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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.
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Cincinnati’s century-old abandoned rapid-transit rail project
Beginning as early as the 1880s, and continuing through the 1920s, a 16-mile rapid-transit rail project was conceived in Cincinnati, entering a construction phase that to this day remains incomplete. At the time, Cincinnati was one of the top 10 most populated cities and urban congestion was at an extreme capacity. An underground subway was proposed, replacing an aging canal system, connecting downtown with its surrounding urban neighborhoods. The proposed system facilitated an interurban transportation network incorporating nine suburban electric railroads that transferred passengers to streetcars servicing downtown. The project has been called the “The Cousin of Boston's Red Line” by transit experts and, if completed, would have been one of the few pre-WWII subways in the country, joining similar east coast systems still in operation to this day. Complex political, economic, and social forces caused the project to be ultimately cancelled in 1928. “Throughout the project, State and Federal law kept interfering with what Cincinnati wanted to do,” says researcher and documentary photographer Jake Mecklenborg in an interview with historian Dan Hurley. Local politics didn’t help the project either. As post-war inflation caused lingering project costs to double, political leadership was transformed from a notoriously corrupt regime to a new political party which sought to differentiate itself by symbolically rejecting the project through divisive rhetoric and policy. In total, six stations along 11 miles of the system were constructed, but no track was laid and no subway cars were ordered. About 75 percent of the original construction—nearly everything above ground—has deteriorated to the point of collapse, or was demolished for highway infrastructure in the 1950s, a quarter century after being constructed. A two-mile stretch under downtown Cincinnati remains, linking three stations. The downtown tunnels are continuously maintained due to continual overhead vehicular traffic, and their adopted use as underground utility tunnels. The final cost to the city, at just over $13 million, was more than double the initial bond issue voted for by the electorate in 1916, and was not paid off until 1966. Perhaps the most interesting aspect to living with abandoned subway tunnels is the variety of alternative uses they inspire. The Liberty Street station was converted to a nuclear fallout shelter in the 1960s. Mecklenborg reports the shelter had radio gear and a phone system installed: “up until around 1990 this phone actually worked, and apparently tunnel vandals could make free calls. I have received several e-mails regarding the phone—one claimed that a pizza was ordered, and another said a buddy called his girlfriend in Paris.” A few of the most noteworthy attempts at reuse (most of which never succeeded due to logistical and/or legal issues) include:
  • Underground utility tunnels
  • Religious catacombs
  • Underground freight train delivery to downtown businesses
  • Underground winery with locally produced wine cellar storage
  • Experimental wind tunnel
  • Music festival location
  • Movie set location (Batman Forever)
  • Various light rail schemes
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The Port Authority declines to celebrate the grand opening of the world's most expensive train station
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has declined to celebrate the March grand opening of the Santiago Calatrava–designed World Trade Transportation Hub. Why is the agency snubbing its own baby? Because it's monstrously over-budget. The $4 billion taxpayer-financed project cost $1.8 billion more than expected, and construction extended years over schedule. These issues have dogged Calatrava personally and professionally, and cast a shadow on his otherwise bright reputation. Pat Foye, the Port Authority's executive director, told POLITICO New York that the project's been a fiscal fiasco from the start: “Since I arrived here, I have been troubled with the huge cost of the Hub at a time of limited resources for infrastructure so I’m passing on the [now-cancelled opening] event.” The Hub is expected to serve 100,000 daily passengers, far fewer than the Port Authority Bus Terminal (230,000), Grand Central (750,000), and Penn Station (906,708). In a follow up statement, Foye was unequivocal about what New York's newest piece of public infrastructure represents to him: “The thing is a symbol of excess.”   In an interview with AN last year, Calatrava delineated the project's design goals and ethos behind the Hub:
I tried from the very beginning to do that whole network of connections extending from the oculus as a single unit. So the character of the structural members you can see with the ribs, and a certain character in the paving, and a certain character in the front of the shops is already delivering a character that a person will see all the way through. So if you are in the oculus or the mezzanine, or in the other corridors to Liberty Street or the other internal streets towards Liberty Plaza, or towards Wall Street or towards Fulton, all these areas are marked with the same character. My goal is to create a space where as soon as I arrive in the transportation hub I know I am in the transportation hub, no matter what corner I enter from. Also, something that the corridor delivers is a sense of quality of spaces. I have built seven of the major transportation hubs in Europe, in Lisbon, in Lyon, in Zurich, in Italy, and so on. Getting out of this experience, it’s very important to create places of quality, because people behave according to that. You see after all the enormous effort to bring all the subways and the trains to this place and see to maintain the service through all the construction—why shouldn’t these places have a certain material and structural quality that you can enjoy in a day-to-day way, not just commuters but visitors who arrive in this place. I think the station will match with the tradition in New York of great infrastructural works, as you see today in Grand Central and in the former Penn Station. If it had not been demolished it would be recognized as one of the greatest stations worldwide. I hope people can see some of these material qualities in the East/West corridor.
On the eve of the opening, New York architecture critics are divided on the aesthetic and functional value of the Hub. AN toured the Hub this afternoon, so check back here for our assessment. In the meantime, picture Calatrava riding a Zamboni, polishing the smooth white Italian marble floors world's most expensive train station.
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Sou Fujimoto and David Chipperfield among others tasked with "Reinventing Paris"
As part of a master plan comprising 23 sites across ParisSou Fujimoto, David Chipperfield, and 20 others have been named as winners involved in responding the the Mayor's call to "reinvent Paris." "A city like Paris must be able to reinvent itself at every moment in order to meet the many challenges facing it. Particularly in terms of housing and everything relating to density, desegregation, energy and resilience," said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris. "It is important in today's world to find new collective ways of working that will give shape to the future metropolis." The scheme was launched last year at the start of November, and has prompted many architects and developers to submit plans for the 23 sites across the city. Ranging from empty brownfield sites, polluted wastelands, classified mansions, office renovations, and train stations, Hidalgo's plan has been hailed by many with French publication Talerma going so far as to call it a "stroke of genius." Despite the number of changes, one of the 23 sites, an 1880 neo-Gothic former Korean Embassy-turned-mansion has been left neglected. The judges deemed that no proposal (barely any were submitted) was worthy of construction and so the ageing structure will be left untouched on the Avenue De Villiers. The same cannot be said for the Messana railway station, however. Given the unusual location and former typology, many were inspired to make it their own and judges were spoilt for choice. The winning submission came from Lina Ghotmeh DGT Architects who transformed the space into a healthy eating haven. Including a rooftop vegetable garden, a laboratory for agroecosystem research, gardening classrooms, residences for young chefs, bar, and, of course, restaurant. Other notable winning submissions came from British architect David Chipperfield and Sou Fujimoto from Japan. Working alongside Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, Chipperfield will "reinvent" the Immeuble Morland, a 164-foot tall once state-owned building that lies on the river Seine. The mixed-use program will include a swimming pool, ground floor food market, gym, a hotel, offices, a creche, youth hostel, and set aside 53,800 square feet for social housing. The top floor will also offer panoramic bar and restaurant. Fujimoto, meanwhile, collaborated with revered French product designer Philippe Starck and Manal Rachdi of OXO Architectes. Fujimoto's project will stretch across the Boulevard Périphérique, by the Palais des Congrès de Paris and offer what appears to be a densely packed green roof. Like Chipperfield, Fujimoto dedicated a large portion of his project to social housing. In fact, this will assume 30 percent of the development that will also offer office space, a community center, kindergarten, and play area. The projects are set to cost over $1.46 billion and return $634 million in revenue to the city through the sale or long-term leasing of land. In addition to this, 2,000 over the course of three years are expected to be generated via construction alone.
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BIG in the Bronx
Courtesy BIG

New York’s Finest will soon have BIG digs in the Bronx. Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) is designing a three-story, 59-foot-tall, 43,500-square-foot station house for the 40th Precinct in the Bronx’s Melrose neighborhood.

The 40th Precinct includes three South Bronx neighborhoods: Mott Haven, Port Morris, and Melrose. The squad will move out of its current location, a 1922 three-story Renaissance Revival station house, and into a new home on a city-owned lot bounded by East 149th Street, Saint Ann’s, Westchester, and Brook avenues.

The community space in the station has a perforated facade that signals openness and accessibility.

The Department of Design and Construction’s (DDC) set strict standards for police station design that provided the parameters. “Where the station houses of the early 1900s reflect an architectural language of fortification and stronghold, the design of the later 20th century clearly aims to express a sense of civic engagement,” explained Ingels. “Independent of era, all precinct designs reflect a sense of solidity and durability, and we tried to evoke this same robustness in the 40th.” Formally, this resulted in stacked boxes, or “bricks,” that reference New York’s classic redbrick police stations, and each programmatic element is meted out into its own rectangular space. There are four different-sized rectangular volumes per floor (except for the basement level) stacked irregularly with gaps in-between to create circulation spaces. According to Ingels, the team spent much of the schematic design phase working out the relationship between these volumes: “The building is essentially a physical manifestation of programmatic relationships.” Segregation of function is intrinsic to the plan, but potentially detrimental to the overall harmony of the building. A three-story atrium is a central organizing principle that diffuses this compartmentalization by visually connecting programs, allowing total surveillance from the main desk, and channeling light into the building’s core.

The station house entrance on St. Ann’s Avenue. In keeping with the NYPD’s philosophy of community policing, the public entrance beckons from the street, fostering connectivity between the precinct and the people it serves.

For security purposes, “glazing occurs only when the volumes are pushed back from the perimeter facades, affording protected views of the street below.” At street level, setbacks created by the layered volumes make entrances and exits legible. On the upper floors, the setbacks allow for large windows, removed from the street.

The building is sensitive to its context and the awkward site provided additional design constraints. Flush with St. Ann’s Avenue to the east, an abandoned, below-grade freight line swoops in from the north to bisect the parcel, turning what should be a roughly rectangular site into a right triangle fused to a hexagon. The station house sits within the hexagon, at the corner of St. Ann’s Avenue and East 149th Street, while the rest of the site is devoted to parking.


Looking to its neighborhood, the design communicates a desire to improve community-police relations. A multipurpose community meeting room sits adjacent to the main lobby. Nestled into the building but accessed through a separate entrance, the space is the first of its kind for the NYPD. Ingels noted that the facade communicates the department’s desire for openness. “We’ve detailed the precast such that small glazed openings read as a perforation of the larger panelized system. The perforation here calls attention to the special function of this particular building block, but also allows for a transparency that is essential to the way NYPD and the City of New York are conceiving of this new type of public space.”


Streetscaping around the lot’s perimeter will further integrate the site into the community. A sawtooth oak at the site’s southeastern corner, for example, will be the basis for a street planting scheme of the same trees. Two existing cottonwoods will provide ample shade for the larger lot. New York–based Starr Whitehouse Landscape Architects led the site design.

The DDC, New York City’s primary capital construction project manager, often commissions high-profile firms for civic projects. The department chose to implement a modified version of BIG’s 2014 stormwater protection plan for Manhattan as the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project (which Starr Whitehouse also collaborated on). It tapped Steven Holl Architects to design a library in Hunter’s Point, Queens, that broke ground last May, while Snøhetta was commissioned for the recently completed construction of new public spaces in Times Square. The DDC also picked Dattner Architects and WXY to design the Department of Sanitation garage and adjacent crystal-shaped salt storage shed that opened late last year.

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Governor Cuomo unveils ambitious plans to overhaul New York's Penn Station
The lead-up to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State address feels like a government-backed encore of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Instead of lords a-leaping and swans a-swimming, Cuomo brings infrastructure upgrades a-plenty in his 2016 Agenda. The governor promised funds to the Gateway and East Side Access tunnels, the Javits Center, new Metro-North stations in the Bronx, the MTA (wi-fi a-comin'!), and an airport on Long Island. Arguably the biggest proposal is the Empire State Complex, a $3 billion redevelopment of New York City's Penn Station and its surroundings. The plan seeks to make Penn Station, which sits beneath Madison Square Garden, less of a hellhole—nice, even. Built to accommodate 200,000 daily riders, the station now serves 650,000 people per day. Channeling public sentiment, the governor ripped on Penn Station in his announcement. "Penn station is un-New York. It is dark, constrained, ugly, a lost opportunity, a bleak warren of corridors. [It's] a miserable experience and a terrible first impression." The governor's plan calls for enhancing connectivity between the station and the street; providing wi-fi; and reducing congestion by widening existing corridors, creating better wayfinding, and improving ticketing areas. As hinted at in previous proposals, the massive, neoclassical James A. Farley Post Office, at Eighth Avenue between 31st and 33rd streets, could be converted into the "Moynihan Train Hall," a sun-drenched waiting area for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit, and MTA passengers. A pedestrian tunnel underneath Eighth Avenue will connect the train hall with the main station. With this 210,000-square-foot addition, the size of the station will increase by 50 percent. The governor reviewed possible redesign scenarios. In one, Madison Square Garden Theater would be demolished to make way for a block-long entrance to Penn Station, facing the post office. In another, a glassy entrance, with skylights, would be constructed on 33rd Street. The street would be closed and converted into a pedestrian plaza. A third, more minimal scenario would add entrances at street corners and mid-block. In 2013, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) hosted a competition to rethink Penn Station. MAS highlighted designs four firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture, SHoP Architects, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)—for an improved Penn Station. In addition to improved passenger flow, each proposal imagined the station as a civic hub and neighborhood anchor. The governor said that this would phase of the project would be completed first. The rest of the overhaul could be complete by 2019, an amazing feat in a city where infrastructure improvements can drag on for decades. The Empire State Development Corporation, the MTA, Amtrak and the LIRR will parter with private developers to spearhead the project. $2 billion will go towards the Empire State Complex, while $1 billion will go towards "retail development" on 7th and 9th avenues. $325 million is expected to come from state and federal governments. The rest of the project will be privately funded, in exchange of revenue generated by commercial and retail rents. Cuomo will be issuing invitations to private developers, with an April 2016 due date. Currently, Vornado Realty Trust manages land around Penn Station, though it's unclear whether this relationship will continue.
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Down by the River
River Point.
Courtesy Neoscape

With the recent opening of Ross Barney Architects’ public Riverwalk, Chicago is taking a much harder look at its “second shoreline.” Unlike the Lake Michigan public shoreline however, improvements to the riverbanks rely on developers, as most of the land is private. Unfortunately, since the city laid out its “Chicago River Corridor Design Guidelines and Standards” in 2005, there has been so little development along the river that only now is the city is getting a glimpse of its possible benefits. With the last two major projects along the rivers edge being the Trump Tower and 300 N. LaSalle, both finished in 2009, the city anxiously watches as private development along the river once again picks up. Now with three riverfront towers well under construction, and two more planned all around the convergence of the north, south, and main branches, the river is looking to be a much different place one year from now.

Already in full form is bKL Architecture’s Wolf Point West tower. The 500-foot-tall, 48-story residential tower is the smallest structure in the master plan by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and includes two taller towers and an improved public river walk. With 510 units, ranging from studios to three bedroom apartments, the balcony-laden tower is destined to become highly sought-after housing stock. Positioned on a small piece of land jutting out into the river, views to and from the tower are uninterrupted from almost all directions. Substantial completion is planned for years end, and it is already becoming hard to remember, or believe, that there was once a flat parking lot on the site.

150 North Riverside.

Courtesy Goettsch Partners


Also occupying a former riverfront parking lot is the quickly rising Pickard Chilton-designed River Point tower at 444 W. Lake Street. Across the river from Wolf Point, the 730-foot-tall office tower sits on axis with the main branch of the river looking east. Bucking the recent trend of concrete towers in the city, River Point is a steel structure that finds its form in intersecting parabolic curves. “The curves are a response to the river and the train tracks that run below the building, as well as the building’s relationship to 333 Wacker across the river,” Pickard Chilton design principal and Chicago native, Anthony Markese said. With both Ogilvie and Union train stations directly to the south, the site sees some of the busiest train traffic in the city. Now thanks to the building’s new plinth covering the tracks, the public will soon be able to access the river in front of the building on the recently finished 1.5-acre riverfront plaza. Markese described the project as something of a “tower in a park, in the middle of the city.” The west side of the building, along Canal Street, will also have public programing, including a triple-height glazed lobby, retail space, and the entrance to a two story restaurant that will extend through the plinth to the river-side of the building. The city will not have to wait long see the final form of the building, as it is scheduled to top out before years end.

150 North Riverside.

Courtesy Goettsch Partners


At 732 feet tall, the tallest of the three towers is the 150 N. Riverside Tower by Goettsch Partners, just to the south of River Point along the South branch of the river. Also a mostly-steel tower, Riverside comes down to the ground on an extremely slender site. Taken up mostly by the same rail tracks that traverse the River Point tower site, the lot has been vacant for nearly 50 years. Continuing with the theme of enhancing the river’s edge, a large green-roofed plinth will cap the tracks and hold a restaurant and public plaza. For the majority of the 51 stories, floor plates are cantilevered off of both sides of the elevator core to the east and west. In what will be possibly the largest of its kind, a 110-foot-tall glass fin wall will enclose the lobby on the west side of the building, sheltered under the cantilevering floorplates above. Besides the public outdoor space along the river and at the base of the tower, setbacks allow for private outdoor terraces at its upper levels.

Wolf Point West.
bKL Architecture

With no building allowed on the lakeshore, developers have finally seemed to realize that if they want to be near water, then the river is their best bet. With remediation underway to clean up the polluted water and extensive city-funded shore improvements, the river is quickly becoming the focus of the downtown. No longer are buildings turning their backs on the water, and more and more the public is being given easement across private plazas to get to its banks. With so much attention on the river, it is only a matter of time before people remember that the old symbol of Chicago, the circle inscribed Y found on so many public buildings and bridges, represents the branches of the river that were once so integral to the city.

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There's There There
The Oakland skyling in front of San Francisco.
Jesse Richmond / Flickr

Oakland is in the middle of an economic boom and major new developments have reignited old debates about who benefits from the city’s increasing prosperity. The dialogue recalls conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. In every chapter, the explorer describes a different, fantastic city, 55 in all. In time, it becomes apparent that Polo is describing different facets of the same city: Venice. Collectively, these individual interpretations come to define the city as a whole.

Developers see Oakland as a cheaper alternative to San Francisco. Last month, local 11WestPartners purchased Old Oakland, a ten-building, 225,000-square-foot office and retail complex between Broadway and 8th Street in the eponymous downtown neighborhood for $45.5 million. The 150-year-old set of buildings spans two city blocks. It’s unclear who the tenants will be.

Renderings of Uber's Gensler-designed Oakland headquarters.
Courtesy Steelblue

In 2014, Oakland initiated a (contentious) selection process for a developer to take ownership of the Beaux-Arts landmark Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, a city-owned property that’s been vacant since 2005. Competing interests used the convention center to anchor different visions of the city. Oakland-based Creative Development Partners proposed adding a 7,500-seat arena, theater, job training center, and a 15-story, 280-room hotel to the property. Residents feared that the hotel would block views of adjacent Lake Merritt. Emeryville-based Orton Development proposed converting the formerly public space into a commercial venue.

In July, the Oakland City Council picked Orton Development to spearhead a $52 million redevelopment of the center. Heller Manus Architects and landscape architects Hood Studio will lead the design teams. The upper floors of the 212,000-square-foot building will be converted into offices, while the ground floor tenant may be a manufacturer or brewery.

Meanwhile, apparently not satisfied with its 423,000-square-foot SHoP-designed space in Mission Bay, rideshare company Uber is expanding into Oakland’s old Sears building. For an estimated $40 million, Gensler will renovate the 380,000-square-foot department store off of the 19th Street BART Station, and rebrand the site as Uptown Station. By 2017, between two and three thousand employees will work out of this location. If all goes planned, Uber will be Oakland’s largest employer (aside from the government and area hospitals).

Interior Rendering of Uber's Gensler-designed Oakland headquarters.
Courtesy Steelblue

Though 20 percent of the company’s workforce lives in the East Bay, on Twitter, Oaklanders’ reactions to the Uber move were mostly negative. Susie Cagle (@susie_c) wryly tied together convergent social histories. “Oakland’s Uptown was the site of America’s last General Strike in 1946. Now it will host arguably one of America’s worst labor abusers.” User Gabe Wachob (@gwachob) had a suggestion to ease housing demand: “In the two years before Uber lands in Oakland, maybe it should build 1000 housing units within 30 min commute. Just an idea. #TooManyPeople.”

Anecdotal concerns around gentrification and displacement are borne out by neighborhood-level data. Analyzing home values and level of educational attainment as a proxy for gentrification, researchers from policy magazine Governing concluded that, of the 113 census tracts in Oakland, 24 tracts (29 percent of the total) were considered gentrifying between 2000 and 2010. In order to be considered gentrifying, median home values and household income had to fall in the bottom 40 percent within a metro area, and see an increase in the top third percentile for home values and proportion of adults with four year college degrees.

Longtime Oakland residents worry that newcomers are homogenizing what Mayor Libby Schaaf calls Oakland’s “secret sauce.” The secret sauce, Oakland’s Oaklandness, eludes precise description or categorization. Nevertheless, the city has a vision of itself that it will enact with the tools at its disposal: zoning, policy, and land use. In late August, the City of Oakland announced plans to revision its downtown, specifically along the 12th and 19th Street BART stations. The area is bounded by 27th Street to the east, Interstate 980 to the north, and the Oakland estuary to the south and east. A primary objective of this plan is to spur new development in the area.

To many residents’ dismay, the plan skirts the affordable housing issue. In response to critics, Schaaf pointed to a parallel city-backed study on the feasibility of impact fees that would offset the cost of building affordable housing.

Though it’s still in draft, stakeholders have come out in force for, and definitively against, this planned vision of Oakland. Like Marco Polo, Oaklanders define their shared city with contrasting likenesses and convergent possibilities.

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Contrary to popular belief, the sacred "T" in TOD may not be necessary for reduced car dependence
Urban planning credo states that, through design and policy interventions that improve access to public transportation, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) reduces car dependency and encourages individuals to walk, bike, bus, or take the train to their destination. Well, maybe. A University of California, Berkley study suggest that, for rail, the T in TOD may not be necessary to reduce car travel in neighborhoods that are dense and walkable, with scarce parking. fig1 In a study of rail transit's impact on travel patterns, Daniel Chatman, associate professor in the Department of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, challenged the assumption that easy access to rail leads to less reliance on cars (and subsequently lower rates of car ownership). Were there other factors at play, like narrower streets, good parking, wider sidewalks, and nearby destinations? Chatman received over 1,100 responses to a survey he sent to households living within a two-mile radius of ten New Jersey train stations, within commuting distance to Manhattan. Chatman asked residents about what type of house they lived in, on- and off-street parking availability, travel for work and leisure, residential location preferences, and household demographics. 30 percent of respondents lived in housing that was less than seven years old. Half lived within walking distance (0.4 miles) to rail, in TOD-designated and non-designated developments. Controlling for housing type, bus access, amount of parking, and population density, among other markers, the availability of on- and off-street parking, not rail access, was the key determinate in auto ownership and car dependence. The study asserts that "households with fewer than one off-street parking space per adult had 0.16 fewer vehicles per adult. Households with both low on- and off-street parking availability had 0.29 fewer vehicles per adult." Living in a new house near a train station, moreover, was correlated with a 27 percent lower rate of car ownership compared to residents further afield. Bus access was also key in determining car use. The number of bus stops within one mile of a residence is a good indicator of public transit accessibility, and there are usually more bus stops in denser areas. The study found that "doubling the number of bus stops within a mile radius around the average home was associated with 0.08 fewer vehicles per adult." Compared to areas with poor bus access and plentiful parking, car ownership was reduced by 44 percent when strong bus access converged with poor parking availability. To reduce car ownership and use, municipalities don't necessarily have to invest in rail. Reducing the availability of parking, providing better bus service, developing smaller houses (and more rentals), and creating employment centers in walkable, densely populated downtowns may accomplish the same objective, at considerably less expense.
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Genius Headquarters
Brooklyn firm Leeser Architecture renovated a Gowanus printing press to create a 43,000-square-foot office space for text annotation startup, Genius.
Courtesy Leeser Architecture

Tech startups, like birds of a feather, tend to flock to specific areas—migrating to such hubs as Silicon Valley, Silicon Beach, and the Brooklyn Tech Triangle. But, when the founders of Genius—an online platform that allows users to annotate lyrics texts—realized the company was outgrowing its warren of small offices in Williamsburg, they took a different route to find a more cohesive home for their expanding team of developers and editors. They did so by informally plotting the home location of their employees, and found that most of them were clustered around or near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, explained Russell Farhang, Genius’ director of operations. As they narrowed their search, they stumbled upon a fitting place for their own modern-day textual endeavor: an abandoned factory that was a printing press in a former life.

“We wanted to establish ourselves as an anchor in a community that isn’t known for anything such as tech. We chose our location more analytically than that,” explained Farhang. “It filled out the requirements we were looking for: great location, burgeoning in a good way, and the space itself is a lovely former industrial loft. And there is something very appropriate to our company—we are fascinated with texts so it is interesting to be in a former printing press.”


The company then tapped local firm Leeser Architecture to design the interiors of the new headquarters. Eschewing the popular open-office plan adopted by most startups, the founders asked for a mix of two- to three-person private offices and open workspace peppered with breakout areas and conference rooms. After experiencing the isolation and fragmentation of their prior offices, they wanted a more transparent and collaborative work environment, especially to facilitate dialogue between departments, while also providing “some privacy, and peace and quiet,” said Farhang. “We didn’t want an open plan office specifically for our developers, who need collaboration but also silence for creativity.”

The build-out not only had to include both private and shared workspace, it also needed to accommodate the projected growth of the company, which is expected to reach over 100 employees in the next few years.

“They needed flexibility and didn’t want everything set in stone,” added Thomas Leeser, principal of his eponymous firm. “As the company grows, the space will also be defined and grow with whatever the demands will be.”


Genius occupies four floors, totaling 43,000 square feet of the building. At the lower level (one beneath ground level), the company has a cafeteria and a large double-height performance space with a mezzanine—intended for hosting private and public events, exhibits, and concerts. “We also wanted a way to connect to the community. A place where we could actually build an assembly place for us and for the community,” said Farhang.

The L-shaped third and fourth floors contain private workstations on the periphery as well as several breakout areas outfitted with couches and coffee tables. Bookending one end of each floor is a large conference room, providing a more private place for board meetings or chatting with visiting artists. Fishbowl conference rooms and kitchen islands, made of polished chrome laminate, anchor the space and add a sleek counterpart to the lovely rough-hewn features of the building.

The renovation was an exercise in restraint: the ceiling, bricks, and wooden columns and beams were left exposed. “We want to keep the space as raw as possible. We didn’t want to lose that sort of rough old factory feeling,” said Leeser. “The idea was to change it as little as possible.”

Millwork Finish:

Glass Finish:
3M Dichroic Glass Finishes
Event Space Wall:
Acoustic Design Board
Task Chairs:
Vitra Physix
Conference Tables:
MDF Italia Tense

Leeser and his team employed minimal yet strategic design elements to enhance the overall space and maintain the interior’s industrial aesthetic. One such standout component is a special dichroic glass used for the outside of the bathrooms and conference rooms, which produces an enticing, rainbow-like mirage effect. Depending on the angle and time of day, the glass changes color, reflecting different light and movement. (The glass has been popular among employees for taking selfies.) The firm placed this glass in “spaces that needed to be kind of discreetly made invisible. That is what is great about this film, it doesn’t look like a wall,” said Leeser. “There is a mysterious beauty to it.”

Oversized LED tube lighting is suspended from the ceiling and serves, Leeser explained, as a “tongue-in-cheek play” on the florescent tubes that were originally found in warehouse buildings and a “reference to the stark factory environment.”

It has only been a few months since the employees at Genius settled into their new digs, but already they’ve noticed some changes in the office culture and workflow.

“Now it is really interesting to walk around and see developers coding and building new things. It makes people more cognizant of what every teams’ priorities are,” said Nat Guevara, senior communications officer at Genius. “At a startup, things change everyday and so now we don’t have to wait until the company lunch on Friday [to find out what is happening]. We are able to see things in real time.”

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Neil Tomlinson Architects is creating a new Covent Garden Market in the heart of London
The now "Brand New" Covent Garden Market (once renamed as "New Covent Garden Market" in 1974) is now wrapping up its redesign. Starting in 1835, the market was the cultural heart of London up until the mid-20th century and has been a lively center of trade throughout its whole life. Now the market specializes in the trade of flowers and food, notably fruit and vegetables. London-based Neil Tomlinson Architects, the practice behind the project working in tandem with BDP and Vinci construction aim for completion to be around 2022 which is year that has been currently set for the flower trader unit to move in, though other units may be able to set up as early as 2016. The market is just a stones throw away from where the new U.S. Embassy is set to be constructed, also in the Nine Elms area. Maintaining an urban setting for the market was a crucial aspect to the practice who already have experience in extensive retail masterplanning. In 2008, Neil Tomlinson Architects prepared a masterplan for the Aviation Business Park at Wolverhampton Airport as well as other UK aviation facilities in Blackpool and Milton Keynes. Work outside the UK includes the Biella and Parma Airports in Italy. Housing around 200 businesses, the 'Brand New' market will be a source of employment for over 2,500 people, supplying over three quarters of London's florists. This isn't the main concern for Neil Tomlinson. For the firm, improving the technical aspect of the project is key to its success with trade on such a large scale having the potential to be a logistical nightmare. Due to early morning trading hours (fruit and vegetables trade from midnight to 6:00 a.m. and the flower market's core trading hours are 4:00 to 10:00 a.m. Monday to Saturday) the market will work with the development of the Northern Line underground network. Both Nine Elms and Battersea (a terminus) are planned new stations and should run 24 hours-a-day, despite this plan being met with hostility my current underground staff. "Our team has focussed on the design for the main market area south of the viaduct," Neil Tomlinson said said in a statement. "This includes a fresh produce wholesale and distributor market. We also proposed The Garden Heart component of the project which gives New Covent Garden Market a public face and identity with its cafes and potential for start-up spaces and facilities for training." "Our rigorous approach to the design was a driver in the concept, going deeply into the very component parts of the market design and its relationship to the surrounding residential areas," Tomlinson said in a statement. "This approach exemplifies how we look at projects in general be they large or small like some of the domestic schemes we have enjoyed working on over the years."
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Well Rendered

ODA reimagines a 1900 Brooklyn factory as a modern apartment complex that nods to the area’s industrial past

The windows were broken and the steel trusses rusty by spring 2013 when architect Eran Chen got his first look inside the 1900 redbrick factory that had long stood vacant in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn. The concrete floors were dingy after decades during which the three-story structure had served as a manufacturing plant for heavy metalworking machines, household cutlery, and patterned plate glass.

Still, to Chen, founder of the New York City–based ODA (Office for Design & Architecture), which had just been tapped to help turn the 87,000-square-foot building at 51 Jay Street into a high-end residential condominium, there was a powerful authenticity to the early 20th-century structure. It spoke of a time when cargo ships still pulled up to the then-industrial enclave on the East River and railway cars rumbled about on tracks embedded in the cobblestone streets to and from factories.

The enormous skylight on the shed-like top floor called to mind the great, glorious train stations of that era, filtered with a light that Chen described as magical. He and his team of architects and designers sought to evoke the romance, if not the reality, of that bygone age in the 74-unit complex they were tasked with designing.

Figuring out how to tuck those residences into the shell of the historic structure took some finesse. ODA has considerable experience with adaptive reuse, and, as Chen knows first-hand, combining an old building and a new function is often “like mixing oil and water.” In this case the building falls within the Dumbo landmark district, so the brick perimeter walls had to be preserved, as did the large openings for the casement windows. Four new floors were built after the interior was hollowed out to accommodate an additional two stories. As a result, the floor plates were shifted, causing window heights and configurations to vary from floor to floor, and even from apartment to apartment on some floors. Nearly two thirds of the units will face the street through these windows. The rest will front a newly enlarged interior courtyard planted with a mini forest of birch trees. Atop the building will be a two-level addition, set back from the original brick structure and not visible from the street; it will contain seven penthouses, six of which are topped with large skylights inspired by the building’s original glass-paned roof.

All of the units—from a 3,000 odd square-foot penthouse, 664-square-foot studio, or the multiple sizes on offer in between—will have clean, modern layouts. Kitchens will open onto wide living rooms, some with double-height ceilings. The main living area in each apartment will have an expansive, loft-like feel.

The units’ airiness is balanced by a range of richly textured finishes and dark, substantial-looking cabinetry. To develop their materials palette, the designers researched what was considered luxury when the factory was built, and then came up with modern interpretations for 51 Jay.

Take the handsome herringbone-patterned oak floors in the living room, for example. The architects learned that herringbone floors were popular in high-end apartments at the turn of the 20th century. But instead of using four- to six-inch wood strips, as would have been done then, the architects opted for 8- and 24-inch oak strips, which, Chen explained, are more akin to the wide-plank floors found in old industrial warehouses; the wood was smoked and wire-brushed for an aged effect.

The architects also discovered that French cabinetmaking was fashionable in New York in the 1900s. The cabinets often received three coats of paint, and were then sanded at the corners to expose the underlying wood. The paneled cherry kitchen cabinets of 51 Jay will be similarly patinaed, the dark stain rubbed away at the corners to reveal the ruddiness of the wood underneath. Some of the cabinet doors will be faced with corrugated glass—more industrial-looking than traditional clear glass—a material that might well have been made in the building during the years it was a glass factory.

The same corrugated glass will appear in the master baths and will front the doors and dark-brown lacquered vanities. Copper trim will edge the vanities and medicine cabinets above—an unusual accent for a bath, but, like the corrugated glass, a material that appealed to the architects in part because it had once been produced in the building. Also unusual is the walnut-colored honed marble chosen for the floor, tub front, and vanity counter.

While many of the same materials will be used in the powder rooms, the so-called “secondary” bathrooms, which are to be found in the larger units, will have a decidedly lighter, more casual look, with whitewashed oak vanities and recessed medicine cabinets.

An avalanche of amenities are being added, including a rooftop terrace tricked out with a kitchen, fireplace, and outdoor shower. In the basement will be what has become the latest must-have for luxury residential developments: a pet washing and grooming station.