demands,” he said. “They’re just trying to save political capital by turning Alan into a scapegoat.” Though the names are already off to the White House, Mendelsohn said the AIA continues to lobby for the Architect of the Capitol to be just that.

Hantman, having moved on to consulting work, continues to look to Thomas Walter as an example, and hopes Congress will, too. “He built the dome because he was an architect and he had the big picture in mind,” Hantman said. “That’s what I think we could lose if a non-architect is brought on.”

Coney Island Drum Roll

All summer long, rumors have swirled around the future redevelopment of Coney Island, generating an atmosphere nearly as carnivalesque as the boardwalk itself: anonymous media reports of city officials’ intentions, tea-leaf readings of ambiguous signals, alarmist claims that Coney is shutting down. Change is coming, but it’s not yet clear in what form.

Coney Island is New York City’s only C7 zone, a special amusement-park category that bans residences, restricts commercial uses, and limits Floor-Area Ratios to 2.0. However, developer Thor Equities saw massive potential for hotels, timeshares, and other new features in the area should the zoning change. Thor purchased 10 acres (over half the amusement zone), hired a design team, and started to float the plan to the public. They may have jumped the gun: The inevitable battles under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure await the Department of City Planning’s revision of the C7 requirements, serially rescheduled and still under wraps. DCP press secretary Rachaele Raynoff said that no date has been set; Charles Reichenthal of the Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) and Community Board 13 anticipates an announcement by early September.

Thor’s plans and the CIDC’s 2005 strategic plan clash on key points. Adding housing to a C7 district, for example, is unlikely; DCP chair Amanda Burden has stated flatly that residences and amusements are incompatible. Whatever ultimately gets built inside or outside the zone, “We’re still going to be here,” said sideshow proprietor Dick Zigun, founder of the arts and preservation organization Coney Island USA. “If you come to the neighborhood and you want something sleazy, we’ll provide it.”

The developer faces accusations of warehousing, flipping, Vegasification, and worse. Chief executive Joseph Sitt has evinced a talent for attracting opposition; speculation about his aims has overshadowed attention to the designs by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn (buildings) and Thinkwell (amusements). Since removing condos from his plan at a June 26 community meeting, Sitt has lowered his public profile. Thor representatives were unavailable for comment for this story.

Citing historic assaults on Coney by Robert Moses, Fred Trump, and others, Zigun sees a classic battle between a speculator’s potential gain and civic resistance to homogenization of “the people’s paradise.” “It’s astonishing,” he said, “how developers still don’t realize it’s more sophisticated to mix old architecture that’s still worth preserving and rehabilitating together with new buildings, creating a sense of culture and continuity.” While working to preserve Coney’s freaky grit, CIDC member Zigun disavows any public position for or against Thor.

All parties regard the “Coney Island’s last season” meme as mythical. Parks Department attendance estimates are around 14-15 million people per year, up from 3-5 milliontwodecades ago;most key businesses have no intention of closing.

What may be in its final season is Astroland. Operator Carol Albert sold the property to Thor in 2006, leasing it back annually, but a 2008 renewal lease remains under negotiation. After listing her rides with Nashville-based amusement broker Ital International, she took them off the market in August; though the unmistakable Astrotower remains among Ital’s offerings at this writing, chief manager Carlo Guglielmi confirmed that sales of Astroland equipment are “suspended until further notice.” Albert’s representative Joseph Carella explained that Thor has informally given her a steep rent increase—roughly 15 times the current payment.

Dennis Vourderis, whose family is the owner/operator of Deno’s Wonder Wheel and has seen plans come and go over four decades, advised that any developer should consider local expertise, economics, and values,avoiding chain-amusement practices. “If you outprice yourself, you’ll be closed,” he said. “What works here may not work anywhere else, and what works somewhere else may not work here.” Outsiders brought in by city officials, he noted, were partly responsible for closures and blight in previous decades, a precedent he hopes Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg will avoid. “The city’s track record—not the current administration, but previous ones—is not any better than Thor’s,” he said. “Not to cause animosity, but at least Thor has a concrete plan.”

Still, any Coney Island veteran develops a skeptical streak. “Until we see shovels in the ground and rides starting to be built,” Vourderis said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”