All posts in East

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The Big Bad Box Store?
Yesterday, the Bloomberg administration announced the winners of its eighth annual Neighborhood Achievement Awards. Among the honorees was the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership for the Placemaking Award, the Bronx Library Center for the Development Award, and IKEA Red Hook for the Norman Buchbinder Award for Neighborhood Beautification. The latter makes sense, as it sure is a nice park, but we also thought it a bit ironic considering what we saw earlier that day on Archinect, namely an Atlantic article calling the big blue designer retailer the "least sustainable company on the planet." Basically, the writer for The Atlantic, Ellen Ruppel Shell, compares IKEA if not to McDonalds than at least Starbucks, in that the Swedish design retailer has consider clout it lets go to waste in the name of affordable fashion. To wit:
IKEA designs to price, challenging its talented European team to create ever-cheaper objects, and its suppliers—most of them in low-wage countries in Asia and eastern Europe—to squeeze out the lowest possible price. By some measures the world’s third-largest wood consumer [...] Nor, despite a lot of self-serving hoopla, is energy conservation: the company boasts of illuminating its stores with low-wattage lightbulbs but positions outlets far from city centers, where taxes are low and commuting costs high—the average IKEA customer drives 50 miles round-trip. [...] Wig Zamore, a Massachusetts environmental activist who was recently recognized for his work by the Environmental Protection Agency, is working with IKEA and supports some of the company’s regional green initiatives. But as he put it, “IKEA is the least sustainable retailer on the planet.” And in real costs—the kind that will burden our grandchildren—that also makes it among the most expensive.
And to think our dear Brooklyn store is the most popular in the world. Maybe you should think twice before picking up that new EKTORP or POÄNG, think twice. (Almost made those names up, but the real one's couldn't be faked, so we just used them instead.)
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Chasing One Manhattan Plaza
The financial crisis has officially hit architects. No, not in the way you think. We're talking about banks selling their marquee properties, namely the news today, delivered by the Observer, that JPMorgan Chase may be selling its former headquarters building at One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Designed by Gordon Bundshaft of SOM under the auspices of then-bank president David Rockefeller, the building, which also features an Iasmu Noguchi rock garden, was named a landmark by the LPC in February of this year. Maybe that helped auger the sale, which could include 22 buildings and which the bank continues to deny. (See, we care about commercial real estate, too, and not just famous houses.)
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Trouble for Chiofaro?
A double whammy came last week for Boston developer Don Chiofaro's Boston Arch project, which we first wrote about last month. On Thursday, The Boston Business Journal ran a story suggesting Chiofaro was stuffing the BRA's mailbox with letters supportive of his KPF-designed project, while the following day it reported that the aquarium the project was meant to improve feared for the worst. The letters are part of the redevelopment authorities public comment period, and among them was one from the president of the Boston Aquarium who wrote that, according to the Journal, "the project threatens the long-term viability of the Aquarium." As we noted in our June report, officials at Massport were concerned about undue impacts on Logan flight paths, something Chiofaro told us was being addressed. But maybe note, as the Journal turned up the following comment in a Massport letter:
“Massport strongly supports the continued economic development of the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” the letter stated. “However, as owner and operator of one of the Commonwealth’s most critical transportation infrastructure assets, Massport cannot condone and urges you to help prevent any degradation of the airspace surrounding Boston-Logan by tall structures proposed as part of this project.”
Chiofaro did not comment for the story, but what he had been doing was far more intriguing:
In total, there were 381 letters and postcards submitted in support of the Harbor Garage project, compared with the 252 letters opposed to the project. [...] Of the 266 postcards in favor of the 1.5 million square foot mixed-use project, 144 were signed by people who do not live in Boston, according to the BRA.
Then again, most of those letter opposing the project came from residents of the neighboring Harbor Towers apartment buildings, who obviously have a stake in the project not going forward. Looks like it's up to the BRA on this one, though if that is any indication, Chiofaro may just be out of luck.
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Chasing After Zero
Kevin Greenberg sends us another insightful dispatch from Kenmare Street: Last Tuesday, the Storefront for Art and Architecture felt like a satellite campus of the GSD as Harvard students and other Cambridgians joined locals at the Storefront for a release party for the second issue of New Geographies, a doctoral student-edited periodical recently launched by the GSD’s Aga Khan Program. The editors of New Geographies, Neyran Turan and Stephan Ramos, told us that they had several meanings in mind when they chose the theme for the second issue. Titled “After Zero,” the issue centers on the slippery idea of a “zero point." The editors cite zero carbon and “zero context” urban developments (or “cities from scratch”) as contemporary examples that force designers to question design methodologies and justifications. Nothing makes for compelling architectural discourse like a nice, open-ended theme. The zero in question might be seen as a tabula rasa from which to proceed, but it’s also a means of marking a significant event. In the context of the current climate, zero is also a code word for crisis. How should architects and designers re-frame interventions after the global economic downturn, in an age when the glitzy mega-developments that grew like crystals in the Persian Gulf suddenly seem like relics of a recently bygone age? What kind of models for future urbanism can we realistically project? These are among the questions that interest the journal’s editors and contributors. You have to hand it to them, too: “After Zero” is a handsome, considered object. Design duties were handled by NYC-based Thumb, who also manage graphic design for Princeton Architectural Press’s 306090, and they do a great job presenting articles from a host of notables, including Keller Easterling, Joseph Grima and Peter Hall. While a few contributors chose to focus on the bizarre urbanism of the Persian Gulf, the “geographies” analyzed really range in their scope and locale from the arctic to Africa, from China to goode olde Europe. Matthew Gandy’s article on French landscape architect Gilles Clement’s “paradise of weeds,” for example, is an interesting interpretation of the issue’s theme and will seem timely to anyone who’s recently visited the High Line. Turan and Ramos were on hand Tuesday to briefly present the new volume, and Harvard professor Hashim Sarkis offered a few words both on the significance of some of the nascent issues that are the theme of “After Zero” and of New Geographies itself. Sarkis gave a little insight into yet another shade of meaning of the “zero” in the volume’s title: It’s a nod to the survival of the journal itself. The inaugural issue of New Geographies, released last year, was numbered zero. Since, as Sarkis noted, many student-run publications start with the first issue and end with the first issue, the release of “After Zero” is cause for celebration indeed. Afterwards the audience sipped prosecco and queued up to purchase copies of the journal, which quickly sold out.
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Art Island
The physical distance that separates Governors Island from most New Yorkers often offsets the draw and mystery of the place. This summer, however, everyone has a new reason to make the mini-pilgrimage—only 10 minutes by ferry—to the island that was for so many years off-limits. An art installation dubbed PLOT09: This World & Nearer opened to the public on June 27th and features artwork by 19 international artists. The site-specific works take visitors on a tour of the island and inside abandoned buildings, including an empty church. The artists had their pick of the place. Once they chose their site, they worked to interpret the island’s (primarily military) history, as well as its current “no-place” status, meaning it does not belong to any one group, explained the organizers. Themes explored include transcendent experiences, bizarre phenomena, uncertain futures, travel, and time. The Mark Beasely-curated installation is satisfying, though it was undoubtedly helped by the quality of the site. One request for future installations: less video art and more work highlighting the architecture and surroundings. Those that did that were the most engaging, while the video art fell flat in the context of the site. Here AN brings you a photo preview of the installation. Go any weekend this summer, the ferry is free. Bring a picnic basket and maybe even your bike—or rent one there—and enjoy.
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Redlining the Panorama
The Queens Museum of Art opened its latest exhibition Red Lines Housing Crisis Learning Center on Wednesday with a discussion of the mortgage foreclosure crisis in the city’s five boroughs. The event featured the exhibition's designer Damon Rich, founder of the Center for Urban Pedagogy and now urban design director for the city of Newark; policy expert Sarah Ludwig; community organizer Michelle O’Brien; and urban historian Kenneth Jackson­—all tip-toeing around the museum’s famed New York panorama. For the exhibition the panorama—which includes every mapped block in the city—has been fitted out with orange triangles, their one-inch legs set above every block with three or more recent foreclosures. These foreclosures, according to museum director Tom Finkelpearl, depict a landscape of “displacement,” and the speakers addressed the origins of this crisis in the creation of redlining by the Home Owners Loan Corporation in the 1930s. The speakers emphasized that the current foreclosures and the predatory lending practices that led to the problem have overwhelmingly taken place in neighborhoods with large populations of African Americans and Latinos. The orange placeholders, for example, cut a huge swath through Bedford Stuyvesant and Brownsville/East New York to East Flatbush. Jackson, contemplating the sea of triangles (representing over 13,000 foreclosures) in Brooklyn, described the magnitude of the problem, but pointed out that New York has been less affected by the crisis than cities like Detroit and Dayton, Ohio, because of its relatively vibrant economy and large population of renters. The exhibition itself details the history and material culture behind the current crisis, curated by Rich and Larissa Harris as “an experimental site for learning,” and will be open until September 27.

TMI Too Late
Earlier today, the Municipal Art Society posted an incredibly informative presentation that the group gave at the recent City Council hearings on the Bloomberg administration's plans for rezoning Coney Island. The presentation, which can be found above, pretty succinctly explains what's wrong with the city's plan, why it won't work, and alternatives--proposed, of course, by MAS--that could be undertaken. So why has this presentation surfaced so late in the process, when it will have little, if any impact on the rezoning? Rumor has it the group didn't want to rock the boat--after all, they got a warning from planning commission chair Amanda Burden--as the presentation was considered too incendiary for public consumption. Still, it make a far more compelling argument than some loopy renderings. And besides, isn't the MAS supposed to rock the boat? Jane Jacobs would be so disappointed.
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Walk Jane Jacobs Way
In her 1961 book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs documented and analyzed the urban street life visible outside her home in Greenwich Village, revolutionizing the way people and planners think about cities, urban planning, and development. In honor of her legacy, the preservation group which she helped found, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), initiated a proposal for the street in front of her former home at 555 Hudson Street between Perry and West 11th Streets to be renamed “Jane Jacobs Way.” In a released statement by the GVSHP, Executive Director Andrew Berman said, “Jane Jacobs had such a profound effect upon our city and our lives; there are few people more worthy of the honor of having a street co-named in their honor.” Approved in 2006 by the local Community Board and the full City Council, the naming will take effect early next week with the installation of the official “Jane Jacobs Way” signs.
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Path Future
The Path Train has finally entered the 21st Century. Yesterday, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a number of new additions that have rocketed the rail line out of its luddite solar system and into a whole new constellation of technology. The Path now boasts new, up-to-date rail cars, an upgraded website (be sure to watch the video), and... drum roll... a Twitter page! Next time you have to ride out to Jersey you can forget the hair gel and gold chains and instead grab your favorite PDA and put on those glow-in-the-dark Ray Bans. The future is now.
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Inlet Assumed
Yesterday, in a quiet ceremony attended by Mayor Bloomberg, the city broke ground on the first phase of Bushwick Inlet Park. Situated between North 9th and 10th streets along the Williamsburg waterfront, this initial stage of construction will comprise a synthetic turf athletic playing field. Turns out I was also on the Williamsburg waterfront at the time, on a tour of that neighborhood with photographer and AN Editorial Intern Victoria Monjo, capturing images for our forthcoming developers issue (see last year's here). One of the images we captured was of Bushwick Inlet itself, which sits three or four blocks to the north of where the festivities were taking place. Eventually, park construction will extend all the way to this placid cove, where, according to the Parks Department's initial plan, there will be a beach, planted terraces, and a performance garden, whatever that is. See the view from Kent Avenue after the jump.
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Everybody Wants a Bailout
With the news today, reported by The Observer, that Larry Silverstein has begun legal proceedings against the Port Authority to end the gridlock at Ground Zero, as well as the developments two weeks prior at Atlantic Yards, it seems obvious to us what's going on here. Having witnessed the financial titans across town receive hundreds of billions of dollars in bailout money, these developers now want theirs. Granted, so did Larry Flint and the porn industry, but the comparison bears consideration. To begin with, the market has failed for both finance and real estate--to say nothing of every other industry--leaving "free market" options closed. Where the bankers have turned to the Treasury and the federal government, Silverstein and Bruce Ratner, in one form or another, have turned to local pols. At Ground Zero, Silverstein is having difficulty finding financing for Towers 2 and 3, so he wants the Port Authority to provide it, or at least back it, on those projects. The story at Atlantic Yards has been much the same, with Ratner unable to afford the full amount for the Vanderbilt Yards nor go through a complete public review process for a new general project plan to ensure there is time to qualify for already dubious tax-exempt bonds. In both cases, public agencies that are already hard up for cash have been asked to foot the bill or undersign considerable amounts of risk to ensure projects with uncertain futures go forward. In the case of Atlantic Yards, the MTA and ESDC have already rolled over. It remains to be seen whether the Port Authority will cave to the abiding political and now legal pressures surrounding the Ground Zero deal. It would not be surprising if the authority did, though, given the examples set in Brooklyn and Washington.

Prospecting for Landmarks
Last week, Prospect Height's became the city's newest landmark district. At 850-odd buildings, it is the largest district to be created since the Upper West Side Historic District was created in 1990. Clearly, a lot of work went into the three-year effort championed by locals and the Municipal Art Society and driven largely by the nearby Atlantic Yards project and the undue development it spurred on one of Brooklyn's last unprotected brownstone neighborhoods. To highlight just how hard it is, but also what a triumph, MAS put together this thoughtful little video. Hopefully it will inspire you to do something civic minded as well on this patriotic weekend or beyond.