All posts in East

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A New Beginning for West End Avenue
The West End Preservation Society could only save two of the buildings it had hoped for, but an entire neighborhood has been preserved in the process. Back in 2007, a clutch of concerned citizens living on West End Avenue were dismayed to learn that two pairs of brownstones were bound for the wrecking ball, to be replaced by the sliver buildings much in vogue in Manhattan's narrow upper reaches over the past decade. The houses at 732 and 734 West End Avenue are currently being demolished, but 508 and 510 West End Avenue survive, and likely will for some time thanks to the efforts of the society. The LPC is now preparing to finalize plans for a new, expansive historic district—lobbied for by the preservation group—running the length of West End Avenue from 70th Street to 109th Street. The result will be two-miles of almost uniterrupted pre-war grandeur. The commission recently sent out letters to affected property owners notifying them of a September 15 informational meeting at P.S. 75 (located in the district-to-be at 735 West End Avenue). Such meetings are typically a precursor to "calendaring" a project, when it officially enters public review, a step that is now expected by October or November. Commission spokeswoman Elisabeth de Bourbon said a final map of the proposed district will be released at next month's meeting, and it will include 745 new buildings—large by most historic district standards, though the Upper West Side already boasts some 2,035 landmarked buildings. Technically, the commission will not be creating one new district but expanding five that line West End Avenue. Though the result will be one contiguous stretch of landmarks, de Bourbon said the idea was to group them in a way that would honor the individual character of each district, "its history and its rhythms." By expanding the existing districts, the commission will also protect more buildings on the side streets, further what many consider one of the most pristine stretches of pre-war architecture in the city.
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Matchmaker, Matchmaker
The popularity of speed dating is proof positive: people enjoy the sweaty-palmed feeling of being sized-up by a stranger so much that they figure, Why limit myself to only once in a night? Following that logic, the Van Alen Institute is offering young designers the same opportunity to offer themselves up to a critical appraisal multiple times in a row: Their second round of Design Speed Dating is scheduled for Saturday, September 11. Accepted applicants will rotate around a series of professional designers and critics, spending a half hour with each one and receiving constructive feedback on their portfolios. Interested? The Van Alen Institute is seeking emerging talents through an open call. Submit your digital portfolio in PDF format, no larger than 5MB, and no longer than 10 8.5”x11” single-sided pages, to vai@vanalen.org.
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Open House New York Needs You!
Habitues of the New York architecture scene have long looked forward to Open House New York, the annual weekend in October when the doors to New York's secret spaces are thrown open in a citywide celebration of architecture and design. Well, now it’s time to return the favor. The 8th Annual OHNY Weekend is seeking volunteers to help at this year’s upcoming event on October 9 and 10. Volunteers would assist any one of the weekend’s many programs, which include organized tours of spaces open to the public for the weekend, as well as site-specific dance and music performances and dialogues with architects, designers, and scholars. In years past, venues have included the High Bridge Water Tower, the Grand Lodge of Masons on 23rd Street, and the Eldridge Street Synagogue, along with architects’ offices, residential interiors, and sundry other venues across the five boroughs. The volunteer shifts will be approximately four hours long, but depend upon the assigned site’s open house schedule, and attendance at one of two training sessions (offered on Sept. 21 and 25) is required.
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Sukkahs, Homeless Shelter Coming to Union Square
In less than a month, a dozen sukkahs will descend on Union Square, part of the first annual Sukkah City celebration, a modern take on an ancient Jewish structure/holiday thought up by writer Joshua Foer and Reboot founder Roger Bennett. We first revealed the project back in the spring, and now the winning sukkahs have been selected. We spoke with Foer about the entrants, the process, and the winners, a few of which we even managed to scare up (though the rest are being saved for a certain newspaper in another square uptown). Foer told us in the spring that he hoped to thoroughly investigate the complexity and variety found within the relatively strict confines of the sukkah, a ritual harvest structure. These include as that it be certain dimensions, made from organic material, and impermanent. Foer said he was blown away with the results.
We had over 600 entrants, so it was really a diverse set of answer to how this structure could be imagined. Some designers engaged with the idea of ephemerality. Some engaged directly with the idea of collective memory, a structure meant to provoke collective memory. Some engaged with the idea that the structure confront social justice issues. [...] Some of the structures were just little beautiful jewels that are just stunning little pavilions. The idea is that the 12 together will speak to the diversity of responses. It's not the 12 best sukkahs but the one best sukkah city.
The Gathering by Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen. (Courtesy Sukkah City) The dozen winners are:
  • Kyle May and Scott Abrahams - New York, NY LOG
  • Dale Suttle, So Sugita, and Ginna Nguyen - New York, NY Gathering
  • SO-IL - Brooklyn, NY In Tension
  • Matter Practice - Brooklyn, NY Single Thread
  • THEVERYMANY - Brooklyn, NY P.YGROS.C / passive hygroscopic curls
  • Bittertang - Brooklyn, NY Bio Puff
  • Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan - Long Island City, NY Fractured Bubble
  • tinder, tinker - Sagle, ID Shim Sukkah
  • Ronald Rael, Virginia San Fratello - Oakland, CA Sukkah of the Signs
  • Volkan Alkanoglu - Los Angeles, CA Star Cocoon
  • Matthias Karch - Berlin, Germany Repetition meets Difference | Stability meets Volatileness
  • Peter Sagar - United Kingdom Time/Timeless
Even though the competition was open to Jews and gentiles alike, and there were entries from 43 countries, one can't help but wonder if therein lies the explanation for so many New York City firms—as Alvy Singer might say, we New Yorkers all a little Jewish. Of the three entries we've actually seen, Rael San Fratello's is probably the most interesting. The Suttle, Sugita, and Nguyen entry, Gathering, seems to fall into Foer's first category, of challenging the temporal nature of Sukkot, with a wooden structure that can take on countless shapes, never being the same twice, constantly shifting and relocating and redefining itself, like the Jews. THEVERYMANY's P.YGROS.C / passive hygroscopic curls seems to be a clear example of the jewels, a lustrous green gem, a challenge of formalism, to be marveled at from inside and out as it redefines itself around its environment. Yet it is Sukkah of Signs that is most audacious in its scope and, we imagine, shape, as it tackles ">tikkun olam. Rael and San Fratello have gone about collecting signs from homeless people in the Bay Area and, with the help of volunteers, from across the country, in what they're calling "The Homeless House Project." Somehow, they're going to repurpose these into a sukkah, a challenge we can't wait to see in action. Best of all, as Foer points out, "It's really great because they're basically transferring their award money to the homeless population," as each sign is gotten in exchange for a donation. As for construction, well, that's something Foer wonders about with a number of the winners. "They're all 100 percent kosher structures, designed in consultation with rabbis and structural engineers," he said. "A couple of winners, I'll be impressed if they can pull it off." Sukkah City arrives in Union Square September 19 and 20. Once designs are unveiled next month on the Sukkah City website, voting will commence for the "people's sukkah," which will remain in the square for all eight days of Sukkot. For the rest of the holiday, the remaining structures will be dispersed to sites across the city, extending the celebration far and wide.
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New York, Here is Your New Skyline
UPDATE: Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in whose district the project is located, gave her strong support for it at a press conference before today's meeting of the City Council. More below. The battle for the soul of New York—or at least for its skyline—was over before it even really began. The City Council Land Use Committee just voted in favor of Vornado's roughly 1,200-foot, Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed 15 Penn Plaza, apparently unswayed by complaints from the owner of the Empire State Building, Anthony Malkin, that it would ruin views of his iconic tower, and thus the city as a whole. In fact, the issue of the skyline barely even came up, and when it did, the council members, who voted 19-1 for the tower, essentially said New York must build to remain great. "I think it's a project the city needs," said Councilman Daniel Holleran, a Staten Island Republican. The bigger issue, by far, than the dueling towers was that of who would build 15 Penn Plaza, namely MWBEs. That's the policy shorthand for women- and minority-owned business enterprises. The council, like the city, is majority minority, and so ensuring employment for minorities, particularly in the notoriously cosseted construction industry is often a high priority. When Vornado showed up at Monday's hearings without a specific plan for how it would ensure a portion of the contractors on the project would be MWBEs, the committee members were displeased. Councilwoman Letitia James Albert Vann asked if the company even had any sort of minority hiring practices, to which the head of the New York Office, David Greenbaum, joked that he was not sure but had had a party recently at which there were many women, and his wife asked which were employs and which were spouses and he said, with a chuckle, that it was more of the former. James was not amused. Vornado proffered a last minute MWBE plan before today's vote, calling for at least 15 percent of all construction work to be done by MWBEs. Whether the project would have been torpedoed without it is hard to say, but it did little to assuage council members complaints at the same time they overwhelmingly voted for the project. James Saunders, one of the council's lions on MWBE issues, made his frustration known. "This is a tepid response to a need, a very tepid response," he said of the new MWBE plan. "We can't go on like this. That we even have to have this discussion shows that there needs to be some real dialogue here." Holleran expressed disappointment that the council does not use its limited leverage over such projects to extract more concessions early on than at the very end, when development projects have essentially reached the stage of fait accompli. Not that it would have mattered if there was any real opposition, as the mayor cast his considerable weight behind the project yesterday, according to the Wall Street Journal [sub. req.].
"I don't understand that. You know, anybody that builds a building in New York City changes its skyline. We don't have to run around to every other owner and apologize," he said. "This is something that's great for this city." "Competition's a wonderful thing. One guy owns a building. He'd like to have it be the only tall building," he added. "I'm sorry that's not the real world, nor should it be."
Malkin was not at today's vote. And perhaps its was with good reason that the council did not take up his position. As our colleague Eliot Brown points out over at the Observer, the skyline fight is not that disimilar to the one over the Ground Zero "Mosque," in that it's a supremely local issue that has been given over to if not irrational than at least emotional pleas for something locals could care less about. After all, we're only ruining the view from Jersey. Yet again, the debate surrounding this project was only nominally about the project at hand. UPDATE: When we asked Speaker Quinn about the merits of such a large, even overbuilt project—it's 42 percent larger than current zoning allows, going from a 12 FAR to an 18 (though mind you the Empire State Building is a whopping 35, so who's dwarfing whom exactly?)—she said she was fine with it. "I think given that this is 34th Street, 33rd Street, and 7th Avenue, one of the most commercial areas in the city of New York, this is an appropriate place for dense development." (The project is actually located between 33rd Street and 32nd Street.) Quinn even went so far as to compare the unbuilt 15 Penn Plaza to many of the city's other iconic office towers, calling it a modern day Rockefeller Center, something the city needs more of. "Our position is about Midtown business district expanding into the 21st Century," Quinn said. "As it is, we're not on par with some of our competitors, say London or Hong Kong. In the middle of this recession, what this say is New York is coming out of this, and coming out on top." Quinn said that she was happy with the MWBE agreement that had been reached with Vornado while also stressing that such matters were not technically under the purvey of the city's land-use review process. When we asked if they should be, Quinn demurred. On a less demure note, Curbed is reporting that the real reason Malkin is so opposed to 15 Penn Plaza is because it's potentially throwing off the feng shui of his tower, killing the "life force" of the Empire State Building and thus a deal with a business from Hong Kong to lease space in the tower. And now we've heard everything.
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Mexico City Design on the Menu at Brooklyn Taqueria
The restaurant La Superior in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is small place with very high standards. Not only does it have the best tacos and salsa in the five boroughs, but its low-cost décor features design elements by Mexican engineer/designer Ricardo Cid that are as exciting as the food. Cid, from Mexico City, claims he always wanted to be an artist but one that used “different and more complicated tools and calculations,” so he studied engineering at Mexico City's UNAM. The university gave Cid a research grant, and he used the money to move to New York City and begin an independent research practice focusing on “old and lost methods of Mexican manufacturing,” and adapting them to new materials when the old ones could not be found. On the wall behind the bar where Superior owner Felipe Mendez mixes his superb margaritas, Cid created a crystal and mirror menu board from a process called “rotulo dorado” found in Mexican cantinas and taquerias in Mexico in the 1940s. The process was originally used by local craftsman called rotulaeors to produce signs that display “menus, rules, and things to remember.” Here, Cid replicated the glass board process by tracing a letter or figure with appliquéd golden tape, many with saturated colors, metallic textures, and pearled finishes. Cid has also designed wallpaper for Superior that replicates an old method of Mexican printing, again from the 1940s, which he says “is not precisely block printing but a combination between screen printing and matching.” What drew me to Cid’s extraordinary work was a tournament bracket showing the teams competing in last month’s World Cup, looking like some kind of contemporary Aztec calendar with geometric shapes in forced perspective. The bright red plastic in this football piece is another application seen in street markets and cantinas in Mexico City, where Cid says “it’s pretty common to find entire walls of colorful volumes that make no sense, but call the attention of the eye in a very ‘Naco’ style.” Naco, he claims, means something like tasteless, but with style at the same time. It’s not precisely kitsch, but is meant to make things more beautiful. The La Superior space is not necessarily exciting as an interior, but if you look around, it offers fascinating hybridized design elements that are the best of young new Brooklyn design.
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Sidewalk Sipping with Sadik-Khan at NYC Pop-Up Cafe
Sidewalk cafes have long been a popular feature of New York City dining, but many restaurants’ sidewalks are too narrow to set out tables and chairs without violating city code. Offering a solution to this spatial problem, on August 12 the Department of Transportation (DOT) unveiled its first “pop-up cafe” in Lower Manhattan—an 84-foot-long and 6-foot-wide wooden platform with planters, wire railing, 14 cafe tables, and 50 chairs—as the agency’s latest move to reclaim road space for public use. The platform is installed in four parking spots in front of two establishments on Pearl Street, Fika’s cafe and Bombay’s restaurant, which approached the Downtown Alliance and DOT earlier this year about ways to expand onto the sidewalk. According to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the agency worked closely with the two restaurants as well as the Downtown Alliance and the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses outdoor cafes, to arrive at a workable solution that would provide not only cafe tables but new public space in a part of the city starved for parks. “Inventions like this help make our streets into destinations and improve the quality of life for the thousands of people who live, work, and play in Lower Manhattan,” Sadik-Khan said in a release. The inexpensive platform was designed pro bono by San Francisco–based architect Riyad Ghannam of RG Architecture, who came to the DOT’s attention after an agency intern mentioned a similar design Ghannam had first created for the popular Parking Day event in San Francisco. The DOT then recruited Ghannam to advise on the Lower Manhattan site, and in short order he found himself designing and helping construct the project, for which Bison Innovative Products provided the materials at cost and participated in construction pro bono. “It was just barely a month from the concept to actual on-street implementation,” said Ghannam by phone from San Francisco. “The idea is that this is temporary, or at least seasonal, so we wanted the restaurants to have enough time to use it.” The cafe space is maintainted by the two restaurants but freely available for use by the public. The platform and its 12 Cor-ten steel planters will be stored during the winter, when the parking spots will be returned to service. The DOT is currently evaluating the cafe to determine if similar temporary spaces should be rolled out elsewhere in the city. The agency would do well to look to San Francisco, which according to Ghannam is studying the revenue potential of streetfront sites that could be rented by adjacent restaurants instead of given over to parking meters. “It’s kind of a win-win,” Ghannam said. “The business gets some stimulus by having more space to use, and the city gets revenue.”
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Save Our Skyline, Begs Empire State Building
We know hackers and preservationists are staunchly opposed to Vornado's 15 Penn Plaza, because the 1,216-foot Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed tower would replace McKim Mead & White's notable-if-not-renowned Hotel Pennsylvania. Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, is also not a fan for the simple reason that Malkin Holdings is holding the Empire State Building. And its views would most likely be compromised by 15 Penn Plaza. Malkin is now speaking out against the project, under the aegis of a group calling itself Friends of the New York City Skyline, a posse which also includes MAS, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Landmarks Conservancy. It may be too little, too late. Amanda Burden and the City Planning Commission already gave their approval in July, calling it "precisely the type of well-designed…office building that New York City needs to stay globally competitive." Still, hoping to head off a vote on Monday at the City Council, Malkin and his Friends have sent around mawkish renderings and a statement (below) about everything that's wrong with this building and how it could ruin the city. Currently 15 Penn Plaza is 42 percent bigger than current zoning allows, with no setbacks, but at the same time, as garish as it looks in these renderings, it also shows the dynamic way in which our iconic skyline is always changing. Just think of the thrill you get looking back at old pictures of the city and comparing them to today. Even monstrosities like the Trump Wold Tower across from the U.N. look half-decent in this context. To build is to survive as a city and it's good to know that, for better or worse, there are no sacred cows. After all, these were some of the same groups who complained when Burden cut Nouvel's MoMA Tower down to size. Significantly, the tower is in Council Speaker Christine Quinn's district, and she is an avowed friend to developers: Tenant or no tenant, building is in the cards. Malkin's statement:
"The Empire State Building is the internationally recognized icon on the skyline of New York City. We are its custodians, and must protect its place. Would a tower be allowed next to the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling rig next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and waivers be granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be built 900 feet away from New York City’s iconic landmark and beacon? We believe that the public approval process to date for the proposed 15 Penn Plaza has failed to address the interests of New Yorkers. The City Charter did not create the ULURP process so as to provide a speedy approval for a speculative office tower for which there is no planned commencement. The Developer’s Environmental Impact Statement at first ignored, and then (by last minute amendment) gratuitously denied, any impact on the largest landmark in New York City from the proposed 1,200 foot tower to rise at some unspecified future date on the present site of the Hotel Pennsylvania. The people of New York City have already made their sentiments clear: Community Board 5 voted down this proposal 36 to 1, so the only hope for protection of this public legacy now sits with the City Council. There may be buildings taller than the Empire State Building. But no building so close to the Empire State Building should be allowed through discretionary official exceptions to be as bulky and tall as 15 Penn Plaza. The height and bulk of 15 Penn Plaza are the result of waivers and bonuses greatly in excess of code. Another waiver granted 15 Penn Plaza the right to build without setbacks. At only 67 stories, 15 Penn Plaza would be as tall as the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, and would, if built, be as much a scar on the complexion of New York City as the loss of Penn Station. We are working with other New Yorkers and concerned parties who care about this landmark to write and speak to the City Council and its Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises on August 23 in opposition to this effort to mar permanently the iconic signature which creates the world's most famous skyline."
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The Future Future of JFK Terminal 4
If this rendering of Terminal 4 at JFK looks familiar, good. That means you're reading, as it, or something very much like it, was in our story last week about the Port Authority and Delta's plans for expanding the terminal. What is different, though, if you look closely, is the number of gates. This rendering was released by Delta last week, though it initially confounded us because the talk had been of nine new gates, not the 30 we counted when we compared it to the terminal's current layout, which you can see and compare after the jump. It turns out, the wrong rendering had been released, and this is in fact the ultimate plans for the future development of Terminal 4, with 10 new gates on Concourse A (right) and 11 more added to Delta's nine on Concourse B (left). That makes for a total of 46 gates—larger than some mid-sized airports—up from a current 16. No wonder they have to tear down Terminal 3 to make room for more plane parking. But not before Hal Hayes has something to say about it. Hayes was the lead planner at SOM when it created the current Terminal 4 a decade-and-a-half ago, and then he filled a similar role at HOK when it developed a prior plan for Delta at JFK. Now on his own, the architect takes issue with the preservationists we spoke to last week—to his mind, Terminal 3 is easily the most important of all at JFK, even compared to Saarinen's Terminal 5, which he said is formally but not functionally groundbreaking. As for the threatened Terminal 6 by I.M. Pei, Hayes said Terminal 3 is "superior to Pei, especially in terms of aviation architecture. Pei's is a pretty corporate box, but it could be anywhere." Terminal 3, however, had an unparalleled design that allowed for passenger loading and maintenance to take place all under its unique canopy. "This is really the place that established the paradigm for airport architecture, and these terminals were treated like international headquarters, intended to be corporate icons," Hayes said of JFK. Hayes said the biggest problem is that Terminal 3 "suffers from a no-name architect," otherwise it might have a better shot at preservation—something he insists would be far easier than the Port Authority, Delta, or even some preservationists will allow. He proposes demolishing the '70s addition, running the connector Delta is planning between terminals 2 and 4 through the old Terminal 3, and turning it into a grand mall of some sort, with the shops and eateries that are now familiar to any airport. As for the Port Authority's insistence that there is no room for even remnants of the building, Hayes disagrees. "They can leave it pretty much where it is and not impact the new terminals or the parking one iota," Hayes said. He should know, as this is precisely what his previous plans called for. UPDATE: It was just announced that AECOM has won the $11 million contract to oversee construction on the terminal project. Is there anything they can do? UPDATE 2: Hal Hayes writes: "There is a misquote about Saarinen’s Terminal 5, which I said was functionally groundbreaking and one of the terminals that created the paradigm for modern aviation terminal design, along with Terminal 3 and other early JFK Terminals. It was Terminal 6 that I said was not functionally innovative."

Flooding the Unisphere Once Again
For the first time in 15 years, the Unisphere, one of the '64 World's Fair's numerous icons, is back on, its fountain at full force thanks to a $2 million renovation funded by the Queens Borough President and the city. Designed by landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, the fountain is, as Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe puts it, part of the city's Versailles that is Flushing Meadows. While not quite the Lincoln Center fountain, we'd still sit here any day and enjoy some Belgian waffles, which a press release informs us were served at Thursday's rechristening, having been a favorite at the Fair.
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Learning From, and Ignoring, Hong Kong
We're fairly critical of the planning process here in New York, but our pal Norman Oder has us beat a thousand times over with his watchdog website The Atlantic Yards Report. Which is why we were surprised to find him writing over on Urban Omnibus about just how laudable our way of doing things can actually be, at least compared to the current vogue for Asian-style authoritarian planning, particularly that of Hong Kong. Jumping off from Vishaan Chakrabarti's praise for Hong Kong's "doubling down on density," Oder points out that of the locals he's heard from, "enough is enough."
[T]hose from Hong Kong invoked our city’s appreciation of history (or, to them, heritage), diversity of building types, avoidance of superblocks, rich street life, and relatively robust opportunity for citizen input. As became clear, density in Hong Kong was fostered by cultural, economic, and historical factors not present in recent-day New York, including top-down planning, warp-speed growth (driven by an influx of refugees from Communist China), an empowered mass transit agency, and a disengaged citizenry. So while there’s a good argument to build residential density in New York — our city’s towers are primarily commercial — as well as infrastructure, the lessons from Hong Kong may be more aspirational than direct.
Could you imagine the MTA being the lead planner? High-rise-induced (as opposed to merely abetted) suicides? Luxurious apartments sprawling some 750 square feet? Because these are some of the astounding realities of Hong Kong as recounted by Oder, and even to a degree by Chakrabarti. Whether this is better or worse than New York, we'll let you decide. We've got fare hikes, gentrification, outrageous prices. (Okay, Hong Kong's got us beat there.) But we've also got brownstones and a semblance of public input. Small victories, but victories all the same.
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Columbia Builds Holl-y Hell in Inwood
Can Columbia build anything without causing a ruckus? There is, of course, the famous gym proposed for Riverside Park that triggered the 1968 riots, and more recently the huge fight over its 17-acre Manhattanville expansion. Now the Times is reporting a "teapot-size storm" surrounding the university's proposal to build a new athletic center within its complex in Inwood. According to the Gray Lady, the issues are the same as anywhere in Manhattan: light, views, and context. “It does not relate well to the community,” said Gail Addiss, 61, an architect who lives opposite Baker Field. “It’s similar to Frank Gehry architecture — large metal things whose glare is going to cause more brightness to reflect into people’s windows.”