Search results for "Brooklyn Cultural District"

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Canopy Tactics
Courtesy Freecell Architecture

Swathes of vacant land populate St. Louis, but by next spring, one such empty lot in the city’s Grand Center cultural district will be occupied by a new dynamic structure that will serve as a gathering space for performances and public programming. Today, the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts and the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University announced that they have selected Brooklyn-based collaborative, Freecell Architecture, as the winner of their urban design competition, PXSTL.

“They presented an idea that could really transform your understanding of that space and the larger neighborhood—and at any time of day,” said Kristina Van Dyke, the director of the Pulitzer Foundation. “The space requires something very monumental to give it some structure and a presence. And what they proposed was both monumental and ephemeral at the same time.”


Launched this past March, the competition invited artists, designers, and architects to submit ideas for activating a vacant lot across the street from the foundation. Three finalists were selected from a pool of 60 applicants earlier this summer, including Freecell Architecture, artist Oscar Tuazon, and San Francisco–based interdisciplinary design studio Rebar.

For the panel—made up of members from Sam Fox and the Pulitzer Foundation—Freecell’s proposal accomplished what the competition set out to do: to effectively use tactical urbanism to revamp a barren site. The temporary structure engages the local community while also remaining harmonious with the foundation’s contemplative concrete building designed by Tadao Ando.

“They most-utilized the site in terms of lighting and architectural structure, especially in response to the Tadao Ando building across the way,” said Carmon Colangelo, dean of the Sam Fox School. “This [Freecell’s structure] being light and flexible in comparison but still very architectonic.”


The structure proposed by Freecell consists of a platform topped by a canopy made of semi-translucent fabric shaped into adjustable funnels that can be arranged above or below the frame according to programmatic demands. The space will serve as a center for a variety of programming from dance to bike repair initiatives for kids. Lit up at night, the construction will also emerge as a visual landmark and “beacon” within the Grand Center landscape.

“In St. Louis, we were struck by the surprising polarity of the urban scape. There are zones and areas that were really de-populated post-war. We went in there and began to meet with these community organizations that were re-stitching and re-fortifying the people to move into the city,” said John Hartmann, creative director at Freecell. “We knew we needed to draw from a diverse radius of people to activate the lot.”


Hartmann and Lauren Crahan, the principal and founder of the winning architecture collaborative, are no strangers to the efficacy of spontaneous urbanism. They recently participated in the design of the exhibition, Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good, which earned a Special Mention from the Golden Lion jury at the Venice Biennial.

“As architects, it was important for us to see how people interact and inhabit it. Anything could be existing beneath the canopy but we knew that the canopy had to be activated by particular user groups,” said Crahan.

The next step is figuring out the logistics and execution of the installation as well as solidifying programming. The project is planned to open to the public in early summer of 2014 for a six-month period.

“There will be a lot of intense discussion with community partners about what they want,” said Hartmann. “We don’t want it to be just representative of a good cause, we want it to be good proper action to activate the space in a real way.”

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ArtPlace America Awards $15.2 Million Grant to Support Art Projects Across U.S.
Non-profit ArtPlace America has awarded creative placemaking grants to 54 recipients who were selected from more than 1,200 applicants. Totaling $15.2 million, the grants will support art projects in 44 neighborhoods across the United States, as well as a statewide project in Connecticut. Grant amounts range from $33,000 to $750,000, with the average grant at approximately $280,000. The idea behind the grants is to assist in turning urban communities into more welcoming and prosperous places for present and future residents through art and design projects. ArtPlace America is a partnership of national and regional foundations, as well as banks and federal agencies dedicated to encouraging creative placemaking. The partnership believes that art can be an essential part of revitalizing neighborhoods. Integrating art and design in public spaces, the theory goes, can help communities imagine new futures, hopefully ones that lead to redevelopment and the strengthening of businesses and the economy. Peruse the complete list and images of ArtPlace America 2013/2014 grants online. Office of Neighborhood Development: $250,000 Performing Arts Center Trust Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, Miami, FL From ArtPlace America: Building on momentum from its publicly-embraced master plan and the burst of public and private investment in its once-dormant neighborhood, the Adrienne Arsht Center will become one of the first major performing arts centers in the country to create its own Office of Neighborhood Development dedicated to accelerating and sustaining the creative evolution of its rapidly-changing, downtown Miami surroundings. Broad Avenue Water Tower Depot: $350,000 Binghampton Development Corp/Historic Broad Business Association, Memphis, TN From ArtPlace America: Binghampton Development Corporation and Historic Broad Business Association will transform an active warehouse loading dock on Historic Broad Avenue into an outdoor arts venue, convert a 140 foot tall water tower into an iconic public art beacon and activate The Water Tower Depot with eight weekends of community dance, followed by eight months of community-based programming. Old Town Artists Residency: $150,000 Bunnell Street Arts Center, Homer, AK From ArtPlace America: Old Town Artists Residency program will galvanize the community around Homer’s Old Town neighborhood through the creation and presentation of new work by artists in residence that activates the arts center’s space and surrounding outdoor sites including the Old Town People’s Garden Greenway. 12th Avenue Arts: $150,000 Capitol Hill Housing Foundation, Seattle, WA From ArtPlace America: Capitol Hill Housing will develop the new 12th Avenue Arts building, transforming a 29,000 sq ft surface parking lot on Seattle’s Capitol Hill into a vibrant mixed-use development combining arts, housing, retail and public safety uses. The Great Chicago Fire Festival: $250,000 Redmoon Theater, Chicago, IL From ArtPlace America: Redmoon will conceptulize, plan, implement, and produce the inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival, a city-wide ephemeral placemaking event developed in partnership with the City of Chicago. Pittsburgh Central Northside Artway Connector: $300,000 City of Asylum Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA From ArtPlace America: Through permanent and temporary public artworks, community-based residencies for international artists, and free multi-lingual literary and jazz performances, City of Asylum/Pittsburgh will bring vacant properties and public spaces to life in a joyful walkway that celebrates the liberating power of creative expression and draws residents and tourists to the community’s soon-to-be redeveloped Federal-North business district. CoSign: $200,000 American Sign Museum, Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY From ArtPlace America: The American Sign Museum will expand its innovative CoSign initiative that pairs artists, small businesses, and sign fabricators to design and install a critical mass of unique handcrafted signage in neighborhood business districts by refining its process and materials and testing implementation in two additional neighborhoods. It will also create a toolkit to help communities replicate CoSign locally and nationally. The Idea Foundry in Franklinton: $350,000 Franklinton Development Association, Columbus, OH From ArtPlace America: The dynamic and acclaimed “makerspace,” the Columbus Idea Foundry will become a partner and anchor tenant in a completely renovated neighborhood warehouse. With neighbors consisting of the Center of Science and Industry museum and a burgeoning arts collective, The Idea Foundry will complete an innovation triangle in Franklinton that blends the arts, the sciences and enterprise. OhHeckYeah: $200,000 Brian Corrigan, Denver, CO From ArtPlace America: OhHeckYeah transforms public space into a temporary street arcade that leverages the power of play to promote Denver’s cultural offerings while amplifying the community’s creative talent. Silent Lights: $33,000 Artist Build Collaborative, Brooklyn, NY From ArtPlace America: Working in partnership with NYCDOT, Artist Build Collaborative will install Silent Lights, a series of six gates that light up sequentially based on the intensity of sound and vibrations from oncoming traffic, to a safer, inviting experience for pedestrian commuters as they traverse a loud, poorly lit and busy underpass linking Red Hook, Brooklyn to its closest subway stop. The Walter Soboleff Center: $475,000 Sealaska Heritage Institute, Juneau, AK From ArtPlace America: The Walter Soboleff Center, a 29,000 square foot cultural arts center, will stand in the center of downtown Juneau, adjacent to the historic district, one block from the waterfront, and in close proximity to the State Capitol and the shops and restaurants frequented by residents, the legislature, and hundreds of thousands of tourists whose cruise ships dock at the wharf each summer. Through its design and programming the Center will establish Juneau as the primary destination for authentic Alaskan Native art experiences.
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TEN Arquitectos' Brooklyn Cultural District Tower Approved by City Council
Yesterday, the New York City Council approved a 32-story tower designed by TEN Arquitectos that is set to rise on an empty parcel adjacent to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. As AN reported last November, the site is the last undeveloped city-owned lot in the district. The mixed-use project will include 300 residential units (60 which will be "affordable"); 50,000 square feet of cultural space to be shared by BAM Cinema, performance groups connected with 651 Arts, and a new branch of the Brooklyn Public Library; a 10,000-square-foot public plaza; and 15,000 square feet of ground-level retail. “Two Trees is grateful to the City Council for its support and proud to partner with the city and some of Brooklyn’s most innovative cultural institutions to advance the growth of downtown Brooklyn’s world-class cultural district,” said Jed Walentas, a principal at Two Trees Management, in a statement. “With cultural space, much-needed affordable housing, and a new public plaza, we will be transforming a parking lot into an iconic building with many public benefits.”
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ULI Announces Finalists in Urban Open Space Award Competition
The Urban Land Institute (ULI) has announced five finalists for the Urban Open Space Award, a competition identifying exceptional examples of flourishing public open spaces that have encouraged economic and social rejuvenation within their neighborhoods. To qualify for the competition, projects must have been open to the public for a minimum of one year and a maximum of fifteen years. The open spaces must also be situated predominately outside, offer ample and diverse seating, sun and shade, and plantings, among other specific requirements. Brooklyn Bridge Park (Pictured at top) New York, New York Project Owner: Brooklyn Bridge Park Designer: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates From ULI: More than 32 acres have been built, including Pier 1, Pier 5, Pier 6, Squibb Park and Bridge, and Jane’s Carousel. New elements include Pier 5, the park’s first active recreation pier, and Squibb Park Bridge, which provides a vital circulation link to the surrounding community and public transit. The park’s greenway serves as a major connective thread through the park and along Brooklyn’s East River waterfront. Cumberland Park Nashville, Tennessee Project Owner: Metro Nashville Parks and Recreation Department Lead Design Consultant: Hargreaves Associates From ULI: Cumberland Park demonstrates Nashville’s commitment both to its children and to sustainability through brownfield remediation, floodplain preservation, stormwater harvesting, improved biodiversity, and interpretation of cultural and natural resources. It is a park that showcases its distinctive site qualities to attract families for imaginative play, events, and interaction with Nashville’s rich riverfront history. Cumberland Park and the neighboring redeveloped Bridge Building are the first constructed phases of a master plan prioritized to draw residents and visitors back to the river and downtown. The Village on False Creek Vancouver, British Columbia Project Owner: City of Vancouver Designer: PWL Partnership Landscape Architects From ULI: Located on a previously industrialized 80-acre waterfront site, The Village on False Creek, Vancouver’s premier sustainable neighborhood, exemplifies a new green-infrastructure-based approach to the public realm through the introduction of restored natural environments into a highly urban community. The public realm is composed of Hinge Park, Habitat Island, a waterfront park, and neighborhood streets. Together they provide multiple and varied recreational opportunities while acting as kidneys for the neighborhood, cleansing stormwater runoff before it reaches the ocean. The Yards Park Washington D.C. Project Owner: District of Columbia Designer: M. Paul Friedberg & Partners; Developer: Forest City From ULI: The goals of Yards Park are to bring Washingtonians to the Anacostia River, provide a transformative and vibrant public space, and generate social, economic, and ecological value. Yards Park offers an eclectic blend of human-scale experiences; active and passive spaces; custom furniture, shade structures, and plantings; and differentiated elements such as a sculptural bridge, public art by Jamie Carpenter, and various circulation paths and water features. In 5.7 acres, Yards Park eschews monumental scale for a series of outdoor rooms that rotate around central organizing elements of water and topographic change. Its programming strategy includes both large-scale festivals and smaller gatherings. Yards Park serves as cultural anchor to the Yards and the greater Capitol Riverfront area, reconnecting the city’s grid to the water. Wilmington Waterfront Park Wilmington, California Project Owner: Port of Los Angeles Designer: Sasaki Associates From ULI: Wilmington Waterfront Park, comprising nearly 30 acres, mediates the relationship between the residential neighborhood of Wilmington and the intensely active Port of Los Angeles. Reclaiming derelict, industrial brownfield land as new public open space, the park serves as a new recreational amenity while mitigating the threat of hazardous environmental waste, air and noise pollution, and dangerous industrial traffic from neighborhood streets. The park provides a safe, accessible new public realm; celebrates the vibrant community culture; interprets the site’s past; and creates a new memorable destination within a previously underserved neighborhood of Los Angeles.
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City Lights
The Bay Lights by artist Leo Villareal.
Lucas Saugen / Courtesy The Bay Lights

Cities rarely stand still. It is in their nature to evolve, expand, and, in some cases, contract. Whichever way they go, cities are always reinventing themselves, often one neighborhood at a time. Outdoor lighting can be a crucial part of this metamorphosis. Across the U.S., urban regeneration projects are stimulating activity in derelict infrastructure, defunct waterfronts, neglected plots of land, and dilapidated buildings. Though not completely erased, the use of fluorescent tubes and glaring security lights has been scaled back and in their place is a growing appreciation for sensitive, appropriate, and considered lighting. The arbiters of this decades-long shift are lighting designers. Their role in improving conditions to make safer, more accessible cities is increasingly key to urban design.

The Bay Lights transforms this workhorse bridge into a tourist destination on par with its better known sister, the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lucas Saugen / Courtesy The Bay Lights

To foster urban growth and economic development, it has become imperative for municipalities to respond to increased numbers of people on the streets, spikes in crime and vandalism, and an understanding that light needn’t just be a deterrent for unsavory activity, but can also perform as a catalyst for new appropriations of space and informal gatherings. The most obvious examples of such spaces vulnerable to neglect are those in perpetual shadow: underpasses. Tillett Lighting Design’s installation under the Brooklyn Bridge, This Way, is a response to what studio founder Linnaea Tillett interpreted as the neighborhood’s “mild nervous breakdown.” This breakdown, she said, resulted from the torrent of visitors who were unsure of where to go after descending the bridge, and who had a tendency to urinate in the stairway on finding there were no restroom facilities in the vicinity. “It may not be the most unsafe area, but it gets to feel like that when it’s so repellent,” said Tillett. The fingers of light that now fan out from the corners of the stairway entrance and along the bridge’s underside in spark-like formations offer a visual guide—and deterrant spotlight on the steps. Gwen Grossman Lighting Design’s The Wave in Chicago’s outskirts performs a similar service. Composed of a vibrant series of color-changing LED pendants arranged in a row, the installation has transformed a once-uninviting 250-foot-long covered walkway between a corporate building and a parking lot into an agreeable prelude to happy hour.

Gwen Grossman Lighting Design's The Wave in Chicago.
Brett Gardener

In some cases, light is used as a way to anchor unremarkable places to their broader context. Leni Schwendinger Light Project’s design for the Second Street Bridge underpass in Louisville, Kentucky, juxtaposes dimmable red and amber hues that nod to the bourbon warehouses on Whiskey Row with a rhythmic pattern of LED flashers (the same as those used on the Eiffel Tower). “I believe in surprise and anticipation,” said Schwindinger. Illuminating the underside of the bridge’s steel carriage, Schwendinger adapted a Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) control system—most commonly used in commercial buildings—to develop exterior lighting sequences in a series of energy-efficient fluorescent tubes filtered with colored glass. “I wanted the heavy structure to undulate, to breathe,” she said. The area below the bridge, conceived as a plaza, bathed as it is in changing light, now elicits delight as opposed to a sense of unease.

In Louisville, KY, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects turned an uninviting area under an old bridge into a pleasant passageway in an emerging nightlife district.
Ted Tarquino

An increasingly familiar approach to such spaces is to wash them with colored light, but the complexity lies in how much light and whether it should be a stand-alone feature or part of a wider program. Like many designers, Charles Stone, President of Fisher Marantz Stone, deals in contrasts. “Without dark, you don’t have light,” said Stone, whose first move in the design of the St. Clair Street Bridge in Indianapolis, Indiana, was to cast the surrounding area into darkness. Amid the gloom, a series of computer-controlled, color-changing LED fixtures floodlight the bridge’s underbelly and pathway. The color changes are synchronized to a sound installation that accompanies a historic interpretive display lining the curved walls.

Fisher Marantz Stone used computer-controlled LEDs to wash the St. Clair Street Bridge in Indianapolis, Indiana with changing colors of light.
Courtesy Fisher Marantz Stone

Connections above ground can be equally foreboding in the absence of illumination. In 1970, after decommissioning the High Bridge aqueduct, part of the Croton drinking water system, the steel and masonry passage linking the Bronx to Manhattan was closed due to vandalism. Recently, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation has begun to restore the span, hiring HLB Lighting Design to develope a scheme. The firm’s design accentuates the delicate steel lattice structure and its arches and integrates new LED technology into Parks’ uniform fixtures. “We are experiencing a shift, recognizing that quality of light is more important than quantity of light,” said Barbara Horton, a partner at HLB. In her experience, lighting has a lasting residual effect, “creating pride and identity and a destination.”

HLB Lighting Design's scheme for the soon-to-reopen High Bridge in New York.
Courtesy HLB

A good example of this is Fulton Street Mall in Brooklyn, where neglected maintenance of the dated street lighting led to vigilante solutions. Local businesses installed security lighting wall packs (the glaring box lights that are used to flood ATM machines), making the streetscape look more like a prison yard than a commercial thoroughfare. HLB intervened with custom-designed light posts that curve like a row of trees along the street, evoking a Parisian allée. The double-source posts feature one compact fluorescent lamp at 14 feet high and a metal halide lamp at 30 feet high. The posts were so successful at transforming the atmosphere of the mall that they are now being considered as standard fixtures for the city.

Four lighting master-plans for downtown San Diego, also by HLB.
Courtesy HLB

It is generally accepted that people feel safer when they can perceive space and recognize other people along the way. “I live in a city that believes that brighter is better and I don’t quite believe that,” says Jim Baney of Chicago firm Schuler Shook Lighting Design. “I do think that in an urban area you have to start with good lighting as a base line for people to feel safe.” The imminent development of Navy Pier in Chicago has put into question the safety and comfort of an increased number of visitors to the lakeside area. Baney has been pondering the details of a pedestrian flyover to alleviate this pressure and provide a more welcoming promenade. His work on Midway Crossing for the University of Chicago with artist James Carpenter and BauerLatoza Studio resulted in an elegant solution that transformed a once frightening route to campus. To help realize Carpenter’s vision of a light bridge, Schuler Shook designed a series of handrails embedded with horizontal and vertical lighting, striking a fine balance between intimate and secure. In addition to the handrails, non-traditional 40-foot-tall light masts act as a visual cue to demarcate the crossing. Baney is aware of a delicate balance in his work. “I feel like there’s a tension when we’re talking about exterior lighting,” he said. “We want to keep as much light out of our sky as possible, but to get those vertical light levels you need something with a presence. Often we use the architecture as a surface that we want to highlight, which we can illuminate better than ever with LEDs. Some still goes into the atmosphere but a lot less than 10-to-15 years ago.”

At the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Tillett back-lit a metal screen to offer a sense of occupancy to an otherwise desolate area.
Chuck Choi

Urban and industrial relics of yesteryear have also become canvases for lighting designers. As cities expand and engulf land that was formerly on the outskirts, and as major industry moves further away, old factory buildings and heavy infrastructure have been retrofitted for new populations of residents. The repurposed High Line in New York, lit by L’Observatoire International, is a case in point. Another is Tillett’s work at the fast-developing Brooklyn Navy Yard. She subtly back-lit screens in the windows of warehouse buildings to give a sense of occupation to an otherwise desolate area.

L'Observatoire International created a moody installation on the High Line that dramatizes the industrial architecture.
Emile Dubuisson

Perception of how dangerous or hostile a place is can at times be more detrimental to an area than tangible threats. In North Amsterdam, for example, Sophie Valla Architects recently renovated a derelict gas station into a cultural kiosk and arts space as part of a scheme to revamp a nearby park and transit line. To broadcast the old filling station’s change in function, the designers fitted lights into the newly paneled canopy. The lighting scheme doesn’t by itself provide any greater safety, but the luminous structure and the crowds that are attracted to it like moths around a bulb are testament to the powerful impact light can have on leftover infrastructure.

Lighting turned a disused gas station into a gathering place outside Amsterdam.
Marcus Koppen

Sometimes, just making people aware of their environment is enough to change their perceptions about it. An extreme example of this is The Bay Lights, the recent light installation—the biggest in the world—on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, which was conceived by Ben Davis and designed by Leo Villareal. “It is transforming the urban environment,” said Davis, Chair of Illuminate the Arts. “Art calls our attention to that that’s already there.” Built only months before the Golden Gate Bridge, the 75 year-old Bay Bridge has never been applauded as an icon like its blushing sister. Davis’ celebration of this workhorse and underdog has changed that. People now gather nightly at the Embarcadero to see the bridge come to life in the flickering light of 250,000 LEDs that are animated by an algorithm to resemble what Villareal calls a “digital campfire.”

L'Observatoire International's lighting design helps to elevate the architecture and infrastructure of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility in Brooklyn.
Emile Debuisson

The theatrical blue floodlighting that highlights the gargantuan anaerobic digesters at the Newtown Creek Waste Water Treatment Facility in Brooklyn and the planned lantern-like glow of Steven Holl’s library in nearby Long Island City, Queens, are two other examples of unsung features of the built environment that have been imbued with a greater civic role by lighting. For Jason Neches, office director at L’Observatoire International, making such structures visible is key to improving urban life. “We like those kinds of diamonds in the rough. Gritty and not inherently beautiful, but that can change with an artful use of lighting.” This kind of lighting, which doesn’t necessarily respond to social ills, nevertheless contributes to the inherent cognitive mapping that takes place inside a city. It creates beacons at night, helping people to orient themselves, an important component of familiarity and comfort. As Charles Stone says: “the reason to live in a city is to see it at night.”

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Rockwell Place Hotel
Courtesy Leeser Architecture

Rockwell Place Hotel
Designer: Leeser Architecture
Client: Second Development Services
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Completion: Late 2014/Early 2015

As its expansion of the BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn and UrbanGlass complex nears completion, Leeser Architecture is embarking on its next project in the Brooklyn Downtown Cultural District. The Brooklyn-based firm has been tapped to design the new 200-room Rockwell Place Hotel next to The Theater for a New Audience. With the new Barclays Center only a block away and a flood of new arts and cultural venues cropping up in the area, the 30-story hotel will accommodate the growing number of visitors flocking to the borough.

When he conceptualized the design, Thomas Leeser said, he wanted it to be a “marker of how we see Brooklyn.”


For that reason, the building, made of white fritted glass and metal, will feature dramatic asymmetrical fractures in the facade that reinforce a notion of Brooklyn as “multi-faceted” and “modern,” according to Leeser. “It was very important that this building be, on one hand, very ‘contemporary slick,’ but also not perfect,” he said. “Because Brooklyn isn’t perfect.”

The hotel will rise approximately 300 feet and will include a rooftop bar with a small pool, a banquet hall, a ballroom, a performance space on the basement level, and a restaurant on the main floor and mezzanine that looks onto an outdoor arts plaza.

“We wanted to make a statement that Brooklyn is very cutting edge—it is not just the little sister of Manhattan anymore,” said Leeser.

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A Room with a View: A Boutique Hotel to Rise Along the Gowanus
The contaminated waters of the Gowanus Canal—nor the threat of flooding from future storms like Hurricane Sandy—are deterring developers from building right up on the canal's edge. In fact, a new swanky boutique hotel is about to wash up on the shores of the Gowanus Canal. This comes at a time when several new hotels are in the works for Brooklyn over the next few years, including the Rockwell Place Hotel in the Brooklyn Downtown Cultural District and Selldorf Architect's revival of the Bossert Hotel in Brooklyn Heights. Capital New York reported that downtown nightlife maven Matt Abramcyk of the original Beatrice Inn and Smith & Mills restaurant will build this new 82-room hotel to be named the Gowanus Inn & Yard at 645 Union Street just off Fourth Avenue. Abramcyk will team up with Alec Shtromandel who built the Union Hotel on nearby DeGraw Street. The project is expected to cost $13 million and slated to open in early 2015. With a slew of new restaurants and concert venues, Gowanus is emerging as the next industrial frontier primed for new development catering to Brooklyn’s hipster-meets-yuppie set.
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Thomas Leeser Designs a Hotel for Brooklyn's BAM Cultural District
bam_hotel_01 Even though Brooklyn has morphed into a hub of cultural activity, there has been a notable shortage of hotels to serve the spike in visitors, especially in south Brooklyn. But this will soon change. The New York Post reported that a new 200-room hotel, designed by Thomas Leeser, is in the works for the Brooklyn Downtown Cultural District, which recently saw plans for new towers by TEN Arquitectos. The hotel, with asymmetrical splits in the facade, will replace a five-story building at 95 Rockwell Place, and include a basement performance space, a rooftop bar, a banquet hall, and a restaurant that looks onto an outdoor arts plaza. It will be in a prime location—right next to The Theater for a New Audience and close to a 32-story mixed-use complex from Two Trees and a 50,000-square-feet cultural space that will be occupied by BAM, 651 ARTS, and the Brooklyn Public Library. Developer Second Development Services (SDS) predicts they will break ground next fall and complete construction within two years.
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Manhattan West's Railyard-Spanning Platform Breaks Ground
Manhattan's far west side is about to become one of the busiest construction sites in the country. Last Tuesday morning, officials gathered at the corner of 9th Avenue and West 33rd Street to celebrate the second major groundbreaking in the Hudson Yards District, Brookfield Properties' trio of new SOM-designed towers comprising the Manhattan West development to be built over a large rail yard serving Penn Station. The $4.5 billion project's first phase, construction of the north portion of the railroad-spanning platform that will eventually support development, is now underway, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speculated that the second half of the platform could be underway in coming months. Excavation has been ongoing since the fall of 2012. "From Battery Park to Riverside Park, it's just amazing how much development there has been all along the west side; an area everybody thought did not have the potential to become a hot neighborhood." Bloomberg said. "Manhattan West will be a prime location in which to live or work, a vital piece of the mixed-use community we've envisioned for the Hudson Yards area, which is beginning to take shape." He noted the project's proximity to Hudson River Park, the High Line and its cultural connections in Chelsea, and ease of access via Penn Station. Bloomberg was joined on stage by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Port Authority's Patrick Foye, Hudson Yards Development Corporation President Ann Weisbrod, Brookfield chairman John Zuccotti, and Brookfield executives Dennis Friedrich and Ric Clark. Bloomberg attributed the success of the west side to a 2005 rezoning of the Hudson Yards district and the 7-line subway extension. "Let me remind you," he noted. "A subway line paid for by city dollars when the state wouldn't come through." He said over $6 billion has been invested in the area since 2005. Brookfield has owned the Manhattan West site since 1984, and Friedrich noted that the current economic conditions made it the right time to build. Twin office towers with retail space will anchor the corners of the site, each with two million square feet of office space, and a third residential building will be built along West 31st Street for a total of 5.4 million square feet of space. The cores of the office towers will be anchored in bedrock adjacent to the new platform and the residential tower will be built to the side of the rail yards, adjacent to the new platform. In addition to the three towers, Manhattan West also calls for a 100-foot-wide swatch of new public space between the office towers built on the new platform. High Line designers James Corner Field Operations will design the new 1.5-acre landscape, which is imagined as a recreated 32nd Street forming a pedestrian link with Hudson Yards and park amenities farther west. "The open space at the center of the development will form a pedestrian-friendly link between those mass-transit hubs and Hudson Yards, the High Line, and the Hudson River Park," Bloomberg said. The existing 16-story tower built in 1970 and already spanning the yards is also being redeveloped, and the Observer reports that Brooklyn-based firm REX will be handling the updates to the building, which, based on new renderings from Brookfield, includes a new facade. The structure was originally designed by Davis, Brody & Associates. Initial work includes building the northern platform over the west side rail yards, work that is expected to be complete by late 2014. Friedrich said office construction will start thereafter once financing is secured, remaining optimistic that initial tenants could be on site in the first tower by 2016. Financing for the $680 million deck is already in place with a $340 million construction loan. Brookfield is paying for the remaining $340 million. The deck consists of 16 prefabricated concrete bridge structures covering 60 percent of the five-acre Manhattan West site. "Initially we planned a platform that involved a very elaborate system of structural steel down at the track level," Friedrich said. "We challenged our engineering teams and they came up with a new plan called a 'segmental precast bridge system,'" that minimizes the disruption to track levels, reduces costs, and speeds up construction time. A sample segment of the platform was on display, which Mayor Bloomberg and spectators signed after the ceremony. The large "launcher" that will set the platform pieces in place (see video above) is currently being fabricated off site.
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BAM! Development Explosion
TEN Arquitectos' 32-story tower viewed from the corner of Lafayette Avenue and Ashland Place.
Courtesy TEN Arquitectos

On November 28, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced milestones in three projects that will bring affordable housing and additional cultural and community space to the last city-owned parcels in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. First, the Gotham Organization and DT Salazar are partnering with City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to develop a 515,000-square-foot mixed-use building on a site bounded by Fulton Street, Rockwell Place, and Ashland Place. Second, Two Trees Management Company has initiated the public review and approval process for a 32-story mixed-use facility designed by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos on Flatbush and Lafayette. Finally, HPD released an RFP for the last development parcel in the district, located at the intersection of Ashland Place and Lafayette.

“Downtown Brooklyn has very quickly become one of the city’s most vibrant cultural destinations and an exciting place to live,” said Mayor Bloomberg in a statement. “These projects—which will bring more affordable housing and community space to the neighborhood—are more proof of the confidence that the real estate industry has in New York City and in downtown Brooklyn.”

Three parcels in Downtown Brooklyn are targeted for development.
Courtesy Google, Montage by AN

HPD has finalized plans with the Gotham Organization and DT Salazar to build 600 units of new housing, 50 percent of which will be affordable and 40 percent of the affordable units will be two-bedroom units. When completed, the building will also contain 20,000-square-feet of cultural and related office space and 20,000-square-feet of retail space. HPD and the NYC Housing Development Corporation (HDC) expect to close on financing with the development team late next year and to see construction begin shortly thereafter. The Gotham Organization has not yet announced the architect of the project, which has just begun design development.

Two Trees, which agreed to purchase the district’s South Site parcel from the City’s Economic Development Corporation in 2009, began the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) to gain approval to build a new mixed-use development on the Flatbush Avenue site. The approximately 47,000-square-foot lot, which is bounded by Flatbush, Lafayette Avenue, and Ashland Place, is currently a parking lot owned and operated by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Once the ULURP process is complete, and approvals have been granted, Two Trees can begin constructing the Ten Arquitectos highrise, which includes approximately 50,000-square-feet of creative and cultural space that will be shared by BAM, 651 ARTS, and the Brooklyn Public Library. In addition, the tower will include approximately 23,000-square-feet of ground-level retail, as well as approximately 300 to 400 apartments, 20 percent of which will be affordable.

A plaza along Flatbush Avenue will sit adjacent to Enrique Norten's tower.
Courtesy TEN Arquitectos

Plans for the site also include a 16,000-square-foot public plaza programmed for a variety of outdoor uses, including dance and theater performances, film presentations, open air markets and crafts fairs, and other community uses.

Once the facility is complete, the 50,000-square-feet of cultural space and a portion of the public plaza will be controlled by the City of New York. Approximately 17,400-square-feet of space will be occupied by BAM to allow the institution to meet the needs of its growing audiences. A component of this expansion will enable the academy to make its BAM Hamm Archives Center resources available to the public, providing researchers, artists, educational institutions, and students with access to materials and records documenting the oldest performing arts center in the country.

The Brooklyn Public Library will use approximately 16,500 square feet of the cultural space to open a new state-of-the-art branch. The new branch will offer traditional library services as well as new technologies and programming that will benefit the local community.

651 ARTS, an acclaimed performing arts presenter dedicated to artists of the African Diaspora, will occupy a 12,500-square-foot studio and rehearsal center. The rehearsal studios will be available at affordable rates, and preference will be given to organizations in the Downtown Brooklyn Cultural District. The state-of-the-art studios will also be multi-purpose space for education programs, and will provide opportunities for live public performances, gatherings, and salons for artists to cultivate their work.

On November 27, HPD released an RFP for Cultural District Site II, the last development parcel in the district, located at the intersection of Ashland Place and Lafayette Avenue. The RFP calls for approximately 100,000 square feet of floor area and may include residential, community, and/or commercial space, with a requirement to include a minimum of 15,000 square feet dedicated to cultural space and the arts. If affordable housing is proposed it must serve low-income New Yorkers. Proposals must be submitted by February 1, 2013. For more information and to download the RFP, visit

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Agencies of Change
Hunters Point South and Long Island City
Courtesy NYCEDC

The Bloomberg Administration is arguably one of the most pro-development governments in city history. Since he took office, the Mayor has used city agencies to unleash the forces of New York real estate while also steering those forces to meet goals for a cleaner, greener, and more equitable city. PlaNYC, the catch-all name for the Mayor’s bundle of 132 sustainability initiatives, creates a framework for over 25 city agencies to collaborate on a vast array of projects, from the new East River Ferry service to a $187 million investment in green infrastructure. While some programs such as MillionTreesNYC, are making streets leafier one tree at a time, many of the Mayor’s initiatives have reshaped the city in profound ways. As the administration counts down its remaining days in office, AN checks in with the individual agencies whose projects have had the most impact on development in the city.

By Alan G. Brake, Molly Heintz, Julie V. Iovine, Branden Klayko, Nicholas Miller, and Tom Stoelker.

Willets Point
Courtesy NYCEDC

New York City Economic Development Corporation

The New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) is not a city agency at all but a non-profit with a mission to spur local development, but the Mayor appoints seven members of the organization’s board of directors, including the chairperson.

The NYCEDC, which has grown from a staff of 200 to over 400 during Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor, has its hand in hundreds of projects across the city. “Our goal has been to diversify development across five boroughs,” said NYCEDC President Seth Pinsky. And just because Bloomberg’s term is coming to a close, don’t think things are winding down. The Applied Sciences campus on Roosevelt Island is just getting underway and, as of June, the city had acquired 95 percent of the land required to move forward with Willets Point, a five million square foot development that includes the remediation of a contaminated site.

Hunter's Point South (left) and Seward Park (SPURA) (Right).
courtesy NYCEDC; HPD

Major Initiatives: According to NYCEDC, the Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) Initiative is a “sustainable blueprint for realizing New York as a premier waterfront city.” Under the umbrella of the initiative are 130 projects across more than 500 miles of city coastline. Twelve city agencies are involved along with investment of $3 billion over the next three years.

The City’s Coney Island Revitalization Plan calls for a mixed-use neighborhood with 5,000 new units of housing plus retail, an effort the city predicts will generate 25,000 construction jobs and 6,000 permanent jobs.

The South Bronx Initiative was launched by the Mayor in 2006 to create a strategic plan to support private investment, development, and infrastructure planning in that area. Working with HPD, NYCEDC developed retail corridors that would support new housing.

NYEDC has also increased outreach to communities impacted by its projects. The State says too much, recently citing EDC for playing “a behind-the-scenes role in the lobbying activities” on behalf of Willets Point and Coney Island developments.

Coney Island
Courtesy NYCEDC

Status: The statistics on WAVES initiatives are detailed: 34 projects completed; 71 projects on schedule; 14 projects with delays; 5 projects reconsidered; 1 project not yet started. Projects include New Stapleton Waterfront, a seven-acre development on the site of the former Navy Homeport in Staten Island, featuring 900 rental units, retail, and a waterfront esplanade. “The RFP was issued in late 2007, then the financial crisis hit causing us to lose all the original respondents. But we managed to persevere. We found a new developer, Ironstate Development of Hoboken, broke the projects into phases, and rejiggered some of the site uses,” said Pinsky.

At Coney Island, before construction can start, the proper infrastructure has to be in place—namely sewers. “A lot of the areas had never had substantial development, and in order to build housing and retail, you need to have adequate infrastructure,” said Pinsky. As part of the Coney Island plan, the City is putting $150 million into infrastructure alone.

Impact: “There used to be vacant lots in the South Bronx, and now there’s density, a hustle and bustle. I wish that EDC and HPD would work together more to do mixed-used projects—that’s the type of synergy we need.”
Magnus Magnusson, Magnusson Architects

Zoning initiatives adopted, 2002-2012.
Courtesy DCP

New York City Department of City Planning

Major Initiatives: Under the Bloomberg Administration, the Department of City Planning has been more active than at anytime since the days of the Lindsay Administration’s vaunted City Planning Commission. Since 2002, 40 percent of the city has been rezoned (115 rezonings covering more than 10,300 blocks). Under the direction of Commissioner Amanda Burden, the department has adapted for the 21st century many of the initiatives first conceived under Lindsay, including large-scale mixed-use developments such as Hudson Yards (with customized zoning and financing mechanisms for infrastructure improvements) and Willets Point while amplifying community involvement through intensive public-private collaborations—the High Line, South Street Seaport—and enabling coordinated efforts across agencies in order to address sustainability goals and open space and streetscape improvements. In Greenpoint/ Williamsburg, planning partnered with HPD to structure a new Inclusionary Housing Program along the waterfront, while collaborating with the Parks Department to ensure that the new two-mile waterfront esplanade would remain fully accessible to the public.

But it will most likely be the attention to detail that will be remembered most about Burden’s reign, from the creative zoning encouraging cultural uses on 125th Street to the bar-style balustrades along the East River Waterfront Esplanade.

East River Esplanade.
Tom Stoelker / AN

Status: Subject to major rezonings, some neighborhoods are already reaping the hoped–for rewards although not always as originally envisioned. A 2004 rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn to transform it into a major business hub has been slow to take off, even as it has triggered a residential boom—26 new buildings; 5,200 units. This summer, the emergence of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress campus, and MakerBot’s move to MetroTech are adding some momentum. The 2005 rezoning of the Greenpoint /Williamsburg waterfronts has added fuel to the ascendance of the Brooklyn waterfront, while rezonings of Bedford Stuyvesant North, West Harlem and the South Bronx will inevitably take much longer to catch on.

Attention is currently focused on a big final push to rezone East Midtown and redirect development towards the East Side triggering changes with potentially more impact on the core skyline than anything along the waterfronts.

Impact: “Mayor Bloomberg restructured city government by having agencies responsible for land use and economic development report to a single Deputy Mayor. Strong leadership at City Hall has coordinated multiple Mayoral agencies, not just those concerned with economic development, to help shape and realize our ambitious rezoning initiatives. It has been through the coordinated and directed efforts of multiple agencies that we have been able to achieve adoption and ensure implementation of our ambitious plans.”
Commissioner Amanda Burden, Department of City Planning

In Williamsburg, developers of the Edge (Below, left) and Northside Piers (below, right) were required to build waterfront esplanades (above) as public amenities.
Jesper Norgaard

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Major Initiatives: New York City comprises 29,000 acres of parkland. Over the past decade, the Bloomberg Administration has added more than 730 acres. While Central Park has long been a major economic generator of funds ($656 million in increased tax revenues in 2007 generated by adjacent properties increasing in value by proximity to the park), increasing riverside accessibility at Greenpoint and Williamsburg’s former industrial sites, Hunters Point South, Hunts Point and along the city’s 520 miles of waterfront have become key initiatives of the administration, and the progress is notable. Commissioner Adrian Benepe has made no secret that the administration’s definition of success lies in creative financing with a bedrock of public-private partnerships. The commissioner pointed to the Central Park Conservancy as the great “friends of” model, but hand-in-glove cooperation with City Planning and the Department of Transportation has reshaped waterfront parks and their upland streetscapes by courting development.

Jesper Norgaard; Courtesy Toll Brother

Status: There are 160 active capital projects in the parks department. Of several near-term priorities, three waterfront projects are engaging in public-private developer involvement. In Greenpoint/Williamsburg the city is cobbling together parcels to create public parks linked with privately owned pubic spaces (POPS). A 2005 rezoning required developers to build the POPS at the river’s edge in return for substantial floor area ratio increases. The zoning encouraged Toll Brothers to build Northside Piers, Douglaston to create Williamsburg Edge, and JMH to restore 184 Kent. The 30-acre Hunter’s Point South allowed for park designs by Balsley/Weiss/ Manfredi with Arup and residential towers developed in part by Related and designed by SHoP. In the Bronx, a grass roots riverside cleanup eventually led the Department of Environmental Protection to supply land for Barretto Park.

The city is building parks at Hunter’s Point South to facilitate development compatible with an urban waterfront.
Courtesy NYCEDC

Impact: “The difference between now and 1979 is that you didn’t have the dozen or so major nonprofits involved, so that I think that will insure that whoever takes over at Parks, maintenance will not be an afterthought.”
Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Department of Parks and Recreation

“Before we bought the Banknote Building we were certainly aware of what had been accomplished at Beretto Point and Hunts Point and saw that as a tangible sign of the city’s commitment to the peninsula. It was a strong symbol that things were happening here.”
Jonathan Denham, co-president of Denham Wolf

LPC has approved both contextual such as St. Vincent’s (left) and contemporary designs like One Jackson Square (right).
Courtesy FXFowle; KPF

New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission

Though Landmarks has added 31 new historic districts, landmarked structures represent a tiny fraction of the city’s buildings; Click to enlarge.
Courtesy LPC

Major Initiatives: Though landmark districts encompass a mere three percent of the city’s landmass, their effects can stretch beyond landmark borders. Developers argue that the districts inhibit growth and preservationists believe they spur it. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Lamdmarks Commission has been known to allow huge projects within districts, such as the Rudin Managment’s St. Vincent plan, especially when highly contextual. At other times, new buildings are allowed to challenge the status quo, as in Hines’s One Jackson Square, which sits just up the street from St. Vincent’s. To make for a more transparent process, Commissioner Robert Tierney said that new rules will be introduced next year to codify procedures and allow online permitting. But this has not mollified concerns from developers. Two Trees owns more that 2 million square feet within the DUMBO historic district. “People like to live in DUMBO before it was a landmark district,” said Two Trees’ Jed Walentas. “The fact that it’s landmarked just makes it more expensive.”

Status: Pre-Bloomberg, there were 77 historic districts and 9 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 22,400 properties.

Currently there are 108 historic districts  and 18 historic district extensions, encompassing approximately 28,500 properties.

There are 30,000 landmarked sites throughout the city, including 1,316 individual landmarks, 10 scenic landmark sites, and 114 interior landmarks.

Protected buildings in DUMBO (left) and the new DUMBO historic district (right).
Courtesy Two Trees; LPC

Impact: “Yes, it’s a process that requires significant resources and time, but maybe for the developers who are able to work through our process, it’s worth it.”
Chair Robert Tierney, Landmarks Preservation Commission

“There’s a time and a place for landmarking; where it becomes scary is when it becomes an anti-development tool during a hot real estate market.”
Brooklyn developer Jed Walentas

Left to right: Madison Square Plaza; Dutch Kills Green; Broadway leading to Columbus Circle.
Courtesy DOT; Linda Pollack; Courtesy DOT

New York City Department of Transportation

Major Initiative: Pedestrian Plazas

Status: Recognizing that streets in New York account for 25 percent of the city’s area yet pedestrian amenities were scarce, DOT created Sustainable Streets, a multimodal transportation policy for the city, calling in part for improving streetscapes for pedestrians and cyclists and creating new public spaces from underused roadways in targeted locations such as Times Square, Herald Square, the Flatiron District, and now Vanderbilt Avenue. Also in 2008 and 2009, DOT undertook the Green Light for Midtown program to improve the streetscape along Broadway, created new plazas at Madison Square’s iconic Flatiron Building, and built a ribbon of new public space along a new Broadway Boulevard connecting Herald and Times squares.

In June the study, “If You Build It: The Impact of Street Improvements on Commercial Office Space,” showed how improvements work together to create a backbone along Broadway. Hotels, in particular, are taking advantage of older building stock. In recent years, the Ace Hotel, the NoMad Hotel, and the Flatiron Hotel have all opened in previously overlooked blocks of Broadway; Marriott plans an Edition Hotel in Madison Square’s Clock Tower Building. Astor Place may be the next hot spot. With over eight acres of new pedestrian space planned there, it is the site for one of the first new spec buildings in the past 20 years.

Madison Square Plaza after DOT's pedestrian improvements (left) and the conditions before (right).
Courtesy DOT

Impact: “Once it was valuable to be right on the park, but now it’s also valuable to be near the park as the pedestrian improvements and bike lanes connect everything together. It’s not just Broadway, but areas around them forming a cohesive whole.”
Janet Liff, a commercial broker in Midtown South

“We have definitely seen vacancies decrease and rents increase. We’ve seen a massive amount of hotel development at the north side of the Flatiron District. In particular, large commercial tenants see these improvements as their front yard. It was the perfect storm of investment in the community.”
Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership

Hunter's Point South.
Courtesy HPD

New York City Department of Housing Preservation & Development

Via Verde.
Courtesy Dattner

Major Initiative: The New Housing Marketplace Plan calls for the creation and preservation of 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2014.

Status: HPD counts more than 125,000 units towards this goal. By the end of fiscal year 2011, 35% of housing started under the plan was new construction, 65% preservation. The agency has been more successful at preservation of affordable housing than new construction, due in part to the real estate downturn. HPD is currently “getting started on and finishing out” many new construction projects and closing in on construction, according to Deputy Commissioner for Development RuthAnne Vishnauskas. “You will definitely see progress towards getting towards the marquee goal for new construction sites.” Seward Park (now in ULURP) on the Lower East Side and Hunter’s Point South (under construction) in Queens are major new developments that the agency hopes to complete by 2014, each of which will include more than 900 units of affordable housing.

Impact: “New York City is lucky and unique in that we have a very strong for-profit sector that builds affordable housing. That part of the sector never really wanes. There were for-profit developers doing affordable housing even when the economy was low.”
RuthAnne Vishnauskas, Deputy Commissioner for Development

Two examples of Blue Roofs.
Courtesy DEP

New York City Department of Environmental Protection

Major Initiative: DEP signed a consent agreement with the New York State Department of Environmental Protection (which enforces federal EPA standards) to comply with the federal Clean Water Act standards, improve the health of the city’s waterways, and dramatically reduce the number of combined sewage overflows.

Status: DEP is currently developing Long Term Compliance Plans (LTCP) for ten New York City Waterways as well as a citywide LTCP, the first of which will be completed in 2013 and all of which will be finished by 2017. DEP is also expanding gray and green infrastructure throughout the city—including bioswales, and green and blue roofs—moving from pilot projects to larger scale implementation.

On July 1, DEP mandated a ten-fold increase in the amount of stormwater that must be retained on site for all new construction projects, dramatically reducing stormwater flows. DEP worked with the real estate and development community to create flexible options for retention systems, including pervious surfaces, green and blue roofs, storage tanks, and recycling systems. Cleaning New York’s waterways, from the Gowanus Canal to New Town Creek to the Bronx River, will also open up desirable waterfront sites for redevelopment. Investing in green infrastructure will in general benefit the development community, according to DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland.

Impact: “We spent a lot of time doing outreach to stakeholders, including the real estate community. They wanted more options and more guidance for how to meet the new standards. Green infrastructure improves the social spaces of the block and makes them more desirable. It improves the triple bottom line.”
Commissioner Carter Strickland, Department of Environmental Protection

East River Ferry Route (left; click to enlarge) and a ferry navigating the East River (right).
Courtesy Billybey Company; Branden Klayko / AN

New York City Economic Development Corporation/ Department of Transportation/Private Operators

Major Initiative: East River Ferry Service

Status: A three-year pilot program for East River ferry service connecting rapidly developing sites in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens including Hunter’s Point South and the Williamsburg waterfront launched in June 2011. The public-private partnership is part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) calling for sustainable development along New York’s waterways. Initial projections estimating 409,000 annual trips were shattered as over one million rides were logged in just over a year of service. Responding to the popularity, private ferry operator, the BillyBey Ferry Company, began offering local food options on all of its 149-passenger ships and launched larger, 399-passenger boats on weekends.

Impact: “The East River Ferry Service is still in a trial period, but so far it’s exceeded all our expectations.”
EDC spokeswoman Jennifer Friedberg

“The early signs are remarkable in terms of economic vitality. The life that’s been embedded into the neighborhoods along the ferry service is remarkable. At the Edge development in Williamsburg, once ferry service was in place, marketing for the Edge worked much better. I have heard interest from developers in Long Island City on being near the ferry. It’s easy, frequent, steady transportation, especially when the only alternative is the overcrowded 7-line in Queens. Now, we’re looking for a permanent form of subsidy to keep the pilot going. The cost is one third of the subsidy of the average express bus service, so it’s a real bargain.”
Roland Lewis, President of the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance

Left to right: One57; The Sheffield; The Willow; 50 West Street.
Courtesy Extell; UT Borrower; AKA Partners; Time Equities

Back To Building

MEANWHILE, private development is beginning to rally on its own, whether driven by an economic upswing or the irresistible momentum of the pendulum swinging back into action. Condominiums and tall towers are leading the way, more than a few on 57th Street, propelled apparently by that incomparable shaper of urban form, commercial competition:

12th Avenue & West 57th Street
35 stories

The Sheffield
322 West 57th
58 stories
UT Borrower

157 West 57th Street
90 stories

The Willow
120 West 57th Street
29 stories
Ark Partners

105 West 57th Street
52 stories
JDS Development

432 Park Avenue
& 50 East 57th Street
89 stories


250 East 57th Street
59 Stories
World-Wide Group

250 West 55th Street
39 stories
Boston Properties

Tour Verre
53 West 53rd Street
78 stories

Baccarat Hotel
20 West 53rd Street
45 stories
Starwood Capital Group/Tribeca Associates

International Gem Tower
54 West 47th Street
34 stories


Gotham West
550 West 45th Street
31 Stories
Gotham Organization

Hyatt Times Square
135 West 45th Street
54 stories

555 West 34th Street
65 stories
Moinian Group

Manhattan West
West 31st – 33rd Streets
66 stories

One Hudson Yards
56 stories


99 Washington Street
50 stories
Holiday inn

111 Washington Street
57 Stories
Pink Stone Capital

56 Leonard Street
57 stories
Alexico Group/Hines

Courtyard & Residence Inn
1715 Broadway
68 stories
Granite Broadway Development

50 West Street
65 stories
Time Equities

Four Seasons
99 Church Street
80 stories
Silverstein Properties

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A New Morning in Washington
EE& KKs master plan for The Wharf along the waterfront, an ambitiously mixed-use (including a graduate school) development by Hoffman-Madison Waterfront that is adjacent to the equally forward-looking revitalization plan for the Southwest EcoDistrict.
Courtesy EE&K

Long considered one of the most traditional and risk-averse cities in the country, Washington D.C. is embracing innovative architecture and urban planning. Thanks to a new generation of enlightened local governance buoyed by on-going federal spending and related private development, which has kept the city booming through the Great Recession, the Capital is emerging as an unexpected model of progressive urbanism. Amanda Kolson Hurley surveys the scene.

It’s hard to pinpoint just when D.C. began to change—when a famously classical city took a second look at contemporary architecture and urban design, liked what it saw, and even more surprising given its ingrained traditionalism, many-layered regulatory processes, and vocal NIMBY groups, started building more of it.

“Here’s the challenge in Washington: it’s still a city in which the people are fundamentally not Los Angeles–type people. This is a place that’s conservative,” said Roger Lewis, an architect and Washington Post columnist who has lived in D.C. since the late 1960s. “We have this legacy of classically inspired buildings. That, coupled with the L’Enfant Plan and the 130-foot height limit, does tend to produce a mindset…that resists innovation.”

But Lewis and others see that resistance crumbling and a new eagerness for architectural innovation emerging. Even the Height Act of 1910, once taken as doctrine, is under review. D.C.’s Mayor Vincent Gray and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that oversees the district, recently said they would consider relaxing the limits, especially outside of the monumental core. As the city’s population grows and buildable parcels of land dwindle, economic development types can only look in one direction: up.

CityCenter DC, now under construction, by Foster + Partners in collaboration with D.C.-based firms fills a ten-acre site near the convention center and includes inner courtyards with shopping and parks.
Courtesy Arch Stone

One watershed moment was November 2007, when the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard opened at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. A billowing glass canopy designed by Foster + Partners that floats over shallow pools and rectangular planters by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, the space won over tourists, locals, and critics alike. An elegant juxtaposition of new and old—the museums are housed in the Old Patent Office, a Greek Revival masterpiece—it showed skeptical Washingtonians that modernism could mean more than a bland office block or a hulking Great Society–era government building.

renderings of the National Museum of African American History and Culuture, due for completion in 2015, designed by Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup for the Washington Mall.
Courtesy Adjaye Associates

Not long after, another British firm, Rogers Stirk Harbour, introduced a subdued version of high tech to Capitol Hill at 300 New Jersey Avenue. Vancouver architect Bing Thom’s transformation of the Arena Stage in the Southwest quadrant has also been a tremendous success since its opening in October 2010. There followed, in relatively quick succession, a number of buildings and commissions embracing the new. In 2009, Freelon Adjaye Bond/SmithGroup beat out other superteams to design the National Museum of African American History and Culture, now under construction on one of the last remaining spots on the Mall, and due for completion in 2015.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro is at work on the “Bloomberg Balloon,” an inflatable space it designed for the doughnut-hole of the Hirshhorn Museum, scheduled to debut next year. And the Trust for the National Mall, in partnership with the National Park Service, has recently announced the winners of a forward-looking competition to rehabilitate three neglected sites within the Mall’s 700-acre expanse: Rogers Marvel Architects + Peter Walker and Partners; OLIN + Weiss/ Manfredi; Gustafson Guthrie Nichol + Davis Brody Bond. Among the winning proposals, there was not a colonnade in sight.

Rendering of the Sylvan theater pavilion for the grounds of the Washington Monument by OLIN + Weiss/Manfredi, part of a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the Washington Mall.
Courtesy respective firms

Progress has not charged forward without a few bumps. Frank Gehry’s scheme for the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, which features stripped columns and multistory metal “tapestries” depicting the Kansas landscape has stirred considerable controversy, and some early designs have been scrapped. Still, it’s worth remembering that Gehry was chosen by a commission made up primarily of members of Congress who continue to stand by their architect, despite objections by Eisenhower’s family and cultural conservatives. In late May the National Civic Art Society, the most vocal opponent of the Gehry scheme, issued a statement attacking “the lack of compelling symbolism or sense of permanence conveyed by the design.”

For years, city leaders have been working to shape a different Washington: dense, diverse, green, and wholly urban in a way that the Washington of the 1980s and early 1990s—starkly divided by income and race, and bereft of people downtown after office hours—wasn’t. In April, Mayor Gray unveiled what may be the signature initiative of his administration, Sustainable DC, which aims to make D.C. the greenest city in the United States over the next 20 years. Goals of the far-reaching plan include cutting both city energy use and the obesity rate by 50 percent; making 75 percent of all trips by bike, walking, or public transit; attracting and retaining 250,000 residents; and covering 40 percent of the District with a tree canopy. Much of the vision behind Sustainable D.C. comes from Harriet Tregoning, the rock-star planning director and a founder of the Smart Growth movement.

Tregoning has been instrumental in the long-stalled but now active push to redevelop the Southwest quadrant and its underutilized waterfront. Once considered a case study in how not to do urban renewal, Southwest is stirring again, with a lift from the transformed Arena Stage and Populous’ 2008 Nationals ballpark.

The proposed Southwest EcoDistrict, spearheaded by the National Capital Planning Commission, would reinvent federal office buildings along 10th Street SW with a sustainability agenda.
Courtesy National Capital Planning Commission

A proposed Southwest EcoDistrict, spearheaded by Tregoning’s office and the National Capital Planning Commission, would overhaul the imposing collection of federal office behemoths along 10th Street SW, making them more energy efficient, potentially with new uses, and improving the area’s connectivity, both internally and to the monumental core and downtown. On the nearby stretch of riverfront, developers have their own scheme to create “The Wharf,” a mixed-use project of 500-plus apartments and more than 1 million square feet of office and retail space. EE&K a Perkins Eastman company completed the master plan, which seeks to draw urban activity to the water and maritime activity into the new district via piers and a mixed-use “spine” linking them. Short blocks and preserved view corridors will enhance connections to the rest of the city. The development team, Hoffman-Madison Waterfront, hopes to break ground early in 2013.

Renderings of EE& K’s plan for The Wharf along the waterfront.
Courtesy EE&K

D.C. has some of the highest rents in the nation, so downtown is getting aggressively built out (if not yet up)—and developers are not skimping in their effort to lure Class-A businesses and well-heeled residents. After years of planning, the massive CityCenter DC complex, designed primarily by Foster + Partners, began construction last year on a 10-acre site with an ample park and public plaza—amenities that city leaders lobbied for. Farther west, developer EastBanc wants to redevelop an existing library, fire station, and police station into “two unique buildings that will be the talk of the city” (according to its website), and has hired Enrique Norten/ TEN Arquitectos for the job. Norten’s library design is a striking riff on the standard D.C. glass box, with staggered setbacks that break up the massing to enliven its facades.

Lower-key but perhaps more transformative programs are insinuating themselves across the city. Capital Bikeshare, established in 2010, has met with wild success, reaching two million rides in a city that never was a cycling mecca. Then there’s the ambitious construction campaign led by Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of D.C. Public Library. For a not-inconsiderable price tag, Cooper, formerly of Brooklyn Public Library, has built or commissioned several new facilities around the city by the likes of Davis Brody Bond, the Freelon Group, Adjaye Associates, and Bing Thom, just announced as designer for a new library in the Woodridge neighborhood.

The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library (left) and the Dorothy I. Height/Benning Library (right) designed by Davis Brody Bond in northwest Washington.
Paul Rivera/ArchPhoto

That D.C. has been reshaped by so many players—public and private, local and federal—attests to an overall shift in the capital’s self-perception. Lionel Lynch recently moved to the District to head the new D.C. office of HR&A Advisors, the prominent New York–based real estate and economic development advisory firm. Lynch had lived in the city briefly in 2000, for an internship, but had not planned to return. He believes the last few mayoral administrations—which have mostly restored effective management to the once-dysfunctional city—made it possible for D.C. to seize its own destiny, a new and exhilarating kind of empowerment for people who, after all, still don’t have a voting member in Congress.

“The district leadership has actively engaged in urban improvements, despite the oddness of having all these multiple jurisdictions in control,” Lynch said. “They’ve tried to make sure there’s a quality public realm. You definitely feel that the District is getting its own identity, or that it’s becoming a lot more dominant over the federal government, in a way that is self-reinforcing.”

Lynch (whose firm has advised on CityCenter, the Southwest EcoDistrict, and the reuse plan for Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest D.C.) mentions a recent performance by Project Bandaloop, a dancing/ climbing performance troupe, on the face of the historic Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue. Hundreds of people had gathered to watch; there were food trucks and live musicians.

In the old D.C., this would have been aimed squarely at tourists. Not anymore. “Tourists can definitely enjoy it if they like to, but there’s even a bigger piece of it: Residents are interacting with the District and the folks surrounding us,” Lynch said. “And that makes it a more interesting place to visit.” And, perhaps, to live.