All posts in East

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Frenemies of Yore: Olmsted & Vaux
No soggy Wednesday morning in New York could deter park aficionados, urban planners, and assorted Olmstedians from attending a talk and book signing by Alexander Garvin and Robert Twombly. The former head of planning at the LMDC, Garvin is the author of Public Parks: The Key to Livable Communities (W.W. Norton, $59.95), just hitting the bookstores this week. Twombly’s Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts (W.W. Norton, $24.95), came out this past summer. Twombly, who teaches architectural history at the Spitzer School of Architecture, City College spoke first. The books sixteen selections span more than 40 years, but Twombly’s talk primarily focused on Olmsted’s unsung partner Calvert Vaux. “If there wasn’t a Vaux, there wouldn’t have been an Olmsted,” Twombly argued. He noted Vaux’s vast experience: more that 12 projects under his belt by the time he came to New York in 1856. Even so, during their lifetime, Olmsted overshadowed Vaux and was paid more. “In modern day parlance, Vaux was pissed,” Twombly said of the inequity. “But these guys were friends regardless of what type disputes they may have had.” Garvin played up Olmsted in his talk, calling him “a towering genius.” He noted the relevance of reading the great man today and how he designed parks with an eye toward the future: “Olmsted assumed there would be change.” Garvin has taught urban planning and management at Yale for so long that his students have come to be known as Garvinistas. He said that the idea for his book came to him while he worked on projects from Memphis to London. He found himself at community meetings explaining what makes a park viable and sustainable—financially and otherwise. The text heavy book includes photos, most of them taken by the author, and explores how parks help in “incubating a civil society.”
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New York Expands Pop-Up Cafe Program in 2011
Could 2011 be the year of the pedestrian in New York? Under the guidance of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC sidewalks will continue their slow march into the street next year as the city launches a major expansion of its "pop-up café" pilot program across its five boroughs. The first pop-up café tested out in Lower Manhattan this year proved successful enough that Sadik-Khan has expanded the program, planning for up to 12 sidewalk extensions. The concept is simple: street space is limited and valuable. To that end, New York has been evaluating whether the highest and best use for street space along narrow sidewalks is storing cars. Like a glorified Park(ing) Day spot made (semi-)permanent and held on high, these pop-up cafés invite pedestrians to imagine their city in new ways. In fact, the concept draws its inspiration from such pedestrian interventions. San Francisco began a Pavement to Park initiative incorporating their own version of the pop-up café, called a "parklet," several years ago, drawing upon the success of the Park(ing) Day event and pedestrian plazas in New York. California-based RG Architecture designed New York's pop-up café based on their parklet designs in San Francisco. New York's first pop-up café, recently put in storage for the winter, consisted of a six-foot wide wooden platform spanning about five parking spaces. The space accommodated 14 brightly colored café tables and 50 chairs. Sadik-Kahn says the concept is not only an innovative approach to urban design, it's also good for business. Each pop-up café is sponsored and maintained by adjoining shops and the benefits are tangible with up to 14% increases in business when the cafés were installed. "The Pop-up Café has been like night and day for our business, transforming a loading zone full of trucks into an attractive space that makes our storefront much more visible and accessible to potential customers," said Lars Akerlund, owner of Fika Espresso Bar, in a release. "This green oasis has really opened up the street, drawing more foot traffic and making the whole area more appealing." While each pop-up café is paid for by private businesses, the space is treated as public. Simply relaxing and enjoying the city is free and encouraged. The city is accepting applications for next year's pop-up cafés through Friday, December 3.
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I Saloni Kicks Off Street Walking Event
A weeklong celebration of Italian art and design kicked off last night at Scavolini, the haute kitchen emporium in Soho. Italian officials, architects, designers, and a sprinkling of royalty in attendance gave the event a mixture of gravitas and glamour. Titled "I Saloni Milano in New York," the event will run through January 8. Several programs fill the calendar, including last night's "Italian Design Street Walking", which turned Soho and parts of the Upper East Side into a mini Milan for the night. Italian heels navigated the cobblestones of Greene and Wooster Streets to view 20 open showrooms, with cocktails and Italian food provided by Eataly (a self-guided version of the showroom tour will also continue through January 8). Starting today, a video installation by Robert Wilson in collaboration with Italian ballet dancer Roberto Bolle can be seen at Center 548, on view through December 18. And on Friday, architect/filmmaker Peter Greenaway will launch the U.S. debut of his digital installation Leonardo's Last Supper at the Park Avenue Armory, which will run from December 3 through January  6.

Rose Window is Lower East Side's Newest Star
It's official. The multi-decade restoration of the historic Eldridge Street Synagogue is now truly complete with the recent installation of the new rose window that we told you about last February. Designed by architect Deborah Gans and artist Kiki Smith, this contemporary update of the Gothic staple employs cutting-edge lamination techniques, using silicone to fuse the colorful shards of glass. The result is stunning - the window appears to float above the sanctuary - and is a wonderful capstone to the award-winning restoration of a structure that has literally stood the test of time.
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Philly Considers Times Square′s Forbidden Fruit
Philly's East Market Street could offer a small slice of Times Square's neon nightlife if a proposed "commercial advertising district" makes it through City Council.  Developers and billboard proponents are betting that digital advertising signs will keep tourists shopping - and spending - downtown, but the Philadelphia Daily News says not everyone is going along for the ride. With Philly's convention center and thousands of tourists and residents only a few blocks away, city leaders are baffled when Center City streets are abandoned at sundown. Some believe these dynamic billboards, attached to new and existing buildings, will create a sense of vitality that could spur a vibrant shopping and entertainment district able to hold its own against the likes of the King of Prussia mall. Opponents say the gaudy signs will be incompatible with Philly's historic brand, leading one civic group to call the proposal "honky-tonk junk." The advertising is, in a sense, selling out when other redevelopment opportunities exist. But digital advertising is seen as a catalyst for redevelopment and improvement of downtrodden East Market Street. From the Daily News:
According to Paul Levy, executive director of the Center City District, revenue from advertising is needed to "stimulate development in that corridor." He said he disagreed that the proposed changes would make the area look like Times Square and that the bill permits large ads only on buildings whose owners have agreed to use the money to improve their properties, both the interior and exterior.
Philadelphia will continue to study the proposed advertising district while details are being worked out, but the specter of digital ads covering East Market Street is sure to make the debate a lively one. What do you think, can digital billboards and the Times-Square-Effect create a revitalizing energy to bring up a struggling street? What does the advent of "advertecture" mean for design overall? Have we finally learned from Las Vegas? [ Via Brownstoner. ]
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A Thousand Drops of Light in Madison Square Park
Upon first stumbling across this massive array of 2,000 LED lights encased in standard light bulbs in Madison Square Park a few weeks ago, I thought holiday decoration had come a little early to the Flatiron's front yard, but as shadowed figures began moving across the field of light, it became apparent that this installation by artist Jim Campbell was something special. Situated on Madison Square Park's Oval Lawn, Scattered Light consists of a three-dimensional grid of light spanning roughly 80 feet by 16 feet and standing 20 feet tall. When viewing the installation from the front, programmed LED lights flicker in sequence to create the illusion of shadows walking through the park. Moving around the artwork causes the image to blue and abstract as the grid moves in and out of focus. Scattered Light video by specialkrb / YT: Scattered Light video by Craig Dorety / Vimeo: The installation is one of three public art projects by Jim Campbell on display in Madison Square Park. Here's more information about the other two from the Madison Square Park Conservancy:
Broken Window, the second installation, will be situated near the main entrance to Madison Square Park at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue. An array of LEDs encased in a glass-brick wall (70”h x 70”w x 10”d) will create illuminated images that appear to glide across the glass plane, reflecting the movements of the city around them and echoing the aesthetic poetry of the Scattered Lightinstallation. Situated on the eastern lawn adjacent to Madison Avenue between 24th and 25th street, Voices in the Subway Station, the third installation, will feature LEDs encased in two dozen glass tablets (14” x 18” each) arrayed across the lawn at ground level. The light pulses emanating from each tablet will be rhythmically modulated to represent the voices of individual travelers as recorded in conversation on a subway platform, combining to create a visual symphony rendered in light.
Each of the three installations offers an abstracted experience drawn from the urban environment that's at once distant but right at home and it's worth an evening stroll through the park to experience them for yourself. The installations will be on display through February 2011. Interview with Jim Campbell from Switched: Voices in the Subway video by Craig Dorety / Vimeo: Broken Window video by lessthanrita / YT:
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Hudson Square Pushes to Reclaim Pedestrian Space
A major transformation of the once-industrial Hudson Square neighborhood in Lower Manhattan aims to bring pedestrian vitality to streets originally designed for delivery trucks servicing printing houses.  Crain's reports that Hudson Square Connections, the local business improvement district, has selected a design group led by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects from a pool of 23 respondents to create a new streetscape to improve the area's image. Hudson Square, bounded by Greenwich Street, Houston Street, 6th Avenue, and Canal Street, is becoming increasingly residential as large art-deco buildings are converted into hip offices and dwellings. Details are currently being worked out, but a plan is expected to be in place by the end of 2011.  Mathews Nielsen brings experience from nearby Hudson River Park and the pedestrianization of Times Square.  The team, including Rogers Marvel Architects, Billings Jackson Design, ARUP, and Open graphic design, plans to work with the NYC Department of Transportation on the design. With such a background, it's clear that space will be reclaimed for pedestrians.  Ellen Baer, president of Hudson River Connection, told Crain's, "There are very few places where people can sit and enjoy lunch here. We want to create those oases and green spaces." [ Via Crain's. ]
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The Straw That Broke the Silver Towers' Back
I.M. Pei speaks and NYU listens. The university announced this week that plans for a Grimshaw-designed residential highrise planned for Pei's landmarked Silver Towers block will be scrapped after the architect expressed disapproval over the project. The proposed 400-foot tower set amid three original concrete structures had been a point of conflict between NYU and its neighbors. Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, led an effort to landmark Pei's Silver Towers site and has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed fourth tower. "This arrangement of three towers in a pinwheel fashion, with one side left open around a central space, was a motif you see throughout [Pei's] works,” Berman told AN earlier this month. “It was not an accident or an incomplete design awaiting a fourth element.” While neighbors in Greenwich Village repeatedly battled the fourth tower, the final blow came from Pei himself.  “From the beginning, we sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei’s vision. Some people disagreed with our proposed approach; others agreed. We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself, who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke with him directly in 2008,” said Lynne Brown, NYU’s Senior Vice President, in a release. “Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided--that the Morton Williams site is ‘preferable’--is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our ULURP proposal.” Now, plans call for a return to the adjacent original building site where a Morton Williams grocery sits. That location had been passed over in favor of the Silver Towers site to preserve sight lines, the University said at the time. Berman has also expressed concern about the Morton Williams site.  “The fact that building on the supermarket site would also be bad doesn’t make building on the landmark site any less terrible,” Berman said earlier in November. He suggested at the time that NYU explore building opportunities in the financial district, where community boards have actively invited such development. New York University has begun preparing a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application for submission next year to build on the Morton Williams site. New plans must undergo full review before construction can take place.
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Fortress Ground Zero? Security Tactics Debated for WTC Towers
On Wednesday, architects and developers gathered to hear colleagues hold forth on the topic of “Innovation by Necessity” at New York’s Center for Architecture, a panel that seemed to promise a semi-sleepy discussion of building information modeling (BIM) at the World Trade Center site. But after several speakers outlined the logistics of the vast construction project, the panel veered into another topic entirely: an eye-opening primer on security strategies at Ground Zero. Moderated by The New York Times’ Charles Bagli, the event brought three speakers together representing the site’s major stakeholders: government, architects, and contractors. First up, Robert Harvey, executive director of the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center, delivered a sweeping presentation of development around the site (with some details sanitized for security purposes), along with the 50-odd projects below Canal Street that his office coordinates using a high-tech 4-D mapping system. Next, Frank Sciame took the podium. His company, F.J. Sciame Construction, is perhaps best known for working with name architects on complicated designs, and was tapped by Governor George Pataki in 2006 to control soaring costs at the World Trade Center Memorial and Museum. It’s not a surprise then that Sciame homed in on BIM as a tool to analyze and streamline the memorial’s daunting complexity. But when Carl Galioto, senior principal at HOK and an acknowledged expert on BIM, began to discuss security and design issues related to 1 World Trade Center, the crowd was riveted. Galioto, who also worked on Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center, noted that though Silverstein may not like to hear it, 7 was a prototype for the newer tower. And far more divulging than Harvey’s presentation, Galioto delved into the particulars of floor plans and the design of the tower’s core. In the wake of September 11, Galioto noted, many observers called for escape routes in tall buildings to be located on the exterior, as opposed to the core, as was the case at the Trade Center’s original towers. Galioto compared this to lifeboats set loose within the dangerous environs of the ocean. Buildings anchor on land, he said, and therefore designers must return to the core for both safety and security. To strengthen the core, the structure first needs to be fortified from the outside in. To that end, Galioto described a system of multiple lines of defense inspired by star-shaped forts of the 16th century. In the case of the World Trade Center, the buffer zones are both practical and at times aesthetically disguised. For example, the first zone includes a large park to the south and a smaller one to the north. The second protective zone centers on the base. Here, to the east and west, next to public highways and streets, Con Ed’s utilities hulk next to the concrete shell. The lobby opens onto the larger buffer park to the south. The entire process repeats itself once again in the core, with stand-alone zones of protection—cores within cores. Extensive studies were conducted on how people descend stairs (they sway from side to side) to design the structure. In the fire escapes, doors open away from the direction of traffic, and provide enough distance for people to merge into the descending flow from floors above, just as cars merge on a highway. Perhaps because Galioto was the last to speak, or maybe because he was discussing life or death issues, when the conversation opened to the floor, BIM was left behind and the focus remained on security. At one point, a member of the audience who has worked in Israel asked if New Yorkers weren’t overreacting a bit. Bagli fielded the question first. “In Israel, you have a lot of soldiers on the street,” he said, before adding that machine gun–toting Carabiniere in Rome’s airport didn’t make him feel safe, either. Harvey replied that, in the end, protecting Lower Manhattan was a balancing act. “Downtown is unique,” he said. “It’s the nerve center of the economy. You have to balance risks and mitigation.”
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Envisioning a Green Future for the BQE
The proposals are in after Monday's final public meeting to decide the future of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway trench which severs the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, and Columbia Street Waterfront neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Residents spoke up and prioritized their wishes for a less disruptive BQE including reduced noise and pollution, increased neighborhood connectivity and bike / pedestrian safety, and an overall greener streetscape. In short, the BQE is going green, or at least as green as a pollution-spewing six-lane highway can be.  Luckily the NYC EDC, NYC DOT, and Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects have come up with three compelling design solutions to improve the area. Three proposed designs offer increasing levels of complexity and ambition with an eye toward construction and financial feasibility. It remains to be seen what proposed intervention will actually be implemented, but nearly any change to this urban sore can be seen as an improvement.  Take a look at the three proposals below. All three proposals build from one another, beginning with the quick fix, "Maximum Green." This plan seeks to improve the streetscape with widened sidewalks and landscaped bumpouts and curvy chicanes.  At a cost of $10.7 to $18.7 million, this should be an easy sell for even the most frugal politician.  The scheme calls for shaving off unused and excessive street space on Hicks Street to calm traffic and create room for the landscaping and sidewalk. The base model Maximum Green design keeps the existing chain-link fence surrounding the highway, but upgrades include an artsy vine-covered metal screen with built in acoustic panels (see comparison below). Existing bridges also feature added landscaping in large planters and drastically wider sidewalks that could possibly accommodate newsstands or a proposed "BQE Flea."  Even with plants, trees, and places to sit, though, will the next hip Brooklyn hang-out be above a noxious highway? More ambitious, the "Connections" scheme retains the basic improvements of the "Maximum Green" design and adds five new pedestrian and bike bridges across the highway and replace one existing bridge to allow handicap accessibility and help restore the original street grid. Depending on the budget, these spans could become illuminated icons topped with photovoltaic roof panels.  Options include flanking the bridges with vine-covered panels and adding LED lighting to create playful interest at night.  Extra features, of course, mean inflated cost, and the Connections scheme would run between $30.1 and $41.3 million. Finally, the "dream scheme" pulls in the massively landscaped streetscape and pedestrian bridges of the previous two proposals but does its best to mask the BQE out of the neighborhood.  "Green Canopy" offers a massive $28 million steel angle-and-beam structure designed by Kiss+Cathcart Architects creating a pseudo-cap over the BQE trench.  Acoustic panels built into the span mitigate noise while a central mesh of steel precludes the need for an active ventilation system. The iconic structure is then covered in vines and solar cells which could net an estimated $312,000 in electricity annually.  If all that weren't enough, imagine dining while hovering above the highway at the "Trench Cafe."  Retail space in the Green Canopy plan is situated on the existing bridge at Union Street. Cost to cover the highway with a giant metal mesh? $78.8 to $82.7 million.  Cost to forget about the BQE forever? Priceless.  Sound off on your favorite scheme in the comments below.
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MoMA Announces PS1 Young Architects Finalists
One of the most sought after awards for emerging architecture firms was announced today. MoMA PS1 selected finalists for the 2011 Young Architects Program. The plum prize is an opportunity to design the garden space for MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, Queens. For the next three months the firms will finalize their designs and the winner will be announced in February. Past winners have included Hernan Diaz Alonso, MOS Architects, OBRA, So-Il and Work AC. This year’s firms include three from Brooklyn, one from Boston and a Brit. From Brooklyn the firms are FormlessFinder, Interboro Partners and Matter Architecture Practice. MASS Design Group comes from Boston and IJP Corporation Architects are based in London. 
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Beauty Bites Back with Peter Cook's Crab
Peter Cook--the real one from England, not the Hampton socialite architect impersonator--was in town last week and showed us some of the work from his firm Crab. Sir Peter was here to appear on a panel at Pratt Institute for the new book by Yael Reisner with Fleur Watson, Architecture and Beauty: Conversations with Architects About a Troubled Relationship. Cook and fellow beauticians including Will Alsop, Gaetano Pesce, Lebbeus Woods, KOL/MAC, and Hernan Diaz Alonso all took the subject head-on, and proved they think about aesthetics and form up front in the design process, though they seldom will admit to it. They did nothing to dispel Reisner’s thesis that even though, since the advent of modernism, only principles of rationalism are allowed to be used in explaining the building arts, architecture is still primarily a formal practice in the spirit of Einstein, who said that for him “visual imagery occurred first and words followed." The day after the symposium, I drove Cook to New Haven to see the two Stirling exhibitions currently on view at the Yale Center for British Art and the School of Architecture, and his review will appear in an upcoming issue of The Architect’s Newspaper. On the way up to New Haven, we talked about the work on his new university building in Vienna, and the unhappy state of his projects in Madrid (stopped during construction) and a theater in Verbania, Italy (stalled for political reasons), but he was pleased about his second-place scheme for the Taiwan Tower Conceptual Design international competition and its $65,000 prize. The tower, which is based on “the growing of algae in layers of droplets,” proves that after many years of producing legendary drawings and ideas with Archigram, and serving as chair of the Bartlett School in London, Cook’s Kunsthaus Graz (2000–2003) was no fluke, and that he can design powerful contemporary structures.