All posts in East

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Digging into the Past of New York Parks
Most New Yorkers have an intimate relationship with the city’s many parks, especially during summer months when public events transform our favorite green spaces into temporary yoga studios and music venues. It can be easy to forget the industrial past of these urban oases, or the planning work and earth-sculpting toil responsible for the conversion of reservoirs and jails into Bronx parks and West Village gardens. Before They Were Parks, an exhibition presented by the New York City Parks Department, narrates the often untold history of the city's open spaces. Curated by Jonathan Kuhn, Parks’ director of art and antiquities, the exhibit features over 100 vintage and contemporary photographs from the department’s photo archive, along with other artifacts and memorabilia, including an 18th-century grave marker from the cemetery on the site of present-day Washington Square Park. The show explores the visual transformations of former industrial and commercial sites into green spaces, and also examines these changes from a civic perspective. “The exhibit highlights the intrepid efforts of individuals and government officials to transform industrial, forbidden, or private areas of the urban landscape into public parkland,” Parks & Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe said in a release. Before They Were Parks is free to the public and on display through September 9 at the Arsenal Gallery, at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue in Central Park—where swamps, bluffs, and rocky outcroppings stood over a century and a half ago, of course.
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Boston Arch Taking Off?
UPDATE: Yanni Tsipis, a Chiofaro critic, counters: "In addition to the 625 foot limit on the Harbor Garage site, which was to be expected, note that [Massport flight paths] would also allow a 900 foot building in the middle of the Boston Common or a 1,000 foot building in the middle of the historic Back Bay brownstone district... certainly doesn't mean any of these would be a good idea!" Ever since the Boston Redevelopment Authority finalized its study setting heights along the post-Big Dig Rose Kennedy Greenway, the fate of developer Don Chiofaro's Boston Arch has been very much in question. The city is recommending no more than two towers rising to 200 feet on the site, saying it will cast shadows on the politically sensitive park. This did not prevent Chiofaro from presenting his own claims earlier in the month that the 40-story office and 59-story residential towers designed by KPF that he wants to build will have no negative impacts, that the claims are overblown. Now, Massport, which oversees Logan airport, certified its earlier pronouncement that the project could not exceed 625 feet, a concession Chiofaro has already made by excising a skyframe—the nominal Arch—from the project. While flight paths and shadows have nothing to do with each other, the hard charging developer will no doubt use this latest vote as one in his favor.
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Remington Arms Reloaded
Nils Wiesenmüller of the Bridgeport Design Group reports that the historic Remington Arms Factory has been saved—at least for the moment. As we reported on April 19, the building, which once made guns for Czarist Russian armies and served as General Electric’s corporate headquarters, was slated for demolition by G.E., which still owns the structure. But the Connecticut Post claims that the city’s Inland Wetlands Watercourses Agency has tabled G.E.’s demolition permit for the moment because it cannot prove that “no materials, soil, or hazardous waste would make their way into nearby Stillman Pond during the two years it would take to deconstruct the 13 interconnected structures and powerhouse on the 72-acre property.” Still, it seems that G.E. and some in the city are determined to see the building torn down, so we are continuing our effort to save the structure and find an alternative use for it. We started a petition with Wiesenmüller, and while it now has almost 500 signatures, we need more. Please sign the petition and keep the pressure on to save this historic structure!
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Beekman Tower Has Bad Back
We're not sure where the rumor started—most likely Curbed—but for a while now, it's been going around that the southern side of Frank Gehry's Beekman Tower isn't faceted because it got smoothed out during a value-engineering process in 2009 that saved the project after it nearly stalled out (at half its planned height no less). The latest iteration is a lament on ArchDaily. We called Gehry's people, many of whom were out of the office, but when they finally got back to us, the answer was a definitive "Nope." This baby's backside was always flat. We asked why but were told that this is "a question for Frank, only Frank," who happens to be on vacation with his family in South Africa. Which can only mean one thing. World Cup. Who knew we had such a soccer fan in our midst? Maybe he's checking out all those cool stadiums? Anyway, our guess is it has something to do with zoning envelopes. And now, consider the record corrected. For the second time.
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The Most Fun at P.S. 1?
Admittedly, we've been pretty darn obsessed with this year's P.S.1 Young Architects Program, Pole Dance. But after last week's party, the enthusiasm appears to have been justified. Not because this is the first one ever with its own interactive component, where you can log-on to the Pole Dance site and manipulate its sound (also a first) with your phone, or watch visualizations, or upload your own pictures. Not because of all the beautiful and architecturally famous people who came out, as our photos clearly document. No, this may just be the best damned pavilion in the program's decade-long history because it's the most damn fun. Your proof is after the jump.
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Name Change for Polshek Partnership
While it may sound a tad like a movie starring Kirk Douglas, Ennead Architects is the new official name of the firm formerly known as Polshek Partnership. The change, according to partner Todd Schliemann, who has been with the firm since 1979, is meant to reflect the collaborative and dedicated spirit that has long suffused the practice’s philosophy, founded in 1963 by James Polshek, now 80, and that will now be even more pronounced. Polshek retired from active duty five years ago, and there was some confusion, according to Schliemann, about who had designed which projects. Giving the name change his blessing (although he did refer in a New York Times blog to the partners as “gods, or whatever”), Polshek will remain as Design Counsel overseeing his own projects, and providing guidance as needed. But where once the firm was organized much like an architecture school with Polshek at its head tracking all the projects and developing every client, the partners will now get work together and share their expertise as well as operate with more individual autonomy. Currently, there are four senior design principals, including Schliemann: Susan Rodriguez, Richard Olcott, and Tomas Rossant, and five management principals. Each will bring in work while sharing design staff and support services. Younger associates will be charged with research assignments—sustainability, materials, new methodologies, etc.—encouraging them to claim a stake in the firm’s future. “When Jim retired, we realized we needed to be more of ourselves,” Schliemann said. “We didn’t need a dean. We wanted to be more like the Beatles where our individual work was great; and together we’re incredible.” Ennead Architects will be an equal partnership with equal ownership where two partners will be assigned to every project. The details and the letterhead took two years to develop. Ennead, by the way, stands for “group of nine” in ancient Greek. It is meant to be more symbolic than literally the number of partners; something probably more suggestive of a ‘we few, few happy men and band of brothers’ vibe rather than an ‘I am Aeneas carrying my father on my back to found Rome’ deal.  In any case, we look forward to following the future ventures of the Enneads.
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Konyk Cotton Field Blooms Under the High Line
The high-end cotton label Supima is planting its flag—or rather, a field of cotton plants imported from Texas—under the High Line this summer, in a public outdoor event space designed by Brooklyn's Konyk Architecture. Dotted with movable cotton-bale seating and set atop a plywood "walkable mural," the space will host a variety of events beginning the week of July 15 and continues through New York Fashion Week in September, just in time for those cotton bolls to bloom beneath Neil Denari's soon-to-liftoff HL23. Konyk's competition-winning design for the 4,000-square-foot event plaza, currently a staging area for construction near 10th Avenue and 24th Street, will include a plywood "flat field" transformed by routers and jigsaws into a fiberlike landscape based on the botanical profiles of Pima cotton, recalling an expanse of pressed flowers. The reconfigurable cotton-bale seats will allow varying uses for the space, which is expected to host 500-person Fashion Week blowouts, but should also serve as a ruminative, gardenesque respite for flagging Chelsea shoppers. Sponsored by the group Building Fashion—along with Supima, the Pima cotton-growers association—the project also includes a rotating series of pop-up boutiques installed in what is known as the "HL23 Tin," a customized prefab box that currently houses the HL23 sales office. (A model apartment upstairs will take over sales duties.) To fill the space, each of five fashion lines will be paired with an architect to fit out the pop-up store, with architects selected through competitions on Architizer. The first boutique features designer Simon Spurr working with Collective, a young collaborative practice including architects Marc Dizon, George Alan, Zach Hines, and Dehlia Quellman. And rest assured, Alf Naman: there'll also be voyeuristic glimpses of HL23's glittering facade. "It's an interesting hybrid in the shadow of Neil Denari's building," said Craig Konyk of the site. "You're right under the High Line, where HL23 cantilevers over. We'll have a mirror where you can look up through a slot and see the facade as a landscape."
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Last Columbia Hold Out Hung Out to Dry by Top Court
Nick Sprayregen, the last remaining holdout in the way of Columbia University's Manhattanville expansion project, has just had his fortunes reversed—quite literally, as now it appears the school has a good chance of taking Sprayregen's land through eminent domain to make way for its new 17-acre campus. Last December, Sprayregen won an unexpected court decision, which was overturned today in a unanimous decision by the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court. The Observer astutely points out that even justice Robert Smith, the lone dissenter in the major Atlantic Yards case, sided with the majority this time out. At issue was whether the Empire State Development Corporation has the right to take private land and convey it to Columbia, which the lower appellate court found it did not, as in the judges view there was no clear public purpose. In today's reversal, the justices found that the agency made a clear and compelling case for the project, and it was not the place of the judiciary to overule them:
ESDC considered a wide range of factors including the physical, economic, engineering and environmental conditions at the Project site. Its decision was not based on any one of these factors, but on the Project site conditions as a whole. Accordingly, since there is record support — "extensively documented photographically and otherwise on a lot-by-lot basis" (id. at 526) — for ESDC's determination that the Project site was blighted, the Appellate Division plurality erred when it substituted its view for that of the legislatively designated agency.
Sprayregen has vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, whose ruling five years ago on the notorious Kelo case largely set the stage for such private-to-private-for-public-transfers as this. It remains anyone's guess how they might hold this time around. (Or even if they will.) Meanwhile, construction on the southern part of campus continues apace.
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The Perils of Subway Naming Rights
Our favorite wonky MTA blog has an interesting and funny post about how quickly and easily naming rights on a public transit system can get, in this case down in Philadelphia. While we all know transit systems are in trouble and should probably go about getting money wherever they can—short of more draconian fare increases, let's hope—it is easy to go too far on the naming rights front, not only into parody but confusion. While it may be a bit unseemly that the MTA tried to charge the Yankees for the rights to have their name at a refurbished 161st stop last year, and that Barclays is actually paying up for the rights in Brooklyn, yet another advertising assault on our public lives. But SEPTA has gone a step further, renaming its Pattison Avenue Terminal to AT&T Station. Unlike the Barclays annoyance, this could be downright confusing because there is no geographical relevance here, nothing AT&T about this station. As another blogger puts it on SAS: "The whole situation raises the frightening prospect in the near future that, instead of riding the Broad Street Subway from City Hall to Pattison, people will take the Coca-Cola Trolley from Pizza Hut to AT&T."
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Bloomberg Taps Third Banker for Economic Development
Maybe that headline is self-explanatory, even makes a good bit of sense. Or it did when Robert Steel's two predecessors took the job of Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Dan Doctoroff and Robert Lieber, like Steel, used to work on Wall Street before joining the Bloomberg administration. But nowadays, appointing someone who spent three decades at Goldman Sachs (before heading to the Treasury Department earlier this decade and then on to unwinding Wachovia) is a bit of a head scratcher. This has nothing to do with populist fervor and Goldman still being more hated than BP despite the catastrophic oil spill. No, this is about the future direction of the city. Ever since the financial crisis hit two years ago, the mayor has been of two minds about Wall Street. On the one hand, he has defended the sector doggedly, more than most any politician in the country, though that makes sense not only because the Street is just down the street from City Hall (and also the source of his billions), but also because the financial sector makes up a vast swath of the city's economy. Which is precisely why selecting Steel, if not necessarily a bad decision, is a poor one, one that sends the wrong signal. In announcing Steel's appointment today, the Mayor Bloomberg said, "His time in the public and private sectors and academic world gives him a diversity of experience that will be invaluable to us as he takes on this new role. New York City is working through a difficult economic period, and now more than ever we need to find new ways to create jobs today and implement innovative measures to grow New York City's economy over the long-term." While there's no reason to believe Steel will not do a bang-up job, there's also no reason to believe that there were not equally qualified candidates out there who did not previously work in finance. Like maybe this guy. The thing is, the administration has done a good job of late pushing to diversify the city's economy, encouraging fashion incubators, fighting for industrial retention, and fostering artists-as-entrepreneurs, among numerous other programs. To go for yet another banker-in-chief just seems like more business as usual.
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Mess With the Imagination (Playground) of David Rockwell
For the past few years, David Rockwell, that master of stage and scene, has been developing the Imagination Playground, a deployable playground-in-a-box that has been finding its way across the country. Now, he is just finishing a larger playground, sort of a showcase for the concept, at Burling Slip in Lower Manhattan. (As the rendering after the jump shows, it's quite literally a flagship.) To celebrate the opening of the new playground at the end of July, the Parks Department is taking imagination playgrounds on a pop-up tour, which kicked off this past weekend in Staten Island, with stops in all five boroughs to follow. It truly is a revolutionary concept in recreation, though not the first, as we've chronicled. In the current issue of New York, Justin Davidson even gives us the best 19 in the city, yet another mind of the parks renaissance currently taking place in New York.
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Design Writer Has Sweet Dreams for New Domino
The simmering opposition to the New Domino plan from the local community and especially its City Council rep has been well-noted, but the reaction from the design community has been more muted. And while the approval from the City Planning Commission, and the forthcoming showdown at with Councilman Steve Levin mean the project is pretty much headed for an up-or-down, maybe slightly tweaked if not entirely scrapped vote, design writer Stephen Zacks had made a bolder proposal, calling for the plan to be scrapped not because it is too dense and under invested, but because it is not visionary enough. "These unique sites are opportunities to generate new forms of urbanism and orders of magnitude greater revenue, instead producing the high volumes of similar units that are now languishing on the market," Zacks declares in a letter to the Council (in full, after the jump). He has a few ideas of his own, something called Domino University, but is also soliciting them from others. Feel free to leave them in the comments section, or on his Facebook page.
Dear Honorable Members of the New York City Council: As a part of the New York City community of architects, designers, and urbanists, we recognize that condo developments in upzoned areas have brought enormous benefits to the public through new tax revenues, high-quality architecture, affordable housing, waterfront parks, and remediation of brownfield sites. But as the market has seemed to have been over-saturated by condos and the rental vacancy rate remains unaffected by the inclusionary rezoning process, we are inviting you to consider a new model of development for the Domino Sugar site, one of the great icons of manufacturing in the area of North Brooklyn and, indeed, the United States. As you may know, Domino was the first sugar company to use branding to sell its products, and it remains one of the most recognizable brands in the country. We believe that the current plan to preserve the landmarked buildings and provide open space, affordable housing, waterfront access, and generous community space is a good start, but we think there can be a more ambitious and visionary approach to this site‹and to waterfront development in general‹which embraces the history of Domino and uses the site to prove that there is another way. As a city, we have progressed far beyond the point we had to beg developers to invest in New York. We are in the unique position of having investors compete for the right to put billions of dollars into complicated sites that require hundreds of millions in infrastructure, even during the worst recession in decades. The Domino site presents an absolutely unparalleled opportunity, and we ask whether its redevelopment according to the same model befits its enormous significance. While we have made great progress, this model still has not lived up to the standards for design and urbanism that the city must aspire to for the next century. The Domino Sugar site is Williamsburg¹s High Line. It is clear that the market is still supporting well-designed, high-quality architecture and urbanism. These unique sites are opportunities to generate new forms of urbanism and orders of magnitude greater revenue, instead producing the high volumes of similar units that are now languishing on the market. We believe that Rafael Viñoly is a superb architect capable of great work, but this inclusionary condo model does not permit the creativity and dynamism that could be supported by this architect, this community, this site, or this city. We ask you to send this plan back for revision, to incorporate the care and attention to detail in site planning and land use that it deserves. As a body empowered with the ability to accept or reject this plan but not, perhaps, to propose a new model of development, we ask you to take a risk. We all remember the terrible plight of New York during the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, and we never want to go back to a time when burning buildings was more profitable than designing new ones. Rejecting a 1.5 billion dollar investment in our city, especially one that is loaded with community benefits, is a risky step. But it¹s also a vote of confidence in New York City: that we can do better, that we can begin to create a city and an architecture, and a model of urban development that is fitting for a world-class city, a city that embraces its immigrant communities, a city that is in constant transformation as every generation takes hold of it and reshapes it for itself. We ask you to consider the Domino site an example for what can be accomplished in every neighborhood and every district in the city with more attention to detail, more care, more originality, and a greater level of inclusion, not represented by percentages of units, but by a vision that connects to the history of the place and the future of the city. The Domino University plan is the beginning of a process that can begin to impact the core problem that we still face after decades of redevelopment: a rental vacancy rate that remains below three percent. We need new housing in New York City, but not of this kind. It's time to explore a new way, and the Domino site is the place where it can begin to happen. Respectfully, Stephen Zacks