Search results for "waterfront"

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MAS Picks New President


COURTESY MAS
 

On June 16, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) announced the appointment of Vin Cipolla as its new president. Cipolla currently serves as president of the Washington, D.C.–based National Park Foundation and is a former vice-president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. For nine years he served as chairman of the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, overseeing the development of its new waterfront museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

Starting next year, Cipolla will replace MAS stalwart Kent Barwick, who is taking a sabbatical before returning to the organization as president emeritus. Barwick has served in various executive positions at the organization since 1969. Cipolla’s interest in contemporary art and design may shift the direction of the more than 100-year-old organization, which is best known for its advocacy in historic preservation.

Mr. Ross’s Neighborhood

When The Related Companies swept in to negotiate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a 99-year ground lease over the agency’s West Side railyards just days after the winning bidder Tishman Speyer Properties had pulled out, the developer hadn’t had time to tweak its proposal to reflect a changed team. But CEO Stephen Ross told reporters that his company, with Goldman Sachs and other investors backing it, would build towers around straightforward connections from an existing waterfront park, an emerging elevated park, and a planned grand boulevard. Or, as Ross put it, “a great New York neighborhood,” seen through the prism of current planning.

The Related proposal, which no longer has an anchor tenant, includes 440 units of affordable housing (out of 5,500 overall, including condos and townhouses) and a new school. It nods to widespread concerns about maintaining the city’s infrastructure by proposing two cogeneration plants beneath its towers. And it provides public space by focusing on three linear parks: the existing Hudson River Park to the west, the emerging High Line to the south and east, and the planned Hudson Boulevard to the north. Gone, at least from public display at the press conference, is the media-heavy “MySpace Pavilion” that the developer presented last fall when bidders showed off drawings in a Midtown storefront. That idea evaporated when Related lost News Corporation as an anchor tenant in late winter.

“We’re going to have to revisit the plan and adjust it,” said Ross, “but the most important part will be creating a great space and a great park for a great New York neighborhood.”

This is not a team inclining toward risk with a $1 billion investment that requires a $2 billion platform. Instead of the drama of something like the suspension-bridge meadow that Steven Holl designed for Extell Development’s failed bid, the document describes “the look, texture, and feel of a traditional New York neighborhood…with taller, denser buildings around a formal plaza and declining in height and density to the west.”

And instead of Chicago’s Murphy/Jahn leading the masterplanning, Related has named architects who know the territory. Kohn Pedersen Fox, which worked on plans for the Jets stadium that the city proposed for the site in 2003, takes the lead. Other players are Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose headquarters overlook the site from West 34th Street, and Miami’s Arquitectonica, which designed the Westin Hotel on Eighth Avenue. The wildcard, Amsterdam-based landscape fantasists West 8, are learning the local ropes as designers of Governors Island—another long-delayed project for which Ross’ onetime business partner Dan Doctoroff emerged as a design champion.

As for worries about how to connect the neighborhood to the rest of Manhattan, Ross and MTA negotiator Gary Dellaverson were all smiles at the press conference. Dellaverson insisted that the city “has committed to borrowing [money]” to create a boulevard and extend the 7 subway line into the site: if the 7 extension fails to materialize by 2015, Related gets to suspend rent payments to the MTA.

“Certainly transportation is a key element,” Ross told reporters. “But we’ve been assured that the 7 line will be delivered for this project.”

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NYDEP Blue
The blue light used on the eggs and elsewhere in the complex contrasts with the city's predominantly amber and white light, instilling a sense of calm and cleanliness.
Carl Ambrose/Courtesy NYCDEP

Last night, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lighted the new digester eggs at its Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The lighting scheme, designed by L’Observatoire International, subtly casts a halo of blue light around the 145-foot-high, stainless steel–clad eggs, which process as much as 1.5 million gallons of sludge every day.

The lighting of the eggs marked the latest milestone in a 20-year plan, initiated in 1998, to expand and update the Newtown Creek facility, which is New York City’s largest wastewater treatment plant, processing the flow of 1 million residents in a 25-square-mile area including parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. Polshek Partnership, which is providing master planning for the project, also designed the cladding, arrangement, and parapet atop the eggs. In addition to expanding the capacity and efficiency of the complex, the DEP is attempting to make it a better neighbor by reducing the plant’s odor and opening up portions to the public.

Standing atop one of the eggs, which converts human excrement into fertilizer through a process of anaerobic digestion, DEP Commissioner Emily Lloyd gestured to a stand of row houses immediately abutting the plant. “Any good town planner would locate a facility like this as far away from residential areas as possible,” said Lloyd, “but because this is New York City, these functions have to exist cheek-to-jowl.”

Last September, the DEP opened the George Trakas–designed Waterfront Nature Walk, which provided the first public access to the Newtown Creek waterfront. This fall it will open a visitors’ center at the site, designed by Vito Acconci, which will feature installations describing how the city’s effluent is treated.

L’Observatoire’s lighting scheme does its own part in making Newtown Creek a better neighbor. Backlit by four batteries of four 2,000-watt metal halide lamps, the eggs, which possess an elegant sculptural quality of their own, serve as a local landmark for travelers on the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. (Four of the eight eggs went online on May 23, and the rest are expected to be in service by the end of this year.) The firm provided lighting design for the entire 52-acre facility as well, strategically placing white and amber lights for functional purposes while liberally sprinkling the plant with touches of blue. 

Speaking of that color’s role at the site, L’Observatoire founder Hervé Descottes said, “The color is a symbol for calm, cleanliness, and purity, but it also serves to contrast the light of the city, which is predominantly amber or bright white.”

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Powering Down
Christopher Payne

In another sign of the rapid changes along Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront, the Kent Avenue power station in Williamsburg is currently being demolished. The monumental masonry power plant, designed by Thomas Edward Murray, was built in 1907 for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company and is owned by Con Edison. “We have permission to demolish it. It is being demolished in phases,” said Alfonso Quiroz, spokesman for the utility. “We have no specific plans for the site.” Like the Waterside Power Station site south of the United Nations, which was also designed by Murray, and demolished last year to make way for a development by Sheldon Solow, the cleared Kent Avenue site promises to attract significant interest among developers.

Preservationists hope to persuade Con Edison to halt demolition, which is currently not visible on the building’s exterior. “From what I understand, demo permits have been pulled, but it’s not too late to save the building,” said Lisa Kersavage, director of advocacy and policy at the Municipal Art Society. The Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance also believes the building should be saved, noting that the Brooklyn industrial waterfront was named one of the eleven most endangered sites in America last year by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Con Ed is supported by the rate-payers of this city,” said Roland Lewis, president of the alliance. “There is a selfish interest and a public interest at stake.”

Both Lewis and Kersavage implied that cultural institutions, such as museums, may be eyeing the building, but declined to cite any specific interested parties. “Look at the Tate Modern in London. This could be a wonderful location for a cultural institution,” Kersavage said. But Quiroz said that Con Edison is moving ahead with demolition plans and is not negotiating with any cultural institutions that may wish to rehabilitate the building. “There is no discussion,” he said.

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Cleveland’s Shipping News
Cleveland's port may soon leave the downtown waterfront for a site 3 miles away.
Justin Glanville

Although it sits on a river and a Great Lake, the city of Cleveland has long been cut off from both—a waterfront city without a waterfront. For decades, too, it has thirsted for economic revival, having lost thousands of manufacturing jobs.

A bold new plan by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority would attempt to solve both problems. In December, the Port’s board voted unanimously to relocate from downtown to a new, larger site three miles east. The move would open 135 acres of downtown lakefront and riverfront property for new development. According to Port officials, it would also increase shipping capacity and stimulate job creation in depressed areas adjacent to the new site.

The undertaking is enormous. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take at least ten years to complete. “There’s a reason most cities don’t move their ports,” said Adam Wasserman, the Cleveland port’s president and CEO. “The hurdles are huge—financial, environmental, planning.”

The idea of the port making way for mixed-use development has been bandied about for years, according to Cleveland City Planning Director Robert Brown. The site lies at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River on Lake Erie, adjacent to downtown Cleveland’s thousands of jobs and burgeoning residential population. “It’s the site with the most power to revitalize downtown, and as a corollary, the entire region,” Brown said. But serious planning began only five years ago, when the city launched a lakefront planning effort under then-mayor Jane Campbell. The goal was to reconnect Cleveland’s residential neighborhoods to the lakefront, which has long been choked by railroad tracks, a highway, and heavy industrial uses.

The results of that plan, released in 2005, called for the port to move to a site off the city’s near West Side, on a new island to be created from Cuyahoga River dredging. Yet neighborhood residents rallied against the proposal, arguing it would obliterate a newly created lakefront park and increase truck traffic in nearby residential neighborhoods.

Shortly thereafter, the Port hired Wasserman, who had previously worked for a port revitalization program in Hull, England. He authorized an $850,000 relocation study that examined eight potential sites. It considered results from other port-commissioned studies that showed Cleveland could attract new traffic from congested East Coast ports if it expanded and reconfigured. (Cleveland is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway.)

To grow, the port would need more space—and more immediate highway and rail access than the West Side site could provide. In the end, officials settled on a site off the city’s near East Side, about three miles from downtown, that would be about 70 acres bigger than the current site and would straddle an interstate highway. The City Planning Commission approved the plan in concept at a public meeting in March.

According to Wasserman and Brown, one of the main benefits of the move will be its potential to create spin-off business. The city and Port are collaborating with The Cleveland Foundation on a plan for an international trade district that could begin to form in a 50-block section of the city directly south of the new site, currently full of half-empty early-20th-century warehouses and vacant land.

Wasserman projects 50,000 jobs could be created as the port moves and expands, primarily because distribution and high-tech manufacturing companies want to locate nearby. He says he wants the predominantly African-American, low-income residents of the surrounding neighborhoods to get the new jobs. “We’ll focus on workforce development,” he said, collaborating with high schools and the local community college. The area’s councilperson, Sabra Pierce Scott, supports the plan.

The huge expense of the move has also raised criticism. The League of Women Voters of the Cleveland Area has followed the port’s move for several years and issued a paper critical of its planning process. “It’s a very big gamble,” said Penny Jeffrey, the league’s president. “If it brings a lot of jobs, that’s great, but no one knows. It’s a very long-term thing.” (Wasserman responded that the Port has already seen substantial interest from international and domestic investors.)

As for the old site downtown, the Port will either partner with private developers or sell parcels outright. One local developer, Stark Enterprises, has already expressed interest in parts of the property. Yet in a region with near-stagnant population growth and a fragile economy, will there be residents and businesses to fill the new buildings?

“There’s no doubt,” said Brown, pointing to a 2005 study by the Brookings Institution that found Cleveland’s downtown population had grown 30 percent between 1990 and 2000.

The biggest problem, Wasserman said, is persuading Clevelanders themselves that, by investing in assets like the port, their city can rebound. “Cleveland as a community often feels like it loses, it doesn’t gain,” said Wasserman. “If we think comprehensively and long term, we can revitalize older rust belt economies.”

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Lost City in the Woods



Architect and photographer Christopher Payne is fascinated with the afterlives of buildings. A chronicler of ruins, he has photographed disused factories on the East River, the High Line on the West Side, outmoded transit electrical substations throughout Manhattan, and, for the past few years, shuttered insane asylums and state hospitals across the country. Payne’s latest subject is the buildings and landscape of North Brother, a derelict hospital island in the Bronx under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, far removed from the cycles of development and change that are transforming the city. Evidence of habitation and of the island’s checkered history is literally disappearing into the woods.

In the 1880s, the island was home to a contagious disease hospital and was a model of reform-era hygiene and efficiency, earning the praise of the muckraking journalist Jacob Riis. Among its inhabitants was “Typhoid” Mary Mallon, the cook and notorious source of several outbreaks, who died there in 1938. The island was also the site of one of the nation’s worst nautical disasters, the 1904 downing of the steamship General Slocum, which sank just offshore carrying German immigrants on a holiday outing. Nurses and patients on the island rescued nearly 250 passengers, but more than one thousand people died. The tuberculosis hospital was completed in 1943, but was quickly repurposed to house World War II veterans who were attending college in the city through the GI Bill. By 1952, the island became a treatment facility for juvenile drug addicts before being abandoned altogether in 1964.

Today North Brother has largely slipped from public consciousness. It does not, for example, appear on the MTA Subway map: The place where the 29-acre island would be shows only water. “The city has an uncountable number of histories and events that are lodged, hidden away in some archive or someone’s memory,” said Randall Mason, a professor of historic preservation at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied the island extensively. “But things have a way of coming back; they resurface.” He cites the African Burial Ground as an example. “Places become invisible if they’re not used,” he said. The Parks Department classifies North Brother as a nature preserve. Department representatives visit only a few times a year and the public is prohibited because of safety concerns.

While photographing sites for the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, Payne first saw the island from afar. “I felt like I had found a lost city in a jungle, and yet here I was in New York City,” Payne said. His boat, he realized, was too big to get close to the island’s ruined dock. “Here was this lost world, a hundred feet away, that I couldn’t get to.” On a second trip, he found its buildings—a hospital, power plant, boiler, morgue, housing, cistern, and other infrastructure—receding into the landscape. “It’s strange to look at old photos and see how it functioned, how clear it was, a modern, open campus,” he said. “It’s amazing how quickly Nature reclaims what’s Hers.” In his photographs, trees sprout from the foundation line of the solitary staff house as layers of brick peel away from the facades. Brightly painted interiors are visible through the shards of glass in the robust-looking art deco tuberculosis hospital.

For the Parks Department, the island’s most important resident is the Black-crowned Night Heron, a rare bird that has slowly been returning to the region since the passage of the Clean Water Act in the 1970s. North Brother is part of a chain of small islands throughout the region called the “harbor herons complex,” according to Bill Tai, director of natural resources for Parks. The much smaller South Brother Island came into the Parks portfolio this November, when the federal government bought it for $2 million and turned it over to the city. Acknowledging the island’s history and its crumbling architecture, Tai called North Brother “the most interesting of the heron islands.” He added, however, that “maybe its highest and best use is to preserve it for wildlife.” Parks is sympathetic to the island’s history and the concerns of preservationists, and according to Tai, the department is hoping to do a partial restoration of the dock to make it occasionally accessible for small groups, and has secured $500,000 in funding toward that goal. Restoration of one of the smaller buildings as an interpretive center may be possible, but he noted, “We have very reduced budget forecasts, so it’s not a very high priority.”

In this era of public-private partnerships, piecemeal development, and limited public resources, the state of limbo in which the island sits is not altogether uncommon. The scale and significance of its architecture, once accessible by frequent ferry service, is a disquieting reminder that such limitations were not always commonplace. For Payne, abandoned public buildings hold a particular attraction, not just for the romance of their ruin but as vestiges of civic aspirations long since jettisoned.

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A Line in the Water

solow plan
COURTESY MUNICIPAL ART SOCIETY

On February 25, a City Council hearing began the last phase of public review on Sheldon Solow’s eight-building megaplan for the East 30s, and considered the urban conditions within the six-block river view site. However, changes to the waterfront across the FDR Drive from Solow’s project may drive more horse-trading over the project’s specifics.

The hearing, which featured testimony from representatives of the Municipal Art Society and New York Building Congress, raised all the issues on which Solow and the city have already come to terms. These included expanding a public playground from 5,500 to 10,000 square feet, reducing building heights, and shrinking the proposed office building’s overall footprint. Solow has also committed to a 630-seat school, which the city would build by 2012. The 8.7-acre plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, and Richard Meier & Partners looks set to go forward, said Jasper Goldman, who testified for the Municipal Art Society, but unresolved problems remain. As Goldman explained, civic activists worry most about public use of 39th and 40th streets, which Solow’s plan removes from the street grid, and how the project may affect a waterfront park along the East River from 38th Street to the United Nations. “Everybody agrees the open space is well designed and likes the east-west orientation of the buildings, but people were nervous about the idea of it shutting down at 1 a.m. This is such a massive development that the public space should be a real public park.”

In addition, Solow would need to provide easements from his property to city and state agencies to enable a deck over the FDR Drive to the new waterfront park. Solow has endorsed the idea, but stopped short of pledging his money toward the project, which the Campaign for an East Side Waterfront Park projects could cost around $116 million.

Local City Council member Dan Garodnick, who founded the park campaign, has stressed his district’s paucity of open space. He may relent on some issues, like the impact on the skyline of four nearly identical towers, in order to secure funding for deck construction or concessions on opening 39th and 40th streets. At a February 21 announcement laying out the waterfront coalition’s agenda, Garodnick told reporters that he and the developer were “in the midst of discussions about height, density, and open space.” 

These issues should be resolved in negotiations before late March, when the Council will vote on Solow’s plan. Goldman forecasted that an easement will emerge as part of a deal. “What’s less clear is the idea that 39th and 40th streets will be public, and that’s what Council negotiations are for,” he said. “We said the developer should consider a Riverside South model, where open space is mapped as parkland but maintenance is contracted to a private entity.”

To Goldman, a new waterfront park would cap Solow’s development by tethering it to its most famous neighbor. “A waterfront park would create a place to enjoy looking at the UN Secretariat,” he said. But Solow’s flexibility about keeping his development fully accessible may determine how soon that park comes into being. 

ALEC APPELBAUM

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Water Works
Low-lying harbor zones are vulnerable to even modest storm surges. Areas flooded by Category 1 storms are shown in dark green, Category 2 in light green, Category 3 in orange, and Category 4 in red.
COURTESY 2007 LATROBE PRIZE TEAM

One tenth of an inch may just be a splash. But sea level in New York creeps that much higher every year, and worsening climate impacts could make that splash several feet deep by the end of this century, meaning a soggier future for nearly one million of the region’s residents who live within three feet of the spring high-water mark. Factor in worsening storm surges, and today’s 100-year flood zone may well become a 10-year flood zone—wreaking $350 billion in damage to New York City under the severe scenarios the state’s Emergency Management Office is now studying. 

“If you look where major development projects are going in New York, many are located right in harm’s way,” said Klaus Jacob, the outspoken Columbia University expert on sea-level rise, pointing to condos sprouting in Williamsburg or Columbia’s Manhattanville campus, sited at a vulnerable low point near the Hudson River. “That campus will start to look like Venice in a hundred years,” he warned. 

London has its Thames Barrier. Dutch cities are fortified for the 10,000-year storm. But New York? “Coastal cities around the world that intend to be around for the next hundred years have done incredible work,” said Michael Fishman, founder of the consulting practice Urban Answers. “In North America, we have very little to show.” 

That is starting to change as architects, ecologists, and engineers grapple with a hybrid of structure and landscape that is well-suited to the world’s rusting wharves. Some call it aquatecture—a new, blue alternative that is catching up with the green building movement as the next wave of sustainable urban design. “It’s not a building, not a pier, not a boat,” said Fishman, who teaches a waterfront studio at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP). “It’s part water, part wildlife. Major development around the world is going to embrace this adaptation of post-industrial megastructures.” 

In our wet new world, the postapocalyptic attitude is this: Bring it on. “Existing waterfront wetlands are going to be swamped,” said structural engineer Guy Nordenson, who is studying the consequences of sea-level rise with a multidisciplinary team that won the American Institute of Architects’ 2007 Latrobe Prize. They’ve hatched a radical proposal to revamp Upper New York Bay with an archipelago of hundreds of islands that would temper the destructive energy of storm surges. The proposal, which won a $100,000 award and will be refined in the coming months, presents a larger vision of New York Harbor as a focal point for regional development, like St. Mark’s Basin in Venice—a watery Central Park for the coming century. 

Designers in New York and beyond are taking small steps toward Nordenson’s grand aquapolitan vision. A pair of projects from Boston-based Stoss Landscape Urbanism shows how modest interventions in the marine edge can prove paradigm-shifting in their own right. The firm lets flood conditions have their way with a waterfront site at Erie Street Plaza, located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the confluence of the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan. In the midst of a rough-edged working waterfront, the park contends with lake levels that rise and fall by as much as 6 feet over roughly 20-year cycles. Stoss’ solution was to slice slots into an existing steel bulkhead, allowing high lake levels to inundate a new zone of native grasses and revive a marsh condition long obliterated by industry. 

stoss erie
At Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, Stoss’ carpet of hillocks (below) fuels the free play of complex ecologies. Rising lake levels nourish a new marsh (above) at Milwaukee’s Erie Street Plaza, by the Boston-based Stoss. 
COURTESY STOSS LANDSCAPE URBANISM

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It also makes a larger public point. “We’re allowing people to engage with this momentary high point of the lake cycle, so that it becomes very much an actor in the experience of that open space,” said principal Chris Reed. A similar strategy informed Bass River Park in West Dennis, Massachusetts, a 2.5-acre parcel that rests on land that was once salt marsh. Stoss designed zones of red cedar, sand plain, wet meadow, and salt marsh, each of which vies for botanical dominance amid changing climate variables. “We’re building in resilience and flexibility from an ecological standpoint,” Reed said. “No matter how high or low the sea level is, there are places where these individual plant communities can thrive.” 

Showcasing water’s presence in the urban landscape required a complex approach for Margie Ruddick of Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT), who has helped lead the design for a one-acre park at Queens Plaza. Working with artist Michael Singer, designers created a permeable paving system that features runnels with weep holes to collect water from paths and open spaces. A rain garden at the base of the Queensboro Bridge captures bridge runoff during storms, directing it to lush plantings. Below grade, a lozenge-shaped subsurface wetland detains water once it has filtered through street-level plantings. But working with water requires updated design chops. WRT and collaborators Marpillero Pollak Architects, who won a 2008 AIA New York chapter design award for the project, note that architects need to embrace a more unruly aesthetic. “A couple of years ago this project would have looked incomprehensible to a lot of architects,” Ruddick said. “There’s a kind of terror of things that don’t look organized and orderly.” 

 
A subsurface wetland forms the heart of WRT’s design for Queens Plaza (above, left); runoff from the Queensboro Bridge feeds a lushly planted rain garden (above, right).
 COURTESY WRT DESIGN / MICHAEL SINGER / MPA


For areas atop a newly graded edge at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates positioned significant plantings to skirt the 100-year-flood zone. 
COURTESY MICHAEL VAN VALKENBURGH ASSOCIATES
 
 

If a Category 4 cyclone hits the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park will be exhibit A of that messiness. But it should still be around. In Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates’ design for the new public space, the sharp-edged bulkhead is banished in favor of a more natural riparian edge among adaptively reused piers. Careful thought is being given to storm threats, said principal Matthew Urbanski. “We’ve gone to great pains to shape the land in such a way that the significant tree plantings are above the 100-year flood level, so we don’t get salt-water inundation,” he explained. Beyond a calm-water basin that shelters small islands of natural habitat, a stabilized riprap edge protects against wave energy. Upland hills are planted with meadow grasses and canopy trees, while farther inland, freshwater swales capture stormwater from adjacent asphalt before it reaches the river. 

“There’s a general consensus that we have to start working within the natural systems and reinforcing them,” said David Hamilton, principal of Praxis3, which won a recent round of The History Channel’s City of the Future competition with a proposal to liberate Atlanta’s natural streams from 1,900 miles of buried pipes and catchments. Contending with severe drought in the Southeast, Hamilton’s Atlanta-based team, in collaboration with EDAW, BNIM Architects, and environmental engineering firm Metcalf & Eddy, proposed a series of “waterscapes” to restore the natural watershed and spawn piedmont forest instead of sprawl. Existing drainage systems would be converted into aquifers to store ever-scarcer precipitation. The team aims to develop the idea as a model for drought-prone cities, where bureaucrats are perking up their ears. “When you start running out of water, politicians start paying attention in a hurry,” Hamilton said. 

praxis3
Breaching New Orleans’ levees would blunt the harm from Mississippi River floods, as in this high-density housing concept from Praxis3. COURTESY PRAXIS3 AND KEAN ARCHITECTS

New Orleans officials might want to consult his firm’s entry for a post-Katrina design competition that rethinks that city’s levee system. Collaborating with architect Lee Kean, Praxis3 proposed breaching floodwalls to create softer berms that ease over a block-size parcel in the Bywater neighborhood. Elevated green space weaves this natural terrain back into the city; a reflecting pool and cistern collect water on site. “The Mississippi River could actually go through its flood stages without doing any damage,” Hamilton said. 

If there’s a bright side to climate change, it may be the opportunity to drag bolder designs out of the closet. “Some of these visionary projects are really legacies of the 1960s and ‘70s,” said architect Lindy Roy, who is studying the impacts of climate change in Africa with her students at Columbia’s GSAPP this semester. “We need to look at things with that kind of breadth. Otherwise, we make the sexy forms, and then all of the environmental stuff gets handed over to sustainability experts and engineers.” 

 
In ARO’s vision of Manhattan now and in 2106 (left and right), melting polar ice caps make for a much soggier city. COURTESY ARCHITECTURE RESEARCH OFFICE
 

In other words, thinking the unthinkable can be an adventure. “Our goal is to make people excited instead of terrified,” said Adam Yarinsky, principal at Architecture Research Office (ARO), who is working with Nordenson’s Latrobe Prize team. ARO’s provocative entry for New York’s City of the Future episode did just that, making a virtue out of Gotham’s waterlogged fate. Envisioning low-lying neighborhoods deep-sixed under some 36 inches of water due to melting polar ice caps, ARO designed an optimistic new city for the year 2106, built of thin, pier-like buildings rising above Manhattan’s flooded downtown streets. Kayakers paddled languidly among ruined storefronts, as verdant public promenades bridged the waters overhead. 

Take that, Rotterdam. When the big one hits, we may not be high and dry. But at least we’ll be floating in style. 

JEFF BYLES IS AN ASSOCIATE EDITOR AT AN.

Next Big Thing

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) is designing San Francisco’s largest new development, the 393-acre Treasure Island. As if that weren’t enough, the firm’s San Francisco office is now also working on a blockbuster on the other side of the city: a transformation of Park Merced. If approved, the scheme for the World War II-era housing development will add about 5,700 new units to the 115-acre site, now renamed Parkmerced, tripling the number of apartments there today. Like Treasure Island, the project’s cost is estimated at $1.2 billion. In January, Parkmerced’s owners, Texas-based Stellar Management, filed an environmental evaluation application, effectively starting the planning process and giving rise to vocal opponents from the community and beyond.

The original Park Merced, composed of simple, modernist towers and town houses arranged around varied green spaces, was designed by Leonard Schultze and Associates and built by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which also put up similar complexes like Park La Brea in Los Angeles and Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. Completed in the early 1950s, it was intended for moderate-income families, many of them from the military. Most agree that its most notable feature was the relationship of its buildings to its landscaping, with its intricate internal courtyards and interrelated terraced patios largely designed by Thomas Dolliver Church, who also oversaw the master planning of UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz, and the Mayo Clinic.

Stellar Management bought Park Merced in 2005 and has already begun a $130 million renovation. The development’s four-phase plan will retain the largest towers and replace its two-story buildings with four-story units. The plan will also add retail and slightly reconfigure Park Merced’s street grid, create more intimate green spaces, and stagger new buildings to minimize cold winds coming off the waterfront, said SOM partner Craig Hartman, who likens its current feel to a retirement home. He points out that the new buildings will be designed by several architecture firms (as yet, unselected) in a style “that reflects our contemporary culture.”

Hartman also hopes to bring the entire development off the grid and reduce energy consumption by about 60 percent using wind power, solar power, high-efficiency fixtures, water recycling, improved insulation, and co-generation (using existing power sources to generate energy on-site). The new plan will connect the park to public transportation by moving an existing MUNI stop, adding a new one, and providing low-emissions shuttles to BART.

But the intensive scheme, which would radically change this once-sleepy development, has its opponents. Aaron Goodman, an architect at San Francisco’s Studios Architecture and vice president of the Park Merced Residents Organization, the area’s recognized tenant group, complains that the new plans will be unaffordable and will disturb the area’s neighborly atmosphere. 

“The character of the site will be lost,” said Goodman. “I wouldn’t call it charming, but it’s very effective.” Goodman is one of the leaders in an effort to landmark the property, and has filed documents with the city’s Landmark Preservation Advisory Board. Docomomo (International Working Party for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) is working together with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, San Francisco Architectural Heritage, and the Cultural Landscape Foundation to get Park Merced placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It’s highly significant,” said Andrew Wolfram, president of Docomomo’s Northern California chapter, who pointed out that Park Fairfax, also built by Metropolitan Life, is already on the National Register. “We’re not saying it needs to be frozen in time, but its important elements should be preserved.”

Stellar Management spokesperson P.J. Johnston points out that the scheme has been through 63 community meetings, and that many of the buildings on the property are too degraded to save: “It’s a property that’s well beyond its use-by date. It needs to be revitalized and rebuilt.”

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Westward Ho!


COURTESY WEST 8/ROGERS MARVEL, ET AL.

On December 19, New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Governor Eliot Spitzer announced that the team of West 8 / Rogers Marvel Architects / Diller Scofidio + Renfro / Quennell Rothschild / SMWM will design the 90 acres of open space on Governors Island. The design will begin the island’s transformation from a disused harbor site to a recreational magnet between the booming Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said that once complete, the public spaces will lure visitors from “across the water to experiences [they] could not have anywhere else in the world.” 

West 8, a Dutch firm that has completed similar restoration jobs in Toronto, Utrecht, and Madrid, beat four finalists to create a grand waterfront promenade and trio of public parks on the stretch of the island closest to Manhattan. Field Operations, Hargreaves Associates, REX’s New York office, and WRT led other bids; the REX bid, which proposed a grid of developable lots, drew buzz for its unsentimental take on the broad economic challenges facing the island’s transformation. 

The West 8 scheme focuses on converting the midrise barracks currently on the site into a hilly landscape of rubble and on creating what principal Adriaan Geuze called a “warm enclosure” of 90 acres with a botanic garden behind a 2.2-mile promenade. Geuze drew some notoriety by arriving at a public design presentation this past summer astride a wooden bicycle, but the team’s original idea of providing 2,000 similar bikes for free use by visitors has slipped off the agenda. 

So, for now, have questions about how the improved landscape will encourage private investment for a fuller restoration of the island. The Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC) issued a Request For Proposals for large-scale development plans in February 2006, but after considering the submissions, deemed them financially unfeasible and decided to go forth with the public spaces first (AN 04_03.08.2006, “A Lift for Governors Island”). The New York Harbor School, a public high school currently in Bushwick, was the sole proposal GIPEC approved; it will relocate to the island in fall 2008 or 2009. 

At the announcement, officials talked all about beauty and recreation: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents Lower Manhattan, praised the selection for promising green space to an area where “recreation is in short supply.” Both Doctoroff and Lieutenant Governor David Paterson said the public space could match legendary urban parks in Luxembourg, Sweden, and Singapore. 

“As beautiful and expansive as [those parks] are,” said Doctoroff, “Governors Island has the potential to outshine them. If you don’t believe me, walk up to the top of one of those buildings that will be demolished and turned into hills and see the 360-degree views.” 

For the next two years, such views will remain accessible only via scheduled summertime visits while the team prepares a design and GIPEC oversees an environmental impact study. Any eventual full-scale development would follow a Request For Proposals to academic, research, and philanthropic organizations. 

Officials hope the park planning will fix Governors Island in New Yorkers’ consciousness and provide a focus for what Doctoroff calls an emerging “Harbor District” linking Hudson River Park, the planned South Street esplanade and pier playgrounds, the East River Park, and Brooklyn Bridge Park. (Gregg Pasquarelli, whose firm SHoP Architects is masterplanning both the public East River work and the South Street Seaport, served as a juror for GIPEC.) Doctoroff promised that GIPEC, whose chairmanship he will soon cede to Lower Manhattan Development Corporation chief Avi Schick, would reach out to “community residents and other stakeholders” for input on modifications to the design. 

And broader realities, from the city’s crowded political agenda to the complexity of upgrading the island’s infrastructure and transit links, may challenge the whimsy that design jurors praised. But Geuze seems serious about the patience and political savvy his job will require, which means that the wooden bikes may be back. “We need an iconic element to stay in people’s minds in the first years,” he told AN. “It could be a festival that people remember, but maybe bikes could be the draw. It’s simple and pragmatic.” 

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Naval Battle Along East River
Courtesy SHOP Architects

When SHoP Architects unveiled schematic plans for the East River Esplanade at a meeting of the waterfront committee of Community Board 1 on October 22, the designs became the latest component of the battle over the future of the city’s waterfront. After years of dereliction and neglect, the city has finally cleaned up its rivers, and both people and fish are returning, thanks in part to a string of parks that now ring the city. While most people seem pleased with this, the city’s maritime community is not. For them, SHoP’s plans are just the latest slight in an ongoing fight over the soul of the city’s rivers.

It would be hard for anyone to deny that SHoP’s proposal is a vast improvement over what it will replace. Running for two miles underneath FDR Drive from the Battery north to East River Park, the East River Esplanade will replace a wasteland of worn-down bricks and asphalt strewn with broken glass. It will provide restored views of the waterfront and pavilions for public space. The question for the city’s mariners, though, is whether or not it will be inviting for boats.

“You probably mentioned planters 60 times, boats never, and ships twice,” Lee Gruzen, chair of SeaportSpeaks, told SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli at the committee meeting. “For 350 years there has been a kind of excitement on the waterfront. This makes us couch potatoes. I want to do something new you can’t do anywhere else.” The biggest concern is a rebuilt Pier 15, which has two levels, one for watercraft and one for recreation. SHoP sought to carve out pieces of the pier to expose its foundational structure. The pier in part resembles a fractured hill, covered in jagged slopes and topped with trees that will no doubt startle those driving by on the FDR. Julie Nadel, chair of the waterfront committee and a member of the Hudson River Park, called the designs more of the same. “They forgot to do the part where the boats dock,” she told AN. “It’s a very good, fanciful design, but it doesn’t do what it was asked to do, which is provide a place to dock a boat. Until it does, the plan is a failure.”

Pasquarelli insists these fears are unfounded. “They’re just staking out their position,” he said. “It’s a schematic design, and you can’t make judgments based on that. Just because I haven’t specified the cleats yet doesn’t mean there won’t be sufficient access.”

“Boating is one of our top priorities,” he added. “They’ve got 50 percent of the site, they just don’t realize it yet.”

While nautical access may still be in dispute, there is no question the plan vastly improves connections to the water from the land. This begins with the “calming of South Street,” Pasquarelli said. “It will become a typical New York City side street.” There will be one-lane in each direction with the remaining pavement given over to a 12-foot bicycle lane separated from the street by a planted berm.

Cyclists are set apart from the promenade by the FDR’s concrete pylons. Beneath the overpass stand glassed-in pavilions that serve a range of potential public uses, from shops and cafes to dojos and galleries. Beyond that is a 60- to 120-foot boardwalk edged by 30 to 40 feet of landscaping and a final 20 feet of boardwalk. A sinuous railing provides protection and, at its widest points, a table complete with bar stools. At night, these features are illuminated by light reflected off the FDR’s girders.

Most of these features disappear at the cross streets, where SHoP has devised what Pasquarelli called “get downs.” Part step, part aquatic amphitheater, their true purpose is to provide unblocked views of the water down the area’s historic slips. “It reminds you that this is a place where ships used to come right up into the city,” he said.

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From Rusty to Renewable
Courtesy Department of Transportation

City planners have worried about maintaining New York’s web of roads, sewers, bridges, and public transit since commissioners drew up a blueprint for growth in 1811. Now, though, consensus is emerging that agencies must coordinate their upkeep if the city is to survive climate change and enormous population increases. Worries that our sewers are filling up and spewing wastewater into rivers are as old as city planning itself, but a coordinated response to those worries is new. Public officials from San Diego to Stockholm are addressing their cities’ ecological future, and they are less focused on technological fixes than on coordinating the way parks, transit, and economic development agencies share the land.

“We must think more holistically to achieve true, sustainable growth,” Empire State Development Corporation downstate chairman Patrick Foye told attendees at a New York Building Congress lunch on September 20. He’s got company. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s ambitious 127-point sustainability program PlaNYC 2030 asks Parks Department officials to work with transportation planners to develop standards that will make new parking lots into grassy sponges for stormwater. And the chief of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is responding to the aftermath of the storm that shut down subways on August 8 by surveying for sites where it can tap porous pavement or new vegetative landscaping to soak up water.

While the MTA consults landscape architects to make its far-flung properties more efficient, Foye’s agency is shelving its traditional emphasis on megaprojects like the Atlantic Yards development in favor of a measured approach. “The state’s historic focus on large-scale projects has actually short-changed our region,” Foye told the September 21 meeting. In the speech, Foye proposed a rezoning around the new Moynihan Station that would sprinkle air rights along the 34th Street corridor: This, he said, would “mean less disruption to commuters and tie development to the market.” In other words, it would temper demands on subways, sewers, and roads, lessening the odds of a catastrophe. That same incremental focus will guide Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 agenda, now six months old, through its implementation.

At the Hudson Yards site, which the MTA is selling to developers who want to link new buildings to the new station, PlaNYC has proposed a test site for a new system, called HLSS for “high-level storm sewer.” Such a sewer can sweep rain and snow into the river, reducing the risk that nearby older sewers will fill with combined stormwater and wastewater and shut down. “We emphasize backup systems for water supply, upgrading the energy grid,” said Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff in an interview with AN. “If we don’t upgrade our infrastructure, the risk to life and property and costs going forward are only going to magnify.”

These may seem like harsh words even from Doctoroff, a man who is known for his steely style. But he doesn’t come off like a Cassandra—his thinking is in line with his counterparts in London, Chicago, and other cities trying to increase housing densities and upgrade mass transit. Mayors in Sacramento and Boston are striking deals with big employers and adopting sustainability plans that will guide their public investment for the next generation. “Anybody who has eyes and ears and a brain,” he says of the city’s physical condition, “will be reminded that we are in a perilous state.”

That state demands clever collaboration across agencies. The crammed acreage that makes the city so logical for high density and mass transit also means that any effort to repair pipes and plumbing leads, logically and politically, to new patches of literal green. When the city wants to put a new water node or sewer line underground somewhere, explains assistant Parks commissioner Joshua Laird, it wants to make sure no developer builds anything on the site that would make it inaccessible for tests and repairs. So it creates new parks. “The land will have a park on it that we will manage with the caveat that if DEP needs to get back in there they will be able to,” says Laird. “There’s a new shaft site on Bowery adjacent to one of our houses. They had acquired an old Edison site, and when it is done, will be required to put a park on top.”

The MTA is also trying to keep development within its control by developing mixed-use hubs at some of its commuter rail stations, beginning with Beacon in Putnam County. Moreover, executive director Sander has convened a panel of green advisors. He promises the outlines of a masterplan for improving the MTA’s stormwater management, track upkeep, and energy efficiency by April 22, the first anniversary of Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 kick-off speech. This would go beyond the MTA’s longstanding use of new energy-efficient technology to make existing tracks carry more trains and existing bus routes carry more customers. Sander hopes to cover some of the involved expenses with revenue from the mayor’s much-discussed congestion charge.

Congestion pricing has emerged as a point of solidarity among Sander, Doctoroff, and EDC chief Robert Lieber, who all have been known to approach isolated economic-development issues focusing on the priorities of their respective agencies. Lieber is using his influence to urge executives whose companies might generate jobs to urge legislators to stop bickering over congestion pricing. Lieber, whose agency coordinates all waterfront conversions around town and accordingly must clear a host of rotting piers and suspect industrial sites, told audiences at an Economist-sponsored powwow and a New York Building Congress breakfast that he plans to use his pulpit to fight for new sources of infrastructure funding from all levels of government.

That call will expose discord between the no-nonsense city government and the more theatrical lawmakers in Albany. After a Con Edison steam pipe exploded in July and forced Midtown traffic to grind to a halt, Doctoroff described the new authority as inevitable. “Con Edison has got to invest more money, but you also have to change the way you think about energy,” said Doctoroff at the time. “Demand for energy by 2030 is projected to grow about 45 percent, and our plan holds it constant. We want to take stress off the system, and that means distributed generation.” PlaNYC calls for a city-created Energy Efficiency Authority to help finance building retrofits and create scattered small power plants, but Albany must approve the authority’s creation.

Finally, leaders are trying to persuade the private sector to invest in unglamorous upkeep. The administration disclosed plans in October to connect private landlords with the Clinton Climate Initiative, which has amassed $5 billion in loans to finance building retrofits. And PlaNYC’s implementation will require owners of parking lots over 6,000 square feet to plant trees along their edges and will promise a property tax break to offset 35 percent of the cost of new green roofs.

This kind of broad-based, small-bore work will define planners’ mandates and architects’ work for the next several years, but even if it is entirely successful, its achievement will hardly make the city an oasis of efficiency. Sander exposed the city’s fragile bones at a planners’ conference in mid-October when he confidently answered a question about how congestion pricing fees would help the MTA improve service. “You’ll see a 19th-century transit system moving into the 20th century.”