Search results for "zoning"

Placeholder Alt Text

American Dreamscape

The nation’s largest mall is coming to Miami
On May 7, the largest mall in the country received approval from the Miami-Dade county planning board. The approximately 500-acre project, dubbed The American Dream Miami, is led by Canadian developer, Triple Five. The $4 billion, 6-million-square-foot entertainment center’s design includes features such as an artificial ski slope, an indoor water park, and submarine rides. Located 200 miles from Disney World, the American Dream is hoping to provide a competitive alternative in closer proximity to southern Floridians. Ringed by the I-75, the Florida Turnpike, and a band of palm trees, Triple Five’s design rises as a singular mass punctured by high-rise glass hotels, rooftop components and undulating glass skylights. However, according to the Sun Sentinel, scores of malls in the area oppose the project as it threatens to inundate an already saturated retail complex market. Located over five miles from the nearest Metrorail stop, the Miami Herald reports that the developer has agreed to invest in its own bus depot and fund the extension of preexisting bus lines to The American Dream. Regardless of this transit overture, the sprawling complex will be highly reliant on the adjacent I-75 and Florida’s Turnpike to accommodate the estimated 100,000 daily vehicle trips generated by visitors and employees. Although malls across the country are closing shop, Triple Five is also moving forward with a 3 million square-foot entertainment complex in East Rutherford, Jersey. In total, these two new projects will bring Triple Five’s portfolio up to four locations, including Bloomington, Minnesota’s Mall of America  which currently holds the title for the third largest mall in America. While Triple Five has received approval from the county planning board, the developer still has to secure new zoning variances, additional financing and propose storm water runoff infrastructure. The project will be subject to a final vote on May 17.
Placeholder Alt Text

Toronto Top-off

Controversial condo tower proposed to top a Toronto landmark
A 44-story tower has been proposed to top one of Toronto’s most beloved pieces of 20th-century architecture—and many Torontonians aren’t happy. The former Bank of Canada building, built in 1958 and designed by Marani & Morris, currently stands at just eight stories and occupies a choice spot of downtown real estate at 250 University Avenue. The existing structure is designated a heritage building and heritage specialists GBCA Architects have been brought in to consult on the work related to original building. The new combined structure, designed by IBI Group, would reach just over 575 feet and bring the total floor count to 54. It would house 495 condominium units while the original building would continue to host retail and office space. The existing subterranean safe, which currently serves as a common area, and mechanical rooms would be converted into two stories of bicycle storage, while two additional underground levels would be added to provide space for a parking garage. The addition is certainly stirring up controversy. There are numerous dissenting comments on its announcement on Urban Toronto, a news site for new developments in the city. On Twitter, Alex Bozikovic, architecture critic for The Globe and Mail, responded to the announcement unequivocally: “No. Absolutely not.” Bozikovic went on to call the proposed addition a “junkpile.” Many commenters followed suit deriding the proposal as a “total failure” and “the second worst [tower addition] I’ve seen.” One commentator put it more generously, saying “the plan lacks imagination.” https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js The limestone-colored accents of the addition are ostensibly designed to use color related to the original building, which features modernist sculptures on the facade, though, as another Twitter user pointed out, “They couldn’t even line the damn thing up.” Developer Northam Realty Advisors, who is seeking rezoning in order to construct the addition, is no stranger to controversy. In 2016, the group proposed replacing a historically designated building in the Historic Yonge Street Heritage Conservation District with a pair of towers. (The plan was later revised to be just one, taller tower, also designed by IBI Group.) While received well by some, many were not so positive, and the plan has not yet been approved. As far as the proposed addition to the Bank of Canada building, perhaps Twitter user John Howe put it best: “We can only pray it’ll look better in real life.”
Placeholder Alt Text

Shadow Modeling

This digital 3-D model of Boston reveals the shadows cast by new construction
On May 8, Boston’s Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) released a digital 3-D model of the city. Built with GIS and CAD, the map encompasses approximately 129,000 buildings, each roughly outlined to indicate overall massing and height. According to the Boston Globe, the map was partially inspired by debates surrounding shadows cast on the Boston Commons by new skyscrapers, such as the nearly 700-foot-tall Winthrop Square Tower. The 3-D model uses Boston’s monthly average amount of daylight to effectively represent each building’s impact on citywide light exposure. Areas with dense concentrations of skyscrapers, primarily Downtown Boston, are depicted as casting shadow overs large swaths of the city. On the map, the function of each building within the city is graphically represented through the use of a color scheme sequenced to Boston’s zoning regulatory framework. Industrial districts, such as Marine Industrial Park, are clearly discernible from residential quarters such as adjacent City Point. Beyond the representation of each individual building’s function, the model outlines the city’s zoning districts, sub districts and special planning areas. As a coastal city, the BPDA has to accommodate for inevitable rises in sea level. To this end, the model also maps out Boston’s FEMA National Flood Hazard Areas, as well as areas that would be significantly impacted by a 100-year flood of 40 inches or more. Additionally, the model shows Boston’s entire public transport network, university system, and areas subject to urban renewal policies. While the 3-D model only includes existing buildings and those under construction, the BPDA is hoping to incorporate planned developments into the model to allow for their visualization within a larger urban context.
Placeholder Alt Text

Critically Retrograde

Does Christopher Hawthorne have what it takes to plan for L.A.’s future?
Does it make a sense to put an architecture critic in charge of urban design? The question came to mind this March when the Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne announced he was leaving his post to become the new chief design officer for the City of Los Angeles. The position, Hawthorne explained, would be geared toward elevating “the quality of public architecture and urban design across the city—and the level of civic conversation about those subjects” overall. Currently, the city has billions of dollars allocated for a wide range of transformative civic projects, including new and improved parks ($130 million), transit expansion ($120 billion), Vision Zero reforms ($90 million), and new supportive housing ($1.2 billion). This windfall comes as the restoration of the L.A. River takes shape, the city densifies, and officials update the city plan for the first time in decades in the face of raging housing affordability and homelessness crises. Hawthorne’s new role in the coming drama centers squarely on the question of what function design should play in these transformations and how a critic can contribute constructively toward making positive changes for the average resident. Will the design he oversees look past mere aesthetics and delve into the structural issues of synergistic function, equity, and longevity? Or will Hawthorne’s tenure serve to further institutionalize the exclusionary tastes of the city’s homeowners? At a time when Los Angeles is undergoing such massive change, there is no question whether elevating the public’s engagement with civic architecture is a worthwhile pursuit. And though it is not without precedent to elevate a critic to city hall, it does stand to question, however, why Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, having a world-class roster of designers to choose from in his own backyard, did not select an architect for the role. Would a designer be better equipped for the job? I think so. For one, though critics can distill insightful, opinionated commentary from today’s cultural moments, their skillset diverges—and actually falls short—of the specific, forward-thinking ethos that is necessary to envision successful public space at the scale of a city. A designer’s work, on the other hand, combines interdisciplinary education, rigorous professional experience, and a knowledge of process and necessary prerequisites like zoning and fire code to envision open-ended plans for inhabitation and use. That is, designers use their skills and understanding as tools to look toward a future that is possible but has not yet come to pass. The process can be scaled and when done adeptly, beauty is a natural byproduct of these efforts. Secondly, L.A. is living through a time that demands leaders who have a long-range and open-ended vision for the city. But there is reason to worry, because contemporary Los Angeles—and broader America, for that matter—is driven by cultural regression. Backward-facing NIMBYism, a refusal to value vulnerable lives, and an understandable reluctance on the part of marginalized communities to accept new investments for fear of displacement reign supreme. Reflecting this regression, a dangerous “both sides”-ism has been adopted by incumbents, as evidenced by Garcetti’s unwillingness to push for multifamily housing in single-family zones and by the nearly $8 billion in transit funding going toward highway-widening across the region. A designer would be well-equipped to deliver progress in the face of ignorant nostalgia. I would hope Hawthorne understands that designs suited for the retrograde tastes of today are incompatible with future L.A. needs. It stands to question whether Hawthorne’s boss—a second-term mayor with his eye on the presidency—is prepared to make the politically courageous and culturally iconoclastic reforms necessary to not only get the job done, but to get the job done well. Distressingly, in his final column and in interviews since, Hawthorne has already adopted some of the mayor’s conciliatory language toward these groups by cautioning against “banal and oversize new apartment blocks,” and proposing to fight for an “economy” first and foremost. Instead of coming out swinging, it appears the former critic has already acquiesced to the exclusionary mediocrity that already defines so much of the city’s built fabric. Does Hawthorne have what it takes to stand up to his politically timid boss?
Placeholder Alt Text

Tower Topped

Helmut Jahn’s Thompson Center reimagined in new renderings by Landmarks Illinois
In conjunction with its annual list of endangered buildings, Landmarks Illinois has released a series of renderings that reimagines Helmut Jahn’s James R. Thompson Center with enhanced public space, while playing up its potential for adaptive re-use with an addition of a super tower.  Proposed by Jahn’s office in 2017, the super-tower is shown poised at the southwest corner of the structure, maximizing the Thompson Center’s zoning and revenue potential while minimizing the impact of the additional construction on the interior atrium, the most significant aspect of the building's provocative design. The tower could accommodate office spaces, a hotel, residencies or a combination of all three. Constructed to provide a visible state government presence in Chicago, the James R. Thompson Center, originally the State of Illinois Building, was lauded by critics, ordinary Chicagoans and users of the building when it was completed in 1985. The building was hyperactive, wildly over budget and required extensive retrofits in order for it to keep state employees from frying beneath the extensive plate glass and subdued red, white and blue paneling. Illinois governor Bruce Rauner has called for selling off the building and demolishing it numerous times, viewing the land the Thompson Center sits on as a more valuable commodity than the building itself. The redevelopment of the building as proposed by Landmarks Illinois retains the use of the building as a nexus point for multiple CTA public transit lines, restores the exterior granite panels and complementary columns, and demonstrates how a creative developer could take advantage of the 20 percent federal historic tax credits via a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The James R. Thompson Center is making a repeat appearance on Landmarks Illinois's Most Endangered Places in Illinois list for a second year in a row, one of only four sites in the organization’s history to be listed multiple times.
Placeholder Alt Text

Warehouse Modernism

Brooklyn’s East River waterfront is defining itself in unexpected ways
Taking shape along Greenpoint’s once-industrial waterfront district is a series of surprisingly contextual modern condo developments using red brick and exposed black steel to tactfully insert tens of thousands of new residents along this sleepy East River shoreline. The largest of them, a 30-story tower that is part of Handel Architects’ Greenpoint Landing, includes 5,500 units sprawled over 22 acres at the mouth of Newtown Creek, with 1,400 apartments renting for as little as $393 to $1,065. Initial renderings presented for public review surfaced as bland massing diagrams, but the subdued details of Handel’s build-out hold promise for communities becoming accustomed to glossy, glassy, boxy towers in districts where rezoning permits greater height and bulk. To the stakeholders’ credit, the developer showed them a selection of schemes to choose from, including designs by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In contrast to Long Island City’s gleaming, generic masses and Williamsburg’s spotty, uneven edges, Greenpoint’s waterfront retains enough of its traditional shipping warehouses to sustain the contours of a characteristically industrial neighborhood along West and Commercial Streets, even if most of the industry is gone. Despite a major waterfront rezoning passed by the city council in 2005, until a few years ago, most of West Street continued to host storage for building material and scaffolding, a lumber manufacturer, and a crane and equipment rental company. After large portions of Greenpoint Terminal Market were lost to a ten-alarm fire in 2006, Pearl Realty Management adapted the remains into a studio-and-workspace rental complex, an extension of its Dumbo-based green desk co-working enterprise. Slowly, smaller firms like Daniel Goldner Architects, Karl Fischer Architect, STUDIOSC, and S9 Architecture populated the upland side of West and Commercial with renovated warehouses and upscale condos echoing the material palette of the existing low-rises. Much of the post-rezoning development along West and Commercial stalled due to the 2008 mortgage-backed securities crisis. In 2009, the former Eberhard Faber Pencil Company building became the Pencil Factory lofts, and Daniel Goldner Architects filled in the corner lot with a syncopated colored brick addition and perforated aluminum garage. The project struggled in the post-crash housing market. But in the past two years, a rush of new buildings began to rise up along West and Commercial with a distinct material selection: red and light-colored brick and exposed black-painted steel, with glazed entryways and antique fixtures. Karl Fischer Architect’s 26 West Street opened in 2016, its redbrick and black steel facade filling out the six-story street wall, its large overhang resembling a meat market loading dock. The warehouse modern–aesthetic even extends all the way around the mouth of the Newtown Creek, where a 105-unit building by S9 Architecture employs the same neotraditional style—red brick, exposed black steel, industrial awnings, antique fixtures. An upscale ground-floor grocery store warmed some nearby loft residents up to it after months of sound-based trauma from the drilling of pilings. With leases from $3,350 to $4,350, locals will never be at peace with the rent pressures that come with these buildings, but at least they have the virtue of not extravagantly showing off their residents’ income. Not everything conforms to this trend: The expansive 140-unit development under construction by Ismael Leyva Architects at 23 India Street more crudely fills in its zoning envelope with affordable housing ranging from $613 for studios to $1,230 for winners of the NYC Housing Connect lottery, capped by a 39-story, 500-unit condo tower that promises in every way to form a bland massing diagram in the sky. In any case, contextual exterior cladding is little consolation for a community that fought hard for its 197-a plan—completed in 1999 and adopted by the city council in 2002—which would have allowed significantly less bulk and height, aimed to retain more light-manufacturing jobs, and mandated more affordable housing along with waterfront access. Jane Jacobs, in one of her final written statements, penned a strong defense of the original community plan against the eventual zoning resolution. Of course, the trade-off forced by the city—an upzoned waterfront in exchange for publicly funded parks and developer-mandated walkways—has already helped reduce heavy-industrial pollution, killed a proposed Con Edison power plant, and reduced and eliminated waste-transfer facilities and truck fumes. Some residents are just waiting for the dust and noise of construction to subside, while others hope for another recession to slow down the accelerated activity. In 2009, Andrew Blum published “In Praise of Slowness," for the launch of Urban Omnibus that, in retrospect, should have a more durable life as a critique of fast development. For New York City neighborhoods, slowness provides a much-needed stability in the absence of state-level expansion of rent regulation to protect against predatory development. Yet if there had to be luxury condos facing the former industrial piers, the emerging Greenpoint warehouse modernism was a more subtle and site-specific solution than anyone expected or imagined.
Placeholder Alt Text

Three-Pointer

Gensler’s NVIDIA headquarters opens, with a super-roof that lets the outside in
NVIDIA’s cavernous, Gensler-designed 500,000-square-foot headquarters opened for business late 2017, capping off a seven-year effort to create a new state-of-the-art office complex for the technology company. Located in Santa Clara, California, the triangular complex takes a decidedly inward approach to the open, creative office type. Unlike Facebook’s park-topped headquarters or Apple’s ring-in-the-forest complex, which feature expansive connections to the outdoors and commingle quasi-public access with offices, NVIDIA’s new home base is self-contained and mono-functional, more high-tech tent than big-nature oasis. Instead of bringing the outside in, Gensler’s designs utilize a soaring internal volume and 245 perfectly calibrated triangular skylights set into a modular, undulating roof that turns the inside out. Workers are expected to arrive by car, entering the building’s underbelly via two basement parking levels containing 1,500 stalls. A glass-enclosed elevator core welcomes arrivals before whisking them to the cavernous offices above, where they are greeted by a faceted, black metal panel cocoon wrapping the all-white elevator core. This angular, two-story volume creates a sheltered area at the heart of the building underneath an orderly grid of skylights that was laid out using virtual reality software to determine each skylight’s final placement. Hao Ko, principal and managing director at Gensler, said, “We worked hard to get the right specifications of glass makeup to allow us the right quality of diffused and soft sunlight in the space. The final result—where the daylighting is evenly dispersed throughout and evenly experienced by everyone—is a testament to the upfront work we did in design.” Because of Santa Clara’s zoning laws, the structure could only rise two stories and ultimately topped out at 50 feet tall. In response, Ko’s team created two soaring levels within the arched envelope of the building, taking the opportunity to transform the office’s many staircases into broad, socially vibrant areas while also creating an upper level that functions more like a mezzanine than a fully-enclosed floor. Along the ground, squat cubicles, an institutional-seeming dining hall, and multifunctional lab spaces orbit the opaque core, which itself contains lounges, meeting rooms, coding nooks, and research areas. The level above, meanwhile, is populated by parallel rows of cubicles interrupted by acoustically-sealed meeting pods that extend every which way. The end result is a workplace envisioned and constructed to look good—and work well—in any light.
Placeholder Alt Text

Jane Reigns

AN picks this year’s most promising Jane’s Walks, a free celebration of NYC urbanism
Just in time for spring, the venerable New York nonprofit Municipal Art Society (MAS) is hosting its annual Jane's Walk NYC, an on-foot (but by no means pedestrian) celebration of the city's architecture urbanism. This year, over 200 New Yorkers have volunteered to show others interesting buildings and sites around their neighborhoods. The walks, all of which are free, are named for beloved urbanist Jane Jacobs and are held annually on May 4 through 6 all over the world in her honor. Below, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) rounded up 13 of the most interesting strolls for architecture aficionados, from the Orphan Asylum and bird (mural) walks in Manhattan, to midcentury modern in Queens, and terra-cotta in Tottenville. All event descriptions are from MAS; head on over to mas.org/janes-walk-nyc for more details on the weekend's programs. Monumental Fire
"The Firemen’s Monument, is one of the most beautiful architectural elements of Riverside Park. We’ll contemplate the history and significance of this memorial plaza – a combination of public sculpture and landscape architecture. The walk will continue into the adjoining neighborhood, where we’ll consider Jane Jacob’s notion that the streetscape facilitates safety. Fire-protection infrastructure and firehouses will be discussed along the way."
Queens Modern: Mid-Century Architecture of Forest Hills and Rego Park
"This walk will look at the development of Forest Hills and Rego Park from the 1930s to 1960s along Queens Boulevard, exploring how these neighborhoods developed and continue to change. We’ll explore the diverse architecture on and off the boulevard, from apartment towers to parks and synagogues to civic buildings. The walk will end at Rego Park Jewish Center (possibly with a visit inside)."
The Historic Arts and Crafts Houses of Douglas Manor 
"Join us for a walk back through time, to nearby Douglas Manor, a century old residential neighborhood overlooking the Long Island Sound that has the largest collection of Arts and Crafts style houses in New York City, including three by master Gustav Stickley. Our sojourn through this NYC-designated Historic District culminates with refreshments and a reception in the garden of a picturesque 1911 gambrel roofed Arts and Crafts style gem. This walk is co-sponsored by the Douglaston Local Development Corporation and the Douglaston and Little Neck Historical Society."

The Art and Architecture of Park Avenue

"Everyday over 700,000 New Yorkers pass through Midtown along Park Avenue to and from Grand Central Terminal. This is a part of the City where, in a few blocks, you can see many of the forces that have shaped our city. There are icons of architecture (Midtown Modernism) and capitalism such as the Lever, the Seagram, and the Chrysler building. There are icons of real estate such as the Grand Hyatt and Helmsley. There are great clubs and great churches."

The Audubon Bird Murals Project
"Audubon Mural Project is an exciting effort by National Audubon Society and Gitler Gallery to create murals of 314 birds in northern Manhattan. As all the birds painted are threatened by climate change, the project is designed not only to portray the beauty of the birds, but also to make us aware of the challenges they face. In addition to seeing about 30 murals, we will visit Audubon’s impressive grave site in Trinity Cemetery at 155th & Broadway."
POPS: Privately Owned Public Spaces
"Harvard Professor Jerold S. Kayden and New York City Department of City Planning POPS Program Manager Stella Kim will visit some of the City’s celebrated and lesser known privately owned public spaces. How are these outdoor and indoor spaces contributing to the lives of those who live and work in the city? How do they function for visitors to the city? What can be done to make they function better for all?" Uncovering the City’s Scottish Roots
"Two representatives from the American-Scottish Foundation will trace the contributions to New York’s history by Scottish architects, designers and engineers, from colonial to modern times, focusing on Lower Manhattan." Tottenville’s Terra Cotta Legacy
"The Atlantic Terra Cotta Co. (ATCC) was the world’s largest manufacturer of architectural terra cotta. Join us as we explore the former site of ATCC on Tottenville’s waterfront where several repurposed buildings still exist. Conditions permitting, we’ll explore the shoreline (wear appropriate shoes), dotted with 100 yr. old remnants from the past. Optional: continue to the Terra Cotta Sculpture Garden opening, Biddle House, Conference House Park." Lost Carmansville: Manhattan’s Last Village
"We’ll explore parts of the village of Carmansville along the Hudson in what is now Hamilton Heights. We’ll find a few almost-hidden relics from the village days and learn about the history of the place and the village founder, Richard Carman. Please note: walk includes steep hills and staircases. We will visit a cemetery, where pets are not allowed." La Magia de Brooklyn Heights en Español

"This tour, led in Spanish, explores the greatness of Brooklyn Heights, from a small original Dutch Settlement to becoming the first historical district in NYC in 1965. We will admire the variety of its architecture, its elegant residences, great churches, hotels and institutional buildings. There are hundreds of stories and artists that made it their home. And yes, there was a big struggle to preserve this unique neighborhood. Come and join us!"

Gowanus Landmarks—Make It So!

"As Gowanus prepares for a potential neighborhood re-zoning, join Gowanus resident and preservationist Brad Vogel for a walking tour of approximately two dozen structures proposed for city landmark status. The sites—largely cataloging the industrial character of Gowanus, along with some residential sections—were proposed by a coalition of local groups during the Gowanus Places planning study in 2017."

Planning and Preservation on West 14th Street
"14th St. has been home to communities, architecture, storied NYC establishments and more. This border street Village on the south, Chelsea on the north, teems with public art; former row houses; the first Spanish-speaking Catholic parish in NYC, Our Lady of Guadalupe; Art Deco Salvation Army building (finally landmarked!), and much more. Led by Save Chelsea President Laurence Frommer and GVHSP’s Director of Research and Preservation Sarah Bean Apmann." City College and the Hebrew Orphan Asylum: Institutions Through Time

"We invite you to join us on an architectural perspective of the City College of New York and the former Hebrew Orphan Asylum (currently The Jacob H. Schiff Park). From the bustling Gothic campus, to the summer concerts at Lewisohn Stadium and student life in the old Orphan Asylum. CCNY and the surrounding institutions served the disenfranchised and those seeking a better life. We will remember these places in this walk."

Descriptions have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Placeholder Alt Text

AN Exclusive

Landmarks chair shares exclusive details on her resignation
After less than four years, Meenakshi Srinivasan announced yesterday that she is leaving her post as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the city agency that stewards New York City’s historic built environment. During her time at the agency, the LPC designated 3,800 buildings, a total that includes 67 individual landmarks, nine historic districts, and three interior landmarks. On June 1, Srinivasan is trading government work for a job in the private sector after an almost three decade career in public service. Before she joined the LPC in 2014, Srinivasan chaired the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for ten years, and prior to that, she worked in the Department of City Planning (DCP). The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) sat down with the outgoing chair to talk about her tenure, her next steps, and the (sometimes controversial) decisions she presided over. AN: Why are you leaving the LPC? Meenakshi Srinivasan: I’ve been very fortunate to have been at three land use agencies and also very fortunate to have chaired two commissions, the Board of Standards and Appeals as well as Landmarks. It’s been incredible, but it’s been 28 years. It really seems like the right time to move to the private sector and use my skills elsewhere. I feel emotional about the fact that I’m leaving government, but I think we’ve achieved a lot in the last four years. What have you accomplished as Chair? There are three areas I’m very proud of. I’m very, very proud of our designation agenda. I’m proud of our transparency initiatives, and I’m proud of our ability to reorganize the agency to be much more efficient and [move] the agency forward through the lens of equity and diversity, transparency and efficiency. Within that agenda, our strategic plan has been faithful. It has been to be more efficient within the designation process, [particularly with regards] to the backlog.* The second thing is just for me as a planner, personally, is to really allow preservation to be a critical part of the planning process. And the third is, we want to continue to look at areas that are not represented by designations, but there are stories to tell that really speak to histories of all New Yorkers. The agency has this wealth of knowledge and scholarship that people should have access to, and we have all this information about our regulatory process and that should be transparent and accessible, too. The first thing we did is we put all the information that comes before the commission on our website. In the last four years, we have put all our designation reports on our website so people can access them. We’ve created this interactive map, which includes all our designations and has the ability to connect and links to designation reports. Most recently, we’ve created a very, very robust database which provides data on each individual building that has been designated. We created a database that allows people to access information on staff level approvals as well, so you can find out the status of your project. This kind of information is very important to community groups who want to know what’s happening, what these buildings are about, but also to homeowners and property owners, so they can understand the basis for designations. Where are you landing next? I’m doing some work with New York Law School in their Center for New York City Law and working with the dean and founder of the center to develop curricula, and I’ll continue from there. Do you know who’s going to replace you at Landmarks? The vice chair position is vacant. I don’t, but I’ve been working with this administration and internally on the transition. I’m here for another five weeks. How would you assess the state of historic preservation in the city right now versus four years ago when you became Chair? You know, historic preservation is very critical for New York. I think it’s what makes the city diverse, dynamic, so I think that will continue. I think there’s always an issue of balance. The city should grow as well and we continue to survey areas that should be designated and should be protected. I think the other thing is that when we think about landmarking, it doesn’t really mean that nothing can change. I think the Commission, historically, has allowed for change within historic districts, and our role is really to ensure that those changes are consistent and compatible with the prevailing historic character. I think that will continue. One of your initiatives you alluded to earlier was a push for historic districts outside of Manhattan. How is that going? How will that initiative be continued under the next Chair? We have done some pretty significant historic districts outside of Manhattan, but I just would say that it’s not only outside Manhattan, it’s also areas that may not be as well-represented in Manhattan. We did a really interesting one in Ridgewood, Queens and a portion of Brooklyn, which is really a working class neighborhood that actually has a very strong architectural character to it and very uniform. We did Crown Heights North, I think it’s the third extension as well as the Bedford Historic District, which [overlaps with] one of the largest African American community in the nation. More recently, we did Mount Morris Park Historic District [Extension] in Harlem, and currently we are looking at Central Harlem Historic District, which is between 130th and 132nd Street—a microcosm of the Harlem Renaissance in the early part of the 20th century, that also includes the civil rights activities there. Even without me, I think we’ve got various things in the works that will be continued. The Commission often hears from passionate stakeholders on all sides. In March, Human-scale NYC, a coalition of preservation and neighborhood groups, wrote a letter that called for your replacement and claimed that you “serve the interests of big real estate.” How would you respond to those who believe the LPC placed real estate interests ahead of historic preservation during your tenure as Chair? I think there’s no truth in it at all. People have opinions—they may not like everything that I do, but I stand by all the decisions we’ve made. I think my agency has been very thorough and so has the Commission; I don’t see any radical shifts in the way we have regulated our historic districts. The Commission has always been open to modern buildings and contemporary buildings in historic districts. That hasn’t changed. If you actually go back and look at the projects that we’ve done, you’ll see that the scale of these buildings are very much consistent with the surrounding context and there’s a lot of rigor in how we evaluate these decisions. I would say that a group may come up and identify a whole series of reasons why I’m unpopular, but I think if you go beyond that and see for yourself, there’s nothing really there. Many people were upset, for example, at the way the changes to the Sasaki plaza at Citicorp were regulated, and about the approval of the demolition permits for the AT&T Building lobby, and the designation of the Ambassador Grill and Lounge that excluded a sunken lounge and connecting hallway. I know preservationists have made their concerns about these and other issues known to the LPC loud and clear. How would you respond to those who say there needs to be more transparency around changes to major buildings? Right, well I think that it’s interesting. There is transparency. The reality is that we do receive requests to designate buildings. Our research team evaluates them. We then bring them to the Commission. The basis of why we think they should be designated or what areas we’re considering is explained. We have standards and we want to apply them consistently. In the end, the reality is we did do Ambassador Grill. For AT&T, we calendared the building, so the issue over there was really about the lobby. That was discussed and there were reasons why the lobby was not considered meritorious. I just want to go back to one thing because you raised this issue about this letter. People can try and dovetail these things together, but I’ll just be very upfront with you. I’ve been thinking about [leaving] for some time, probably the end of December, early January. As a public figure, people will say things and [they] may disagree with you. I’ve been a public figure for 14 years. I don’t know if those things necessarily would make me back down, just in case you’re thinking that there could be something like that, but I’ve been doing this for 28 years and I think we’ve done great things here, but there are other things to do. In a different letter, leading preservation groups that the LPC consulted with on its proposed rules changes recently wrote a letter to you asking for those changes to be withdrawn. How will preservationists’ concerns be addressed as discussion around the proposed changes continues? We allowed the comment period to go on until May 8, but the outreach process that we’ve done many times before involves us summarizing these comments and bringing [them] before the Commission. The staff does that. Since the [March] hearing, we’ve continued to do outreach and explain to people why we believe the rules are beneficial and why they’re beneficial for preservation. What are you most proud of in your work here? One of the things that I’m very proud of is that we’ve put more emphasis on cultural landmarks. That’s been very important to me, because it has given us the ability to talk about more abstract things that are not necessarily related just to buildings, but are really important to the history of New York. The Stonewall Inn, for example, is a very modest building, but it propelled the LGBT movement. The Stonewall Inn is indicative of New York’s progressive values of tolerance and inclusivity. That means a lot to me. When we think about cultural history, we did two buildings on Broadway which are cast iron buildings. You see these in Noho and you see them in Soho, but what made them unique is that it had this amazing [tie to] the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. And more recently, the historic district that we’re bringing forward in May in Central Harlem speaks to the Harlem Renaissance, but also about civil rights and social justice. And finally, Coney Island, which has changed over time, but it [remains] one of the most recognizable places in New York. I mean, everybody goes there. Cultural landmarks have always been a complicated issue, but I think we’ve been very—I wouldn’t say aggressive, but—I think we really wanted to advance that as a part of how we think about preservation in New York. Do you plan to stay involved in preservation in any way? My thoughts are really to go back to planning and zoning. That’s what my background is, but when you think about cities in general, preservation is just part of it. I think I’ve just been lucky to have this preservation experience as well, because I think it rounds off something for me. At City Planning and at the BSA, we were dealing with preservation issues all the time. It’s just part and parcel of New York. Any advice you’d give to the next Chair? It’s a great place to be. Enjoy the experience. We have an incredible staff that you can rely on. Just be prepared because it’s definitely a field which, as you’ve pointed out, stakeholders are very passionate about. So, have your eyes and ears open to listen to all that, as well. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. *The LPC prioritized 26 properties out of 95 for designation that had languished on a list of potential landmarks for years, sometimes decades. This was completed over an 18-month period between 2015 and 2016.
Placeholder Alt Text

A Landmarked Tenure

Landmarks chair steps down; exclusive interview to come
Chair of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Meenakshi Srinivasan is stepping down effective June 1, and tomorrow AN will present an exclusive interview with Srinivasan on what her next steps will be. As first reported by the Times Ledger, Srinivasan will be leaving a position she’s held since her appointment by Mayor de Blasio in July of 2014. “I am honored to have served as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the past four years and to have had the opportunity to serve the city for the past 28 years,” said Srinivasan in a statement. “I am proud of what we have accomplished—promoting equity, diversity, efficiency and transparency in all aspects of LPC’s work, and working with the administration to make preservation a critical part of the city’s planning process. “It’s been an intense, challenging, and incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve been very fortunate to work in three agencies and chair two commissions involved with the city’s land use and built environment, and to have played a role in shaping this incredibly diverse and dynamic city. I would love to do more hands-on project-based work related to land use planning and zoning and will be transitioning to the private sector.” The move comes during a tumultuous time for the LPC, as the commission has been roiled by criticism of a proposed rule change meant to improve efficiency and streamline the approvals process. The changes, discussed further in-depth here, drew charges that they lower the agency’s standards from preservation groups like the Historic Districts Council. AN will follow this announcement with an interview on Friday.
Placeholder Alt Text

Handel On It

Handel Architects to bring $1 billion twin tower development to Hollywood
Handel Architects and developer MP Los Angeles have unveiled renderings for a $1 billion twin tower complex slated for downtown Hollywood.  An earlier proposal for the site was dogged by concerns over the location of a possible earthquake fault underneath the site, an issue that has been since resolved after intensive geological and environmental review, including peer reviewed study by third party experts and extensive geological testing, according to the developers.  The project aims to bring two curving, glass-clad 46- and 35-story towers, a pair of mid-rise apartment structures, and a collection of pedestrian walkways and plazas to two adjacent sites surrounding the iconic, Louis Naidorf-designed Capitol Records building. The project sites are currently occupied by surface parking lots.  Urbanize.LA reports that the 1,005-unit development will also bring the largest number of affordable dwelling units of any development in the history of the city. The project’s 133 deed-restricted affordable housing units will housed within a pair of 11-story apartment blocks and will be targeted for low-income and very-low income seniors. The affordable housing component is a product of the city’s new inclusionary zoning ordinance and resulted from the developer’s lengthy environmental and community reviews, according to a project website.  Renderings for the so-called Hollywood Center project depict a sprawling complex punctuated by sculptural towers whose forms echo those of the Capitol Records building. The towers and gridded apartment buildings are depicted as being connected by broad pedestrian areas and terraced landscaped planters filled with trees in the renderings. James Corner Field Operations has been tapped to design the project’s outdoor areas.  The now-relieved seismic concerns at the Hollywood Center project preceded real structural problems for another Handel-designed tower complex located in San Francisco. There, the 58-story Millennium Tower as been listing increasingly to one side over the last few years to growing worry of residents and neighbors alike. Problems with the Millennium Tower are due, experts believe, to faulty design of the tower’s friction-bearing pile foundation systems.  The Hollywood Center towers join a growing cluster of high-rise developments slated for the Hollywood area, including the LARGE Architecture-designed 1755 Argyle apartments, the Crossroads Hollywood project by SOM and RCH Studios, the recently-completed Columbia Square development, also by RCH Studios, and the long-stalled Palladium Residences complex by Natoma Architects.  The Hollywood Center project is expected to begin construction in 2022. 
Placeholder Alt Text

Driving While Robot

What role do architects have in a driverless future?
The rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is inevitable and—depending on who you ask—they’ll either eliminate car crashes and save the environment, or muscle out pedestrians from the street, steal our personal data, and create biblical levels of gridlock in our cities. But despite the divide over how the technology should be implemented, the common thread that runs between apostles and bashers alike is the belief that cities, planners, and architects are woefully unprepared for the changes self-driving cars will bring. In November 2017, the AIA held an event centered on the topic, "Anticipating the Driverless City,” and the furor seems justified following the death of a pedestrian at the grille of an autonomous Uber car. “Planners think in 30-year increments, and autonomous vehicles are already hitting the streets today,” Nico Larco, co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative at the University of Oregon, said. “Urban planners should be terrified.” Larco’s not wrong. Only a few states even have regulations for driverless cars, let alone ideas for designing a future without parking. With Ford launching self-delivering pizzas in Miami, Google’s Waymo rolling out an autonomous ridesharing service in Arizona, and driverless taxis making inroads in cities all over the world, architects and planners will either need to look ahead or be stuck in triage mode. Sam Schwartz, former New York City Traffic Commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and founder of his eponymous traffic and transportation planning and engineering firm, has categorized the potential futures as “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” The “good” A utopic self-driving car scenario would have driverless cars constantly circulating and on the prowl for riders, while providing “first mile, last mile” access to and from souped-up mass-transit corridors. If AVs truly take off and replace a sizable portion of manned cars on the street, then parking lots, garages, and driveways—not to mention thousands of square feet of on-street parking per block—would sit vacant. Walking, cycling, and autonomous (electric) buses would feature heavily in a multi-modal transit mix, and streets would narrow as bioswales and strips of public parks replaced parking spots. There has been movement on designing for that future; FXCollaborative, HOK, Arup, KPF, and other prominent firms have all put forward scalable designs for reclaiming the urban fabric. Speculation has already forced public officials in Pittsburgh to put together plans for integrating self-driving cars into the city’s fabric by 2030, and developers in New York are building flexible parking garages that can easily be converted for other uses. However, the key to actually enacting any of these schemes lies in large-scale government intervention. Without a concerted top-down reclamation and conversion of unused streets, AV-centric zoning policies, or renewed investment in mass-transportation options, cities will never be able to integrate AVs into their infrastructure. The largest hurdle to achieving the “good” future isn’t technological, it’s political; even self-driving evangelists have conceded that a laissez-faire approach might result in increased traffic on the road. The “bad” Uber, Lyft, Google, and a raft of competitors are already jostling to bring self-driving taxis to market so that these companies won’t have to pay human drivers. Under the guise of preventing traffic fatalities—there were nearly 40,000 lives lost in the U.S. alone in 2017—the big players are lobbying all levels of government to allow their AVs on the street. If vehicle miles traveled per person in AVs were allowed to increase without intervention, society could slide into an ugly scenario. This dystopic outcome would see mass transit hollowed out by a lack of funding and pedestrians shunted out of the streets in the name of safety. Studies have already shown that existing ridesharing services increase congestion and cause bus services to deteriorate, and if commuters get fed up with slow commutes and turn to ridesharing services, mass transit options could be sent into death spirals due to decreased revenue. Driverless cars are often touted as being spatially efficient, especially as they can join each other to form road trains—tightly packed groups of vehicles moving along optimized routes. But considering how much space on the road 40 bicycles or 40 commuters in a bus would take up, the flaw in that thinking becomes self-evident. Even if artificial intelligence can route traffic more effectively than a human, putting more cars on the road offsets the gains in speed by decreasing the amount of space available. Although computers might be great at coordinating with each other, the external human element will remain a wild card no matter what. Well-planned cities that prioritize walkability and ground-level experience would place pedestrians over passengers, but a worst-case scenario could see cyclists and walkers forced to wear locator beacons so that AVs could “see” them better, while hemmed in behind fencing. The “ugly” The worst driverless car scenarios take Le Corbusier’s famous claim that “the city built for speed is the city built for success” to heart. The high-speed arterial thoroughfares Corbusier envisioned in The Radiant City were realized in the destructive city planning policies of the 1950s and '60s, but municipalities have spent heavily to correct their mistakes 50 years later. Much in the same way that widening roads actually worsens traffic, if planners and architects ignore or give deference to driverless cars and continue to prioritize car culture in their decisions, congestion, gridlock, and withered public transit systems are sure to follow. The adoption of self-driving technology will likely birth new building typologies with unique needs, from centralized hubs where the cars park themselves to AV repair shops. As futurist Jeff Tumlin, principal and director of strategy at Nelson/Nygaard, points out, self-driving cars aren’t a new concept. Their lineage can be directly traced to ideas introduced by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair, but this is the first time that the technology has caught up with the vision. Planners and politicians have had 80 years to grapple with solutions; they can’t afford to take any longer.