A new mixed-use tower slated for a growing section of Downtown Los Angeles designed by Australian firm Koichi Takada Architects could rise as high as 70 stories, new renderings reveal. Urbanize.LA reported that Australian developer Crown Group had previously submitted plans for a 52-story tower with 528 residential units and ground-floor commercial spaces for the site. The taller iteration of the project was first reported by ComercialRealEstate.com, but it is unclear how many housing units will be included in the revised scheme. New renderings for the so-called Sky Trees LA project showcase a grouping of thin, rounded towers of various heights capped by arched profiles and tree-lined rooftop terraces. Inspired by California’s redwood trees, the clustered towers will come wrapped in natural materials, including timber mullions. Along the street, a wavy wooden awning that is reportedly inspired by the billowing forms of Marilyn Monroe’s wind-swept dress in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch will provide shade for pedestrians. (Nevermind that the iconic scene took place above a subway vent on Lexington Avenue in New York City.) Architect Koichi Takada told ComercialRealEstate.com that the design of the canopy aims “to challenge L.A. to become a more walkable city” while also creating yet another “Instagram moment” for Downtown Los Angeles. The project is one of many planned and under construction in L.A.’s South Park neighborhood, an area where until recently, only the 32-story William L. Pereira–designed Occidental Life building from 1968 towered above surrounding warehouses and commercial buildings. That has changed rapidly over the last three years as nearly two dozen towers have been proposed or completed along the north-south Figueroa Corridor nearby. That includes the troubled Oceanwide Plaza project by CallisonRTKL that recently halted construction due to murky finances and potential links to an ongoing political corruption scandal. The Sky Trees LA project will join a growing east-west spine of towers set to rise perpendicularly to the Figueroa Corridor around 11th Street. A timeline for the project has not been announced.
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The Opposite of Big Lots!
New York City and the AIA team up for a vacant lots competition
New York’s five boroughs are plagued with vacant lots, even as the city finds itself in a housing crisis. Architects and planners have explored potential solutions like modular construction and basement units, and now the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the AIANY are trying to recruit architects to design sensitive infill housing. Big Ideas for Small Lots NYC is soliciting design proposals for scalable solutions across 23 vacant lots around the city. The design competition is just one piece of the de Blasio administration’s Housing New York 2.0 plan, which aims to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing by 2026. For the project’s first phase, competitors have until March 24 to submit their proposals for a 17-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep vacant plot at 113 West 136th Street in East Harlem. Teams that submit the best-realized drawings and project narratives will be given a $3,000 stipend, have their materials exhibited at the Center for Architecture, and will be invited back for the competition’s second phase. Immediately after the finalists are chosen, HPD will assign the remaining teams different lots to develop proposals for, and the most promising may be built. New York currently has 1,023 acres of vacant public land across 1,367 lots citywide, according to Living Lots NYC, and many of them have sat unused for decades. A holistic solution is hard to come by, as some of the lots are as narrow as 13-feet-wide and others are nearly 10,000 square feet. Although the city hasn't exactly defined what “affordable” means for these lots, the New York Times noted that HPD is shooting for two-to-three family homes and may include below-market-rate rents. The nine-person Big Ideas jury reads like a who’s-who of New York–based architects and city officials: Jury Chair: Hayes Slade, AIA, IIDA, president, AIA New York and principal, Slade Architecture Deborah Berke, FAIA, LEED AP, dean, Yale School of Architecture and founder, Deborah Berke Partners Claudia Herasme, chief urban designer, NYC Department of City Planning Nick Lembo, chairman, Monadnock Construction, Inc. Ruchika Modi, studio director and associate partner, Practice for Architecture & Urbanism Justin Garrett Moore, AICP, executive director, NYC Public Design Commission AJ Pires, president, Alloy Development Katherine W. Swenson, vice president of design, Enterprise Community Partners Claire Weisz, FAIA, principal, WXY architecture + urban design
New York’s Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is still alive and inching toward realization. Today the de Blasio administration awarded a $7.25 million contract to national land-use and transportation planning consultants VHB to oversee the waterfront streetcar project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS). Questions over the $2.7 billion streetcar route’s feasibility have plagued the light rail project since the beginning. Officials still haven't released the exact route or said how the city would recoup the money needed for construction. Last August, Mayor de Blasio admitted that at least $1 billion would be needed from the federal government and that using the “value-capture” model (collecting increased tax revenue as the BQX boosted property values along its route) wasn’t wholly feasible. The route was shortened to 26 stops along 11 miles, from Astoria in Queens to Gowanus in Brooklyn, cutting out Sunset Park farther south, and the opening date got pushed back from 2024 to 2029. All had gone quiet since then, but speculation flared that Amazon could potentially chip in for the system after the tech giant announced that it would be building a second headquarters in Long Island City. That seems to have been confirmed by Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who pointed to the boom in investment along the Queens-Brooklyn waterfront as proof that new modes of public transport across the two boroughs were needed. The city expects that the BQX will accommodate 50,000 daily riders when it first opens and 60,000-to-90,000 riders by 2050. ”For some reason, everybody thinks we are not serious but we have always been serious,” Glen told the Wall Street Journal. “The mayor wouldn’t have re-endorsed and announced we were moving forward if we weren’t moving forward.” The nonprofit group Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector lauded the contract award as well, calling it a clear commitment on the part of the de Blasio administration to moving the project through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). With the EIS on track for completion in 2020, the BQX project will move to the next stage of the ULURP by the end of 2021. The city hopes that the project will begin construction by 2024.
A Legacy of Labor
N.Y.C. Landmarks Preservation Commission approves Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire memorial
Last week, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to approve a memorial dedicated to the 146 victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Reframing the Sky, designed by architects Uri Wegman and Richard Joon Yoo, will debut next year if supporters can raise $850,000 to cover long-term maintenance costs. The commission’s approval is the latest step in what’s been a six-year-long process to install the project in commemoration of the tragedy. Gina Pollara, a consultant with the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition, said now is the perfect time to get it done due to heightened awareness on labor rights issues in the United States. “Given the current political climate, I’m hoping this project begins to really open up the conversation about the importance of unions, workplace safety, and how we can address certain social justice issues today,” said Pollara. “For all of their imperfections, unions still perform a vital duty and are an important piece of the American labor force.” The factory’s infamous fire, now 108 years ago, set off a series of historic legislative reforms to protect workers’ safety. The employees who died there, many of which were young immigrant women, were trapped on locked floors of the multi-level facility at 29 Washington Place. Today, the structure, known as the Brown Building, is owned by New York University and though it’s a local and national landmark, many people don’t know its history. The coalition seeks to change that through a public memorial that shines a light on the tragedy and details its significance for blue-collar workers in the 21st century. According to the project statement, the future memorial will mimic the mourning ribbons that were traditionally draped on building facades as outward expressions of a community’s collective sorrow. It will feature horizontal stainless-steel bands that wrap the southeast corner of the building and a textured panel that lines its vertical edge. The names of the victims will be laser cut into the elongated panels where daylight will shine and reflect the letters off a highly-polished, steel surface placed at hip level. Through this, visitors will be able to see the names reflected in the sky. The project has already received widespread support since its announcement in 2013. Three years ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo approved a $1.5 million grant for its design and construction, but money is still needed to maintain it. The coalition is organizing a two-day upcoming event in collaboration with the Fashion Institute of Technology to raise awareness of the project and offer people the chance to contribute to its design. Anyone interested will be able to bring an individual piece of fabric that will be used to create a large ribbon that the designers will cast in metal and mount onto the building for the textured vertical panel. “The public engagement piece of this memorial is the most important part to us,” said Pollara, “because the legislation that came from this tragedy has affected us all personally whether we know it or not. The design features a very subtle thread of stitching the past and present together.” A public event, A Collective Ribbon — Weaving Stories of the Triangle Fire, will take place on March 16 and 17 at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Those who are unable to attend can send in personal pieces of ribbon to the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition at PO Box 1822, New York, New York 10113. Donors of $25,000 or more will have their names inscribed on the memorial.
The co-ops are alright
Co-op City celebrates 50 years of affordable housing in the Bronx
Off I-95 in the northern Bronx, just past the swamps at the mouth of the Hutchinson River and the paved paradise at Bay Plaza mall, arise 35 massive, brick and concrete tower blocks. Most residences nearby are single-family, but Co-op City's 24-story towers shoot out of the ground like sore, red-brick thumbs. But, as out of place as they seem, there are many similar complexes all around New York City and the rest of the country: Stuyvesant Town by the East Village, Riverton Square in Harlem, and the gone-but-never-forgotten Pruitt-Igoe projects of St. Louis. According to Adam Tanaka, a New York–based urbanist who studied these Bronx housing blocks for his Harvard graduate dissertation, Co-op City is the country's largest and most successful cooperative living facility. Many of its 35,000 residents have been living in them since they opened 50 years ago. In a mini-documentary published with CityLab, entitled "City in a City," Tanaka interviewed residents, building managers, representatives, and others involved in the conception of the towers to understand what makes these buildings so successful compared to other projects. On top of interviews and historical analysis, documentary footage shows what life at Co-op City is like. During most weekends of fair weather, tenants and local merchants buy and sell art and food, local musicians perform while residents dance, and children play on the swing sets. Wildlife even has a large presence there: residents have reported seeing deer. What is so special about Co-op City that allows for beautiful scenes like this to be the norm? Tanaka suggests the towers owe their success not to the City of New York, nor to any federally-funded programs, but to their fellow resident, architects, and the coalition of labor unions responsible for the towers’ development. The documentary highlights several of the complex's relatively unique features: a ban on market-rate apartment resale, permanent rent control (which was established in the early '70s after the state tried to increase rents for Co-op City’s tenants), affordable down payments, an elected representative board, self-funded maintenance, and a racially, culturally, and financially diverse group of tenants. But architectural features like larger-than-average apartments with grand windows and ample living and storage space, as well as multiple communal parks and green spaces—all of which was designed by architect Herman J. Jessor, inspired by Le Corbusier’s Villes Radieuse and Contemporain—play major roles, as well. In the documentary, Alena Powell, a resident of Co-op City since 1973, said a friend from the Upper East Side “was amazed because [Powell’s] living room could hold her [friend's] living room and kitchen all together.” Powell also “likes the fact that [she’s] not on top of other people as if [she] was living in Manhattan.” Other residents remark about how “spacious” the apartments are, and how they love the consistent natural light. Pleasing as they may be for many who live there, the Co-op City buildings were (and are) not without criticism. According to an article in Curbed by historian James Nevius, the Co-op City buildings stand as a testament to the ethics of erasing "slums," and to the power of the infamous Robert Moses, whose "bulldoze it" approach to entire neighborhoods is a highly-debated matter, to say the least. During construction in the early 1970s, many rallied against the design and construction of the towers, citing the cheap and unpleasing exterior. Nevius cites Jane Jacobs, who stated they were “truly marvels of dullness and regimentation, sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life.” Nevius also references criticisms by the AIA: "Similarly, the American Institute of Architects complained that 'the spirits of the tenants' at Co-op City 'would be dampened and deadened by the paucity of their environment.'" However, many in Tanaka's documentary do not share those opinions and come to the towers' defense. Ken Wray, former executive director of the United Housing Federation, says “the aesthetic was ‘Why waste money on the outside of the building?’ You don’t live on the outside of the building…People driving by might think it’s ugly but people who live there know what [the apartments] look like.” Often overlooked, too, is a sprawling meadow laced among the buildings. According to Nevius, over 80 percent of Co-op City's footprint is dedicated to landscaping: grass and trees with play structures, courts, benches, and market stands on the perimeter. For the people who use these daily, these are helpful amenities that similar developments do not have. Co-op City raises questions about the emphasis on policy or architecture, about interior design versus exterior, about the house and the outdoors, and about ownership and citizenship. Regardless of where one lands on these issues, there's something to be learned from these 35 towers in the Bronx.
Forbidden no Longer
Selldorf Architects to design an Interpretation Center in China's Forbidden City
The World Monuments Fund, the New York–based nonprofit dedicated to preserving historically-significant monuments all over the world, announced that Selldorf Architects will design a new visitor’s center in Beijing’s Forbidden City. The “Interpretation Center” will be housed in an existing building in the Forbidden City’s Qianlong Garden, which has been idle since China’s last emperor, Pu Yi, left the palace in 1924. While the original palace complex was completed in 1420 and includes 980 buildings, Qianlong Garden is a semi-recent addition that was added sometime between 1771 and 1776. The two-acre garden has never been open to the public and has remained unrestored. Under Selldorf's plan, an existing structure in the garden’s second courtyard will be converted into a tripartite visitor’s center that will educate guests on the history of the Forbidden City. The Interpretation Center will be composed of three halls around an open-air pavilion. The west hall will focus on the design and creation of the surrounding garden, which holds 27 buildings; the main hall will be open and present unobstructed views of the cascading rock gardens in the third courtyard, and the east hall will present materials on the Qianlong Garden’s restoration. “Projects like the new Interpretation Center at the Qianlong Garden, that bring people together in a spirit of inquiry and inclusiveness, are at the core of our practice,” said Selldorf Architects founder and principle Annabelle Selldorf. “It has been a great pleasure and honor to work with World Monuments Fund to create an opportunity for visitors to learn more about the Gardens and experience their beauty and wonder first-hand.”
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! The Senate starts its search for a new Architect of the Capitol The Senate Rules and Administration Committee will find three candidates to recommend to President Trump ahead of an official decision. Hastings Pier, winner of the 2017 Stirling Prize, is at the center of heated public battle Locals are livid over the behind-the-scenes decision to shut down Hastings Pier in East Sussex, England, by its flashy new owner. New York City releases surprise plan to bury and rebuild East River Park The city’s latest proposal calls for burying the existing East River Park under 10 feet of landfill and building a new one from scratch. Architecture collective joins activists to protest luxury towers on New York’s Lower East Side An association of architects known as citygroup joined local activists to oppose a series of luxury towers transforming Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Over 80 architect-activists join Women’s March on NYC At Saturday's Women's March on NYC dozens of architects, engineers, and construction professionals marched for more gender equity. Have a great weekend!
The future of Detroit’s museum district—an area within striking distance of the city’s revitalized downtown that has 12 cultural institutions—received bold ideas and insights into what urban architects and landscape designers would do if given the chance to unite Motown’s Midtown during an all-day series of presentations Wednesday at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The DIA Plaza project hopes to create cultural, community, and city connections between institutions like the classical art museum and its illustrious neighbors, which include the main branch of the Detroit Public Library, Detroit Historical Museum, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, Wayne State University, and others. Three teams with international and national resumes as well as Detroit partners gave what observers called insightful and innovative pitches Wednesday on how their ideas about mobility, technology and a revived infrastructure around the art museum could unite not only the buildings in the up-and-coming Midtown district but to the city and the region as a whole. The DIA and its local partners will select a winner from the three presentations by spring, officials said. Insiders say the final decision should come before the end of April. The DIA and its partners, including development organization Midtown Detroit Inc., started this process of building a “heart” for the cultural and educational district in spring 2018. The two also hosted a student competition, led by communications and urban-planning students from around Michigan. The winning team from Wayne State University created a vision of a large cultural campus that removed one of the DIA’s existing parking structures and created an open campus with food trucks, a performance stage and additional signage. The three presenters at Wednesday’s event had a few items in common – they suggested narrowing Detroit’s legendary Woodward Avenue to make it more pedestrian friendly, closing off little-used streets to create a cultural campus and developing additional “living rooms” and outdoor installation spaces to bring art outside the walls of the major institutions involved. The initial 44 submissions to the competition RFQ from more than 10 countries and 22 cities were narrowed down to eight firms, each of which presented their ideas to a panel of jurors at a public event at the DIA in June 2018. Each of the three design teams presenting as finalists in the competition include Detroit-area firms as partners. The three design teams and their partners are: Agence Ter, Paris, France, with team partners Akoaki, Detroit; Harley Etienne, University of Michigan; rootoftwo, metro Detroit; and Transsolar | KlimaEngineering, Germany; Mikyoung Kim Design, Boston, with team partners are James Carpenter Design Associates, New York; CDAD, Detroit; Wkshps, New York; Quinn Evans, Detroit; Giffels Webster, Detroit; Tillett Lighting, New York; Cuseum, Boston; Transsolar | KlimaEngineering, Germany; and Schlaich Bergermann & Partners, New York; and TEN x TEN, Minneapolis, with team partners MASS Design Group, Boston; D MET, Detroit; Atelier Ten, New York; Local Projects, New York; HR&A Advisors, New York; Dr. Craig Wilkins, University of Michigan; and Wade Trim, Detroit. Detroiters who attended the event said they appreciated the attention to reforesting the area with more trees and landscaping as well as the connections to Detroit-based artists, who could benefit from the additional performance spaces. However, there were concerns about removing parking in an urban center already struggling with having enough space for cars alongside its relatively new tram system known as the QLINE. “I'm seeing a great deal of investment in branding and design vision but not so great a connection to cultural/community impact,” said Nick Rowley, a local activist who attended Wednesday’s presentations. The actor, voiceover artist and events planner said his much of his favorite proposals came from Agence Ter, which focused on developing projects and installations that centered on Detroit issues, such as how to commemorate the 1967 riot/rebellion, as well as local artists. “I like hearing ‘Biennale’ and ‘Afro-Futurist’ being evoked in the same presentation,” he noted. The judges questioned the three groups for their attention to details like how they would blend walkways with the planned structures, how they proposed to develop the projects over time and whether they had given enough attention to Detroit’s unique artist and resident communities, which all wanted a voice in the final proposal. When asked whether their proposal was too audacious, Anya Sirota, co-founder of Detroit-based architecture and design studio Akoaki, responded by noting, “Detroit deserves an ambitious project,” and that they worked extensively with community groups, artist communities and event planners to learn about the city, how it hosts events and what it needed to attract both suburbanites and urban dwellers to the cultural center.
Building a Just Future
Over 80 architect-activists join Women's March on NYC
Last Saturday, over 80 architects, engineers, and construction professionals gathered to raise awareness on women's contributions to the AEC industry at the Women’s March on NYC. Sporting neon pink hard hats and bright orange signs that read, Women BUILD, the group’s message was loud and clear. Over a dozen organizations were represented; teams came from Thornton Tomasetti, Perkins Eastman, Marvel Architects, FXCollaborative, Silman Engineering, ArchiteXX, BuroHappold, and CannonDesign, among others. The leadership from FXWomen said seeing everyone march in solidarity, from young engineers to managing principals, men and women alike, was encouraging. "The group that represented our industry at the Women’s March showed that gender equity isn’t a 'women’s issue,'" they told AN in an email. "It affects everyone and is supported by a diverse group that reflects the communities we design for." The day’s event was organized by Dattner Women’s Group. The team began reaching out to design-related companies across New York in November to get the conversation started about last weekend's march. At a community meetup last month, the firms came up with the #WomenBUILD2019 campaign and created matching posters that would boost their presence among the crowd. “Women Architects Here” some signs read, and others encouraged youth to “Join Us, Think Big.” Carisima Koenig of the Women's Forum at CannonDesign said throughout the morning her team met other architects not directly affiliated with the Women BUILD cohort who ended up joining alongside them. "We had extra signs, so we distributed them along the march route," she said. "As a group, it made an impact to have a cohesive message and for the city to see we are here." Not only did the city take notice, but children—who marched alongside the Women BUILD group—did too. “At one point during the march, a mother and daughter were pointing to our signs and discussing what kinds of jobs the different icons represented," said Dattner's Rebecca McCarthy. "That was a really special moment. I hope that young people who saw our group will feel they can grow up to be whatever they want to be, and that we demonstrated that’s really possible.” Employees from other firms at the march issued similar sentiments about the group's influence and what the future of the industry could look like if people continue to take a stand against the problems that have long plagued architecture. They believed their shared presence together, not as competitors but as proponents of an equal society, only amplified some of the recent discussions that have come online as a result of the #MeToo movement. "We want everyone considering a career in architecture, engineering, and construction to know that the industry has a place for them," said FXWomen. "We're waiting for them and transforming this profession into one that is worthy of their talents."
Go Big or Go Home
The western hemisphere's second tallest tower may soon rise in New York
Move over 432 Park Avenue. In conversation with the New York Times, prolific developer Harry Macklowe revealed that he had filed a preliminary application with the NYC Department of City Planning for a supertall skyscraper in East Midtown that would reach 1,551 feet. That would make it the second-tallest in the city and the hemisphere after One World Trade, which reaches 1,776 feet. Tower Fifth, set to rise directly across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between East 51st and 52nd Streets, is, as the Times notes, likely to be Macklowe’s last great building. He has plenty of projects under his belt. The 82-year-old developer was behind the rise of 432 Park Avenue—the city’s current second tallest building at 1,396-feet-tall—the glassy Apple Store cube on 5th Avenue, and the renovation of the General Motors Building directly behind it, but Tower Fifth will require a slew of special permits, zoning permissions, and permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The tower, if built as proposed, would be 66 percent larger than the zoning for the neighborhood would permit. The 96-story office tower, a joint effort between Gensler and local firm Adamson Associates Architects, is facing complicated siting conditions and is currently planned to cantilever over two separate landmarked buildings. According to the Times, Tower Fifth would hang 100 feet above the modernist Look Building at the corner of Madison Avenue, and 300 feet above the John Pierce House. An 85-foot-tall, marble-clad glass lobby would frame views of St. Patrick’s, while the tower proper would step back from the base and only begin to rise 400 feet above the ground. The Times notes that the tower will rise on two shafts or stilts. The massing of the tower seems similar to that of the rectangular 432 Park Ave., until reaching the top, where Tower Fifth will displace and cantilever its floor slabs, a move similar to Herzog & de Meuron’s 56 Leonard downtown. Macklowe also revealed a slew of amenities and promised that the tower's perforated facade would be extremely energy efficient. The city’s tallest observation deck (Tower Fifth’s roof would rise above that of the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower), a 60-foot-long corkscrew slide, multi-floor running track, and a glass-faced public auditorium that would sit above the lobby and look out over St. Patrick’s Cathedral have all been proposed. If Macklowe is serious about assembling the development rights necessary for Tower Fifth to reach 1,551 feet, the Times notes that he still needs to buy 580,000 square feet of air rights. While St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been looking to sell its unused development rights to fundraise for its maintenance, it remains to be seen if the owners of the Look Building and John Pierce House will be amenable.
No Towers, No Comprise
Architecture collective joins activists to protest luxury towers on New York's Lower East Side
One Manhattan Square, an 800-foot-tall glass tower in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is at the center of a grassroots battle against displacement. Designed by Adamson Associates, the Extell Development–backed skyscraper threatens to push out throngs of immigrants and longtime local residents who call the area home. It’s a common story found in the ever-evolving city, but this particular narrative possesses one distinct difference: It’s location. Since much of New York’s luxury residential building boom has focused on expanding Hudson Yards, buffing up Billionaires’ Row, and readying Long Island City for Amazon’s HQ2, the Lower East Side has been somewhat unaffected by such large-scale development. Until now. A series of sky-high apartment buildings, starting with the nearly-complete One Manhattan Square (also called Extell Tower), is slated to dot the Lower East Side waterfront enclave known as Two Bridges. Four planned towers are in the works, although One Manhattan square is the only one currently under construction. The surrounding community is predominantly composed of Chinese immigrants and working-class people, a major reason why the city designated the neighborhood a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972, which protects and promotes affordable and mixed-income housing for residents. According to Zishun Ning, leader of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the proposed high-end projects violate the LSRD, which requires that all new developments secure approval from the City Planning Commission or receive special permits through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Ning argued the city's decision to move forward with the Two Bridges development is therefore illegal, and indicative of discrimination from the mayoral administration. Not only is it politically fraught, according to Ning, it's socially irresponsible. The towers are situated within a three-block radius of each other and will sit near NYCHA housing. One will cantilever over an existing senior center and another, One Manhattan Square, will feature a “poor door,” as the coalition calls it, for the building’s affordable housing residents. Yesterday a slew of protestors gathered at the 80-story tower and marched to City Hall in opposition to the plan. Ning said the day’s event, officially titled the March to Reclaim the City, was the coalition’s latest attempt to get Mayor de Blasio’s attention. “We’re not against development,” Ning said, “we just want some regulation and future development that fits our community.” Last fall the group submitted an alternative proposal to the commission in which the neighborhood could be rezoned for more appropriate use. They integrated height restrictions on new construction and called for 100 percent affordable housing on public land. Ning said their efforts were ignored, and in early December, the commission approved a special building permit submitted by the developers. The commission said the projects only presented a “minor modification” to Two Bridges’ zoning law and that a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process would not be required. “It’s evident that racism plays into the city’s zoning policies,” said Ning. “They rezone communities of colors for the interests of developers. We call out the city’s illegal approval, along with Mayor de Blasio’s collusion with developers to approve these towers and deny our plan that came out of a democratic process. We want to reclaim our democracy and control as a community.” History has seen many local working groups stand up against giant developers and influential politicians, but, according to Ning, there needs to be more support from area architects to help such groups envision a bigger, more inclusive picture for their neighborhoods. A new collective of aspiring architects and non-architects interested in the field, citygroup, wants to do just that. The organization aims to become a young social and political voice for the architecture industry. Members gather periodically for informal debates on serious topics like the need for affordable housing in New York, the nature of architectural expertise, and architects’ tricky relationship with real estate developers. The group's inaugural exhibition, set up inside its new space on the Lower East Side, details various visions of One Manhattan Square that imagine a more useful development for the local community. “We wanted to rethink the Extell Tower as something that isn’t as foreign to this neighborhood as it is now,” said Michael Robinson Cohen of citygroup. “It’s built on a plinth and houses mostly luxury apartments. We asked ourselves, How could we recreate the tower for different uses or for a diverse group of inhabitants?” The exhibition centers on a series of 21 drawings done by different citygroup members. These individual visions, expressed within the confines of the building’s plan, feature different ways to reuse the tower’s 1.2 million square feet of space. Some pictured it as pure parkland, others cut it up into a grid of 3-meter-by-3-meter apartments. One strips away the idea that a housing complex must cater to the traditional single-family home by creating personally-designed apartments outfitted for everyone from single moms to yoga teachers, a Russian oligarch, a cat lady, and even a family of five. Thinking critically about megaprojects like One Manhattan Square, according to Robinson Cohen, allows architects to investigate the best ways for new developments to improve a community, instead of displacing residents and stripping away the character of a neighborhood. “Much like the coalition, we’re for challenging the tower, but are not against development in general,” he said. “Obviously, as architects, we want to build and it’s clear the city needs more housing, but to us it’s important to think about the people these developments serve.” To Ning, the architect’s mission isn’t far from that of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. He says the two parties can work together to imagine developments that engage with local residents rather than taking away access to light and air. “We actually encourage architects to put their creativity into building things that benefit the community,” Ning said. “But in order for that to happen, we first need to fight the city.” A new lawsuit against the City was just brought on by the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors in opposition to the development. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is slated to support with future litigation efforts. Until then, the City is still contending with another lawsuit calling for the towers to go through the ULURP process, initiated by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month. “These towers are just one piece of a bigger picture,” noted Ning. “If 3,000 units are added to the neighborhood, the demographics will change and the land value will rise. Harassment and eviction will escalate. This is happening all over New York City. It’s segregation, and it’s very visual.” Walk-throughs of citygroup’s exhibition are available upon request through early February at 104b Forsyth Street. Email email@example.com for hours.
Lower Manhattan Landfill
New York City releases surprise plan to bury and rebuild East River Park
Manhattan’s East River Park, home to sprawling fields, winding bike paths, and a landscaped promenade, was badly damaged when Hurricane Sandy tore through the city in 2012 and the Lower East Side flooded. Since then, New York City officials have been brainstorming ideas to protect the park, along with the remainder of Lower Manhattan, from rising seas. The city’s latest proposal calls for burying the existing East River Park under 10 feet of landfill, before building a new one from scratch, according to The New York Times. This differs from the original plan, which aimed to push back the flood walls from FDR Drive toward the East River along the water’s edge, shielding the highway and large swaths of the LES from rising floodwaters. The meticulously-thought-out design, which took over four years to assemble, was only the first link in a series of barriers around Lower Manhattan known as the “Big U.” In September 2018, with no community input and to the dismay of inner-city residents, the city announced that the entire plan was being rejected in favor of the new project. The new, $1.5 billion proposal is not only significantly more expensive than its $760 million predecessor, but it will also destroy all trees, plant life, and infrastructure that currently exists within East River Park. Both the park’s field house and running track, which was recently revamped at a cost of nearly $3 million, will be buried beneath the soil, while the fate of the site’s historic amphitheater remains unknown. The latest plans will preserve one thing in the area: traffic. To construct the Big U, the city would have had to shut down one lane of FDR Drive every night for five consecutive years. By burying the park with landfill and soil that is delivered by barge, the new plan will cause little to no traffic disruptions. According to the Times, while local residents feel as though they are not receiving a fair trade, Parks Department commissioner Mitchell J. Silver claimed that, with the East River expected to rise over two feet within the next 30 years, burying the existing park to build a more elevated one is the only way to save the land. The new plan is scheduled to launch in March 2020, with flood protection barriers implemented as soon as 2022, though local residents are still doubtful as to whether or not the city will complete the project on time due to its history of construction delays.