Search results for "Carpenter Center"

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Light the Way: Three Exemplary Outdoor Projects
The University of Chicago's Light Bridges, during the day and at night, balance visibility with sensitivity to the existing park.
Courtesy James Carpenter Design Associates

Light Bridges
Midway Plaisance, Chicago
James Carpenter Design Associates with BauerLatoza Studio and Schuler Shook

Since it was built, the Midway Plaisance has divided the cloistered campus of the University of Chicago from the adjacent Woodlawn neighborhood. In spite of their proximity, the two often feel worlds apart: the one, a bastion of Neo-Gothic academic buildings, while the other is a mixed-income residential neighborhood. Now, as the university expands into Woodlawn with new residences and academic facilities, bridging that divide has become a priority for the university in supporting quality of life for students, faculty, and staff. The effort is complicated by the fact that the Midway, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is part of the city’s treasured parks system. Changes will be scrutinized.

The university turned to New York–based studio James Carpenter Design Associates, known for their innovative use of lighting and glass, to design something that would help unite the two areas of the university without intruding too much on Olmsted’s parkland. Light became the obvious means of achieving that balance. “They’re intended to be thresholds of light, primarily visible at night, that add clarity to the crossing,” Carpenter said.

Light Bridges during the day at the University of Chicago.
Light Bridges during the day at the University of Chicago.
Courtesy James Carpenter Design Associates

Working with Chicago-based landscape architects BauerLatoza and lighting designers Schuler Shook, Carpenter’s Light Bridges, currently under construction, will traverse the Midway at Ellis and Woodlawn avenues. During the day, lighting for the pathway has a subtle presence, while at night it glows with a robust physicality, hence the name Light Bridge. The effect is achieved through a series of smart design moves. Linear LEDs wash the handrails and guardrails as well as the retaining walls in light, and a series of LED spotlights set in the sidewalk throw light upward.

The most distinctive elements of the Light Bridges are the “light masts,” vertical columns with varied illumination. A metal halide fixture shines light up and outward through a light pipe—a tube with reflective film—to a mirror at the top of the column that bounces light back down. The light pipe allows the single fixture to illuminate the entire light mast, which is wrapped in a series of metal rods surrounded by horizontal bands. These give the column their form while also acting as light diffusers. The horizontal bands are spaced variously so that light levels are diminished in the middle of the column and heightened at the top, making the Light Bridge visible from a distance.

“The Light Bridges are part of a larger plan to illuminate their buildings and streets,” Carpenter said. “They are trying to center activities, to use light to give them a special character.”

Alan G. Brake


T8 by Mark di Suvero in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park.T8 by Mark di Suvero is one of 26 sculptures in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, which is illuminated by a subtle in-grade lighting scheme.
Kun Zhang

Pappajohn Sculpture Park,
Des Moines
Agrest and Gandelsonas Architects with RDG Planning & Design

Built in an underused two-block park in downtown Des Moines, the Pappajohn Sculpture Park came into being when longtime residents John and Mary Pappajohn donated their esteemed sculpture collection to the Des Moines Art Center in 2007. The gift of 26 sculptures, including pieces by Joel Shapiro, Mark di Suvero, and Ellsworth Kelly, was appraised at $40 million. In terms of placing the city on the cultural map, however, the bequest’s value has been incalculable.

Iowa-based RDG Planning & Design collaborated with the project architect Agrest and Gandelsonas of New York to develop a lighting scheme for the 4.4-acre park that would both define a series of parabolic outdoor rooms and also illuminate the sculptures from dusk until dawn.

Lighting at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines.Lighting at the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines.
Jackie Manning

“Lighting had to complement, not dominate, the site,” said Jonathan Martin, landscape architect with RDG. To eliminate the number of vertical poles in the park, almost every piece of art is lit from the ground. The design team worked with the Art Center to determine how each piece would be lit, making visits to the Pappajohn’s home to see the sculptures in person and test their mockups. Only one sculpture, Jaume Piensa’s Nomade, had specific directives from the artist about lighting. In all, the park contains more than 200 ceramic metal halide weatherproof lamps.

Because the park is completely open to downtown Des Moines, with official hours from sunrise to midnight, visitors are urged to observe artwork at night. “A sculpture that is very playful during the day may take on a more serious tone at night because of the way it’s lit,” said Martin. Unlit pathways eliminate the visual clutter of streetlamps, but also encourage patrons to stray from the path and see the artwork from more than one perspective. Streetlamps on sidewalks around the perimeter provide an ambient glow, just enough for security cameras to monitor park activity. In a setting where harsher lighting could have become a proxy for careful stewardship, instead each sculpture enjoys its own illuminated space within the darkness.

Jennifer K. Gorsche


The Riverwalk canopies illuminate a shadowy area under a bridge with washes of artificial light at night.
The Riverwalk canopies illuminate a shadowy area under a bridge with washes of artificial light at night.
Courtesy Ross Barney Architects

Chicago Riverwalk Canopies
Ross Barney Architects

When planning the Chicago Riverwalk, city officials realized that without protection, salt and water from bridges crossing overhead could pour down on pedestrians. So Carol Ross Barney and her team decided to make projective canopies that were also visual amenities, animating the shadowy areas under the bridges in addition to providing coverage overhead.

Made of stainless-steel tiles—the lower tiles are brushed steel, and the upper highly-polished—the canopies reflect the shimmer and movement of the river, creating dappled shadows on the Riverwalk. “It adds something contemporary and ethereal within the neoclassical language of the rest of the Riverwalk,” Ross Barney said. Currently in place under the Michigan Avenue and Wabash Avenue bridges, the canopies use natural light during daytime hours to transform the underside of the city’s beautiful, but utilitarian, infrastructure. Others, perhaps in a different form, will be added as additional phases of the Riverwalk are completed.

Riverwalk canopies reflect daylight under a bridge.
Riverwalk canopies reflect daylight under a bridge.
Courtesy Ross Barney Architects

The reflective surfaces recall a contemporary Chicago icon, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate. While Kapoor’s sculpture pulls the viewer into the skyline and the sky above, the canopies immerse the viewer in one of Chicago’s less appreciated natural features. “You feel like you’re in the river,” Ross Barney said. Unlike Kapoor’s perfect bean, the canopies are slightly wavy with visible seams. As Ross Barney noted, “It helps fragment the painting.”

When the sun sets, light pipes with metal-halide lamps set in the seams of the canopies wash their surfaces with light. Some of that light reflects down to the surface of the water, reversing the daytime effect. Metal-halide downlights provide additional illumination for pedestrians. “The results are very intriguing and fun,” she said.

Alan G. Brake

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History Refracted at the Israel Museum
James Carpenter designed three new entrance pavilions and a dramatically-lit stairway for the campus.
Tim Hursley

The Israel Museum is a complex of buildings scattered across a 20-acre hilly site called Neveh Sha’anan outside the ancient walls of Jerusalem. A project actively supported by Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, it was opened in 1965 according to a plan and design by the architect Alfred Mansfield and interior designer Dora Gad. Mansfield and Gad are important figures in Israel for having forged a regional architectural modernism for the new Jewish state. The drawings for the original museum depict it as a Mediterranean hilltop village of stacked modernist boxes. But the site that the museum calls a campus is also home to an Isamu Noguchi–designed sculpture garden, a 50:1 outdoor scale model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, and the spectacular Shrine of the Book complex by Frederick Kiesler and Armand Bartos.

In 1997, James Snyder became director of the museum, overseeing the construction of a long-planned fully funded expansion project. Snyder soon realized that the entire campus, particularly the Mansfield-designed exhibition buildings, had become a disheveled group of dated structures. It had, for example, a wide entrance ramp and service road running through its center, separating the Mansfield exhibition buildings from the Noguchi garden and the Shrine of the Book.

The stacked modernist boxes spill across the hilly campus, which has been newly connected to the surrounding landscape. 

Snyder cancelled these plans and developed a new “vision” for the reorganization of the campus. In 2004 he was impressed by an article in The New York Times about the work of James Carpenter Design Associates on the below-ground connecter and light reflector roof of the Fulton Street Transit Center. He visited Carpenter’s New York studio to discuss the Israeli site and began a dialogue on the campus, and the museum eventually hired the firm to direct the commission.

Carpenter, who has created a fascinating niche practice as a glass designer and artist, along with local firms Efrat-Kowalsky Architects of Tel Aviv and A. Lerman Architects renovated over 200,000 square feet of existing galleries, and added 84,000 square feet of new public space. This included three entry pavilions housing information, retail, and special-event spaces at the front of the site, and in the heart of Mansfield’s galleries, a new exhibition space.

The new main entry brings clarity to both visitor circulation and the museum's exhibition spaces.

Carpenter wanted the architecture of the complex to “resonate” with Jerusalem’s very particular light, describing it as “intense, but because there is always a degree of moisture or dust in the air off the desert, the light is tempered by atmospheric interference and has a substantial presence as it hangs in the air.” The low-iron monolithic glass walls of the pavilions are all lined on the exterior with ceramic louvers that give the walls a more substantial volumetric presence and diffract the sun’s intense heat while still admitting light.

In Carpenter’s mind, this project is as much about shading as it is about the qualities that glass can bring to a building. It’s a brilliant transparent solution for the museum, and transforms Mansfield’s once closed-off environment into a new light-filled one where structures open up to the surrounding landscape.

Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain   Piazza Spagna, Rome
anish kapoor's turning the world upside down, jerusalem (left) commands the crown plaza level. the renewed muslims and crusaders gallery (right) has been sensitively updated.

Finally, Carpenter also created a new below-ground passage connecting his entrance pavilions to the new central glass gallery space. The on-grade ramp that runs from the bottom of the hilly site to the galleries at the top of the complex has a watercourse spilling down one side, and below this, Carpenter has placed the new passageway. This new entrance has etched glass walls several feet away from a ceramic wall, which bounces the activated light coming through the overhead watercourse onto the glass walls and into the subterranean entry space. There are also three small gardens below that bring more light and connection with the landscape into these subterranean areas. Carpenter, the master of glass, has even found a way to bring light below the ground to activate space and create a thrilling experience.

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Mapping Lower Manhattan
The Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center's database includes 3-D models of projects now under way, shown here in their projected state of completion in 2018 (Click to zoom).
Map Courtesy LMCCC

World Trade Center Site

Developer: Port Authority
Architect: SOM

Silverstein Properties
Architect: Foster + Partners

Developer: Silverstein Properties
Architect: Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners

Developer: Silverstein Properties
Architect: Maki and Associates

Developer: Port Authority
Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox

Developer: Port Authority
Architect: Santiago Calatrava

Developer: National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation
Architect: Michael Arad, Peter Walker, and Davis Brody Bond Aedas

Developer: Port Authority
Architect: Kohn Pedersen Fox

Transportation and Street Improvement

Address: West St. between West Thames and Chambers St.
Developer: New York State Dept. of Transportation
Architect: Stantec

Developer: NYC Department of Design and Construction
Architect: NYC Department of Design and Construction

Address: 192 Broadway and 1–3 John St.
Developer: Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Architect: Grimshaw Architects/James Carpenter

Developer: NYC Department of Transportation
Architect/Engineer: URS

Park and Landscape

Address: Between North Moore and Hubert Sts.
Developer: Hudson River Park Trust
Masterplan: Sasaki Associates
Landscape Architect: Mathews Nielsen

Address: Battery Park
Developer: Battery Conservancy and NYC Parks Department
Architect: WXY Architecture + Urban Design with George Tsypin Opera Factory
Landscape Architect: Starr Whitehouse

Address: Battery Park
Developer: Battery Conservancy and NYC Parks Department
Architect: Gehry Partners
Landscape Architect: Starr Whitehouse

Address: Whitehall Ferry Terminal
Developer: MTA, NYC DOT, NYC Parks Dept., and Battery Conservancy
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Leonard St. between Centre and Lafayette
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Houston St. to South St.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: AECOM

Address: Cherry St., Rutgers Slip, and FDR Dr.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: Thomas Balsley Associates

Address: Catherine Slip at Cherry St.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Landscape Architect: Thomas Balsley Associates

Address: Pearl St., Madison St., and St. James Pl.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Fulton St. at Gold St.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Pearl St. between Fulton and Beekman Sts.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Pearl St., Fulton St., and Water St.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department

Address: Water St. to South St.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: NYC Parks Department with Quennell Rothschild

Address: John St. between South and Front Sts.
Developer: NYC Parks Department
Architect: Rockwell Group

Address: Battery to East River Park
Developer: Lower Manhattan Development Corporation/Economic Development Corporation of New York
Architect: SHoP Architects
Landscape Architect: Ken Smith Landscape Architect 

Residential and Hotel

Developer: Laurel Capital
Architect: Suellen Defrancis Architecture

Developer: Sleepy Hudson
Architect: UNStudio

Developer: Alexico Group
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

Developer: John Buck
Architect: SLCE Architects

Developer: 77 Reade LLC
Architect: BKSK Architects

Address: 200 and 300 North End Ave.
Developer: Milstein Properties
Architect: Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn with Goldstein, Hill & West and Costas Kondylis & Partners

Developer: Silverstein Properties
Architect: Robert A.M. Stern Architects

Address: 16–38 Beekman St.
Developer: Forest City Ratner
Architect: Gehry Partners

36.   276 WATER STREET
Developer: Lynda Davey
Architect: Perkins Eastman

37.   254 FRONT STREET
Developer: Magnum Realty Group
Architect: Morris Adjmi Architects

38.   40 GOLD STREET
Developer: Zahav Properties
Architect: Meltzer/Mandl

Developer: Ron Shoshany
Architect: Newman Design Architects

Address: 123 Washington St.
Developer: Moinian Group
Architect: Gwathmey Siegel & Associates

41.   50 WEST STREET
Developer: Time Equities
Architect: Murphy/Jahn Architects

Developer: McSam Hotel Group
Architect: Gene Kaufman Architect

43.   70 PINE STREET
Developer: Youngwoo & Associates
Architect: TBA

Address: 40 Broad St.
Developer: Setai Group and Zamir Equities
Architect: Denniston International

Developer: Swig Equities
Architect: Moed de Armas & Shannon and Rockwell Group

Address: 8 Stone St.
Developer: Metro One Hotel
Architect: Gene Kaufman Architect

Address: 10 South St.
Developer: Dermot Company
Architect: Rogers Marvel Architects


Address: 30 West Broadway
Developer: Dormitory Authority of the State of New York
Architect: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

Address: 16-38 Beekman St.
Developer: Forest City Ratner Companies
Architect: Swanke Hayden

50.   PS/IS 276
Address: 55 Battery Pl.
Developer: School Construction Authority
Architect: Dattner Architects

Address: 26 Broadway
Developer: School Construction Authority
Architect: John Ciardullo Architects


Address: 200 Murray St.
Developer: Goldman Sachs
Architect: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

53.   20 MOTT STREET
Developer: Regal Investments
Architect: JHC Consulting

54.   72 WALL STREET
Developer: Youngwoo & Associates
Architect: TBA


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The Gatekeepers
The Public Design Commission controls most every detail of most every public art and design project in the city, including the new Grimshaw-designed bus stops.
Courtesy Cemusa

For nearly 35 years, Paul Broches of Mitchell/Giurgola Architects has been working to make Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island a reality. On a recent Monday, he unrolled his drawings in a low-ceilinged City Hall annex before one of the least known but most influential deliberative bodies in New York: the Public Design Commission (PDC). On this afternoon, the engineer Guy Nordenson, one of 11 commissioners, took a typically conscientious line of questioning: “Will the park be high enough above the East River waterline,” he asked, “to endure rising sea levels due to global warming?” You bet it will, said Broches, who counted the meeting as one more modest victory for the quixotic Kahn project.

For Broches and other architects, the Public Design Commission is a customary stop on the road to public-works approvals. But ask many in the design community about the PDC, and you’re likely to draw a blank. Known until last August as the Art Commission, the PDC has maintained an air of mystery even as it exerts a strong influence over the city’s built environment. According to its mission statement, the commission is charged with approving all “permanent works of art, architecture, and landscape architecture proposed on or over city-owned property.” Yet many architects who have presented municipal projects for review are unclear how the commission works, where its jurisdiction begins and ends, and what guiding principles the commissioners hold in shaping the city’s future.

The commission oversaw the expansion of Staten Island's St. George Ferry Terminal, designed by FTL Design Engineering Studio, which includes these pavilions.
Francis Dzikowski/ESTO

The Design Commission’s low profile is all the more surprising, since its operations are effectively hidden in plain sight. “All our hearings and meetings are open to the public,” said PDC Executive Director Jackie Snyder. The commission’s online calendar includes a docket of every project currently under consideration, and recent committee meetings—informal rehearsals for city agencies in the early stages of a new project—have featured everything from the installation of signage for a library book drop in Queens to a comfort station in the Bronx. Public hearings, where official submissions are made and approval granted or withheld, have recently ranged from newsstands on Madison Avenue to the reconstruction of East Fordham Road in the Bronx.

The PDC’s bailiwick has remained largely unchanged since the Art Commission’s creation in 1898. As called for in the charter of the then newly consolidated City of New York, the commission’s first members were appointed for three-year, unpaid terms at the recommendation of the Fine Arts Federation, an independent cultural consortium. The federation nominated one architect, one painter, a sculptor, and three “lay members.” Three additional commissioners were selected by the most prominent cultural institutions of the day: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the New York Public Library. Today, the PDC’s membership breaks down in precisely the same way, chosen by the same process, with one more lay member appointed at the mayor’s discretion and a landscape architect rounding out the group.

James Carpenter designed The Inclined Light Wall for a Polshek addition to the hall of Science in 2004.
Francis Dzikowski/ESTO
The Commission Also oversees public institutions, such as the Hospital for Special Surgery, which expanded in 2006
Courtesy HSS
One Stone (2007) by cai guo-qiang was conceived in concert with the Bronx County Hall of Justice, by Rafael Viñoly Architects.
Francis Dzikowski/ESTO




The commission’s review powers are much as they were over a hundred years ago. In developing any public works project, every branch of the city’s vast bureaucracy must prepare a series of presentations for the commission. Usually the work of the consulting architect, these presentations follow a three-step process: conceptual, preliminary, and final.

The first two take place during public hearings in the commission’s offices, attended by members of the agencies involved (invariably) and by concerned members of the public (infrequently). The presenter outlines the project’s objectives and design strategies, while the commissioners make suggestions and take a casual thumbs-up, thumbs-down vote. The final stage entails only a submission of project documents. The result is fair and reasonable, according to veterans of the process. “I’ve presented to the PDC many, many times,” Broches said. “Even though the character of the commission changes as the commissioners change, I’ve always found them to be smart, serious-minded, and amicable.”

Some civic construction escapes the commission’s purview: Federal and state buildings fall outside their mandate, and some city buildings are the province of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The PDC also passes judgment on a surprising volume of construction beyond the city limits, like the entire Croton Aqueduct system, with its headhouses, gatehouses, and signposts scattered throughout Westchester County.

Other projects submitted for review aren’t actually being reviewed at all. “Courtesy” reviews are commonplace, delivered by non-city agencies in an effort to garner broad political support. As it turned out, the presenters of Four Freedoms Park, which is to be built on state-owned land, were performing one such courtesy call. “The Design Commission is involved with so many projects on public land in New York, it just seemed eminently reasonable to get their opinion,” said Sally Minard, who has helped spearhead the project.

The commission strives to avoid unexpected—and expensive—design revamps as much as is practical. As Snyder explained, “We usually try to have people come in earlier, so that it’s easier and less expensive for agencies to change designs.” But clearly, the committee isn’t just applying a rubber stamp. At a recent hearing, Department of Transportation (DOT) personnel milled around the PDC’s waiting room, having just finished their “second or third preliminary” for a Bronx highway improvement. More anodyne projects—a public toilet for Prospect Park, for example—are sometimes fast-tracked, given final approval at their preliminary hearing.

So what is the PDC’s yardstick for successful design? “Our goal is not to turn people into clones of us, but to make their project the best it can be,” said Signe Nielsen, principal of environmental planners Mathews Nielsen and the commission’s current landscape architect. The “us” of the moment constitutes a fair cross-section of influential New Yorkers: Other commissioners include architect James Polshek, Paula Scher of Pentagram, and a former director of Forest City Ratner, James Stuckey. “Whether we are wealthy patrons or scruffy academics, professionals or artists,” Nordenson said in an interview, “we share the belief that we can build a discourse about what is good design or not and cut through the bureaucratic yadda yadda.”

At times, New York’s small design world can cause complications. At a recent hearing, Nielsen recused herself for one session as Anne Trumble of Mathews Nielsen gave the preliminary proposal for the firm’s DOT-sponsored redesign of West 125th Street just landward of the Hudson River. The renovation includes moving and resurfacing crosswalks to coincide with Columbia University’s planned satellite campus for the neighborhood. At the advice of the PDC, benches with rounded armrests will be scattered around the site, echoing the looped arches of the Riverside Drive viaduct above.


Rendering of a Department of Transportation-sponsored redesign by Mathews Nielsen of West 125th Street at Fairway Plaza; the PDC suggested bench arms to echo the shapes of the viaduct passing overhead.
Courtesy Mathews Nielson

And the commission has had its share of contention. An uproar over the Parks Department’s Washington Square renovation brought crowds to commission meetings in 2005. (To little avail: The project moved forward.) Another episode, described in former commissioner Michele Helene Bogart’s illuminating book about the commission The Politics of Urban Beauty, involved former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, whose enthusiasm for “yardarm” flagpoles and animal motifs led him to circumvent the Art Commission on a number of occasions. This prompted a lawsuit, eventually settled, from Commission President Reba White Williams.

More typically, though, the PDC expressly avoids confrontation. “If the person running the meeting senses there’s a mixed opinion, we table the project,” said Nielsen. These rare differences are ironed out at executive sessions that are closed to the public, and where, according to Bogart, members discuss projects candidly. “When the politics around a project are particularly sensitive, it’s better to have an executive session,” Bogart explained.

Politics do occasionally intrude. Former Commission President Jean Phifer of architecture firm Thomas Phifer & Partners described an attempt in the late 1990s to abolish the commission outright, spurred on by a Staten Island councilman. (Phifer is the author of the new book Public Art New York, which includes the photography of Francis Dzikowski that can be found accompanying this article.)

The commission oversees work of all sizes and uses, including Barretto Point Park in the Bronx, designed by landscape architect Ricardo Hinkle with designer Rachel Kramer.
Malcolm Pinckney/Courtesy NYC Parks & Recreation

Mayor Giuliani interceded on the commission’s behalf, but Giuliani was otherwise less supportive of the commission than Mayor Bloomberg has been. “The difference between now and then is that the commission under Giuliani had no clout,” Bogart said. Mayor Bloomberg’s support of the PDC and of urban design generally has helped bolster the commission’s efforts, as evidenced by his creation, with the PDC’s input, of the Design and Construction Excellence program. One more change under Mayor Bloomberg has been the reassertion of PDC review power in the case of private leases on public land, a move that has helped extend the commission’s reach.

The best evidence of the commission’s scope and vision is in the city’s public works over the past decade. Hudson River Park, the Fulton Street Transit Center, the
Van Cortlandt Park filtration plant—if these can be taken together as signal projects, what sort of design preferences emerge? A clarity of visual language; a clean, muscular sense of materiality; an emphasis on environmental sensitivity. Struggling to sum it up, Nielsen simply said, “I could say it in fancy archi-speak, but it boils down to this: Will I still want to look at it in 20 years?”

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It's the TARP, Stupid

While billings (yellow) continued their downward decline in January, inquiries (green) saw a nice bounce, the first in months.
The Architect's Newspaper

After a brief uptick in December, the AIA’s Architecture Billings Index slipped again in January, settling in at a new record low and continuing a larger six-month decline that began in September. Inquiries showed a marked improvement, however, possibly in concert with discussions of infrastructure spending generated by the stimulus bill, though of course that was not finalized—with somewhat unimpressive construction spending—until this week.

AIA chief economist Kermit Baker suggested as much in a press release accompanying the billings numbers on Wednesday, though he also saw a far greater problem constraining the industry: the continued freeze within the credit markets. “Now that the stimulus bill has passed and includes funding for construction projects, as well as for municipalities to raise bonds, business conditions could improve,” he said. “That said, until we can get a clearer sense of credit lines being made available by banks, it will be hard to gauge when a lot of projects that have been put on hold can get back online.”

In other words, for all the attention architects and the architectural media (AN included) have paid to the stimulus bill the president signed on Monday, the real salvation will most likely come from TARP, and its big brother, the Financial Stability and Recovery Plan.

(For the record, billings fell to 33.3 from 36.4 while inquiries rose to 43.5 from 37.7. Regionally, the Northeast shed 4.6 points to hit 29.8, the Midwest and South each lost about one to 34.6 and 34.4, respectively, and the West gain 1.5 points to 38.3. For the sectors, multi-family residential work held roughly stable, losing half-a-point to hit 29.5, commercial/industrial gained 5.7 to 33.8, while institutional fell 2.2 to 37.1, mixed use 5.5 to 39.6.)

“There are large parts of the stimulus that will go to public works that won’t be going to architects necessarily, like road and water treatment facilities and the so-called smart grid,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist at the Associated General Contractors of America. “Transportation and high-speed rail will provide some work, but for architects, the real recovery will come from the financial markets.” (A prime example of the former is the MTA’s commitment to build the Grimshaw- and James Carpenter-designed aboveground portion of the Fulton Street Transit Center.)

Simonson said that the part of the stimulus bill that will benefit architects is not the part that they think—the brick-and-mortar projects—but softer measures like tax breaks that may help restore consumer demand and lead to new projects. “The emphasis on stimulus is probably right in the sense that it will help the economy weather this downturn,” Simonson said. “But not in the sense that it will put money into the hands of architects, at least not in the way it will for construction workers.”

But this also means that other measures, like the $275 billion foreclosure package, could have an impact beyond the one architects might think. Given that most designers do not work on tract homes in suburban Phoenix, the program would seem to have little effect. But Richard Rosan, president of the Urban Land Institute, said the money is more far-reaching than that. “If you don’t get the lending back, the real estate development business is done,” he said. “If you can’t borrow, you can’t build, and if you can’t refinance, then you’re in terrible trouble with your existing buildings. Both TARP and the foreclosure plan will help fix these problems, albeit slowly.”

And financing has been a problem for some time already. The AIA, in preparing the billings index, surveys dozens of architects in the country each month. In addition to asking about their business, they pose a specific question. Back in September, it was “What is the most serious problem facing your firm?” The resounding answer, at 63 percent of firms, was client problems with project financing, followed by allied issues related to the overall financial turmoil, though that took only 19 percent.

“What we’re hearing from a lot of our people is that a lot of projects are ready to go and they just can’t go forward because they can’t get the financing,” said Jennifer Riskus, the AIA’s manager for economic research. Perhaps an architectural stimulus, separate from the all-important credit vehicles currently in the works, should be in order.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said the Obama administration's foreclosure program cost $750 billion. AN regrets the error.

Show MTA the Money

Like the rest of the city, the recent boom years have been good to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, leading to shiny new buses, trains, and megaprojects. But now, with the fifth-largest debt load in the country and the state out of money, the authority is on the verge of jumping the tracks, right into territory it has not seen since the 1970s.

The problem we’re in is the perfect storm of major dedicated taxes all drying up at once,” said Wiley Norvell, communications director at Transportation Alternatives. “The gas tax, the bridge tolls, the real estate tax, the sales tax—they’ve all gone dry. Plus, the MTA’s debt has exploded over the last two years.”

The result is a $1.2 billion hole in the authority’s operating budget, and a potential $20 billion shortfall in the forthcoming $30 billion 2010–2015 capital plan. The press has called it the “Doomsday Budget,” because, short of new revenue streams, it will lead to massive service cuts and fare and toll increases throughout the system.

And if that weren’t bad enough, the $1 billion payment for Hudson Yards was pushed back a year, following a February 4 agreement between the authority and developer the Related Companies. Meanwhile, Forest City Ratner has yet to secure financing for the $100 million it owes on the Atlantic Yards project.

On the bright side, the city’s Congressional delegation has secured between $1.5 billion and $2 billion for the agency in the House stimulus bill, with possibly more to come from the Senate. And, in an act of confidence or hubris, the authority earmarked $497 million on January 30 to complete the Fulton Street Transit Center, designed by Grimshaw and James Carpenter, before the package was even finalized.

It’s enough to make even the steadiest straphanger’s head spin.

“If we don’t solve this problem, we’re shortchanging the economy right now, when we can hardly afford to, and for decades to come,” said Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association. He said that as the city has learned in the past, even a year or two of disinvestment can take decades to reverse. Fortunately, the MTA agrees wholeheartedly. “This is probably the most difficult landscape the MTA has faced in a generation,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

And yet the recession could prove, in some small way, to be the authority’s salvation. Given the dire state of the economy, many politicians appear willing to entertain once-heretical notions. Take the mayor’s congestion pricing plan. It was initially sold as a measure to reduce congestion and pollution, but was ultimately defeated by the state legislature because, in its members’ view, the real purpose was to fund mass transit. Newer proposals, however, such as those put forward by former MTA chair Richard Ravitch—East River bridge tolls, payroll taxes, slightly increased fares and tolls—avoid the bait-and-switch and go right for the money.

Norvell said that compared to last year, the tone in Albany is “markedly different,” with almost no complaints about the payroll tax and a surprising openness to East River bridge tolls. “Oddly enough, the financial crisis has created a lot of political breathing room,” he said. “We’re looking at $2.50 MetroCards, $100 monthlies. Nobody wants his fingerprints on that.”

It will likely be late March before we know whether it is Doomsday or V-Day for the MTA. The federal stimulus package must first be passed, though even that would be but a few nickels in the bucket. From there, it should take a month for the legislature to either endorse Ravitch’s plan, adopt an alternative, or let the MTA go forward with its cuts, which the authority’s board approved in December. Given the state’s budget woes, that remains a distinct possibility.

Transit advocates remained heartened despite the MTA’s predicament. “I have reason to believe it will pass, given my conversations with people in both houses,” Yaro said of the Ravitch plan. Norvell believes the legislature owes it to the MTA. “The system’s been starved by Albany for the last decade,” he said. “The ball is in their court. We hope they make the right play.”

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Diamond in the Rough
The Romanoff brothers have proposed a new office tower adjacent to the High Line.
Courtesy JCDA

Long before it became a real estate commodity, the High Line was considered a blight on its neighborhood. But since the construction of a park on the rail trestle received the Bloomberg administration’s approval in 2002, and the West Chelsea rezoning passed three years later—allowing for higher density residential development along the park—the High Line has morphed from eyesore to eye candy.

Not, however, for a pair of brothers heavily invested in the Meatpacking District. Darryl and Stewart Romanoff, whose family has owned and developed buildings in the area since the 1940s, argue that the High Line, by covering 23 percent of a two-story market building they own, prevents them from taking full advantage of the site.

Claiming hardship, the Romanoffs have filed for a variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals, requesting a 50 percent boost in the lot’s density. They then hope to replace the current building with a 215-foot-tall office building designed by James Carpenter Design Associates and architects Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel. Preservationists are aghast, and the local community board ambivalent.

“The fundamental issue is that the applicant is using the High Line as justification for a hardship,” said Brad Hoylman, chair of Community Board 2. “But many members of the community board see it as a windfall.” In a separate interview, Bo Riccobono, a member of the board’s preservation committee, was more direct. “I think it’s bullshit,” he said.

On January 22, the board voted 32-2 in favor of the project, which is located at 437 West 13th Street, though some preservation groups couched the vote as a rejection because the board called for the floor-area ratio to remain at its current density of 5 FAR, not the 7.73 the Romanoffs requested. Of the other variances they seek, the board supported two—one eliminating rear yard requirements, another concerning height and setback waivers—and one that it modified: a request for 30,000 square feet of retail, up from an allowable 10,000 square feet. The board requested that retail square-footage be limited to 20,000 square feet, fearing that more might encourage big-box stores.

Gary Tarnoff, the developers’ counsel, said the Romanoffs appreciated the board’s comments and will take them into consideration, but intend to proceed with their original proposal. “We saw the board’s vote as a recognition of the hardship,” Tarnoff said, “and now we expect the BSA to make a final determination on these matters.” Tarnoff said he expects the project to go before the BSA in late March or early April.

Though the Romanoffs’ argument that the High Line has created a hardship on the site may seem disingenuous, variance hearings at the BSA deal primarily with financial matters. The burden of proof lies with balance sheets, not ideas of appropriateness, context, or scale, which are the sticking points for preservationists.

“What they’re seeking to do would forever change the neighborhood and we can’t stand to see that take place,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which led the charge against the project. Still, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission created the Gansevoort Market Historic District in 2004, the building was excluded because it was not found to be historically or architecturally significant.

there has been considerable debate over the historical and architectural value of the meat market building carpenter's tower would replace. Morris adjmi's high line building rises in the background, and the oculus of Diane von Furstenberg's studio can be seen at right.
Photo by Matt chaban

At the corner of Washington Street and West 13th Street, the project is  at the crossroads of two architectural territories: the historic brick and cobblestone meat market and the cutting-edge glass-and-steel High Line (see: neighboring Standard Hotel, High Line Building). With one of the few active meat packers left in the neighborhood residing inside, 437 West 13th Street is more than just an architectural throwback. Carpenter said he took extra care to bridge these two competing neighborhoods through his design.

While the West 13th Street facade rises the full height of the building, in concert with the Standard Hotel across the street, a setback on the Washington Street side provides a simple yet clever gesture with a threefold purpose: reducing the scale on Washington Street to match the neighboring buildings, gesturing toward Diane Von Furstenberg’s adjacent building with its distinctive oculus, and creating an overall massing that parallels the tracks. “The form of the building sort of announces the High Line to the broader community,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter added that the facade will be akin to the curtain wall at 7 World Trade Center, both in appearance and spirit. “We try and work a sense of depth into [the building’s skin], like there’s something behind the glass,” Carpenter said. “We’re trying to develop a very quiet building that doesn’t have the busyness or noise of the other glass buildings nearby, like the Standard.”

So far, the design has won the project supporters. “There’s nothing wrong with building a really good building that people are going to like and that somewhere down the road we might consider landmarking in its own right,” said David Reck, an architect and chair of the board’s zoning committee. Hoylman said that the board endorsed the project, albeit in shorter form, because there was general support for the design.

David Dellvillars, in-house architect for Diane Von Furstenberg, said Carpenter went out of his way to accomodate the fashion designer's building, which Carpenter himself called the neighborhood's newest landmak. "We've been collaborating to make the designs as integral as possible," Dellavillars said. "We like the simplicity and the simple gesture Jamie's made for us." WorkAC's Dan Wood, the designer of Von Furstenberg's building, said, "It could have been worse for us, I'll say that. It's good company, frankly."

Annie Washburn, executive director of the Meatpacking District Initiative, called the existing building “a black hole” and said the new building is more in line with the ongoing development of the neighborhood. “The meat market is leaving,” she said, “so we need to create another marketplace here. It’s becoming a creative marketplace, and this is precisely the sort of building that that calls for.”

Matt Chaban

Though preservationists complain that the building is too tall for the neighboring gansevoort Market Historic District, it is shorter than its high Line siblings, the high line building (left) and standard hotel.
Courtesy JCDA
the west 13th street facade rises straight up from the street, like its taller neighbors. the office floors have been set back on washington street, however, which not only differentiates the retail program below but also brings the scale in line with that of the low-rise historic district.

Carpenter said he wanted his building to "hold back and not overhang the high line." to achieve this, he designed two simple connections to the new park,  as well as articulating the corner of the upper floors, which cantilever 10 feet out, in line with the high line railing.

carpenter, who made his name designing architectural glass treatments, said the curtain wall will be reminiscent of 7 World Trade Center, another of his projects. the retail facade (right) will have more detailing and articulation than its office counterpart.
like the curtain wall, carpenter is taking extra care with the north-facing party wall, which will be detailed with rows of thin terra cotta panels.
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Keep Your Eye on the Oculus (UPDATE)
Even before the recession hobbled the MTA, the fate of the Fulton Street Transit Center was much in doubt. There had been talk of simply capping the site with a park, or building Grimshaw's pavillion but without Jamie Carpenter's signature oculus. But according to a report this morning on WNYC, the MTA has decided to go forward with an above-ground building, though it could be sans oculus. And, for better or worse, there will be more retail opportunities (read: a mall), which, given Richard Ravitch's contention that the MTA lacks a consistent, reliable funding stream, might not be such a bad idea. The WNYC report is not online, though confirmation from MTA prez Lee Sander, as well as the news that it will cost between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion, is. Furthermore, per WNYC, "Sander would not say what revisions have been made to the hub's design." But a source at Grimshaw wrote in an email that not much has changed--yet. "We are still the architect and the oculus still exists." In an interesting twist, the Post is now reporting that the remaining $497 required to complete the project will come from the Obama stimulus package, as well as more vague design pronouncements:
"People have been worried that we were going to leave a hole in the ground or construct a simple subway entrance instead of the iconic structure that the community was expecting," Sander said. "I am here to tell you that this is not the case." The original designs of the above-ground glass structure called for an oculus that would reflect light into the station. The plans were later simplified to only include skylights.
No word yet from Jamie Carpenter, though the MTA press office is hard at work on filling us in. For a reminder of what the project may or may not look like, check NY1's story from Monday. Update: In an email, Carpenter writes, "We are of course hopeful but I have no current information." Meanwhile, MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan shed slightly more light on the project. "At this stage, we've reached a concept but no new designs yet," he said, adding "A three-story glass structure is about as specific as I could get." In the Times, Sander said pretty much the same thing, as well as making a strong case for its inclusion in the stimulus plan:
“The pavilion has to be many things to many people,” Mr. Sander said, referring to the glass structure. “It has to be a building of vibrant design with as much new retail activity as possible.” He called it “a highly visible portal to a modern transportation complex.” [...] “The project needs to be finished,” he said. “It does at this point appear to meet the criteria that Congress has put out, and from an economic stimulus standpoint, in terms of job creation, it certainly seems appropriate.”

Dome Drama

The dome, the whole dome, and nothing but the dome: This was the demand from angry New Yorkers when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) discussed its plans to strip down the design for the Fulton Street Transit Center in a meeting with Community Board 1. “We want the Fulton Street Transit Center built as originally designed, and we want it built now,” said Alliance for Downtown New York president Elizabeth Berger at the February 11 meeting. “We can’t settle for less, and we can’t wait any longer.” 

The MTA first announced its plans to rethink the Grimshaw Architects and James Carpenter Design Associates building at the end of January, when it revealed a paralyzing funding gap (“Folly at Fulton St.,” AN 03_ 02.20.2008). The project was budgeted at $390 million, but the sole bid for construction came in at $870 million. CB1 World Trade Center committee chairperson Catherine McVay Hughes called the towering glass dome that focuses sunlight onto the subway platforms below “an iconic design that the community fell in love with.” 

At the February 11 meeting, CB1 passed a resolution demanding the building it says downtown was promised. “It would be utterly unconscionable,” the resolution reads, “to not build this project in a timely manner after 145 Downtown businesses were sacrificed to assemble the site and the entire population of Lower Manhattan has been forced to navigate around and through this massive dirty construction site for years.” 

The dome would enclose 23,000 square feet of retail space that the Downtown Alliance and CB1 argue is crucial to the process of reinvigorating a neighborhood still struggling after September 11. But CB1 is worried that the city’s priorities don’t match its own. The Transit Center was supposed to open this year, according to Hughes, but it remains in pieces even as other redevelopment projects churn along. “After 9/11, we had meeting after meeting to go over the top priorities for downtown,” said Hughes. “The South Ferry Terminal is almost done, and it was at the bottom of the list, whereas Fulton Street was the top priority.” 

The MTA argues the building itself is just the tip of the iceberg, and less pressing than the mess of train lines submerged underneath it. “Transportation benefits are the most important part of the project,” said spokesperson Jeremy Soffin. That part of the project is scheduled to open in 2010. 

The MTA is in the middle of a 30-day reevaluation of the design and its funding. It hopes to have a revised plan by the end of the month. Meanwhile, the Downtown Alliance has suggested a public/private partnership to help distribute some of the project’s cost overruns. It’s unclear at this point what shape the Transit Center will take, but according to Soffin, “This is not going to be left as a hole in the ground.” 


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Folly at Fulton St.
Grimshaw's original design for the Fulton Street transit hub is sure to be scaled back, and may not get built at all.
Courtesy Grimshaw

In the face of budget shortfalls and mounting construction costs, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center have been all but discarded. The glassy, conical transit hub designed by Grimshaw and James Carpenter Design Associates was meant to be the MTA’s showpiece at the new World Trade Center, an elegant solution to a mess of subway lines, but cost overruns could leave the site vacant for some time to come.

The decision to rethink the transit center, announced on January 28, arose when the MTA received only one bid for the aboveground portion of the project, a $870 million offer that far exceeded the $390 million budgeted for the project. (The underground portion of the project, which streamlines connections between a tangle of subway lines and was designed by ARUP, will be unaffected by the cutbacks.) MTA executive director and CEO Lee Sander said the MTA has gone back to the drawing board to consider all its options. “I would not say it can’t be done, but clearly we have to find a way to redistribute the costs of the current project or come up with a new one,” he told AN.

Sander declined to say whether Grimshaw was still involved with the project, and an MTA spokesperson, Jeremy Soffin, said he was not sure. A source with knowledge of the MTA’s plans, or at least what remains of them, did tell AN that the British firm was still involved with the project, but did not know what that involvement would entail, or even if the MTA did. “I don’t think they really know what they’re doing right now,” the source said of the MTA’s intentions. Grimshaw declined to comment.

Across the street, there had been speculation that Santiago Calatrava’s PATH station at the World Trade Center site could be sapping funds from the Fulton Street project, especially as its price tag has skyrocketed from $2.2 billion to $3.4 billion. Soffin insisted this was not the case and, whatever gets built, a high level of design would be maintained.

Initial reports from the hearings claimed that only Carpenter’s towering oculus, which is meant to bring natural light down into the bowels of the project, would be lost, but now the MTA is considering every available option, even nothing at all. Carpenter said the MTA has kept him in the dark so far.

No matter what happens, MTA board chair H. Dale Hemmerdinger stressed that the site would not remain barren. “Rather than leave an empty lot, I thought we could put something there that would be useful to the community,” Hemmerdinger told the Daily News on January 31. His alternative, a public park or plaza, did not leave much hope for the sort of design the previous plans presented, but that may be the best the MTA has to offer. 

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Progress at Ground Zero

Five and a half years after 9/11, the WTC site and its surrounding streets are rumbling nonstop, with armies of workers laboring to finish site preparation and complex below-grade work. It will be more than a year before most of the key projects begin rising above grade. While the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, MTA, NYC Department ofTransportation, and private interests such as Silverstein Properties and Brookfield Properties coordinate underground work involving tunneling, linking pedestrian passageways, and threading utilities through the catacombs beneath the site and the cityys streets, the architects behind the iconic projects continue to refine their designs.

The process of design development and establishing construction schedules seems much clearer now that the LMDC is essentially out of the picture and the Port Authority has assumed control of the major WTC construction projectssa role it announced it would take last June and that was finalized on December 14. The Port Authority is overseeing the construction of the Memorial and Memorial Museum, the Freedom Tower, and the Transportation Hub. The agency is also producing Commercial Design Guidelines for private developments around the site, which should be released in the next few months. These guidelinesswhich are being produced with the help of Studio Daniel Libeskind and can be seen as a continuation of his work on the WTC Master Plannwill address issues such as massing, building heights, and street interface for commercial developments. The Port Authority is also in the process of contracting a consultant for streetscape design, following an RFP issued in December. The timing for these initiatives seems belated, given that the designs of the areaas most notable projectssincluding Silversteinns towers by Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Makii are well underway. With most of the projects looking at completion dates well beyond 2009, however, hopefully latee will prove better than never..


WTC Memorial

Courtesy WTC Memorial Foundation

The WTC Memorialls beleaguered design process is close to clearing another obstacle: resolving the treatment of victimss names. In Michael Aradds original design, the victimss names were randomly arranged in a ribbon surrounding the twin pools, viewed from contemplative below-ground galleries that encircled the pools. Following Frank Sciamees June 2006 cost-saving recommendations that eliminated underground components of the memorial, designers were asked to propose ways of integrating the names with the above-ground pools. Another new design requirement, which was ratified by the WTC Memorial Foundation in early December, is the grouping of victimss names according to where and with whom they might have been during the attack.

The designers are now exploring ways of integrating the names with the parapet surrounding the twin pools. Weere concerned with how to treat [the parapet] as not just a utilitarian object but as a contemplative one,,said Arad. Weere thinking about how a visitor approaches the edge of an enormous void, and how we can create an area of quiet reflection around it.. While he couldnnt offer specifics, Arad pointed out his desire for a parapet height that induces visitors to bow their heads, and a treatment of the inscriptions that allows visitors direct contact with names while discouraging behavior that might undermine the sacredness of the space.

With the memorial raised to the plaza level, consulting landscape architect Peter Walker has been called upon to revise his park design..Now therees pressure on the areas around the pool to have a more spiritual quality,, he said. Hees reexamining the space behind the parapets, considering densifying the canopy of trees or other measures that will give people a greater sense of a private space,, he said.

Walker is also studying the northeast corner of the plaza. The original design of the cultural center [by Snnhetta] provided an archway, which acted as a natural gateway into the park,, said Walker. Now the plaza itself must serve as a gateway, and our dilemma is how to create a meaningful sequence into a space thatts hallowed and quiet..

The Port Authority and Memorial Foundation expect to have design options for these memorial elements in the first quarter of this year. Also expected to be unveiled in the coming months is a revised design of the much smaller Snnhetta facility, which will now function only as the Memorial Museum and visitors center.

WTC Transportation Hub

Courtesy Port Authority

When Santiago Calatrava unveiled his design of the birdlike Transportation Hub in January 2004, the $2.2 billion project was heralded as an optimistic symbol for the rebirth of the WTC site. Located kitty-corner to the memorial plaza, the sculptural building has taken on new importance since the Snnhetta project was reprogrammed and no longer spans the northeast corner of the memorial plaza, anticipated to be the memorialls busiest entrance point.

This change in plans opens the station to more space and sky, but has also presented a new dilemma: The northeast corner of the plaza will now serve as the prime gateway to the memorial, and must be designed to convey a dignified approach. The problem is, the plaza is also the roof of the underground stationns mezzanine area, which Calatrava designed to be lit with skylights. At present, he and landscape architect Peter Walker are working intently on a solution that will preserve the capacity for light to descend into the mezzanine while also ensuring that the space shapes an appropriate procession to the memorial itself. The Port Authority anticipates that design options will be presented in the next few months.

Meanwhile, this month construction crews began work on a pedestrian concourse that will link the hub to the Winter Garden across West Street.

Freedom Tower

Couretsy Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

The Freedom Tower has been a magnet for skepticism, since its first vague envisioning by masterplanner Daniel Libeskind as a soaring symbol for freedom, through its bumpy process, which included a complete design overhaul in 2005 due to 11th-hour security concerns raised by the New York Police Department. Many still question whether or not the project, by David Childs of SOM, will really materialize, with detractors persistently vocalizing alternative plans for the site. (As recently as January 18, at a Downtown Alliance event, Rafael Viioly issued a call to scrap the tower and divert its funding subsidies to the WTC Memorial, which is still shy of its fundraising goals, and cultural facilities, which have all but disappeared from the site.)

Itts time for skeptics to put away their doubts. The 82- story, 2.6-million-squarefoot tower is indeed rising: Foundation work is essentially complete and on December 19, Governor George Pataki and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg showed up to watch the first three 25-ton steel columns installed on the site. Theyyre the first of 27 extra-large steel columns that will line the perimeter of the tower base, to be in place by May. By the end of the year, more columns will brace the lower level and a second tier will bring steelwork to grade.

Of course, design goes on until the last day because field conditions change,, said Childs, but basically the building will look like how we showed it in June.. At that time, the designers revealed that the 186-foot-tall, 200-by- 200-foot base would be clad in 13-foot-tall glass prisms. I wanted to make sure the facade would be as lively as possible,, he explained. At present, the designers are working with three different glass manufacturers to test a range of options. The glass might be cast, or rolled, or milled,, he said. We want an interesting texture and a reflectivity that will cast a multicolored spectrum of light..

Childs has brought on top collaborators, including Washington, D.C..based lighting designer Claude Engel, who worked with Norman Foster on the Reichstag project, and New Yorkkbased sculptor Kenneth Snelson, an innovator in tensegrity structures, who will advise on the design of the towerrs broadcast antenna. (The Port Authority is in the midst of negotiations with the Metropolitan Television Alliance over the antenna.) Childs is also working closely with landscape architect PeterWalker on the design of the towerrs surrounding grounds (terraced plaza at Vesey and West streets, pictured). The choice of Walker, who is also working on the memorial, was especially sensitive given that itts been left to individual designers to addresshoweach project relates to one another.

Fulton Street Transit Center

Courtesy Grimshaw Architects

As recently reported by William Neuman and David Dunlap in The New York Times ((Planners Clash Over Transit Hub, and Riders Win,, January 8, 2007), the Fulton Street Transit Center has overcome its latest hurdle, with theMTAagreeing to fund the difference between the $847 million in federal funds committed to the project and the current estimated cost of $888million.The funds secure the future of a passageway beneath Dey Street, leading to the WTC Transportation Hub one block west.

The project, which will serve as a headhouse for a multitude of linessthe A, C, E, J,M,Z, R,W, 2, 3, 4, and 55 has had its share of hairy moments since it was commissioned to Grimshaw Architects in 2003. The initial design, a bulbous, glasssheathed steel cone, unveiled in May 2004 and budgeted at $750 million, had to be modified one year later due to budget problems: To build the center, the MTA had to acquire all the real estate on Broadway between Fulton and John streets, and no one anticipated real estate prices would skyrocket as they did.

Courtesy Grimshaw Architects

Courtesy Grimshaw Architects

In spring 2006, the architects offered a scaled-back design that included the elimination of a sub-basement, the relocation of MTA offices to a ring around the domed atriummoccupying what principal Vincent Chang described as found spacee?and a reconceived dome. It was a different program, so we had to design a different building,, said Chang. Importantly, the new design preserves the architectss essential concepts: providing a strong civic icon as a response to the previously hidden, building-embedded subway entrances scattered in the area; bringing natural light and some of New Yorkks vibrant street quality to the stationns subterranean depths; and clarifying views within the station to aid in wayfinding. Performance and light were the conceptual drivers,, said Chang, explaining how their terms of analysis applied equally well to the new design. For the dome, which is not only slightly shorter but has lost its outward bulge, designers have decided on an elegant diamond cable-net (left, below) suspended from a steel ring that will form an oculus, outfitted with glass blades that will filter incoming light (left, above). From the projectts outset, the firm, in collaboration with James Carpenter, has been conducting extensive studies to predict the angle and nature of lightts reflection inside the cone and how it is redirected to the spaces below.

The team is still finalizing the design of the facade of the rectangular glass pavilion, following requests last August from the NYPD for a more beefed-up perimeter to withstand blasts. (Chang assured that the amount of glass and transparency would remain the same.) Construction drawings will be finished in March, and a completion date is set for 2009.

Courtesy Grimshaw Architects
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The Crystal Method

At the Hearst building on 57th Street, the trip up from street level on a side-skewed escalator embedded in a stepped glass waterfall feels a bit like scaling the sides of a pyramid. Reaching the mezzanine lobby of this old-new corporate headquarters is to experience a true sense of arrival, just as its architect Norman Foster surely intended.

The Hearst building is the most significant of the new crop of Manhattan icon buildings because it changes the terms of engagement. Instead of making itself known by powerhousing its way into the skyline like the Time Warner Center, Foster's first skyscraper in the United States enlists restraint and sophisticated technologies—qualities so much harder to grasp than a snappy image—to endorse a corporate brand. But whether all the advanced environmental, structural, or social engineering is for real or for show remains unclear.

The main lobby is a showstopper. Elevated three levels above the street, it is every bit as operatic—albeit with a sci-fi air—as the Aida-esque cast concrete original built by set-designer Joseph Urban and George P. Post in 1928, which has been preserved as a kind of orchestra pit from which the new skyscraper rises. Occupied by pharaonic phalanxes of 30-ton box columns and various mega-diagonals with artist Robert Long's six-story banner of mud art running up the core, this 35,000-square-foot space—which Foster calls the piazza—is rendered even more like a real town square since Urban's concrete walls have been stripped clean and furred out to look like the exteriors of, say, the walls of a Milanese bank building circa 1930. But instead of opening to the sky, the piazza is covered by a vast skylight. Tilting back in a cafe chair at Cafe 57 (aka the company canteen and the main occupant of the space), one stares right up at 36 stories of glass and steel muscle flexing its way to the skyline. Suddenly, the to-ing-and-fro-ing of people is reduced to an inconsequential shuffle, as soothing as the sound of the Jamie Carpenter–designed waterfall that has been computer programmed to mimic a babbling brook. Corporate confidence this suave is intimidating.

That makes it all the more significant that most of the building's rave reviews have dwelled not on Foster's magnificently controlled stagecraft but on its environmental and structural features. It's especially unusual given the business of its client: Hearst is a media giant, the third largest magazine company in the country, with a stable of titles including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Seventeen, and Esquire. For an empire fixated on image to put good works before good looks is a watershed moment in corporate branding strategy. In fact, Hearst is so proud of all the green stuff going on in the building that it has emblazoned its LEED Gold medallion right between the revolving doors leading into the building. And kudos to them for the 75 percent of the year that air-conditioners will be using outside air; the reduction in electrical energy use that can be estimated to be the equivalent of 1,074 tons of CO2; and the 14,000-gallon reclamation tank in the basement that is at the ready to supply some 50 percent of the water needed for all the building's plantings. And so on.

Not to diminish the building's very real accomplishments, but the United States is so far behind most European and Asian efforts when it comes to enacting sustainability measures that it's hard to get too excited about reducing electricity and water consumption. The building doesn't have nearly as many of the energy-saving strategies as Foster's Free University in Berlin and Swiss Re in London boast. In fact, its accomplishments as a green building are modest when compared to almost any other building by its own architect. It might rate well by local standards, but the truth is, every new skyscraper in New York should be LEED Gold–certified by now.

As for the diagrid structure, which has been described variously as a jack-in-the-box, a French-market net bag, and a hydraulic scissor-lift, it is derring-do of a higher order. The diagrid started out as a device to stiffen the east facade, which was necessary because the architects pushed the service core off-center, toward the western edge of the site, up against a neighboring 50-story apartment building. (They placed the core on that edge, reasoning that westward views would be blocked anyway by the apartment building.) But the diagrid looked so good, Foster went for the full wrap even though it creates floor plates that vary considerably in size, from 17,000 to 21,000 square feet. This is just another of the idiosyncrasies that a single corporate client can afford. At another point, the architects thought a cable rod running vertically through the building's corners might be necessary to steady any sway resulting from the 20-foot difference in floor-plate size at the extreme corners, but that became redundant once the longest beams were suspended from above rather than secured by a cantilever.

In a similarly productive collaboration between determined aesthetics and innovative engineering, the design team managed to come up with a way to make the lobby even more grandiose, in spite of structural necessities. (The space is already an impressive structural feat in that its skylight is the primary support for the old concrete shell of the Urban structure.) Foster was not going to let the opening between the modest ground-floor entrance and the spectacular mezzanine lobby look like some trap door from below. Instead, there is a gaping 80-foot-by-30-foot space through which the elevators rise, thanks to a specially devised ring beam that disperses the force thrust of all those mega-columns supporting the tower.

Traditionally, the job of corporate icons has been two-fold: to show off institutional might and to instill employees with slavish devotion. The Hearst building accomplishes the first of these tasks with impressive pizzazz. The office floors should please employees, too, even if views from some senior editorial offices are slashed right through with big fat braces. The plan is conspicuously open with cubicle walls that are lower than American Dilbert cells and higher than their Euro-equivalents. And all perimeter offices have glass walls allowing sunlight to flow in unimpeded.

Still, there's an overall sameness, even with the glorious conference corners where unimpeded glass meets vertiginous views. They made me think of the good-old bad days when hierarchies were more visible, even aspirational. Here, there's no art department ghetto where the music blasts and the walls are tacked-up with messy collages. There's no editor-in-chief lair with furnishings better than the rest, inspiring ambitious underlings to plot their climb up the masthead. All that sunlight is well worth the loss of outdated modes of status reinforcement, right?

But then deep in the heart of the building is the Good Housekeeping Institute. It is a strange and vital place where stacks of new products are piled around and row upon row of lab equipment sits at the ready to test everything from the latest washing machine from Miele to the next generation of Fruit Loops, all hoping for the coveted Seal of Approval. The Institute, with its messes and lab-coated technicians huddled at a counter sharing lunch, underscored the complete aesthetic control and good taste that practically smothers the rest of the building.

Since the 1920s, the Institute has held luncheons in a special dining room that has received numerous U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, as well as Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton. Hearst executives decided to replicate the original dining room in the new 29th floor Institute—a Mount Vernon set piece, complete with black marble fireplace, sconces, rugs, and furnishings re-installed intact. Apparently, they think that our presidents are more comfortable in a colonial-style setting rather than in a space like the 46th-floor boardroom where two diagonal columns intersecting the northward view of Central Park etch a mighty V for victory.

The new Hearst building is a welcome addition to the Manhattan horizon. It may not dominate the skyline but it certainly raises the bar for the next corporate brand with ambitions.


Gross square footage: 856,000 sq feet
Total construction cost: $400 million (estimated)
Architect: Foster and Partners: Norman Foster, Brandon Haw, Mike Jelliffe, Michael Wurzel, Peter Han, David Nelson, Gerard Evenden, Bob Atwal, John Ball, Nick Baker, Una Barac, Morgan Flemming, Michaela Koster, Chris Lepine, Martina Meluzzi, Julius Streifeneder, Gonzalo Surroca.
Fit-out: Norman Foster, Brandon Haw, Mike Jelliffe, Chris West, John Small, Ingrid Solken, Michael Wurzel, Peter Han
Associate architect: Adamson Associates; Tishman Speyer Properties, development manager.
Engineers: Cantor Seinuk Group, structure; Flack & Kurtz, mechanical; VDA, vertical transportation.
Consultants: George Sexton, lighting; Ira Beer, food service; Gensler, interiors.
General contractor: Turner Construction
All Images: Chuck Choi / Courtesy Foster and Partners