All posts in East

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Alternative Whitney Proposal Designed to Attract Attention
Think Renzo Piano's still preliminary design for a new Whitney Museum of American Art is too timid? How about this alternative scheme floated by the self proclaimed "architectural provocateurs" at Axis Mundi? According to a statement, the proposal is meant to be "as bold in spirit as the original Breuer building." It's bold all right. The design calls for a structural exoskeleton, shaped by the sight lines and street grid of the city, imbedded with the circulation and mechanical systems. Column-free galleries would be suspended from the skeleton with distinctive projecting windows, reminiscent of Breuer's at the Madison Avenue Whitney. The Axis Mundi proposal mentions nothing of costs, which is one of the biggest hurdles facing the Whitney, given the museum's relatively modest endowment. Axis Mundi has chased the news before. They previously promoted an alternative to Jean Nouvel's proposed Tower Verre for MoMA, called the Vertical Neighborhood. Check out more images of their Whitney proposal after the jump.
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New York Celebrates Brasilia Birthday with Photography Show
Last night, the 1500 Gallery in Chelsea held an opening for Brasilia, a show of iconic photographs dating from the creation of the freshly minted Brazilian capital. Indeed, the show is meant to be a celebration of the Semicentennial of Oscar Niemeyer's city in the jungle. The show was organized by Brazilian photographer Murillo Meirelles and will be up through November 27. Pictures of pictures, and more from the opening, after the jump.
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Historic District Struts Its Stuff on Manhattan's West End Avenue
As we reported a few weeks ago, the Landmarks Preservation Commission is gearing up to create a huge new historic district on the Upper West Side. Last night, the commission held a meet-and-greet with the neighbors, at which the tentative boundaries for the new district—technically five contiguous extensions to five existing districts—were unveiled. As the map shows, it's quite a lot of real estate, and though smaller than the extant Upper West Side historic district (2,000+ versus 745) it will become, should it be approved, one of the largest in the city. What's most interesting, though, is how much of the Upper West Side will now be under the commission's purview. It will be interesting to see how the development community reacts.
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Three New Landmarks for Manhattan's Lower East Side
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission continued its efforts to preserve what have been, at least historically, unlikely landmarks. There is focus on the not-so-outer boroughs and modernist masterpieces and on the scruffy, increasingly tony "Lower East Side," one of the oldest, yet long-neglected parts of the city. This is of course not the small neighborhood that had been sequestered by real estate agents, but the real LES, as defined by historians and historic maps, from 14th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, with the Bowery as its eastern bounds. In 2007 and 2008, the commission surveyed more than 2,300 properties and has been bolstering the landmarks rolls ever since, from Webster Hall to Wheatsworth Bakery. Yesterday, three more were added. You may never have noticed 97 Bowery Street before, unless maybe you were looking for karaoke in Chinatown, because that's what occupies the first two floors of this unassuming cast iron beauty. The Loew's Canal Street Theatre makes a little more sense, given the name, though it, too, is all but hidden behind the garish storefronts that are de rigueur, er, 典型 (typical) in Chinatown. The gorgeous terracotta cornice is still visible behind grime from the Manhattan Bridge if you look closely, though. The Eleventh Street Methodist Episcopal Chapel (now the Father’s Heart Church) is perhaps the most obvious landmark based simply on looks. But on the Lower East Side, it's not just about the looks. “These buildings collectively speak to many aspects of the immigrant experience in the East Village and on the Lower East Side in the 19th and early 20th centuries,” Commission Chair Bob Tierney said in a release. Consider the chapel. The evangelical Methodists to foster outreach to the city's burgeoning immigrant community. Ironically, they eventually took it over, when in 1930 and reopened 11 years later as a Slavik Eastern Orthodox church. But as much as saving these previously overlooked buildings, the commission is also preserving them from the rampant overdevelopment that has seized the neighborhood in the past few decades, and particularly during the boom. Commission spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon wouldn't say that this was the explicit purpose of the renewed focus on the LES. "But it certainly doesn't hurt," she said. The real interesting question is what will happen to all those gaudy signs when gentrification finally gets to them, and renovations no doubt ensue, as they have in Tribeca, Soho, and elsewhere. Will they be grandfathered in? Or will the commission fight hard for a full restoration?
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Marino-designed Soho Store Inspires Chanel Makeup
The fabulous Peter Marino has designed a fabulous new store for Chanel in Soho, which opened Friday for Fashion Night Out. It’s so fabulous that Chanel Global Creative Director Peter Phillips created a new makeup line paying homage to Marino’s sleek lines and the sleeker girls who hobble about the cobblestone streets surrounding the store. As for the renovation itself, it was inspired by the artsy spirit of the neighborhood and features an acrylic Chanel No. 5 bottle that stands over 10 feet high and will display video art as well as video of runway shows from Paris. The newly outfitted boutique has a gallery feel to it, complete with commissioned artworks by Peter Belyi, Alan Rath, and Robert Greene. More makeup and makeover after the jump.
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Union Square Sukkahs Finally Revealed
They're currently in the works in a shop in Gowanus, and we'll have more pictures come Friday, after the in situ party Thursday night (see you there), but here, finally unveiled, are the dozen winning sukkahs from the first annual Sukkah City competition. We first revealed the impressive project, with the ambition of redefining this ancient Jewish structure, back in May, and last month we dug up the dirt on three of the winners, including preliminary plans for the homeless-sign-constructed Sukkah of Signs above. After the jump are a few more of our favorites, with all of the winners and entrants over on the competition's site. They'll be showing up in Union Square a few nights before Sukkot, on Sunday and Monday, with the winner of the People's Choice sukkah, currently being selected over at New York magazine, staying all week. So go on. Vote already. It's a mitzvah and'll do your bubbe proud.
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Acconci Gets In on the Ground Floor
What do kitchen counter tops, shower-wall cladding, and the Grand Concourse have in common? Corian, of course. Thanks to performance-artist-turned-designer (and Bronx native) Vito Acconci and Acconci Studio designers Adam Jakubowski and Bradley Rothenberg, the Bronx Museum can now boast its very own DuPont fabricated sculpture. Acconci’s large, porous installation is titled Lobby-For-The-Time-Being and provides an imaginative, fabric-like reconsideration of the now ubiquitous polymer, originally developed in 1967 to replace human bones. In what seems like the most recent installment in a worldwide series of Corian-centric, site-specific sculpture, Lobby-For-The-Time-Being incorporates seating (take that Philadelphia), as well as lighting and projections by Taylor Levy and Che-Wei Wang. Technically, Acconci’s first foray into architecture was way back in 1971, the year the Bronx Museum opened. Though it’s unlikely anyone remembers Seedbed for its central wooden structure...

Parks Department Coopting NYC Skaters?
On Tuesday, the Parks Department cut the ribbon on the River Avenue pocket parks in the Bronx. It is the latest piece of the sprawling, long-overdue parks system promised by the Bloomberg administration in exchange for the parks sacrificed and taxes forgone in the name of the House That Steinbrenner Built (God rest his soul). But that is not what is truly interesting about the River Avenue park. What is is that it contains a skatepark. The fourth one to open this summer, in fact, preceded by new ramps and half-pipes at Hudson River Park (above), Flushing Meadows, and Robert Venable Park in Brooklyn’s East New York neighborhood. A very popular park opened last year as the first piece of the McCarren Park pool’s redevelopment. (This reporter saw young scalawags jumping the fence to get in even before it was finished, so eager were they to ollie about.) The Parks Department now has 11 skateparks under management, with more on the way. Meghan Lalor, a Parks spokeswoman, said evolving tastes were to thank for the explosion in skateparks. “While there is no formal initiative to build more skate parks per se, we’re always attentive to ways to provide what New Yorkers want and need as their interests in sports and recreation evolve, and we’re delighted to offer them the opportunity to perfect their skills on inline skates, skateboards, and bikes in safe, designated areas,” Lalor wrote in an email. And yet it still seems like a startling idea, city-sanctioned skating. After all, this is the administration that would not even tolerate ancient (and famous!) graffiti along the High Line, even as all this new gnarly pavement seems akin to putting up canvases around the city for the express purpose of tagging. Perhaps skating has gone so mainstream that it is no longer subversive, and thus nothing to worry about. Or perhaps the Parks Department is herding all the skaters together to keep them off the streets and out of the parts of the parks where they are not welcome. Now wouldn’t that be truly subversive?
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Wilf Hall Not Bad By NYU Standards
Yesterday, John Hill, arguably the city's most prolific architecture critic, finished up one of his latest projects, entitled "31 in 31." In addition to his usual flood of posts, Hill is chronicling one building every day in August, in preparation for a new guide book. The buildings are scattershot, ranging from the new Crocs super store in the West Village to One Bryant Park, but most of them are new and, in a way Hill always seems to manage, representative of precisely what has been going on in the city recently—not comprehensive, but authoritative. It's a rundown worth running down, but one building in particular caught our eye: the rather unassuming Wilf Hall at NYU. The project is not yet complete, but it caused quite a stir when it was proposed. Local preservationists objected to the project because it would destroy the Provincetown Playhouse, where Arthur Miller got his start, as well as the home of a number of other old, long-gone bohemian haunts. (Granted prerservationists object when NYU sneezes.) Even though the project is not located in a historic district, master faker Morris Adjmi was brought in, an architect known for his historically sensitive work, including the Scholastic Building in Soho and the High Line Building across from the Standard. Here, Adjmi appears to have pulled off a very nice set of four modern rowhouses, rather prettier ones than the building it replaced. The retained and restored facade of the Provincetown Playhouse is particularly notable for how draws attention to the historic structure, highlighting it instead of hiding it. It is a refreshing building after so much massive development by the university, from Philip Johnson's unusual Bobst Library to the downright awful Kimmel Center. It would seem this is the first project from NYU to make good on its promise to respect the scale and architecture of the Village—a promise that may not hold if its bombshell of an expansion plan is approved in the coming months and years. So what does Andrew Berman, head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and leading NYU antagonist think of Adjmi's building? He is not impressed, to say the least. In response to a query from the Observer, he sent over the following email:
The Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments was one of the most historically and culturally significant buildings in New York City, and should never have been demolished.  It was the home not only of the world-famous theater, but of a collection of institutions which were called by historians "the cornerstone of bohemia" and "the locus of cultural activity and the gathering places of all the figures associated with the Greenwich Village Renaissance that began the era of Modernism in the U.S."  The entire building had been determined eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places, and for a mere increase of 17,000 sq. ft.of space NYU chose to demolish rather than renovate or reuse the building, though only five years earlier they had demolished several other historic edifices including the Poe House and Judson Houses just across the street to make way for yet another mammoth Law School building.  To add insult to injury, NYU's promise to preserve in perpetuity about 5% of the original building was secretly compromised when, behind construction walls, they actually demolished part of the tiny theater space and kept that fact hidden, which was only revealed by vigilant neighbors and GVSHP. Is the new building less overwhelming and oppressive than many other recent NYU projects?  Of course, but it would be a shame if that were the sliding scale by which we judged the university. Wilf Hall will sadly always be a monument to the university's broken promises and greed, and to the loss of yet another irreplaceable piece of New York's proud history.
So much for community outreach.

Scale the Scaffolds on DOB YouTube Channel
The NYC Department of Buildings recently launched a YouTube channel. You'd think the department's time would be better spent actually inspecting buildings instead of making videos about inspecting buildings, but a) given the black eye the department suffered after the two crane accidents two years ago, and b) this is a pretty damn good video, let's let our criticism slide. In fact, this simple black-and-white-photos-and-voiceover film verges on tearjerker. "A lot of the companies out there welcome us and are happy to see us out there performing a safety inspection, and then there's that percentage that want no part to do with us," intones inspector Joseph Coben, the Bronx still thick in his voice. Interesting factoids about the three-year-old scaffolding team abound, like how every scaffold gets a walkthrough no matter how dangerous, and how thankful workers are for the inspector getting them off a dangerous site they can't leave without risking their jobs. Grab some popcorn and a hardhat and enjoy.
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More Construction Canvases Downtown, Still No UrbanShed
The Downtown Alliance unveiled "Restore the View" today, the latest installation in its re:Construction program, which gussies up downtown construction fencing. The program began in 2007 and has gotten bigger each year, with five installations done earlier this summer and now three from Pasquarelli, the first artist to conceive of more than one. "Restore the View" just went up over the weekend at the site of Fitterman Hall, across from 7 WTC. "Secret Gardens" will mask road construction on Chambers Street and "Hours of the Day" is going up on a plaza across from the new W Hotel on Washington Street. Not only is it nice that the Alliance is concerned with how these sites look, but it means there is a lot of work still going on downtown. Still, one project is conspicuously missing, and that is the Urban Umbrella, the winner of last winter's UrbanShed competition. UrbanShed was launched by the DOB and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects with the goal of redesigning those ubiquitous construction sheds that must be set up at even minor construction or renovation sites. The hope was to make something more transparent and accessible, something apparently achieved by the Urban Umbrella. Apparently because the new construction shed was to be installed some time this summer at one of Lower Manhattan's multiple construction sites. So far nothing. James Yolles of the Alliance said it should be up by October, DOB said year's end. Still no word on why there have been delays, but it's too bad because who is going to want to huddle together on a blustery fall day for the ribbon cutting?
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BP Stringer Throws Water on Riverside Center
It has not been a good day for Gary Barnett and his Extell Development. First, the Post's ur-real estate columnist Steve Cuozzo gave Barnett a hard time for delays at his skyline-bursting Carnegie 57. (How come Tony Malkin didn't complain about this one, by the way?) And this evening, Borough President Scott Stringer has announced he is giving the project his ULURP thumbs down. What more does everyone want? Barnett has promised to build a school, to up the affordable housing from 12 percent to 20 percent, and he has hired one hell of an architect. But this is far from enough apparently, given Stringer's strongly worded announcement. There are two schools of thought when it comes to ULURP: community boards and BPs who do not like a project can either approve with modifications or disapprove with modifications. Though there is an open debate as to which sends a stronger message to the City Council, which has ultimate say on land-use projects, Stringer tends to subscribe to the former school, saying "yes, but" far more than he says "no, but." In other words, a "no" from Stringer is a rare thing (see: 15 Penn, Manhattanville, etc.) and should probably give Barnett pause. Here is the rationale, from Stringer's announcement:
Riverside Center development is the largest development site remaining on the Upper West Side.  The proposal includes five mixed-use buildings, 1,800 public parking spaces, an elementary/middle school, 135,000 SF of ground-floor retail, and an automobile showroom and service center.  Its redevelopment has the potential to improve existing site conditions, create thousands of new jobs, and provide much needed neighborhood amenities.  Riverside Center is also the last remaining undeveloped or unplanned piece of the Riverside South development, which failed to achieve broad consensus and resulted in detrimental impacts on the community. [...] While emphasizing that the “development of the [Riverside Center] site is desirable to the Upper West Side community,” the borough president’s recommendations identifies several areas that necessitate improvement and modification. The current proposal lacks good site planning, creates inactive streetscapes, and obscures access to the proposed open space. Additionally, the proposed project has many environmental impacts that require real mitigations.  The borough president’s recommendation advocates for the inclusion of public amenities such as a public school of an appropriate size to meet the needs of the community and additional active recreational space.
Granted Stringer's recommendations are wholly advisory, but they do point to the rough road ahead, not least because City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden aired her own reservations about the project when it was certified back in May. Local City Councilwoman Gail Brewer has also expressed skepticism and is not especially pro-development by the council's standards. Still, Barnett has repeatedly shown his willingness to compromise on the project. To see it built, he will almost certainly have to continue doing so.