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Staten Island Life

A torrent of new projects on Staten Island are reshaping the once-forgotten borough

Staten Islanders have a name for the impatient dance that visitors do when they get off the ferry at St. George to wait for the next boat back to Manhattan: The “Staten Island Shuffle.” The name reflects the perennial difficulty of getting newcomers to venture beyond the island’s welcome gate.

Local stakeholders hope that a spate of new development on the shoreline—and inland—will smooth the shuffle into a full sidewalk ballet that draws residents and visitors alike through the pizza-slice-shaped island, population 472,000. Here are some new projects that are changing the landscape of the forgotten borough:

Riverside

“I think the opportunity is all in the outer boroughs right now,” enthused Jay Valgora, founding principal of New York–based Studio V. “Don’t get me wrong, Manhattan’s great, but for creative architecture, Staten Island is the next frontier. I think it’s possible to do incredibly creative things on Staten Island that would be difficult to do in Manhattan.”

In the shadow of the Outerbridge Crossing on the island’s West Shore, Studio V is building a verdant mall on the banks of the Arthur Kill. The Riverside Galleria connects 490,000 square feet of retail, including a cinema and grocery store, to High Line–like catwalks and bridges that channel visitors in front of stores and toward a waterfront public park and beach.

Staten Island’s industrial and natural heritage converges at the waterfront, and Riverside’s program unifies these two landscapes with green roofs and soft edges that work vigilantly to protect the development from rising seas. The mall’s sloped roofs “fold into the landscape” to capture and treat stormwater, while a rain garden extends into the parking garage to soften the edge between the natural and built environments. New York–based landscape architect Ken Smith is collaborating with the studio on the project, which is gearing up for the final phase of its ULURP.

For some, building on storm-vulnerable Staten Island would prove daunting, but Studio V literally wrote the book on coastal construction: The firm collaborated with nonprofit advocacy group the Waterfront Alliance to create Waterfront Edge Design Guidelines (WEDG)—“LEED for the waterfront,” Valgora quipped—in 2015. At Riverside, a 10-acre restored wetland provides the first line of defense, although the entire site is lifted above the floodplain. Commercial spaces are elevated above parking for additional protection.

With “automobile access that works beautifully,” the project’s green inclinations defer to Staten Island’s entrenched car culture, although demand for mass transit in this neighborhood is growing. Riverside Galleria is a 10-minute walk from a train station that the MTA is currently rebuilding. More exciting still, Studio V, in a separate project, is in talks to build a stop for high-speed ferry service at an adjacent site. Borough president James Oddo is very supportive of the project, as are locals who have been pushing for broader access to mass transit on the West Shore.

On the North Shore

On the trip from Manhattan, commuters can almost feel the island’s famous ferry keel starboard as tourists cozy up for Lady Liberty selfies. Despite connections to the Staten Island Railroad, bus links, and the attractive hillside neighborhood of St. George just beyond the ferry landing on the Staten Island side, it has been a perennial hurdle to lure visitors out of the terminal.

“What so many of those passengers do is the ‘Staten Island Shuffle’: They get off the ferry and mill around in the ferry terminal until the next ferry arrives, and they never actually set foot on Staten Island. Right now, there’s not a lot that’s immediately visible there, so you can understand why people do that,” explained Munro Johnson, vice president of development at the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

In response, Staten Island is changing its salutation. An array of flashy new developments set to open in the next few years will radically expand entertainment, dining, and shopping opportunities immediately adjacent to the St. George Terminal. The New York Wheel, a 630-foot-tall observation wheel, will give 1,440 riders at a time a dramatic view of the New York Harbor. Designed by New York–based S9 Architecture and Perkins Eastman, (and manufactured by Starneth, creators of the London Eye) the New York Wheel will be the largest of its kind when it opens next year.

Soon, New Yorkers won’t need to travel to the Catskills or Jersey for classic suburban-style outlet mall shopping. Empire Outlets, a 1.1-million-square-foot mall, is under construction next to the ferry terminal. The SHoP–designed storefronts reference an Italian hill town, playing on St. George’s elevation to allow visitors progressively better views of the harbor as they ascend upland on wide stairways and glass elevators. Parking is hidden below ground, while a waterside public plaza draws visitors toward the waterfront.

Mixed-used Lighthouse Point combines 65,000 square feet of retail with a 175-room hotel, including a restaurant and entertainment area, plus a 12-story, 94,000-square-foot residential space, a workspace for local start-ups, and outdoor offerings, such as a beach that offers views of the New York Wheel.

From the 1860s to the 1960s, Lighthouse Point was the site of the U.S. Lighthouse Service Depot, the epicenter of lighthouse service operations in the United States. The development strives to preserve the site’s 19th-century character by integrating historic buildings, which are listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places, into new retail, hotel, and residential development.

Ten years ago, NYCEDC selected Triangle Equities to develop the site, and construction on the $200 million project is expected to be complete in 2017. Brooklyn-based Garrison Architects is executing the design.

Collectively, these North Shore projects total over $1 billion in investment, Johnson explained, making them the largest group of projects on Staten Island. Key to their success is a network of waterfront esplanades, parkland, and planning initiatives that connect the neighborhoods of Tompkinsville, Stapleton, and St. George to each other and to their waterfronts.

After decades of decline, the industrial waterfront in nearby Stapleton is being developed as public space and opened up to new investment. The New Stapleton Waterfront Park is a six-acre green space with a central esplanade that draws pedestrians south from St. George and toward the water from Bay Street, the neighborhood’s main drag. The park is finished, while a tidal wetlands cove will be complete this summer. Phase two is set to begin later this year or early 2017.

The low-slung buildings along the waterfront belie Stapleton’s vibrant commercial past, although the opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in 1964 channeled development into the island’s interior, hastening the area’s decline. The U.S. Navy maintained a small base in the neighborhood; when it was decommissioned in 1995, no large-scale plans were enacted to stitch the neighborhood back to its shore.

Johnson calls Stapleton’s new open space one of “the most exciting” examples of projects that reconnect neighborhoods to their waterfronts. The park, in concert with NYC Planning’s Bay Street corridor revitalization, is central to spurring the neighborhood’s regeneration: The city is investing $130 million in public infrastructure connections, parks, road reconstruction, and other improvements. Connector streets that bring traffic from Bay Street are being refurbished to improve the flow of people from downtown to the water, two blocks away. The hope is that improvements to Stapleton and Tompkinsville’s main thoroughfare will promote mixed-use development.

One of those developments is URBY, a 900-unit apartment complex by Ironstate Development marketed to young people. The rental-only waterfront complex, designed by Amsterdam-based Concrete, boasts over 35,000 square feet of commercial space, including a cafe and a fancy bodega. The first phase—571 units—debuted February 2016.

To plan ongoing development, NYCEDC meets regularly with the Bay Street Local Advisory Committee, “the eyes and ears on the street,” said Emma Pfohman, senior project manager at NYCEDC. “People are still nervous about the influx of tourists, but most see investment on Staten Island as a good thing.” There are lingering concerns about how the projected increase in visitors will affect transit, although NYCEDC is working out logistics with agency partners like the NYC DOT.

To Johnson, it’s not clear if escalating development on the North Shore will set a precedent for urbanization elsewhere on the island, although he reflected on the intrinsic marketability of the location itself. “You’ve got this amazing free ferry that carries 22 million passengers per year, including two million tourists annually. That’s a lot of market exposure already.”

To the south though, one under-the-radar project is emphatically geared towards vigorous locals. Ocean Breeze Indoor Athletic Facility is located within a 110-acre South Beach park developed under former Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC, an open-space initiative whose objective was to bring massive parks to every borough. Designed by New York–based Sage and Coombe for the NYC Parks Department, the 135,000-square-foot complex is in its final phase of construction, although the track has been open for events since last November. Like most major public works, the project was managed by the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) from design to build. 

The facility is one of the most high-tech in the region: The six-lane, 200-meter, hydraulically banked track can convert to an eight-lane flat track for practices. The 2,500-seat arena boasts photo-sensor lighting control and a “cool” roof, which can be upgraded to accommodate photovoltaic technology, while fritted glass windows, superimposed with images of runners, flora, and fauna, double as sunscreens. The structure sits above one of the last patches of native coastal grassland on Staten Island to provide a natural buffer against storm surges.

Inland

At one historic site, stakeholders are working quickly to draw ferrygoing tourists inland.

In addition to their collaboration on Riverside Galleria, Studio V and Smith are creating a master plan for New York City’s only restored historic town, in the core of Staten Island. The plan will preserve and reuse Richmond Town’s existing structures, as well as add density to the site with new buildings. The hope is to create a destination within the city: “We describe the project as a little bit Williamsburg, Virginia, and a little bit Williamsburg, Brooklyn,” said Valgora. The nonprofit that administers the site would like to see food vendors, shops, and possibly a brewery, to draw out-of-towners and New Yorkers to a verdant living-history museum.

Two miles away, developers are giving seniors,  or “active adults,” in developer parlance, an opportunity to age in place.

By 2020, Staten Island’s senior population will reach 78,000, a 31-percent increase over today’s numbers, and by far the largest percentage increase of any borough, according to NYC Planning’s Staten Island division. In response to growing demand for senior living facilities, the Landmark Colony is a full-scale residential redevelopment of the 45-acre New York City Farm Colony, once a publicly owned home for the city’s indigent population where residents had to harvest vegetables to earn their keep. Today, the site is landmarked but in ruins, a magnet for graffiti artists and wildlife that roam over from the adjacent Staten Island Greenbelt. Local firm vengoechea + boyland architects (v + b) is transforming six of the site’s 11 buildings into residences with 350 units. A clubhouse with an outdoor swimming pool, retail, and a restaurant at the development’s periphery will round out the program. One structure will be preserved as a ruin.

On a recent site visit, the air was chlorophyll-saturated, deer roamed the property, and vines crept up inside Dutch farmhouse–style structures with gambrel roofs that were last occupied in the 1970s. v+b principal Pablo Vengoechea served as vice chair of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, so v + b’s plans incorporate the contextual, adaptive reuse that the commission views favorably for landmarked, but deteriorated, structures: v + b intends to reuse fieldstone from some structures for new buildings, including residences styled after carriage houses, lofts, and cottages that  will be integrated into existing historic structures.

With seniors in mind, most entrances are at-grade, and few residences have true second stories, although many feature lofts that could double as guest bedrooms or as storage. (Residents with two-story homes will have the option to customize their homes with interior elevators.)

The landscape plan, executed in collaboration with New York–based Nancy Owens Studio, will keep the grounds lush and parklike, centered around an Olmstedian center green that references classic New York City park design. The landscape, a green core with a green periphery, complements a low-density development, principal Tim Boyland said. “We used half the allowable FAR for the site.”

Landmark Colony is now preparing for design development.

Although major projects nearing completion on the North Shore, and new developments taking shape inland and elsewhere, Staten Island is poised to maintain its status as New York City’s most bucolic borough for a long time to come. This, however, is no excuse for hardcore urbanites to do the Shuffle: Get on a bus, walk to the water, and take a look around.

 
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Light at the End of the Tunnel

Cost of Second Avenue Subway continues to rise as planned December open approaches
In order to finish the Second Avenue Subway by its December deadline, the MTA requires an additional $10 million per month on top of the $39 million per month that is currently being spent, Kent Haggas, the project's independent engineer, has told DNAinfo. About seventy-percent of the project goals set forth by the MTA in March have been reached, according to the project's contractors. According to another engineer, a pileup of changes that arose during construction have also heightened the stress to complete the subway on time. In February, the MTA’s full board voted to use $66 million from its existing contingency budget to stay on schedule, leaving $50 million left to finish the project. On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo announced the Capital Plan Review Board’s approval of the MTA’s $25 billion repair and upgrade plan, according to an article from the Daily News: “The money covers everything from track and station repairs to new train cars and buses.” Included in that range is the next phase of the Second Avenue Subway project into East Harlem. The Daily News article quotes a statement from Governor Cuomo: “By investing in the most robust transportation plan in state history, we are reimagining the MTA and ensuring a safer, more reliable and more resilient public transportation network for tomorrow.” The state will contribute $8.3 billion while the city will contribute $2.5 billion but the funding will not be available until the MTA has exhausted its own $50 million slotted for the subway.
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Streetcar Named BQX

New details emerge for the BQX, New York City's proposed waterfront streetcar route

At breakfast talk hosted by the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center earlier this month, Harris Schechtman, national director of transit at Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, gave academics and members of the public a full run-down of plans for the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a proposed waterfront streetcar link that would connect neighborhoods between Sunset Park, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens.

The nonprofit Friends of the Brooklyn Queens Connector, a coalition of real estate investors, transportation planners, and development boosters, hired Sam Schwartz to develop the plan in December 2014. 14 months later, the mayor officially debuted the plan in his State of the City address. (Schechtman noted the "unprecedented" turnaround time from concept to debut.)

A New Yorker himself, Schechtman presented a case for the streetcar by confirming what most commuters observe every morning: Buses are feeders from the subway, while existing subway lines are overcrowded. Ferries, meanwhile, can only accommodate only 3,000 riders per day. The streetcar is a "Goldilocks solution," enthused Schechtman, who, prior to joining engineering firm Sam Schwartz in 2001, spent nearly 32 years at the MTA, including nine as the vice president of operations. The catenary-free, battery-powered streetcars can carry 175 passengers, compared to the Select Bus Service's (SBS) 100.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22XH4-nNjlA

The route map that's circulating in the media is a "very and deliberately vague description of the route," explained Schechtman. "The BQX project is a project in motion." Even so, Schechtman was able to lay out some specifics: When it begins operations in 2023, the streetcar will glide along a 15 mile north-south route from Astoria to Sunset Park, with 30 stops, each about a half-mile apart. Exclusive lanes, where streetcars can travel at 12 miles per hour, will comprise about three-quarters of the route, while 15 percent of the tracks will feature a contiguous-with-the-roadway, "SBS-style" design, that will slow travel to 10 miles per hour. Trains will arrive five minutes during rush hour, and every ten minutes off-peak; Sam Schwartz estimates that daily ridership will reach 52,000 by 2035.

Schechtman had strong words for those who view streetcars, like the one in car-dependent Dallas that has 200 riders per day, as dinky tourist boondoggles. "The [streeetcars] that are failing are the ones that were failing when they went to the drawing board. These efforts give streetcars a bad name. The BQX is not a cute tourist attraction, but real transit that carries a helluva lot of people." The annual operating costs are estimated to be between $26 and $30 million, with $17 million in projected fare revenue.

With the MTA struggling to finance even basic capital improvements, where is there money for a new infrastructure project? The BQX is a NYC DOT project, and thus operates outside the MTA's purview. Its design relies on existing zoning, doesn't compete with other development priorities, and assumes a 3.5 percent growth in taxes that go to the city, according to Schechtman. The biggest cost will be the relocation of below-grade utilities.

According to Schechtman, the city hired an independent consultant to review the work and the consultant validated Sam Schwartz's findings. A third consultant is now reviewing the streetcar plans. "We offered the plan to the city on a silver platter," Schechtman explained. "We took an idea on no one's radar—and [dealt] with all the key issues and fatal flaws. The plan so powerfully supports the goals of the city; we said to the city, 'We are going to take that burden off of you, we invite you to take a look at our plan.'"

AN reached out the DOT and the Mayor's press office, but as of this time AN has not been able to confirm Schechtman's description of the planning and review process.

A highly skeptical crowd grilled Schechtman on specifics. How will the streetcar pass smoothly through bustling downtown Brooklyn? (There are fears that a dip inland towards Atlantic and Flatbush avenues will be a bottleneck.) Why build a new transit system in a floodplain? (The embedded tracks are more flood- and stormproof than other forms of transit.) This seems like a gentrification plan. (It is, although the line should benefit residents of waterfront NYCHA projects, too. The streetcar is intended to entice developers to build housing, which could be required to respond to newly-enacted zoning that mandates affordable housing construction along with market-rate development.) Will fares be cross-honored with the MTA? (We're working on it.)

The public input process has just begun: on May 9, a public meeting was held in Astoria, and on May 19, another meeting will be held in Red Hook. A draft of the final route should be ready by the end of this year. In the meantime, check out the Friends of the BQX's recently launched website for updates, project FAQs, and a spate of shiny new streetcar renderings.

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Tunnel Vision

L train shutdown will last 18 months or three years, says MTA
At a public meeting in the Marcy Avenue Armory yesterday, MTA chairman Thomas Prendergast was joined by agency heads and elected officials to explain L train repair scenarios and field questions from the community. After assuring the public that there would be no option for nights and weekends work, nor the money for a totally new tunnel, the agency laid out the pros and the cons of two scenarios: An 18 month total shutdown with no L train service between Manhattan and Brooklyn, or a three-year partial shutdown with very limited service between the two boroughs. 400,000 passengers ride the L train every weekday, a 236 percent increase since 1990. 225,000 of those straphangers travel through the tunnel between Manhattan and Brooklyn. If considered in isolation, the L would be the tenth busiest subway in North America. While other tubes could be repaired with nights and weekends works, the damage to the 92-year-old cast iron and concrete Canarsie Tubes (L train tunnel) is too extensive to be completed in that limited timeframe. The duct banks, where 37,000 feet of electrical cables with varying voltages are housed, were so corroded by saltwater during Sandy that contextual repairs are impossible; the entire network must be replaced. To repair the tunnel, moreover, crews drilling into the tunnel generate hazardous silica dust which could not be cleared from from the tubes in a safe and timely way over nights and weekends. Under scenario one, the 18 month closure, L trains would run from Rockaway Park in Canarsie to Bedford Avenue, with no L train service in Manhattan. Ferries, Select Bus Service (SBS), beefed-up regular bus service, bike- and ride-shares, plus enhanced service capacity on the G, J/Z, and M lines would accommodate L train refugees. The benefits to a total tunnel closure, the MTA notes, is that contractors will have total control over the work zone and 80 percent of riders will be less impacted by the same level of disruption. Work would begin in January 2019 and wrap by mid-2020. Scenario two, the three-year shutdown, would be more logistically complex. Trains would run from Rockaway Parkway to Lorimer Street, and from Bedford to Eight Avenue, with shuttle bus service in between Bedford and Lorimer. The benefit to this plan, Prendergast explained, is that it would preserve limited inter-borough L train service, but with significant drawbacks. Prendergast noted that during rush hour, the L line runs 40 trains per hour. Under a partial shutdown, only one of two tracks would be open, and trains would run every 12 to 15 minutes. 80 percent of the passengers who would want to ride the train wouldn't be able to board. The MTA is worried about overcrowding at stations and in the cars, as well as about unplanned closures—if one train stalls, or a passenger falls ill en route, the spillover effect could cause nightmare delays. With that in mind, Prendergast emphasized, "[minimizing] inconvenience is a top priority." Regardless of the plan that is chosen, riders will enjoy a new access point at Avenue A (!), new elevators at Bedford Avenue and First Avenue, a rehabbed pump station, and two new breaker houses, among other improvements. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, whose V-shaped district encompasses many L-dependent neighborhoods, was the first pol to bring up the impact of the shutdown on local businesses. She asked the assembled agency leaders whether there would be "a mitigating plan for small businesses," especially for residents and businesses on Bedford and Grand avenues. A second community meeting will be held later this month. More details can be found here.
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Zaha

Cincinnati’s CAC to host a celebration of the life and work of Zaha Hadid
Zaha Hadid’s untimely death has triggered a global conversation surveying her work and status in the history of the discipline. A wealth of former educators, partners, and colleagues has illuminated Zaha’s professional body of work with deeply personal tributes. Their words help to break down her mystique for the rest of us, and perhaps add another dimension to a body of work that spans over three decades. Adding to the conversation is an upcoming event at the Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. The building is notably her first project in the United States, and has been called the first major museum in the United States to be designed by a female architect. Part panel discussion, part celebration, the event will be, according to CAC Director Raphaela Platow, an “afternoon of storytelling.” The program will survey Zaha’s work to the present, speculate on her firm’s future projects. Beyond this, a discussion of the CAC’s commission and construction promises to share stories of the famed architect’s working process. “Equity in Architecture—Zaha Hadid’s mentorship,” presented by Associate Dean of DAAP Patricia Kucker, will explore Zaha’s influence to architects worldwide as a woman that broke through barriers and challenged perceptions.
Platow said Hadid’s selection to design the CAC was aligned with their mission to celebrate cutting-edge work: “When our committee selected Zaha as the architect of The Rosenthal Center she had only successfully finished one building but her ideas, plans, models, and competition submissions where beyond remarkable; they were back then already showing a future path for architecture.” “Celebrating the Life and Work of Zaha Hadid” will be held at the Contemporary Arts Center on May 7th from 1:00-3:30pm. Free and open to the public. INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: EVENT SPEAKERS:
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Art and architecture highlights from Coachella

2016’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival kicked off this weekend in typical fashion: hit and under-sung musical acts playing late into the night, torturous sunshine interrupted by shade-giving monumental art. Amid the raucous tumult of teenagers and festival bros were a collection of large artworks commissioned specifically for the festival, running two weekends in a row. The seven monumental works by seven invited artists create interactive structures meant to complement the festival’s musical offerings and run the gamut from dank man caves to an ever-changing array of colorful balloons floating in the wind.

The Tower of Twelve Stories 📷: @robstok + @alliemtaylor

A photo posted by @coachella on

Takin a break from my normal thing(s) to shoot @coachella ! @goldenvoice @instagram Art = @0super A photo posted by Jeff Frost (@frostjeff) on
Jimenez Lai brings his The Tower of Twelve Stories to Coachella, a 52-foot-tall sectional model made up of a mess of stacked platonic bubbles. Inspired by the Lenoard Cohen song, “Tower of Song,” Lai’s work also takes inspiration from theories on the American skyscraper, from Rem Koolhaas’s notions of its genericism to Louis Sullivan’s prescriptions of classical proportioning for the type. The structure contains embedded lights and glows from within at night. Cuban artist Alexandre Arrechea’s Katrina Chairs utilize steel frames clad in plywood to create a sextet of bright yellow lawn chairs topped with stacks of Soviet-era, prefabricated apartment blocks. The monumental work takes its name from the disastrous storm that hit New Orleans in 2005 that gives the work resonant symbolism: it asks in surreal irony if one chair can hold an entire community above water. Phillp L. Smith’s Portals uses mirrored members to create a 85-foot-wide circular room around a large tree. This room is punctuated by fluorescently lit Space and Light era-inspired geometric niche sculptures. A planter containing the tree comes with incorporated seating. Wife and husband team Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis from Latvia repurpose scrapped wood and other building materials to create their two-storied The Armpit, an homage to the Latvian equivalent of the “man cave.” The installation fetishizes Latvian male’s tendency to crave time alone in the garage and upends a traditionally masculine space by allowing the view to peer into the cave and observe scenes of male solitude and domestic intimacy. Architecture-trained Argentine artists Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt take inspiration from the Mexican bolero song, ¡Bésame Mucho!, for their silk flower-clad monumental text sculpture of the same name. Coachella-based artists Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez, collaborating as The Date Farmers, evoke the Mexican migrant farm worker with their work, Sneaking into the Show, a Chicano Art-inspired totem showcasing a duo of migrant workers and their plow.

#goldenhour 📷: @erubes1

A photo posted by @coachella on

  Lastly, Robert Bose’s Balloon Chain utilizes variously colored balloons strung together with attached LED lights to create a responsive amorphous sculpture that billows along with the hot desert winds.  
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White Dove or White Elephant?
On March 3, Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transit Hub opened with much anticipation and mixed reviews. AN reached out to New York’s architects, designers, and engineers to hear their thoughts on the structure. “Gliding through the bleached and sanitized carcass of Santiago Calatrava’s new transit hub is an uncanny experience. Its gleaming white halls are luxury conduits connecting the PATH and subways to several key consumption-and-speculation nodes of Lower Manhattan: The offices of Condé Nast, the WTC observatory at One World Trade Center, the shops at Brookfield Place, and a new shopping center in Calatrava’s above-ground “Oculus.” All of this is held up by rough-surfaced, exposed, bone-like structural supports. In other words, it is a cross between an Apple Store and the Dinosaur Hall at the Museum of Natural History. A generous observer of the space might imagine that the hub’s skeletal uncanniness has a critical quality, that it might lay bare the surrealism of inequality in today’s Manhattan; that even our most fervently styled immersions in consumption, connectivity, and convenience can’t forestall death in the form of slow digestion by an alien animal. (We could even imagine this as the inverse of what once happened at the site: Before the first World Trade Center was built, the district housed the meat and vegetable vendors of the Washington Market. We digested them, now they digest us?) I suspect that might be too generous though. You would have to set aside the pretentiousness and poor scale of the Oculus above ground. And then there’s the unavoidable symbolic misfire of such casual and surreal reminders of death on a site of recent carnage. Perhaps this might have made a decent upgrade for Penn Station (and its slimness could work on that site, wedged on a closed 33rd Street). But, at the site of the former WTC, the symbolism of a skeletal building is astoundingly off. Nonetheless it is difficult to discount the power of being in such a clean, well-lit transit space. For a moment I felt I was in Europe, in a place where infrastructure is taken seriously, and where public spaces receive real architectural attention. What if a New York subway platform had even a fifth of the gleam as the Hub’s PATH platform? What if the state funds directed to the Port Authority for this project had gone to the MTA instead? The hub’s [two billion] cost overruns may have scared off public officials who might otherwise push for bold architectural approaches to public space. But how could the Hub’s gleaming corridors make us hungry for more sophisticated infrastructural architecture? What if this was just one of many redesigned and renewed public spaces in New York, serving not just as bait for corporations and tourist attractions, but for all of us?” — Meredith TenHoor, associate professor of architecture, Pratt Institute “Though a favorite animal has always been the porcupine Though Jersey residents deserve a ceremonial Manhattan welcome Though prayers go up every trip through 1909 trans-Hudson tubes Though grateful that Rockefeller threw the PATH train a bone in exchange for building World Trade When we see people squeeze themselves on the escalator shelf Public space built to deny its public Like hired help at someone else’s white party Making way before incessant marble sweeping and recorded announcements: “Escalators are for passengers only, always hold children by the hand” Or maybe communal residents in St. Petersburg palaces You have easy targets for dismissing architecture’s potential for the universe Multibillion architectural Leviathans on Ground Zero stage Quasi-public funds spent quasi- democratically At least Calatrava’s dove got away” — Hector Design Service “Writing about Calatrava’s WTC PATH station as though it is new is odd. It is certainly not new to anyone who has lived or worked in lower Manhattan over the past four years. Point of fact: The spiky terminal is actually starting to feel familiar. When it was new to the block, the protruding ribs were steel gray and the multiple welded seams were easily visible to the naked eye. Now it’s white and seamless. We are getting used to its strangeness, a familiar fate for lengthy projects—culture changes faster than the construction schedule of an iconic public work. This familiar view aligns with the fact that the public’s experience of most iconic structures is focused on the outside. Here, the outside is the inside and there is a betting chance that the inside will exceed the impact of its exterior form.” — Claire Weisz, architect, WXY “No wound can be healed by a sugarcoated monument to excess that is disconnected from the trains below and pretends to fly. It is embarrassed by the intestinal complexity of our infrastructure and our lives, thinking of New York as a World’s Fair. The pain of losing the twins is only magnified. Yet this is not simply a big mistake by a big name in a big town. The mistake was the idea of inviting such a designer to this site, the idea that we need to be distracted, and the misdiagnosis that we needed an overwhelming visual anesthetic.” — Mark Wigley, professor, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation “Most of today’s criticism regarding the very large budget of the World Trade Center PATH station is intrinsically related to 9/11, local political problems, and Hurricane Sandy. We can’t blame Santiago Calatrava for any of these events, but some of his design choices seem out of place. He demanded column-free spaces and well-crafted steel parts, which, while they did impact the budget, resulted in favor of a better public space. How the large interior will be used is not yet known, but its iconic value, as well as unique character will be cherished by New Yorkers soon. The fact that a third of the steel had to be manufactured in Italy simply shows us that North America’s construction industry is embarrassingly far behind technologically. However, Calatrava should have reconsidered the design of the Transit Hub after he knew that his operable roof would not be feasible. This is not the first time an architect or engineer has encountered such a situation and good designers ought to be nimble enough to alter the narrative or design strategy of a project when value engineering becomes a new reality. The visual metaphor of a pigeon taking off may well have significant symbolic value for the site, but once the kinetic aspect of the project disappears, one is reminded of Icarus and his unfortunate predicament. The cantilevering steel members appear far more gratuitous now that the structure is arrested in a non-dynamic state. There is no question that New York gained a high-end transportation terminal next to one of its most important memorials and is ready for increasing numbers of commuters to and from New Jersey. Whether its commuters really needed to be bathed in marble remains to be answered. It was an expensive endeavor with a complex history, but it also yielded an amazing new public space for the city.” — Duks Koschitz, associate professor of architecture, Pratt Institute “It’s a great space for future fascist rallies. I envision the room filled with dupes raising their right hands. Yet the aspiration to elevate the public sphere, elsewhere missing, is also here. Some might say, “The space is a little too slick for Trump I’m afraid.” But you could easily chintz it up with some gold leaf and little-fingered slogans.” — Stephen Zacks, urban critic and journalist
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34 Nations to submit works for the Inaugural 2016 London Design Biennale
Despite having an established pedigree within the creative world, London has never had its own Biennal(e)—or even Triennale, for that matter. This year however, the city is opening the Inaugural 2016 London Design Biennale, showcasing work from 34 participating countries around the theme of Utopia by Design. Set to be hosted at Somerset House, a former royal palace on the Strand in central London, the Biennale will run from September 7 to 27 this year. On display will be installations curated by leading design institutions from around the world. Participating bodies include USA's Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, DAMnation (Belgium), German Design Council, Moscow Design Museum (Russia), Triennale Design Museum (Italy), India Design Forum, Southern Guild (South Africa), The Japan Foundation, and Victoria and Albert Museum (UK). Other participating nations will be: Albania, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Chile, Croatia, France, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, and Turkey. Judging the contributions will be an an international advisory committee and jury comprised of established figures within the industry who will "award medals to the Biennale’s most significant national contributions." “We are delighted to announce the first ever London Design Biennale to be held at Somerset House," said Dr. Christopher Turner, Director of the Biennale. "500 years after the publication of Sir Thomas More’s classic, we are inviting countries to interrogate the contentious theme, Utopia by Design. These responses will demonstrate the power design has not only to strike up and inform debate, but also as a catalyst: provoking real change by suggesting inspiring or cautionary futures. Alongside the exhibition there will be an ambitious talks programme bringing together the very best international thinkers, and I hope that the Biennale will become a laboratory of ideas that might, in their way, contribute to making the world a better place.” London Mayor Boris Johnson also added: "Just as the London Olympic and Paralympic Games brought the world together through sport, they also inspired it through design, with Barber and Osgerby’s elegant torches and Heatherwick’s kinetic cauldron – a great unifying convergence of nations in fire and copper. In autumn 2016 the London Design Biennale will attract designers, as well as visitors, from all around the world for a vigorous exchange of ideas and ingenuity—the currency of London’s important and world-leading creative economy.”
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Hudson Yards Is Reshaping NYC's Skyline and Streetscape
New York City's waterfront Hudson Yards development is a big deal—literally. The largest private real estate development in the history of the United States, the project comprises 17 million square feet of commercial and residential space and 14 acres of public open space. Hudson Yards is having "a catalytic effect in terms of kicking off an entire new neighborhood," said Related Companies' Michael Samuelian. (Related and Oxford Properties Group have partnered with a number of high-profile architecture firms to design and build the project.) "We don't just focus on a building, but on the relationships between buildings—the spaces between the buildings themselves are just as important." Samuelian and KPF's William Pedersen, whose firm is designing three skyscrapers for Hudson Yards, will deliver up-to-date information on the work in progress at next month's Facades+NYC conference. Hudson Yards promises to reshape the city on multiple scales. On the larger end, "the development of Hudson Yards fills a void in Manhattan's fabric which has prevented the city from having a dialogue with the Hudson River," explained Pedersen. Related commissioned a wide slate of architects "to purposely create variety and juxtaposition, which is the dominant characteristic of Manhattan's iconic skyline," he said. As important as Hudson Yards' impact on New York City's skyline, said Samuelian, is its capacity to create a welcoming streetscape. "We put considerable effort into ensuring we have warm, appropriate materials below 150 feet," he said. "Each building changes as it comes down to grade to give civility to the skyscrapers, to make them more humane participants in the street life of the city." Pedersen concurred. "The dominant characteristic of our buildings is their gestural capacity," he said. "They do not stand in isolation but rather seek an active relationship with every aspect of the context they engage, including the pedestrian on the street." Catch up with Samuelian, Pedersen, and other AEC industry leaders reshaping New York's built environment at Facades+NYC. Register today to secure your space at the symposium and in a lab or dialog workshop of your choice.
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Mayor de Blasio's $2.75-per-ride ferry service to begin summer 2017
Expanding on the East River Ferry system, Mayor de Blasio will see his $55 million plan for a five borough ferry network come to fruition summer 2017.  At $2.75-a-ride, the system will be managed and operated by a California company, Hornblower, that has a proven track record in the industry, having run services in New York for ten years. Currently, the ferry caters to Manhattan residents and those on the shoreline between DUMBO, Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens. The network will be expanded to escort people to Astoria, Queens; Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn; and the Rockaways, Queens. Come 2018, Soundview will service the Upper and Lower East Side. Another proposal looks to extend the service further to Staten and Coney Island, though no completion date has yet been penned in. The cost of a ferry trip will align with the price of a single subway ride. Bicycles may be carried on for an extra dollar. This is less than half of what it costs for a standard weekend ferry fare at the moment. Such a pricing scheme is no accident, either, as de Blasio has his eyes on integrating the network with the rest of the MTA system. According to de Blasio, commuters will be able to enjoy the "fresh air, harbor views, and a fast ride on the open water" on the 20-minute journey between Astoria and Manhattan's East 34th Street, as well as being able to make the most of the ferry on the hour-long commute between the Rockaways and Wall Street. “Today I applaud Mayor de Blasio for his $55 million capital commitment to a 5-borough ferry system and declaring that New York City’s waterfront will be open for all. The ripple effect from this service will be felt throughout the entire city from Bay Ridge to Bayside; from Staten Island to Soundview,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile. “Access to a true 5-borough ferry system will be just another jewel to add to our crown here in southwest Brooklyn, one that will be a boon to small businesses and real estate alike.”
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Last stop! Subway cars dumped into the Atlantic to create artificial reef
At first glance, this may look like state-funded environmental pollution: New York's Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) regularly dumps unwanted subway cars into the Atlantic. However, these New York City subway cars are now a happy home for fish. The MTA aims to create artificial marine environments, similar to those created by sunken ships, that will foster aquatic life. While most of this activity has gone under the radar, the MTA has been dumping subway cars since the turn of the 21st century. To date, after ten years worth of dumping, 2,400 subway cars currently lie on the ocean floor. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPzRibWesyo Man-made reefs are nothing new, either. U.S. fishermen have engaged in the practice since the 1830s using structures of logs joined together. Turning relics to reefs with other refuse quickly followed; now unwanted subway cars turn the barren stretches of the eastern Atlantic seaboard into thriving habitats. The subway car shells create surfaces upon which oysters, clams, barnacles, and vegetation can live and grow. They also provide useful hiding places for fish that would otherwise be easy prey in the open ocean, all of which is good news for local fishermen. The move from the MTA appears to be a stroke of financial genius, too. While dumping subway cars into the ocean is convenient, the nonprofit Ocean City Reef Foundation has also paid $600 per car to ship them 30-hours away from NYC and create the reef. So far, six states have jumped on the bandwagon, and Michael Zacchea, director of the MTA Artificial Reef Program, describes it as "the ultimate form of recycling." Additionally, Jeff Tinsman, Delaware's reef program coordinator, has stated that fishing activity has seen a 30,000 percent increase in the vicinity of the artificial reefs. Myrtle Beach is a hotspot for the subway cars: that's where the MTA unceremoniously dumps them off a barge with the help of a mechanical arm. Now at their final final stop, they'll lay there for approximately 40 years with some cars having been in service just 10 days prior. Despite the project's praise and apparent success, there has been skepticism, notably from the National Resources Defense Council. They say the scheme has "less to do with conserving fish than saving and making money. Sport fishers and divers have actively lobbied for artificial reefs for the fish and tourism dollars they can attract. And, by donating old equipment to the cause, private industries and governments save millions of dollars." "You can basically put anything in the ocean and call it a reef as long as it stays there," says scientist Kristin Milligan. It's also worth mentioning Osborne Reef catastrophe, which saw thousands of car tires dumped with good intentions, ultimately required cleanup by the U.S. military.
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State of the City
The fabric of New York—from shoreline to skyline—is getting a thread-count upgrade, much of it due to the success of ongoing projects like Vision Zero, coastal resiliency efforts, and a spate of new public ventures coming down the pike. In his annual State of the City address in early February, Mayor Bill de Blasio championed accomplishments from 2015 and shed light on what’s to come: New Yorkers will see projects and policies that could facilitate new commutes, provide civic and green spaces in the outer boroughs, and reshape neighborhood density via rezoning. Streets and Shores
Two large-scale, controversial rezoning proposals, Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning For Quality and Affordability (ZQA), reached the City Council early February. Councilmembers heard public testimony for and against the measures, which are intended to increase the amount of affordable housing and create more interesting streetscapes in exchange for increased density in special districts. The full Council will vote on the proposals—the most sweeping zoning changes since 1961—in March.
Rezoning may change the look of the streets, and it’s almost guaranteed more pedestrians would be around to see it. Since the launch of Vision Zero three years ago, traffic fatalities have fallen annually, with a drop of almost nine percent between last year and 2014. (Although City Hall may not want readers to know that traffic-related injuries spiked by more than 2,000 incidents in the same period.)
The initiative is New York City’s version of an international campaign to end traffic-related deaths through better street design and harsher penalties for traffic offenders, and it has a record-setting $115 million budget for 2016. More than a quarter of that money (plus $8.8 million from the NYC Department of Transportation’s capital budget) will go to road improvements in Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens, especially at busy nodes along main thoroughfares Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue.
The low-lying neighborhoods are some of many flood-prone areas that will benefit from the $20 billion in climate-change-resiliency measures that launched following Hurricane Sandy. Included in that figure is a massive project coming out of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design competition to protect Manhattan from rising seas. The City has selected AECOM to lead the design and build of these coastal resiliency measures, formerly known as the Dryline (and before that, BIG U). The project team includes Dewberry, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ONE Architecture. BIG and ONE provided the original vision for the 10-mile-long project, and are now working on Phase One, the $335 million East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. That phase, which should go into constriction next year, deploys a series of berms and floodwalls from East 23rd Street to Montgomery Street on the island’s Lower East Side. Phase Two extends the project from Montgomery Street around the tip of Manhattan up to Harrison Street in Tribeca. Although those ten miles of coastline could be safer, the other 510 would still have a lot to fear from global warming. Fortunately, the Department of Design and Construction’s Build It Back RFP is having an immediate impact on those who lost homes to Sandy. By last October, the program, which rebuilds homes ravaged in the 2012 hurricane, broke ground on around 1,900 projects and finished construction on 1,200 others.
Targeted Reinvestment The recovery impetus extends beyond the property line and out into neighborhoods. In his speech, the mayor singled out three outer-borough neighborhoods—Ocean Hill–Brownsville, the South Bronx, and Far Rockaway—for targeted reinvestment. Civic architecture often heralds or spurs financial interest, and these neighborhoods happen to be the sites of three public projects by well-known architects in plan or under construction. Studio Gang is designing a 20,000-square-foot Fire Department of New York station and training facility in Ocean Hill–Brownsville in Brooklyn, while BIG is designing a new NYPD station house in Melrose in the Bronx. In Queens, far-out Far Rockaway, battered by Sandy and isolated from the rest of the city by a long ride on the A train, is anticipating both a $90.3 million, Snøhetta-designed public library and $91 million in capital funds for improvements in its downtown on main commercial roads like Beach 20th Street. On and Beyond the Waterfront In New York, a trip to the “city” is a trip to Manhattan. This idea, however, doesn’t reflect how New Yorkers traverse the city today: Older, Manhattan-centric commuting patterns at the hub are becoming outmoded as development intensifies in the outer boroughs. It’s estimated that this year bike-sharing service Citi Bike will have 10 million rides. The system is adding 2,500 bikes in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens to accommodate the increased ridership. The East River ferry service will begin this year, knitting the Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan waterfronts together in patterns not seen since the 1800s. Along the same waterway, the project that’s raised the most wonder (and ire) is the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX), a streetcar line that would link 12 waterfront neighborhoods from Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to Astoria, Queens. The project proposal comes from a new nonprofit, Friends of the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (FBQX), which first surfaced in January of this year. Its founders include the heads of transportation advocacy and policy groups Regional Plan Association and Transportation Alternatives; directors of neighborhood development groups; and real estate professionals like venture capitalist Fred Wilson and Helena Durst of the Durst Organization. The full plan, commissioned by FBQX and put together by consultants at New York–based engineering and transportation firm Sam Schwartz, is not available to the public, although the company’s eponymous president and CEO shed some light on the plan with AN. “Within an area that has so many [transit] connections, what we are addressing is transit that goes north–south,” explained Schwartz. His firm’s plan calls for a 17-mile route that roughly parallels the coastline, dipping inland to link up to hubs like Atlantic Terminal and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At a projected cost of $1.7 billion, why not choose the bus, or bus rapid transit (BRT)? The team considered five other options before deciding on the streetcar, Schwartz explained. “The projected ridership is over 50,000 [passengers] per day, while ridership for the bus and BRT maxes out at 35,000 to 40,000 per day.” Streetcars, Schwartz elaborated, can make fine turns on narrow streets, reducing the risk for accidents. They will travel at 12 miles per hour in lanes separate from other traffic, and, to minimize aesthetic offense and flood-damage risk, overhead catenaries will not be used.
Although sources tell AN that the city has a copy of the plan, City Hall spokesperson Wiley Norvell denied any relationship between de Blasio’s streetcar proposal and the plan commissioned by FBQX. (Although it’s not unusual for the city to consider the recommendations put forth by outside groups: In 2014, the city adopted many of the Vision Zero recommendations created by Transportation Alternatives.)
Norvell stated that the city’s plan calls for a $2.5 billion, 16-mile corridor that will be financed outside of the auspices of the (state-funded and perpetually cash-strapped) Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) using a value-capture model. The streetcar line’s success, essentially, is predicated on its ability to raise surrounding property values. The increased tax revenues, he explained, could be plowed back into a local development corporation, which would then use the funds to capitalize the project. Critics wonder why the streetcar is being privileged over other initiatives, such as the Triboro RX proposal, a Utica Avenue subway extension, and the not-completely-funded Second Avenue subway, that would serve more straphangers. Though a fare-sharing system could be brokered with the MTA to enhance multimodal connectivity, critics point out that the streetcar line’s proposed stops are up to a half mile from subway stations, bypassing vital connections between the J/M/Z and L. The Hills on Governors Island Are Alive and Ahead of Schedule With a growing population and growing need for more parks, the city is looking to develop underutilized green space within its borders. The Hills, a landscape on Governors Island designed by West 8 and Mathews Nielsen, is set to finish nearly one year ahead of schedule. The news coincided with the mayor’s announcement that the island, a former military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, will now be open to the public year-round. The city has invested $307 million in capital improvements to ready 150 acres of the island for its full public debut. Forty-eight new acres of parkland (including the Hills) will open this year. The Innovation Cluster, a 33-acre business incubator and educational facility that builds on the example of Cornell University’s campus extension on Roosevelt Island, will bring several million new square feet of educational, commercial, cultural, research, and retail space to the island’s south side. The Trust for Governors Island, a nonprofit dedicated to stewarding and capitalizing on the island’s assets, will release an RFP to develop the vacant land and historic district by the end of this year, and construction could begin as early as 2019.