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Design Marshal

United States Marshals Museum moves closer to construction

To coincide with the 230th anniversary of the U.S. Marshals Service, the United States Marshals Museum’s opening date is set for September 24, 2019. Designed by Cambridge Seven Associates along with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, the institution’s foundation has also launched a $60 million fundraising campaign for construction.

The new 50,000-square-foot museum will be located in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and will feature a collection of artifacts spread across three galleries exploring the 230-year history of the nation’s oldest law enforcement agency, a Hall of Honor for those killed in the line of duty, and a National Learning Center that will promote an understanding of constitutional democracy.

Peter Kuttner, president of Cambridge Seven Associates and principal architect for the museum, consciously blended history with modern sustainability in the design. The museum looks out over the Arkansas River, which used to serve as a border between the former colonies and what was known as the frontier at the time of the Marshals’ establishment in 1789. The scheme also incorporates photovoltaic panels and vegetative roofing along the building’s star-shaped design, which,along with its use of bronze, is reflective of the badges worn by marshals in earlier years.

From his research, Kuttner found that “there was no official badge manufacturer in Washington,” that “some were stamped on tin, some were cast, some [stars] had five points, some had six points,” and “when you buy souvenirs, they’re all different sizes and looks.”

For his inspiration for the star-shaped aesthetic, Kuttner looked to one of the last scenes in the movie High Noon, in which U.S. Marshal Will Kane tosses his badge to the ground. “It hits at an angle, with some of the points jutting out of the ground,” he said, explaining his approach to the museum as “low on the front, and high on the back.” The infamous High Noon drawing by former President Bill Clinton, who serves as honorary chair of the museum’s executive committee, still hangs in the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, and served as “a great little connection” that got the committee on board, Kuttner said.

The facility is projected to cost $35.9 million, with $12.3 million in total exhibits, a $4 million endowment, nearly $3 million in contingencies, and $3.5 million for one-year operating expenses. Just over $29 million is listed in committed fundraising so far.

With almost half of the campaign target already secured, the museum still faces fundraising challenges. In a conversation with Talk Business & Politics, Jim Dunn, president of the U.S. Marshals Museum Foundation, cited the agency’s low profile, as well as the location of its future home in Fort Smith as specific points of tension. “Convincing donors to export large chunks of money to a distant and unknown community is difficult,” he said.

At present, the museum’s eight-member staff is working out of offices in Fort Smith, maintaining some 500 items that will eventually be used in the museum’s exhibitions. The museum staff is set to expand to 18–20 people upon opening.

With regard to the museum’s funding and the array of design elements, specifically the sustainable features, Kuttner expressed anxiety about its execution: “I’m crossing my fingers that those elements survive value-engineering,” he said.

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Condo Canyon

Seattle’s Denny Triangle hosts a skyscraper building boom

Like other cities across the country, Seattle has been suffering from a severe lack of housing supply that, over the long term, has caused housing prices and rents to skyrocket. A slew of big-budget, mostly luxury skyscraper projects are in the works, however, and aim to bring many more units online over the coming years, hopefully easing the housing crunch. It might seem confusing to counter high housing prices with luxury developments. But given a multi-decade-long trend of under-building, millenials’ stunted entry into the housing market, and the fallout from the foreclosure crisis of 2008, the only way to make prices (which have increased 35 percent over the last five years in the rental market) go down is simply to build more of everything.

In Seattle, the city’s Denny Triangle—just beyond the city’s downtown—has been the recent site of a tectonic shift in real estate and development. Architecture firm NBBJ is currently working on a huge, 3.3 million-square-foot corporate skyscraper campus for online retailer Amazon here that will span three city blocks and include three 37-story tall towers, two mid-rise office buildings, and a series of “biospheres” containing exotic plant specimens. The development has jumpstarted other housing and mixed-use projects along Denny Way and the surrounding streets, laying the groundwork for a new mixed-use tower district. This summer, Dean Jones, principal at Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty told the local NBC news affiliate, “In the next five years, Denny Way is going to feel a little bit more like Manhattan,” as he shared a video showing 26 high-rise projects currently in the pipeline.

Jones is part of the team tasked with promoting the new Nexus development, a 40-story Weber Thompson–designed condominium tower that broke ground earlier this year and will be completed in 2019. The project is the first high-rise condominium to begin construction downtown since 2012 and consists of a series of stacked boxes, each slightly off-axis from the one below. The tower’s shifting volumes conceal 383 apartments, designed in a variety of configurations, ranging from studio units to multi-bedroom dwellings. As of October, 80 percent of the units had been pre-sold.

Another development by Weber Thompson is located at 970 Denny, a 440-foot-tall mixed-use tower that aims to activate street-level areas along the Denny Way corridor with a pair of low-rise, seven-story tall office and commercial blocks flanking a mid-block tower. These smaller masses are articulated using brick cladding and large expanses of glass. They will contain 15,098 square feet of retail space, with storefronts and the apartment tower’s entrance marked by V-shaped column-supported steel canopies. The tower podium will be capped by a landscaped park, containing a freestanding pavilion structure, with a similar space located at the tower’s stepped apex. The structure will contain 461 apartment units and is being designed to LEED Silver standards. The tower itself is clad in expanses of curtain wall glass that feature operable windows. The complex is currently under construction and is set to open in 2018.

Nearby, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF Architects) are working on a two-building complex: the 11-story Tilt49 office tower and the 41-story AMLI Arc housing tower. The office building will feature 300,000 square feet of space, with the ground floor containing retail. Right next door, the $115-million AMLI Arc tower will contain 393 apartment units, a 509-stall underground parking garage, and amenity spaces on the 12th and 41st floors. The tower will offer different apartments types, including an industrially-inspired model and another unit type with more upscale, “condo-quality finishes.” The residential tower is aiming for LEED Gold certification. Construction is well underway for both buildings and is slated for completion sometime in 2017. The project is being built by Mortenson Construction’s Seattle office.

Lastly, the 41-story tall McKenzie Tower by developer Clise Properties and designed by Graphite Design Group will be located diagonally across from the new Amazon tower complex. It will feature 450 residential units and 8,000 square feet of retail. The elliptical building is designed to maximize views from within each unit, presenting a wide-set gaze over the city. The tower’s shape will also minimize the monolith’s impact on surrounding viewsheds. Like the other schemes mentioned here, the tower will rise out of a low-rise podium and will be clad in glass curtain walls.

These transformative projects portend the growing influence of the region’s technological powerhouses on the built environment. With Amazon and others adding thousands of new jobs at a steady clip, it seems like Seattle-based architects and developers will keep working like this for a long time.

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Ozark Oppertunity

Studio Gang to design Arkansas Art Center expansion
The Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) has announced Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects as the design architect for its next building project. Studio Gang was selected from a field of five finalists that included Allied Works, Shigeru Ban, Thomas Phifer, and Snohetta. “Designing a re-envisioned Arkansas Arts Center is a truly exciting commission,” Studio Gang founder Jeanne Gang said in a press release. “Its extraordinary collection, historic MacArthur Park setting, and rich mix of programs present a unique opportunity to redefine how the arts can strengthen local communities and surrounding regions. We look forward to working closely with the AAC to discover how architecture can enhance the Center’s important civic and cultural mission by creating new connections between people and the arts in Little Rock and beyond.” More than just a renovation and expansion of the museum's current building, the project is expected to completely change the way the museum is used and interacts with the surrounding downtown. “This project is about more than just addressing the physical issues of the current building. It requires rethinking how the AAC fits into the downtown fabric,” said Todd Herman, executive director for the AAC. “How can we best serve the community, and how do the AAC and MacArthur Park connect to other social and cultural nodes in downtown Little Rock? We want to do more than build; we want to transform the cultural experience.” The AAC was founded in 1960 and has a permanent collection with a heavy emphasis on drawing, watercolors, and other works on paper. This includes works from Rembrandt, Picasso, and Degas. The museum also possesses the largest U.S. collection of drawings and watercolors of early 20th century French Neo-Impressionist painter Paul Signac. The next step in the $65-million project will be to select a local architect to collaborate on the project. According to the museum’s website, an RFQ will be issued this month for that position.
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Welcome to the Jungle

One landscape architect’s plan to fuse Dallas–Fort Worth’s waterways with urban growth

In March 2013, Kevin Sloan, founder of Dallas-based landscape architecture and urban planning firm Kevin Sloan Studio, attended a lecture at the Dallas Museum of Art at which professor Kenneth Frampton, of Columbia University, recited a phrase that had been illicitly written in the 1980s on a rendering of a 1950s utopian city displayed at the New York Museum of Modern Art:

There are no cities anymore.

We are incapable of making cities anymore.

The machine is incapable of making cities anymore.

We’ll have to get used to living in the jungle.

Sloan is working on the Branch Waters Network. The concept is to make use of the waterway system in Dallas–Fort Worth (DFW) as a guideline for a new metropolitan urbanism. Back in 2013, he recognized Frampton’s use of the word “jungle” as more than just a metaphor (although DFW is one of the largest cities in the United States for the trapping, banding, and study of urban wildcats). He interpreted it as a hint that the landscape and waterways could dovetail into the urban framework of a city.

Sloan wants to make use of DFW’s “water branches,” which span approximately 65 miles east to west and 45 miles north to south. He has outlined more than 300 potential miles of waterway that are primed for development. Sloan points out that more than 90 percent of natural drainage ways in Dallas County are currently intact and untapped. So far, his plan has been well received: According to Sloan, a current Dallas council member called it the “most sustainable concept he’s yet seen for the Dallas Trinity River.”

Successful examples of his water branch concept in practice can be seen at Turtle Creek Parkway, White Rock Lake, and the ongoing Trinity River Project. Part of city planner George Kessler’s 1911 “City Plan for Dallas,” the seven-mile-long Turtle Creek Parkway is, in Sloan’s eyes, “a 100-year demonstration that nature can attract density in accordance with the edges of shaded and serene waterway.

“What is astonishing is that, in Texas, luxury and the good life are typically imagined to unfold on an expansive ranch or noble estate,” continued Sloan. “Turtle Creek Parkway produced high-rise apartments and condominiums, as early as the 1960s, that gathered along the edge and are supported by nodes and enclaves of shopping and residential neighborhoods such as the Park Cities.”

For his Branch Waters Network concept to work, Sloan argues that Americans’ preconceptions of planning and notions of “nature” need to be challenged. He advocates replacing the “cultural preference for an Anglican landscape of irrigated turf grass, clipped hedge, and parterres—where all live like squires on a patch of England” with a “re-wilding nature project along the waterways and attendant areas. The forest is out one door. The avenue and the culture of the city are out the other.”

“Whether ‘nature’ means living on a golf course, along a river, or in the mountainous environs of, say, Boulder, Colorado, one can draw a straight line between environments of natural beauty and economic value,” he continued.

Sloan also calls for an alternative to Daniel Burnham’s “Make no little plans.” “What is a plausible strategy to guide an orderly restructuring of millions of acres of unplanned growth?” Sloan asked.

He and his studio have seen two projects realized that align with the Branch Waters concept. Located in Addison, north of Dallas, spring-fed Vitruvian Park—which occupies 17 acres, as part of an 112-acre master plan, also done by Sloan—lies on Farmers Branch Creek. So far, during its eight-year existence, the project has been what many consider a success, establishing a dense, urban pocket without the daunting qualities of a downtown center.

Another project, the Dallas Urban Reserve, is also doing well. A stone’s throw away from White Rock Creek Trail, the 10.5-acre modern housing development made use of a site that was used for years as an illegal dumping ground. The site slopes asymmetrically to allow stormwater to enter a system of repetitive filtration beds, planted with bald cypress, pond cypress, and horsetail reeds. Only three of the original 50 housing lots that went up are still available, and, in 2011, the project won the ASLA Award of Excellence.

However, Sloan wants the Branch Waters Network to go further. “By using the entire waterway network as a natural attraction to form density, transit, and linkages, perhaps the anxiety and opposition to conventional planning, regulatory devices, and legislative actions can be circumvented,” he said. 

“The possibilities of the Branch Waters Network challenge architecture conventions. Chance operation replaces totalizing planning concepts and designs. In lieu of regulating plans and inflexible determinism, urbanism becomes a game, and the game is to aggregate along the branches.”

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.

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Manhattan Transfer

Hudson River Park/Pier 40 deal reveals the tangled web of calculated collusion that shapes NYC
“Follow the money” is the immortal, if apocryphal, phrase uttered by Deep Throat, offering the key to unlocking the mysteries of Watergate. Understanding cities requires similar forensics. Urban morphology maps the flow of cash with concrete precision and the New York skyline is a literal bar graph of investment and return. The manufacture of real estate (what some quaintly refer to as “architecture”) is our leading industry and the art of the deal the epicenter of our creativity. Money not only talks, it designs and “planning” in most American cities is almost entirely devoted to refining the process of spatial arbitrage. There’s a project underway on the Manhattan waterfront that spins this tangled web with a remarkable combination of clarity and opacity, exposing the freakish calculated collusion of intentions and outcomes that shapes the city. The story begins in September 1985, when the death knell was sounded for Westway, a lunatic land manufacturing scheme to shove the Manhattan shoreline four hundred feet into the Hudson all the way from 40th Street to the Battery. Beneath this massive fill was to have been embedded an Interstate—the most expensive per mile ever constructed—replacing the terminally rusted West Side Highway. Planners were looking for the most extravagant scheme possible and were strongly supported by public officials (including Rockefeller, Koch, Cuomo the Elder, and Moynihan), the development community, and the construction unions. Visionary rhetoric and seductive greensward images notwithstanding, it was all about the money: The Feds would have picked up 90% of the $2.1 billion ($10 billion in today’s dollars) price-tag and the resulting 220 acres of new real estate—100 for a park and the rest a free-fire development zone—and would have been the most spectacular piece of physical fiscalization in the city’s history. But if the magnitude was singularly impressive, the impetus was widely shared. Cities all over the country had been committing urban suicide—ramming highways through their yielding tissues (often of color)—to get their hands on that government cash and New York—cresting in the Robert Moses era—had been an absolute champ. Westway was opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, mass transit advocates, community activists, and progressive pols but was finally killed by a Federal court ruling that its sponsors had failed to consider the landfill’s potentially adverse impact on the Hudson’s striped bass population. This narrowly-decided opinion nevertheless proved a turning point in the urban highway wars: In its aftermath, Bella Abzug–sponsored legislation allowed a trade-in of highway money for mass transit (to the great benefit of our subways, busses, and pedestrians) and other cities—from San Francisco to Seattle—began tearing down the waterfront highways, a continuing trend. Today, instead of Westway, we have a surface “boulevard” that—if billions cheaper, tree-lined, and lit by ornamental luminaires—is still too much of a surrender of this precious edge to traffic. Along the road’s waterside, though, runs the lovely, if incomplete, Hudson River Park which—while far from big enough to meet demand— offers great pleasures as it struggles towards durability and completion. Instrumentally, the park both reproduces and inverts the Westway principle. Westway proposed to use public funds simultaneously for public benefit (a highway and a park) and to create opportunities for the accumulation of private wealth, which would, in theory, yield further public return in the form of income from land sales and real estate taxes. The current park, on the other hand, although built substantially with public funds for public use, is not exactly a public work, inasmuch as it is obliged to finance its own future by directly attracting private capital. This parlous paradigm of the “public-private partnership” has, in our Republican age, become the default strategy for “public” development and has deeply embedded the culture of the trade-off (literal pay to play in the case of the park) in our civic life. The genius of progressive taxation for “general revenue” is that, in theory, it embodies that equitable proposition, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If the U.S. system is wildly distorted on both collection and distribution sides, ability and need are nominally meant to be determined democratically. Unfortunately, when democracy lurches towards plutocracy, the distortions on both ends grow to the inevitable detriment of public needs. As the system becomes more and more regressive, the question of public benefit is increasingly situated in the elective territory of philanthropy—optional altruism—rather than collective responsibility. A tax code designed to favor private fortunes (with the corollary commonweal reliant on trickle-down) begs the question of their public disposition: ceding this to individual interest, itself answerable to charity, guilt, avarice, deductibilty, and political power in varying degrees, depending on whether the fortune belongs to the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, sundry Rockefellers and Fords, or the Clinton Foundation. The demonization of shared—“redistributed”—wealth is a trope as abiding as it is rank: one reason that Bernie was ultimately unsuccessful is our generalized hostility to high-tax. Scandinavian-style “welfare states” (every citizen a welfare king or queen!) and the sapping canard of the individual initiative-killing effects of “hand-outs” from big nanny. Even in “liberal” New York, we’ve long since internalized Trumpism as policy: Everything’s a deal. “Return” on public investment must not simply be quantifiable (gross municipal happiness anyone?) but literally monetized. This calculus undergirds the arcane systems of swaps and bonuses that radically territorialize and delimit our practices of urban planning and improvement, with the result that we now insist that virtually every public enterprise (save, of course, warfare—although Trump’s neo-imperialist, spoils-to-the-victor, proposals might bring this too under the umbrella of self-finance) demonstrably pay for itself. Thus, instead of public construction of housing we have inclusionary zoning, instead of public education we have charter schools and rising college tuition, and instead of public healthcare we have the confusions and insufficiencies of a rapacious marketplace. And, littering New York, we have those oxymoronic POPS—“privately owned public spaces”—a sad archipelago of plazas and lobbies (Trump Tower’s among them!), purchased in a currency of lost light, air, revenue, equity, and pride. Any trade begs the question of who gets the better of it. Are the view-blocking luxury apartments now built in its midst too high a price for the excellent Brooklyn Bridge Park? The conundrum lies less in the answer than the question, with its predicate in a fragmented, discontinuous, idea of public space. Its further, and all too legible, implication is that the location and quality of such spaces depend on their realization in places where they can graft values from already successful environments. Precisely because the investment is both self-serving and easily recouped in a rising gyre of adjoining real estate prices, private money pours into Central Park, those condos rise in Brooklyn, the High-Line flourishes, and Barry Diller wants to build a Fantasy Island on piles in the Hudson—just beyond the window his office—in the “undeveloped” waters between the piers of the park. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park is administered by a trust, a legal arrangement in which someone’s property—in this case New York City’s and New York State’s—is managed by someone else. The Hudson River Park Trust was created by the State Legislature in 1998—during the Pataki administration—and is nominally controlled by a thirteen-member board of directors, five appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, and three by the Manhattan Borough President. The Trust’s board, however, is backed by another larger and perhaps more important one: the self-perpetuating “Friends of Hudson River Park,” charged with fund-raising for on-going construction and maintenance and largely comprised of investment bankers and real estate types (as well as—for cultural leavening—Martha Stewart and David Chang, of Momofuku fame). Both boards are dominated by Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s President and CEO since 2011, a shrewd and well-connected operative with long executive service on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and—as Chairman—Community Board One, in lower Manhattan. It has fallen to Wils to deal with fact that the park, legally obliged by the terms of the trust to self-finance, is stone-broke. Her duties thus include not simply supervising the operation of the park but, most crucially, fulfilling the Trust’s mandate to “ensure the park’s future financial self-sufficiency by developing the remaining commercial nodes.” These “nodes” include both the actively commercial piers under its control (the Chelsea Piers sports complex, the New York Waterway ferry terminal, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, etc.) as well as the unrealized potential of other undeveloped piers (or deals for new ones like Diller’s island). Its largest such asset is the fifteen-acre Pier 40, former terminus of the Holland America line, which occupies a charismatic spot between Greenwich Village and Tribeca, west of burgeoning “Hudson Square,” an area recently rebranded and rezoned to incite development and supersede its industrial past by attracting “creative” and tech uses, luxury housing, and a froth of Portland-sur-Hudson amenities to go with. Pier 40 currently accounts for approximately 30% of the Trust’s revenue—mainly from parking nearly 2,000 cars (a truly idiotic use for one the city’s most wonderful sites)—but is crumbling and urgently needs extensive rehabilitation. It’s best known by locals for holding several large—and much beloved—playing fields in an area that is one of the most underserved with recreational space in the city. Cash must somehow be milked from this alpha cow. Thus, on her arrival, Wils and Board Chair Diana Taylor took control of the then moribund “friends,” loading it with wealthy donors. This move was not without turbulence, including the 2012 purge of uber-developer Douglas Durst (who did not go quietly), nominally over a fight about the Trust’s intention to build housing on Pier 40, which Durst thought might be more profitably exploited by something more commercial. Indeed, over the years, a variety of contentious schemes for the pier have been mooted, including construction of offices, housing, shopping malls, theme parks, a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, more parking, the expansion of NYU, and other not-exactly-park-like uses. However, this being New York, the pier also offers possible monetization through the sale of its very lack of development: by cashing in on its air rights. The main impediment to this has been that New York’s air rights regulations restrict their transfer to another site within a single block or zoning lot, technically obliging the pier’s rights to be fully exploited on the pier itself. Re-enter the State Legislature. In 2013, the Hudson River Park Act was amended to permit the transfer of the park’s air rights (in toto around 1.5 million square feet) to “receiving sites” within a zone a block deep on the other side of West Street, the park’s landside boundary, running from 59th Street to Canal Street. This amendment was crucial both in establishing the park’s most potentially lucrative revenue stream and in enabling a particular deal already in the works between the Trust, the city, the state, and a consortium of developers (one of whom—Michael Novogratz—who subsequently and profitably sold his share—just happened to be the chair of the park’s “friends”): the transfer of 200,000 square feet of development rights to a site directly across West Street, now occupied by the ginormous, three-block-long, St. John’s Terminal Building, erstwhile end-point of the High Line (and, interestingly enough, with Bloomberg LC its major tenant). Throughout this multi-party negotiation, the key intermediary was the PR firm of James Capalino. Capalino is a long-time donor, fundraiser, bundler, and pal to Bill de Blasio who, in 2015, somehow made more money ($12.9 million) than any other lobbyist representing clients to the city. Capalino’s much in the news these days, implicated as the fixer in the lifting, by the city, of a deed restriction on the (now former) Rivington House AIDS Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, allowing it to be converted to upmarket condos. Capalino represented the building’s owner—VillageCare, a non-profit—which sold the building to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home company, which, with the restriction lifted, flipped the building to the Slate Property Group, realizing (per The Wall Street Journal), a profit of a cool $72 million. Capalino now works for the Chinese developer Dalian Wanda, itself a partner of China Vanke, part of the consortium that bought Rivington. At the end of August, de Blasio—although claiming to know nothing about the deed deal approved by his administration—cut his erstwhile fundraiser loose: “I have not been in touch with Mr. Capalino….I do not have contact with him anymore.” According to a timeline put together by the excellent Danielle Tcholakian of DNAinfo, Capalino e-mailed First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in late January 2014 (just after the mayor’s inauguration) with a copy to Carl Weisbrod, who was himself appointed Commissioner of City Planning a week later! The e-mail: “Tony, for the past twelve months, my firm has been working with Madelyn Wils on a proposal to secure a $100 million contribution by our client, Atlas Capital, to the Hudson River Park Trust to fund the cost of rehabilitation/stabilizing Pier 40 for continued recreational use. We are in discussions to have the residential project over St. John’s Terminal become an ESD (Empire State Development) project through a State sponsored general project plan.” In fact, the Trust, the ESD, and the developer had already inked a secret Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2013 that fixed the scale of the project and the $100 million price for the enabling air rights. According to Crain’s, this had been signed-off on during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration by Robert Steel, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Bloomberg (as well as Wils and Weisbrod) apparently also supported the use of the “general project plan” to be overseen by the ESD, a process which the developer was eagerly seeking (via copious lobbying by Capolino’s firm) as a means of circumventing the city’s more rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), an end-run the developer believed could save many years (and bucks) in obtaining approvals. Negotiations between the state, city, Trust, and developer—lubricated by the continuing ministrations of Capalino—were proceeding briskly in camera until May of 2015 when the secret MOU became public. Consternation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (“Shocked is an understatement for how we all felt”), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (a leader in the fight against building housing on the pier itself but also an original sponsor of the Albany transfer legislation, believing it the only hope for saving the pier), the media, and the public, resulted in an about-face by the de Blasio administration—with the immediate agreement of the developer (who clearly knew who his friends were)—to renounce the MOU and the General Project Plan route and to go through ULURP. ULURP—now nearing its conclusion—runs a statutory 200 days from the submission of the developer’s plans and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). During ULURP, these are reviewed, successively, by the affected Community Board (CB2), the Borough President, the City Planning Commission (which is obliged to hold a public hearing and did so on August 26), by the City Council (which may hold a public hearing), and finally by the Mayor. The Community Board and the Borough President are authorized to make recommendations (including rejection) but these are entirely non-binding. The Planning Commission, the Council, and the Mayor have actual power but, in the case of this project, the Planning Commissioner, the ambitious local Council Member, Corey Johnson (who now has great power over the endgame), and the Mayor have long since come out in strong support of the deal and it’s unclear whether push-back from CB2, Borough President Brewer, a few members of the Planning Commission, and many in the community (including the energetic Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation which has been trying hard to use the deal to leverage its own struggle to preserve a large swathe of Greenwich Village just north of the site) will materially affect the final outcome. Indeed, their concerns had little impact on the Planning Commission which, on October 17, voted to approve the project without substantial modification. Since the proposed development departs radically from the site’s existing zoning, the Department of City Planning (a government agency that reports to the politically appointed City Planning Commission) prepared a revised zoning map to define a “Hudson River Park Special District” that could receive—and advantageously use—the transfer by greatly increasing allowable bulk, changing designated uses, permitting additional parking, and building in exceptions to the “contextual” strictures that govern the scale and character of construction nearby, including those revised to create the Hudson Square Special District a block away. The parameters of the new receiving site, to the administration’s credit, would also bring the project under the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning regime, which obliges the developer to provide a meaningful percentage of affordable housing in the mix but which also further ups the site’s permissible bulk. The end-point of ULURP is approval, rejection, or modification of these zoning changes, which—if passed—will provide the legal space for the deal to be consummated. And the project? Its design is a particularly ripe variation on the “form follows finance” mentality at the core of the way New York City plans and is larded with bluff (a big box store, vast amounts of parking, extremely tall towers, and a truly grotesque “as of right” alternative scheme (a standard-issue developer threat that could be built without special approvals should this deal come a cropper). The plans have been skillfully reverse-engineered from the Trust’s primary imperative to realize the $100 million from the deal and are driven by its better-get-it-done-now recognition that public resistance to any further transfers into CB2 will be strenuously opposed, ditto possible transfers to other communities elsewhere along the waterfront. Indeed, recent push-back to the plan from CB2 and the Borough President has specifically demanded that transfers from the park to the adjacent neighborhood be strictly capped at 200,000 feet. Architecturally, the plan (albeit the work of good architects) is a bad one, both in its general outlines and in its particulars. Most strikingly wrong is the almost complete disconnection of the special district—on which would rise by far the largest project ever constructed in CB2—from its surroundings (including Pier 40 itself) and its total failure to anticipate and conduce to future changes, including the much-wished restoration of the street grid obliterated by the St. John’s Building and by the equally long, single-story, UPS facility running parallel in the blocks behind it. The vigorous development taking place on all sides (as well as future advances in logistics technology) will eventually create pressures on UPS (and nearby FEDEX) and provision should surely be made to restore the streets now erased, and to think about—to plan for—what will happen on these newly created blocks, including parks and schools. The plan placed on the table was clearly an opening gambit, stuffed with calculatedly negative capability in the form of too much stuff but also with a series of artful deficits that might open avenues for more positive demonstrations of cooperation. For example, the public space component is, by the developer’s own arithmetic, so sparse that the project will produce a net decrease in local public space per capita. The DEIS is also deeply suspect and blithely concludes that this humongous erection will have virtually no seriously adverse impacts on traffic, solar access, public services, and other critical infrastructure. Equally irresponsible is the developer’s long-standing resistance to including a school to serve the kids among the thousands of new residents. Finally, the plan is non-committal about its internal distribution of the mandatory affordable dwellings (as well as the actual degree of their affordability), although it appears they’re going to be primarily small units for seniors and concentrated in a single building, facing the UPS garage (the presentation package—full of street level perspectives rendered to obscure the mammoth bulk of the buildings looming out of frame—disingenuously depicts a rare apartment at the back of the building with a water view through a wee gap in the surrounding condos). All of these issues might be addressed in a revised proposal and both CB2 and Borough President Brewer have demanded a number of adjustments. But there’s a sad, deckchairs on the Titanic, quality to even the strongest of these, which, in the end, fall for the plan’s artful misdirection. The salient, undeniable, fact is that the project is vastly over-scaled. The tallest of its towers—at 420 feet—is three times the height of the surrounding built texture and certain to have a deeply deleterious and distorting impact on the neighborhood that it and its companions will overwhelm. The complex will also irrevocably alter the profile and rhythm of the Hudson riverfront as a whole, a contemptuous interruption in a continuous—and historic—low to mid-rise skyline that now stretches uninterrupted from Chelsea to Tribeca. An authentically “contextual” solution would simply extend the scale of the existing street wall, which tops out at around fifteen stories. Urbanistically speaking, this is clearly the right way to go. In the report issued by her office, Brewer tellingly—if somewhat wistfully—observes that, given the city’s reliance on private development for the direct financing of public facilities, “the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest.” Yes, and? Alas, no public body or official seems willing to walk away from the specific public return on this expression of private interests: the $100 million for Pier 40 repairs, the “up to” 476 units of affordable housing, the now rejected curb on further bulk transfers into CB2’s backyard, and support for land-marking the nearby South Village, a decision that rests with another, nominally independent, agency. As the negotiations enter their end-game, a variety of predictable gambits are being played. Westbrook Partners, the majority stakeholder (Atlas still holds a minority share), has just let it be known that it’s “rethinking” the project because of a weakening in the residential market and might be forced to revert to a purely commercial, as-of-right, scheme. More, Crain’s reports that Westbrook is actively looking for an equity partner for the site, which both suggestively reinforces the threat to abandon residential use entirely and almost certainly reveals the real plan beneath the plan: to get approvals for the maximum project and then flip the whole thing and walk away with the cash. The public-private daisy chain keeps yielding moments of delirious, if nauseating, irony. The City Planning Commission (Chairman, Carl Weisbrod) held a hearing on September 19, during which a few minutes were devoted to listening to the responses of the City Planning Department (Director, Carl Weisbrod) to questions raised about the project at their August meeting. A visibly nervous planner from the Department was obliged to present her answers to a body presided over by her boss, the man who had been most instrumental in structuring the deal now under review! And, while we’re still in ironic mode, there’s another I find especially hard to overlook: The projected cost of Barry Diller’s little entertainment island has now reached $200 million. The design (by Thomas Heatherwick) is tasty enough but the money would surely be better spent (and the island’s entertainment program easily accommodated without displacing the ball fields) were it to be used on Pier 40—100 million for repairs, 100 for theaters and trees. And, Diller would have an irresistible counter to Doug Durst, who has been biliously bank-rolling lawsuits to thwart Barry’s plans, out of some truly pathetic billionaire pique. I make this suggestion seriously as one of a number of ways to manage and coordinate both direct investment in the park and the sale and use its air rights. Another would be to expand the Hudson River Park Special District to encompass Hudson Square (and the UPS site which will surely be transformed at some point) and to radically disaggregate the 200,000 square feet into much smaller increments that could be added as a series of bonuses to the on-going wave on construction in the area. Yet another would simply be to gerrymander a 1.5 million square foot skyscraper (or add just a few additional stories to several already proposed) into the thicket of towers under construction in Hudson Yards further uptown, an area already given over to large-scale building and one that has a huge underbuilt perimeter (including the Javits Center) into which even these enormous numbers could easily be made to disappear. Our representatives should steel themselves and fight for the big picture, for something much better than this too-many-eggs in one basket contrivance. The project is far, far, too big for the bearing capacity and character of its site and nibbling at the edges of the design—reducing parking, slightly shrinking a tower, 86-ing the big box that everyone knows is only there to disappear, redistributing bulk a bit, getting a few more affordable units, adding a wee plaza at grade—will make little real difference. If public money cannot be made available for maintaining the public park (or housing the poor), the question of the fungibility of air rights—if that is to be the Trust’s primary asset—must be regulated with much greater invention and subtlety: Having crossed the West Street Rubicon, there’s no reason this conjured property “right” cannot be more broadly and appropriately distributed. Indeed, the question of the creation and deployment of these rights lies at the very core of the way in which we define public space. It’s our air, after all! The complete failure of the DCP, the Trust, or any other public (or quasi-public) body to formulate a rigorous, sustainable, and beautiful plan for this part of town is simply dereliction. Not simply have they acquiesced in a completely barse-ackwards mode of defining and financing genuine and general public interests and slighted a truly collective—and expansive—vision of community needs, benefits, rights and desires, their “spot” planning mentality totally ignores a truly mammoth elephant the stalks the room: the inevitability of sea level rise that will almost certainly inundate this low-lying place, piers, special districts, underground parking, twee little shops, and all. While our public servants blithely order another cup of bouillon, an iceberg looms on the horizon. Time to change course! It’s not too late! While the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the plan almost entirely as originally presented, the Council (which tends to defer to the local member) and the Mayor can still intervene, although de Blasio in unlikely to oppose a creature he was so instrumental in stitching together. The Commission altered the scheme only in cosmetic or predictable ways: the Big Box is now gone as are the “public” bridges over Houston Street. The developer has also agreed to provide 10,000 square feet of subterranean recreational space that would be publicly “available” on unspecified terms. A little more open space is to be squeezed in at grade. However, no modification of the project footprint was demanded to reconnect the street grid, no guarantees were offered about a cap on transfers into CB2, no reduction was made in height, and nothing was said about the larger context of the project, including the form and use of Pier 40 or the character of the extended neighborhood. As part of the deal, however, the South Village Historic District has been placed on the Landmarks Commission’s agenda at its regular November 1 meeting for a vote to “calendar” it, launching a process of hearings, deliberations, and possible designation that can last as long as two years. It’s likely to be fewer as the professional staff at Landmarks is expected to offer a strongly favorable recommendation to the Commissioners. Although the precise manner by which the exquisite timing came about remains murky, the agreement to hear the case was surely the result of strong—and long—advocacy by the Greenwich Village Historic Society (GVSHP), CB2, Councilperson Johnson (who now holds a great many cards), and others, and Andrew Berman, the energetic Director of GVSHP (with Johnson’s apparent support) has threatened to fight to derail the project should the South Village landmarking fail to go forward. Courage to them both! And to those who are opposed to dumping any further FAR into CB2 and to all who advocate for more public space, affordable housing, and rational planning. Yet, whatever the outcome of the landmarking gambit, the fundamental contradiction at the heart of both project and process looms huge, both literally and conceptually. I’ve met virtually nobody with a non-financial stake in the new building who supports it as a piece of architecture or planning, simply as the formal resultant of a negotiation for something else. This is the heart of the deal, the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The developer wants to build a gigantic project and has surely calculated its return with precision, using a knowable metric of profit. The city—in all its roots and branches—is obliged to a far more notional heuristic for determining the cost of our benefit. Would it be a good deal if it only produced the hundred million for the pier? The hundred million plus the affordable housing? Pile repair and housing plus the South Village Historic District? Should the developer be offered another 100,000 square feet to build a school? To decrease the building footprint by going higher still? That we have tipped so far to inducement rather than obligation as a planning strategy is a tragic, indeed Trumpian, marker of the decay of the commons. This collusive failure of imagination, responsibility, and democracy is staggering, if all too typical. Time to demand a vision that grows from our shared “right to the city”, planning that looks beyond a contracting, bottom-line, approach to the possible and sees our architecture not simply as an outcome but an aspiration. No deal!
Michael Sorkin is the President of Terreform, the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY. A planning and architectural study of this site has been prepared by Terreform and may be downloaded from its website. Comments are greatly welcome.
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Henderson, NV

Construction begins on Lake|Flato’s ASCAYA “Inspiration Home”
A luxury housing development in Nevada has started construction on the Lake|Flato-designed "Inspiration Home," one of seven homes in the new development designed by renowned architects to give "design inspiration" to future residents. ASCAYA is carved out of the hilly volcanic rock of the McCullough Range in Henderson, and is arranged so each lot has a view of the city and surrounding mountains. Its elevation at the highest point is 3,000 feet, and the remaining spots are sought-after: One of its 313 lots coming in at just a little over an acre recently sold for $2.6 million. Lake|Flato's inspiration home is a single story and measures 9,000 square feet, with four bedrooms and a four-car garage in addition to a large living space. The master bedroom opens into a private patio aimed at nearby Las Vegas. Sustainability and the landscape are integrated into the design of the house. Its walls are made of rammed earth, which blends into the surrounding rock as well as providing great insulation for the location's hot climate. The main living space also opens up into an outdoor courtyard. This is the third of seven inspiration homes to break ground on the site. Others were designed by Swaback Partners, SB Architects, Hoogland Architecture, Marmol Radziner, and Backen, Gillam, & Kroeger. Richard Meier, Pritzker Prize–winning designer of the Getty Center, contributed one of his signature all-white homes. Lake|Flato's philosophy of blending the house into its desert surroundings is reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright's own home and school in the desert, Taliesin West. When building the compound in Scottsdale, Arizona, he was mindful of integrating the house into the rocky landscape to the point of literally building its walls with local rocks. John Sather of Swaback Partners is a graduate of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. All these homes are in a style that could be described as "desert contemporary," setting the tone for architects who will design buildings for the development later on. Adding to that aesthetic is a luxury clubhouse designed by Swaback Partners that will include a fitness center, spa, and pool.
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Build it Back

Post-Sandy disaster recovery program is a “categorical” failure, says former program leader
The creator of New York's post-Sandy rebuilding initiative says the program is an unmitigated disaster. At a Congressional field hearing yesterday on Staten Island, Brad Gair, former head of Mayor de Blasio's Housing Recovery Operations, called Build it Back a "categorical" failure at its primary goal of getting homeowners back into their homes in a timely manner. "From the 'Road Home' program in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana to Build it Back in post-Hurricane Sandy New York City, [Housing and Urban Development Community Development and Block Grant Disaster Recovery] programs have generally been categorical failures in supporting timely and effective housing recovery," Gair testified. "But the root of the problem is that no local or state government, regardless of its capability, can successfully create and setup in a few months what amounts to a multibillion dollar corporation with hundreds of employees and contractors, numerous storefront locations, a broad based marketing campaign and integrated customer service operations while tens of thousands of desperate customers must wait anxiously for help as hope dwindles." The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain the efficacy of disaster-relief investments at all levels of government in the New York City metropolitan area, DNAinfo reported. Witnesses discussed how agencies coordinated disaster response, and what lessons Sandy offered for disaster planning going forward. In addition to Gair, six other non-profit leaders and government officials testified, including Daniel A. Zarrilli, the Mayor's chief resiliency officer. Those looking for some C-SPAN-level infotainment can view the entire session here: Gair suggested that government should be creating a-la-carte programs for disaster recovery to save time and money, rather than formulating "patchwork" programs post-disaster. Build it Back gives federal money to single and multi-family homeowners for repairs or reimbursements, funds resiliency projects in public housing, and provides support for other compatible resiliency projects. In response to Gair's critique, a spokesperson for the mayor's office stated that 80 percent of 5,319 approved applicants have either had work done on their homes or received checks from Build it Back. So far, $120 million in reimbursement checks have been sent out, although the program, critics contend, is hampered by mismanagement: Aid was not distributed to homeowners in a timely fashion, and it gave $6.8 million to contractors who performed substandard work, according to Comptroller Scott Stringer's 2015 audit. To close his testimony, Gair issued a scathing critique of disaster management bureaucracy and a lofty call to action:
"We are all here today for the exact same reason that many similar Congressional committees and subcommittees have been convened in the aftermath of virtually every major disaster over the past several decades—the system is broken, everyone is mad, and billions of dollars continue to be wasted. The Post-Katrina Reform Act reformed next to nothing; the Hurricane Sandy Recovery Improvement Act improved far too little. Now let’s try something different. Let’s start over, decide who and how much we want to help, establish a comprehensive policy for disaster resilience and recovery, devise an implementation strategy, build an integrated set of programs that get the job done, and empower our public servants to lead genuine, sustainable, cost effective efforts that restore communities and support families in times of need."
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Top Shop

SHoP makes the Brooklyn skyline with a “brooding, elegant, and badass” supertall… There goes the neighborhood?

If you zone it, they will build, and they will build tall. New York–based SHoP, in partnership with JDS Development Group, revealed plans earlier this year to build 9 Dekalb Avenue, a 73-story, 1,066-foot-tall residential tower fused to the landmarked Dime Savings Bank in Downtown Brooklyn. Last month, the design cleared a crucial hurdle when the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the tower’s design and consequent modifications to the bank.

“There’s a sort of brooding Gotham to it,” noted Gregg Pasquarelli, founding principal of SHoP. “There’s a little bit of badass to it, but it’s quite elegant at the same time. Isn’t that what we all want to be as New Yorkers?” The 417-unit building is clad in bronze, stainless steel, and stone, with view-maximizing interlocking hexagonal exposures. Pasquarelli explained that the facade detailing is such so that when two sides of the hexagon are viewed from an oblique angle, it will resemble one face, a sleeker reference to the grand old New York skyscrapers like Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building.

Michael Stern, founder of JDS Development Group, proclaimed: “The tower will be Brooklyn’s next icon. Brooklyn was really missing that one iconic statement that was worthy of the borough. This building will really put Brooklyn on the map.” Drawing from the landmark on-site, the spacing of the tower’s vertical facade elements mirrors the spacing of the bank’s neoclassical columns. The color and materials palette picks up on the bank’s colorful stone interiors, which will be converted to retail, while parts of the bank’s roof will be used for the building’s private outdoor spaces.

“The downtown rezoning of Brooklyn in 2004 has been very successful. This is a place where the city could handle density. It’s an incredible kudos to the city they upzoned that area, that they thought about tall towers,” said Pasquarelli. At the prow of Flatbush and Dekalb, the building will be visible from all over Brooklyn, and its distinctive facade will reinforce its prominent position on the skyline.

He and Stern enjoy experimenting with exteriors. Referencing the terra-cotta facade on 111 West 57th Street and the cladding on the East River–facing American Copper Buildings, Pasquarelli intimated that developers and architects are obligated to build for the public realm. “Some people get to live in these buildings, but we all have to live with the exterior.”

While preservationists sometimes bristle at the modification of an individual landmark, Gina Pollara, executive director of the preservation advocacy organization Municipal Arts Society (MAS), thinks there’s a larger issue that’s expressed in the development of tall towers like 9 Dekalb. “For us, it’s not really about the towers itself. Most of these supertalls are going up as-of-right. Because they’re not asking for any variance or any change, there’s no opportunity for public comment.” This tower was unusual, she elaborated, because it involved a landmarked structure. “These buildings are so out of context or out of scale with the neighborhood, and there’s no space for public comment until developers release their renderings. There’s no discussion of the cumulative effects these towers are having on public space.”

In an interview with AN, Stern said that he could not react to critiques like MAS’s (which he had not heard about), “but I can tell you that the commissioners had comments ranging from, ‘the best of urbanism’ and ‘flawless,’ and the LPC approved the project unanimously, as did the community board. It’s something we’re quite proud of.”

Pollara would like to see a better conversation around the 100-year-old zoning code, and reform beyond Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, the recently codified zoning text amendments. “It’s time to make zoning much more transparent—not just to the layperson, but to elected official,” Pollara said. “We need to get in front of the issue rather than being at the mercy of what is being built around us. Preservation in the 21st century is not necessarily rallying around a specific building, but looking at open space, light, air—all of the elements we want to preserve. We don’t want to live in a city that’s created by default.”

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A-LOHA Detroit?

L.A.-based Lorcan O’Herlihy Architects may be opening Detroit office

After announcing two Detroit-based projects in the last month—Olayami Dabls’s MBAD African Bead Museum and four corner buildings in the Brush Park revitalization districtLorcan O’Herlihy Architects (LOHA) is bringing a bit of the Sunset Strip to Detroit Rock City. But is the 26-year-old L.A. firm setting its sights on even greener pastures and considering a Midwest outpost? Sources indicate that LOHA recently signed a lease in the historic Chrysler House in downtown Detroit. So get ready, Rock City, things are about to get a little sandy.

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Corporate Rear-Garde?

Is the U.S.’s Biennale Pavilion actually the Quicken Loans Pavilion?
The theme of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale Reporting from the Front—according to its curator Alejandro Aravena—addresses issues like inequality, sustainability, insecurity, and segregation by looking for “creative, innovative projects willing to risk going into such complex fields.” Further, these projects should be “able to integrate more than one dimension at a time, framing old, charged issues in an original way in order to move forward.” How did it happen that only one American project (from Rural Studio) was included in the main exhibition? In part, one might assume that biennale president Paolo Baratta’s selection indicates a desire to avoid work from the industrialized countries and focus on contributions from the developing global southern hemisphere. This approach mirrors the 2015 art biennale curated by Okwui Enwezor. But an examination of the participants (excluding those in the national pavilions) disproves that notion, as there are 86 participants from Europe, 22 from South America, 18 from India, Africa, and the Middle East, as well as nearly a dozen from Asia. Perhaps a closer look at the U.S. Pavilion may suggest a partial answer: The Architectural Imagination, curated by Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce De Leon, consists of 12 speculative projects for specific sites in Detroit, Michigan. But does the world have much to learn from these 12 visionary projects? Or is their "Americaness" so specific to our corporate society and culture as to be of little interest or importance to architects in other countries? While focusing on an American city, they make a claim to offer “far-reaching applications for cities around the world.” Furthermore, they assert that the projects are entirely speculative and “offer no serious solutions for a city beset by real problems,” at a time when they believe “problem solving has become the mantra of a new social agenda for architecture.” They feel that “powerful ideas and architectural forms” can “spark the collective imagination.” Might their reliance on the power of the imagination to suggest solutions to profoundly troubling problems come at the expense of a more expansive definition of architecture and a deeper urban analysis? It is important then, to interrogate these forms and proposals in order to understand why they might hold so little appeal to the rest of the architectural world’s “collective imagination.” The curators made much of their early engagement in the design process with “an 11-member Detroit advisory board” that helped choose the sites and “arrange site visits and community meetings over a four-week period.” The group chose four sites in Detroit and then asked or selected architects to propose projects in them. The sites chosen were: Dequindre Cut/Eastern Market (1923 Division Street), Mexicantown (6370 Vernor Highway), The U.S. Post Office (1401 West Fort Street), and The Packard Plant (East Grand Boulevard and Concord Avenue). Why were relevant community members such as business improvement districts omitted from the process, giving the illusion of inclusion yet allowing the freeform architectural fantasy to predominate? It is primarily this aspect of the U.S. Pavilion’s projects that is the starting point for the group Detroit Resists’ alternative proposal and virtual occupation of the pavilion in Venice. By privileging architectural language and practice as exclusive to trained designers, the curators suggest that only architects have the capacity to “imagine” future spaces. This, in turn, encouraged the chosen designers to propose only large, internalized multi-use projects. All of these would be realized only via enormous financial investment—which in the United States doesn’t come through collective democratic action, but via top-down corporate development and profit. It is astonishing that the curators and architects are not more attentive to this reality of urban development in the United States. These projects might all be called the Quicken Loans proposals, as that company's founder Dan Gilbert has his own vision for downtown Detroit. To that end, he has invested $1 billion in 2.6 million square feet of commercial space; he has big plans to build in the city over three years. A more serious and collective attempt might produce an alternative to the previous system, one that consciously and systematically destroyed central Detroit to the benefit of the wealthy surrounding suburbs and region. But these architects (and curators) don’t seem to understand that corporate clients don’t often spend money on the sort of architectural added value hinted at in this pavilion; rather they employ commercial firms to crank out projects that bring immediate returns. Sadly, the future Detroit proposed by this pavilion seems not much different than the failed corporate city of the past. Yet there were hints of a way forward in several of the pavilion’s projects. One can detect traces of alternative design modes in the project Detroit Rock City by Stan Allen, which works off of Detroit’s enormous Packard Plant to propose conditions for the creation of future smaller-scale architectural projects scattered throughout the plant. A Liminal Blur by Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam features a single sculpture that they hoped would embody the poetics of Mexicantown; their project proposes a program that supports the local constituencies while simultaneously addressing the more vital questions of architecture’s relevance to society as a whole. Andrew Zago proposed housing for Middle Eastern refugees displaced by American warfare in the region as an important starting point for a renewed Detroit. The majority of the proposals are massive in scale and urban footprint. Pita and Bloom Architects’ New Zocolo is an “urban platform” or plinth hovering 16 feet above a street and parking lot that would become the support for six clusters of buildings in working-class Mexicantown. New Corktown (Present Future) and Dequindre CIVIC Academy (Marshall Brown Projects) both propose massive developments. New Corktown takes 250 blocks and reimagines them as a high-density environment with a 40-story complex of retail, office space, and residential flats. The Dequindre CIVIC Academy puts forward a 2.7-million-square-foot concrete mega-facility as a “coordinate unit or a single architectural entity” able to synthesize many diverse programs and spaces.
Dequindre CIVIC Academy references the idea of a coordinate unit that was developed by John Portman in his massive, fortress-like development Renaissance Center, “a total environment where all of a person’s needs are met.” Like so many other projects in the exhibition, its programming includes a multitude of uses such as cultural spaces, a community college, workshops and apartments for faculty, dining halls, and an 865-foot-tall bronze-clad tower housing a shopping center and an observatory. It’s really unfathomable that anyone would use the Renaissance Center as a model for a “new Detroit.” They would be operating on the premise that imagination alone, without reference to practicality or community involvement, can spin out benefits to the blocks lucky enough to be across the street. Clearly, this strategy did not work with the Renaissance Center, which in fact sucked the financial blood from the surrounding shops that gave the city it’s life. But the project that best illustrates the egregious defects inherent in the concept behind The Architectural Imagination is the spiraling ramp design Revolving Detroit described by its designer Preston Scott Cohen as a ”void” or a “purposeful consequence.” The massive ramp, undulating roof, or "void" can transform from orthogonal to hexagonal to elliptical and back again. With a nod to pure formalism posing as social planning, Cohen claims that the form is derived from the “historic Woodward Plan circles.” Further, the helically ascending ramp passes through the middle of a garage structure that Cohen claims will transform, over time, into a building of great importance to the city. A proposed 10-story building would rise out of the roof structure and “welcome the automobile.” It absurdly claims that as the city rejuvenates, the parking decks installed in the upper “hyperboloidal” spaces of the project will be redeveloped in a series of “performance” spaces: educational facilities, cinemas, athletic spaces, and community centers. Cohen is convinced the undulating passage will serve as a monumental portal to the river and, implicitly, a symbolic gateway to the border between the U.S. and Canada. Likewise, Greg Lynn FORM’s proposal has a mix of uses for autonomous vehicles, manufacturing robots, university researchers, and students. A 24-foot-wide, 1.7-mile-long logistics drone super-highway would connect the complex’s original vertical elevator cores. In his catalogue essay, Lynn cites Cedric Price’s Detroit Thinkgrid proposal and emphasizes Price’s plan for a cheap mobile architecture of faculty offices, small mobile libraries, and teaching “booths” that were to be delivered on the backs of trucks and craned into place according to a pre-figured grid. But judging from Lynn’s enormous proposal, he seems to have entirely misunderstood the essence of Price’s. Had he or the curators studied the 1968 project more closely and seen it as a starting point for research, they might have transformed this pavilion into one of distinguished thinking and relevance. In short, Price believed there was absolutely no need to build any fixed architectural monuments in Detroit; for they would simply squander money on unwanted buildings in an attempt to appease white guilt. His project was initiated in the wake of the 1967 riots to find a strategy to deliver workers from their tough, impoverished conditions. As described in the book Architecture and the Special Relationship, Price held extensive meetings with community groups, educational bodies, and local politicians. Far more useful would be a system of social organization that encouraged the education and circumstances of younger members of the community. In theory, this would break the cycle of deprivation and social exclusion which held them back. Regrettably, neither the curators nor the architects took Price’s thoughtful, reality-based, and radically imaginative project seriously. It, much more than the Architectural Imagination, inspired the profession and residents in Detroit to think of a truly new type of city. Provocative architecture projects that actually try to solve problems rather than remain in the gallery have been, can be, and will be embraced by architects worldwide seeking new ideas from the United States.
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Way to QueensWay

DLANDstudio launches Phase 1 design for rails-to-trails QueensWay
Last Thursday, elected officials, Friends of the QueensWay, and the Trust for Public Land announced the commencement of the design process for Phase 1 of the QueensWay park project. After years of debate over what to do with the 60-year old abandoned Rockaway Long Island Railroad (LIRR), the coalition has been moving toward the goal of converting 3.5 miles of the railroad—which extends from Rego Park to Ozone Park—into a park similar to the High Line. DLANDstudio Architecture & Landscape Architecture will be leading the design. This announcement, made in a press release, follows a great deal of progress made over the last year, including the raising of over $1 million in funding from public and private sources. Included in that funding is "a $444,000 grant from the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council; $250,000 from Assembly Member Andrew Heves; $250,000 from Council Member Karen Koslowitz; and other private donations." The estimated cost of the project is $122 million ($2.6 million per acre), according to the project's website. Robert Hammond, Executive Director of Friends of the High Line, expressed his enthusiasm for this milestone in the project in the press release: "Projects like the High Line take a long time to plan, and the first major funding step is always critical because it shows that the dream can be fully realized. We know that rails-to-trails projects unlock tremendous opportunities for their areas and cities, and we hope this funding will help pave the way for the QueensWay to become a reality." The first phase of the design process will focus on the central half-mile stretch from Metropolitan Avenue to Union Turnpike, known as the Metropolitan Hub. The development of this area will enhance pedestrian and bike access to Forest Park. Susannah Drake of DLANDstudio Architecture & Landscape Architecture will lead the design of the proposed park. The firm has found success in previous projects dealing with sustainable design and community engagement. These include the Gowanus Canal Sponge Park™ and Under the Elevated: Reclaiming Public Space Below Transit Infrastructure. In an interview with AN, Drake discussed numerous studies, conducted with the non-profit organization Hester Street Collaborative and WXY architecture + urban design, that helped them gauge the community’s needs and wants. Those efforts included web platforms, community outreach meetings, and smaller scale meetings with community leaders, school principals, and other stakeholders. Drake also noted that this project presents a unique opportunity to provide outdoor classrooms for school-aged children, particularly those of the adjacent Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School. The QueensWay, when completed, will provide a 3.5-mile, 47-acre park that is both family- and age-friendly, and will include: “a bike, jogging and walking path, upgrades for the facilities of local little leagues, schools, community and cultural amenities, and a significant improvement to the environment and quality of life of those living in Central and Southern Queens,” according to the press release. Additionally, the park will offer opportunities for economic growth and attract new visitors to Central Queens. In the press release, Marc Matsil, New York Director of The Trust for Public Land, the organization overseeing the plans, stated, “This announcement adds to the growing support for this project, which will be a major benefit for people in Queens. Almost 100,000 people live within a 10-minute walk of the QueensWay and every one of them will benefit when it is built. It will also help to reduce automobile-pedestrian fatalities by getting kids out of traffic, while contributing to the local economy.” Additionally, the QueensWay is being awarded a Merit Award for the QueensWay Plan at a joint-design awards gala hosted by AIA Queens and AIA Brooklyn this evening.
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BDay Celebration

Events across the world honor the centennial of Jane Jacobs’s birthday
For fans of the writer and urbanist Jane Jacobs, who died in 2006, May 4 has long had special significance because it was her birthday. This year it will be bigger than usual because May 4, 2016 is a milestone—the 100th anniversary of Jacobs’s birth in Scranton, Pa. Architects and urban planners on at least four continents are organizing a series of talks, walks, and other events to celebrate Jacobs’s life and impact on the built environment, starting this spring and continuing through the year. In addition to Jane Jacobs Day and Jane Jacobs Walks, there will be a Jane Jacobs Centennial Lecture Series (mostly in New York but as far away as Japan and India); a two-day symposium at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands; a Jane Jacobs Fellowship Program and a Jane Jacobs Medal ceremony. There is currently an exhibit in Toronto on Jacobs's life called Jane at Home (featuring items from Jacobs’s own estate, and curated by her son Jim); a new staging of the Jane Jacobs (and Robert Moses) opera, A Marvelous Order; themed food truck menu items called Jane Jacobs Specials, and even a Jane Jacobs Girl Scout merit badge (started by a troupe in Salt Lake City). In the literary world, Jacobs will be the subject of a new book, Robert Kanigel’s Eyes on the Street: The Life of Jane Jacobs, to be published by Knopf this fall. Kanigel’s book follows Peter Laurence’s Becoming Jane Jacobs, released last year. A group of writers is working with The Whole Earth Catalog creator Stewart Brand to publish a Whole Jane Catalog. Another publisher is reportedly working on a book that would contain a collection of her shorter articles. Some of the most ambitious events will be in large cities, such as New York, Toronto and Philadelphia. There will be plenty of events in small towns, too. “It’s bigger than ever this year...Everyone has found ways to celebrate her,” said Stephen Goldsmith, an artist, planner and professor who runs the Urban Ecology program at the University of Utah and serves as director of the Center for the Living City, an organization devoted to “advancing the observations of Jane Jacobs.” “We’re always getting new information” about Jacobs–oriented events, Goldsmith said. "It builds up organically…That’s what gives it its vitality." There are several websites created to keeping Jacobs’s memory alive. They include the centerforthelivingcity.org and two sites that keep track of Jacobs-themed walking tours, janeswalk.org and janejacobswalk.org. Jacobs-themed walks in New York are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society at Janes Walk NYC @ MAS.org. Philadelphia has a vibrant program, organized by PlanPhilly and listed on Facebook under janeswalkphilly. In New York City, the Rockefeller Foundation awards an annual Jane Jacobs Medal in a program administered by the Municipal Art Society of New York. (Past recipients range from Joshua David and Robert Hammond, co-founders of Friends of the High Line, to performers Robert DeNiro and Bette Midler.)   All of this activity is in tribute to the woman who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961 and considered one of the most influential books on urban planning written in the 20th century. Its reputation is all the more remarkable because its author had no formal training in urban planning or design. One of the biggest tributes is the yearlong Jane Jacobs Centennial Lecture Series. Coordinated by the Center for the Living City, it starts on May 4 and has more than a dozen speakers. Most lectures are taking place at the Museum on Eldridge Street at 12 Eldridge Street, between Canal and Division in lower Manhattan, but some will be elsewhere. The New York talks start at 6:30 p.m.  In New York, the talks are free, but people can make a donation if they want. As of late April, the New York lineup of speakers includes broadcast journalist and writer Ray Suarez, May 4; Central Park Conservancy founder, landscape designer and Jane Jacobs Medal recipient Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, June 15; economist Sandy Ikeda, psychiatrist Mindy Fullilove Thompson and architect Ron Shiffman, July 13. Also, architecture critic Paul Goldberger, September 14; writer Adam Gopnik, September 28; Jacobs biographers Robert Kanigel and Peter Laurence, Oct. 6;  Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, November 9; former New York City transportation commissioner and Jane Jacobs Medal recipient Janette Sadik-Khan, November 16; Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation president Gary Hattem, November 30; sociologist Saskia Sassen and sociologist Richard Sennett, December 7. Roberta Brandes Gratz, urban critic, author and president of the Center for the Living City, will give a Jacobs lecture in Tokyo, Japan, on July 30. Goldsmith will give a Jacobs lecture in Hyderabad, India in July. Jaime Lerner, an architect, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and leader in urban acupuncture, will give a Jacobs lecture in Salt Lake City in September. Other speakers, dates to be determined, include New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman; New Orleanian writer Lolis Eric Elie; New Orleans radio program host Gwen Tompkins; Brazilian urban planner Roberto Rocco; African community activists Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanovea; New Orleans architect Steven Bingler; architect and critic Michael Sorkin, and historian Richard Rabinowitz. The Jane at Home exhibit, featuring personal items from Jacobs’s estate, is on display now and runs through May 8 at Urbanspace Gallery, 401 Richmond Street West in Toronto, Canada. It was curated by Jacobs’s son, Jim. A two day symposium entitled “Jane Jacobs 100 – Her Legacy and Relevance in the 21st Century,”  will be held at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands on May 24 and 25. The organizer is educator and urban planner Roberto Rocco. There are hundreds of Jane’s Walks throughout the year.  All have different themes and different objectives. There are preservation-oriented walks, waterfront walks, horticultural walks. According to Goldsmith, individuals or groups can decide where they want to walk and what they want to talk about, post it on one of the website calendars, and take it from there. What would Jacobs think about all this? She supported certain causes before her death, such as the formation of a Center for the Living City, Goldsmith said. But in other cases, “we never knew what Jane might have thought. You never knew what her reaction would be. She was a modest person who didn’t think of herself as an activist. She wanted to be writing. To have her so celebrated, I would imagine she would be a little embarrassed by all the attention.”