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Current Criticism

Fewer than 45 of the approximately 140 newspapers in the United States, with a daily circulation over 75,000 have architecture critics, according to a 2001 survey by the National Arts Journalism Program (NAJP) at Columbia University and only a third of them pursue architecture criticism full-time. Amazingly, cities like Houston, Detroit, and Las Vegassplaces that have undergone huge building booms in recent yearsslack a regular architecture voice. Of the papers that do have critics, half feature fewer than two dozen stories a year; that's less than one every two weeks. And while architecture implicates not just aesthetics and culture but so much elseepolitical economy, ecology, social welfareethese stories are normally relegated to Arts, Style, or Home sections. Thus, as the NAJP study concludes, major buildings and developments routinely go up with no public discourse on their practical or aesthetic meritssthe most public of art forms receives the least amount of arts coverage.. (The study was overseen by Andrrs Szzntt, director of the now defunct NAJP.)

If this state of affairs is lamentable, it's necessary to acknowledge that architecture journalism for the mass public has long been a rarity in this country, with notable exceptions like Montgomery Schuyler at the New York World in the late 19th century and Lewis Mumford at The New Yorker during the middle decades of the twentieth. It was Ada Louise Huxtable, beginning her tenure at The New York Times in 1963 amid that decade's urban upheavals and preservation battles, who coalesced a wide audience for engaged and outspoken architectural criticism. Today, while the issues affecting the built environment are no less contentious or ripe for debate, architecture criticism in its various local venues inevitably finds itself inflected, and distracted, by a far more advanced and globalized culture industry.

The following brief survey of four contemporary critics at high-profile American newspapers is based largely on a reading of articles published over the last year:

Robert Campbell has been architecture critic at the Boston Globe since 1974. Trained as an architectthe received his MArch from Harvard's GSD in 19677Campbell, now 68, garnered the third architecture Pulitzer (after Huxtable and Paul Goldberger) in 1996 for his knowledgeable writing on architecture.. His short-ish articles are conversational, descriptive, and well-mannered. He complains about conservative Bostonn while at the same time betraying a constitutional mistrust of avant-garde pizzazzz; his taste runs to plain old-fashioned modernism.. This doesn't prevent him from acknowledging that Steven Holl's new Simmons dormitory at MIT, if perhaps too inventive,, is daring and beautiful; he likewise reserves final judgment on Gehry's Stata Center, which, despite appearances of being a big, arbitrary sculpture,, reflects serious thinking about how people live and work.. He frequently covers significant events outside Boston, but writes most often and generously about lesser-known architects at home. His interest in architecture as a register of urban and social history is reflected in a regular city sceness feature for the Sunday magazine section on which he collaborates with photographer Peter Vanderwarker.

Blair Kamin is strongly civic-minded and devoted to nurturing architecture culture in his home city. A self-proclaimed activist critic,, he uses the platform he has held at the Chicago Tribune since 1992 not as a bully pulpit so much as a lectern from which to educate the public and to prod architects and municipal officials in socially constructive directions. A graduate of Yale's Master's of Environmental Design program and, like Campbell, a Pulitzer Prize winner (in 1999), the 48-year-old critic has collected his articles of the last decade in a book, Why Architecture Matters: Lessons from Chicago (University of Chicago Press, 2001), that reflects his broad-based but Chicago-centric concerns. Didactic, thoughtful, and judicious, he is given to relative judgments and careful distinctions. Less concerned with architectural form-making as such than its impact on people, he dwells on how skyscrapers meet the ground, the livability of tall buildings, the urban vibrancy produced by the clash of styles in Chicago's downtown. At the same time, in a city dominated during the 1990s by its mayor's retro tastes in civic improvement, he often finds himself arguing for contemporary aesthetics. But the shoddy detailing at IIT's Campus Center irks him, notwithstanding the brilliance of Rem Koolhaas' conception.

Nicolai Ouroussoff is younger than Kamin, at 43. Educated at Columbia's architecture school, he was anointed Herbert Muschamp's successor at The New York Times in the summer of 2004. Muschamp's departure was accompanied by demands for a less star-obsessed, more ecumenical replacement. Ouroussoff was quickly presumed to be in the same mold as his predecessor, however, albeit not as self-involved or flamboyant. Indeed, one of Ouroussoff's debut articles, entitled The New New York Skyline,, applauding a trio of luxury towers by Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, and Frank Gehry, picked up seamlessly, jumping on Muschamp's favorite hobbyhorse: Manhattan's skyline was once a monument to the relentless forces of modernity, but for decades now the city's reputation as a center of architectural experimentation has been losing ground to London, Barcelona, Beijing, and Shanghaii? Similarly Muschampian was a shrill attack on MoMA's architectural leadership and, in a tribute to Philip Johnson, a description of the Four Seasons as one of the sexiest rooms in the city, with beaded steel curtains that conjure up a woman's slipp?an embarrassing echo of Herbert's evocation of the Guggenheim Bilbao in terms of Marilyn Monroe's skirts. If Koolhaas for years dominated Muschamp's fevered imagination, Ouroussoff's admiration for Gehry and Thom Mayne has likewise already occasioned a lot of New York newsprint. Nor have international celebrities like Herzog & de Meuron and Coop Himmelb(l)au escaped his appreciative attention as, befitting a paper that sees its beat as the whole world, Ouroussoff has begun to file from offshore datelines. At the same time, a string of recent pieces reflecting a firsthand look at New Orleans, and more generally on preservation and urban revitalization issues from Cairo to Columbus Circle and Ground Zero, are evidence of his willingness to take on challenging issues beyond aesthetics.

Christopher Hawthorne, the youngest of the four critics at 35, was appointed to his post at the Los Angeles Times after Ouroussoff's elevation to New York. A graduate of Yale architecture school, he was previously architecture critic a Slate.com. Hawthorne writes lucidly and forcefully, appreciates the complexities of urban planning and the pragmatics of building construction, and doesn't hesitate to tackle intractable issues like the politics of sprawl. He is interested in the back story, and not afraid to state his opinion, even if it's unlikely to win friends. He reserves a certain irony with respect to high-wattagee architecture, as he calls ittnot that he's hostile to it, just streetwise enough not to swallow it whole. Hawthorne effortlessly combines smart visual commentary with informed historical contextualization. It's hard to say whether his greater-depth approach is sufficiently accessible to the general readership. I'm impressed, though, and look forward to following his writing more closely.

It is hardly surprising that in each case the critic reflects the newspaper and city in which he writes. It is also the case that, while all four write professionally, fluently, and at times with passion and verve, none approaches the commanding intellect and culture of, say, a Mumford, or the witty acuity of a Reyner Banham. Huxtable, in her classic Will They Ever Finish Bruckner Boulevard?? period, used her podium to galvanize a broad base of support for urban improvement, as Jane Jacobs did during the same epoch with her blockbuster Death and Life of Great American Cities. More recently, Muschamp, for all his excesses, was able to grab the public imagination with a maverick style that interspersed flashes of genuine insight and originality. In a more political vein, sharp critics like Mike Davis and Michael Sorkin, contributing to publications like The Nation and the old Village Voice, have attracted loyal adherents, although it's difficult to imagine either of them writing for a mainstream newspaper.

The architecture critic at the general-interest publication has the obligation to write for both a specialist and nonspecialist audience, walk a fine line between advocacy and partisanship, and do more than register new trends. Writing without benefit of historical retrospectionnmost of the time before the project has ceased to be a construction site or computer renderingghe or she has the job of exposing the conditions in which architecture is produced and consumed; to paraphrase Manfredo Tafuri, it's a matter of going backstage rather than continuing to observe the spectacle from a seat in the audience. Beyond this, it helps to love architecture and cities, and to write with a deep knowledge of history, a strong commitment to the public and environmental good, a precise understanding of how buildings are constructed, and (not least) a discerning eye.
Joan Ockman, an architectural historian, teaches at Columbia University and is the director of the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture.

 

Marisa Bartolucci reads the trades and special-interest magazines,
and sympathizes with architects who say they don't.

This era of kaleidoscopic change shouts out for sagacious critics. We need them to parse the shifting scene and discern imaginative and ethical arcrhitectural esponses. Yet the critical offerings in general interest magazines and the architectural trades are scant. Why some choose to feature criticism, and others don't is bafflinggand depressing. With so much development going on in the city, how can New York magazine be without a critic?

Of what's available, according to this writer's informal poll, little of it is read by architects. Why? Insipid and irrelevant is a common claim. Maybe that's why not long ago a readers' survey at Architecture magazine revealed that its most widely read sections were the editorial and protest pagessthe only places serving up opinion on topical matters.

After perusing an admittedly haphazard sampling of criticism in trade and other special-interest media (i.e., literary, shelter, or weekly publications), I contend there is work out there that's penetrating in analysis, even pertinent to private practice, although little is exhilarating in vision.

Alas, there's no Lewis Mumford on the horizon. (And that may be the fault of magazine editorssgood critics need nurturing.) The Skyline column in The New Yorker long served as the podium for that great thinker. From its heights, he championed Frank Lloyd Wright when others declared him dated; warned against technology dominating human purpose; and railed against the mediocrity of the design for the United Nations Headquarters. (How little things change.)

Today a critic dubbed the great equivocatorr occupies that podium. Although he wields great power, Paul Goldberger seldom strays from consensus views. On occasion, when he does advocate, people listen. A recent article urging that the present plan for Ground Zero be dumped in favor of incorporating cutting-edge residential architecture may have helped galvanize Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to make noises about wresting control of the project.

But if we are not to find challenging architectural criticism in The New Yorker, where else can we look? To the online opinionmaker Slate.com? There, the professorial Witold Rybczynski regularly teaches Beltway readers how to evaluate buildings and understand the forces that shape them. His brief essays range from book reviews to project critiques. An article on why architect-designed emergency housing seldom works was right on the money. But his taste is stale: He applauded David Child's latest version of the Freedom Tower as the best yet.

Until recently, Martin Filler held forth at The New Republic. Why he has absented that post is a mystery and a loss. He is a terrific critic. Flinty principle sparks his writing, which is subtle, but mordant. He insists that great architecture encompasses more than aesthetics. He doesn't shirk from attacking big names.

If the decision makers at Ground Zero had read his review of Daniel Libeskind's Jewish Museum they might not have mistaken schmaltz for architecture. In a prescient line about the museum, Filler summed up all that would be wrong with Libeskind's Freedom Tower plan: There is such a thing as architecture being too artful for its avowed function, and the Jewish Museum in Berlin is a fine illustration of that conundrum..

While at The New Republic, Filler tackled the usual celebrity suspectssprobably the only ones his Washington-focused editors considered worthy. Every so often, for The New York Review of Books, he contributes long, probing essays on subjects like the rebuilding of Berlin or the rebuilding of Ground Zero. These pieces allow him to show off his ample erudition and his fine eye. Architects, take a subscription.

Meanwhile, in his bimonthly column for shelter magazine House & Garden, his choice of subjects has been eclectic, ranging from a celebration of the planned community of Radburn, New Jersey, to a trenchant critique of Yoshio Taniguichi's Museum of Modern Art. The big new MoMA amounts to little, architecturally,, he writes. It is no small irony that the museum that codified the International Style and thus exerted a profound influence on 20th-century architecture again finds itself in a building markedly less distinguished than the unequaled modern treasures it contains..

Filler's unflinching assessment is noteworthy in light of the vacillating judgments of his peers. In Architectural Record, Suzanne Stephens intrepidly enumerated the $450 million building's numerous flaws, but in the end, still heaped on the praise: It's what the Modern always wanted to be.. Is it any wonder why practitioners don't read these journals? Reportedly, even Taniguchi is disappointed.

At this architecture tabloid, Julie Iovine brings bracing realism to her new Crit column. Last July, she took a detached look at the sudden wave of wildly ambitious urban development schemes being proposed for the city and their suspiciously enthusiastic civic and critical embrace. If such clear-thinking, straight-talking works are what's ahead, this column may become a must-read.

But few publications provide the gritty evaluations of what works and what doesn'ttthe information architects crave because it relates to their practices. This should be a service of the trades, as important as their reporting on the latest developments in materials and building science. Instead, they focus only on presenting glossy images of flashy, big-name projects. These are carefully described, but only superficially assessed. Rushing to publish as soon as the last nail is hammered, as if buildings were the latest Paris fashions, leaves little time to gather reports on how a building functions. Without such information how can true judgments be made of an architect's achievements, both aesthetic and technical?

Architectural Record's regular Critique column features alternating essays by Robert Campbell and Michael Sorkin, which ruminate more than provoke. But sometimes sparks do fly. Last April, Campbell carped about the notion of architecture as symbol. Two issues later, Sorkin ambushed him. It wasn't sporting, but in a series of dazzlingly erudite thrusts and parries, he shredded Campbell's argument.

Face-offs like these energize everyone's critical thinking. Last June, The Prospect, a British monthly, published a series of letters between Deyan Sudjic and Charles Jencks debating, coincidentally, the merits of iconic architecture. Following the divergence and convergence of their views on subjects ranging from aesthetics to professional ethics was fascinating.

The most brilliant critic on our shores may be Sorkin. His essays can take you on a thrill ride through learned discourse, lefty idealism, pop culture, and occasionally, Jewish shtick. Why he never won a Pulitzer when he was at the Village Voice is a scandal. (Huxtable, Temko, Goldberger, Campbell, and Kamin all have them.) Sorkin may be a smarty pants, but he is fearless. He skewered Philip Johnson when he was architecture's minence grise. (Most critics waited until after his death to bury him.) A year ago, Sorkin called Frank Gehry on the moral incongruity of designing a satellite to the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalemma city with little tolerance for its own Palestinian citizens and neighbors. Eminence has its responsibility,, he observed, which extends beyond the realm of professional practice.. An intrepid thinker, a joker, a scholar, a moral iconoclast, Sorkin represents what every young architecture critic should aspire to be.

Certainly, he is a model for Philip Nobel, who has enlivened the pages of Metropolis for the past few years. Nobel sure writes well. Like adolescent love letters, Nobel's columns can ache with emotion. And that's not a bad thing. He makes you believe great buildings matter. But the trouble with adolescents, who like Nobel swing between idealism and cynicism, is they're self-absorbed. No matter what Nobel writes about, it always comes back to him. At times he verges on slipping into Muschampian territory, which can lead, as we all know, to critical oblivion.

Architecture needs smart, brave voices. Nobel's got one. If he can concentrate on substance, he might make more architects into readers. And just maybe improve the profession.
Marisa Bartolucci lives in New York and writes about design.

 

Vittorio Gregotti ruminates on criticism in Italy, the epicenter of
architectural publishing, and asserts its inextricable link to history.

The state of architectural criticism in Italyyand probably in much of Europeeis rooted in a theoretical attitude that belongs to the tradition of architectural history. The members of this tradition include the critics and historians of my generation, whose most important representative was Manfredo Tafuri, who was a follower of Giulio Carlo Argan, a Marxist and one-time mayor of Rome, and the most important critic and historian of modern architecture between 1930 and 1960. Two other important critics of the 20th century, albeit ones coming from a different and opposing point of view, are Leonardo Benevolo and Bruno Zevi, who despite their scholarship, were inclined to write occasionally for non-specialized public- ations, such as daily newspapers and weekly magazines. A special position within this generation was occupied, too, by Ernesto Nathan Rogers, known for his accomplishments as an architect, editor of Domus, and Casabella, and cultural polemicist.

In Italy, architecture critics, in the strict sense of the term (thus excluding historians and university professors of history), operate in a relatively narrow field because the mass media are not interested in the specific problems of architecture as a practice and culture. Only two daily newspapers in Italy express an ongoing critical interest in architecture: the economics newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore and the general interest La Repubblica. Fulvio Irace writes for the former, while I myself have been contributing to the latter for about 10 years. Of the general-interest weekly magazines, only L'Espresso publishes a regular column dedicated to architecture, which was written for many years written by Bruno Zevi and has been written by architect Massimiliano Fuksas since 2000. Printed articles in other daily newspapers and weekly magazines are both rare and infrequent. Italian television offers few opportunities to speak about architecture; when it does, it is usually in relationship to exceptional exhibitions or events, and done in a very general and superficial manner. When mainstream media does look at architecture, it is to gawk at technical marvels, scandalous episodes of building speculation, and sometimes sociological issues, for example, concerning housing. In recent years, the aesthetic novelties proposed by architects have also generated interest, with special focus on bizarre elements, justified by a generic idea of creativity. Such coverage tends to make architecture resemble objects of mass consumption and entertainment.

Italy naturally boasts a vast range of specialized architectural magazines: Area, the newest and most luxurious publication, is solidly focused on architectural construction; Architettura, cronaca e storia, founded by Bruno Zevi, is now decisively on the wane; Parametro and Abitare, suspended somewhere between interior design and architecture; and Rassegna, which has recently returned with a more aesthetic and technological focus. Op. Cit is a small magazine full of critical reflections that is published in Naples. Lotus occupies a special position because of its thematic format and its attitude towards confronting various issues on a more theoretical level. Giornale dell'Architettura, directed by Carlo Olmo and published every 15 days, appears to be more innovative and aimed at uniting the criticism, discipline, and politics of architecture.

Italy can boast no relevant publications by any architecture school, despite the exorbitant number of studentssroughly 60,0000which is far out of proportion to the actual demand for architects in the country. There are more fashion, furniture, and design magazines that cover the middle ground shared by architects' activities and the problems of architecture.

The saddest story affects the country's two most important architectural magazines, which were once so influential. On the one hand, Casabella (which I myself edited from 1982 to 1996) has lost its traditional critical influence and position in the debate about architecture. On the other, Domus has assumed a conventional and modish take on architecture as fashion. Domus has opened itself to the strong influences of the visual arts or those who wish to substitute buildings with events,, influenced by Koolhaasian sociology of spontaneity.

If we exclude the publications that deal strictly with the history of architecture, even the history of modernist architecture, the architectural essays typically produced in Italy can be divided into two major types: monographs on currently practicing architects (Italian and non) and specifically critical essays. While the specimens in former group are over-abundant, even in the rhetoric of their editorial presentation, examples of the latter are quite rare and tend to receive much less attention. A third type of publication is the architecture exhibition catalogue. In this category, particular importance is helddin my opinion, entirely negativeeby the architectural exhibitions of the Venice Biennale, the Triennale di Milano, or other elaborate, event-like productions, such the 2004 Arte e Architettura exhibition organized in Genoa by Germano Celant, who contributed to confusing architecture and the visual arts, attempting to reduce the first to the second.

Naturally, plenty of writers are producing treatises about fashionable topics, such as computer-generated design, the politics of urban planning, ecology, or general aesthetic trends. These theoretical philosophies are, in general, hurried deductions and poorly interpreted.

The debate between ancient and modern is particularly relevant in the Italian historical-geographical context. It is contested on the one hand by the globalist and anti-contextual ideology that tends to make any work of architecture an enlarged design object, and on the other by institutions that tend to concentrate debate on single, monumental examples rather than dealing with the design of the urban environment or the landscape as an essential part of the actual construction of architecture. In this arena, Salvatore Settis is undoubtedly one of the most seriously involved figures operating at the critical level. The professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and former director of the Getty Research Institute for the History of Art writes for diverse publications, including Il Sole 24 Ore.

Practicing architects write very little, unless it is for reasons of self-justification. If I had to name two writers who are dealing intelligently with theoretically-based issues, I would limit myself to mentioning Bernardo Secchi, who teaches urban planning at the University Institute of Architecture of Venice, for his investigations into urban and territorial issues related to the city and the landscape; and architect Franco Purini for issues dealing with the logic ofarchitectural morphology.

In any case, Italian architecture currently lives a general crisis of uncertainty. It is totally dependent on the ideologies of the global market, marginally concerned with technique and science, and hiding behind the neo-avant-gardism of the diffused aesthetic of consumerism. As a result, critical voices who understand architecture as capable of serving as the foundation for a civil society have become increasingly rare.
Architect, city planner, and author, Vittorio Gregotti is the principal of Gregotti Associati. He contributes the regular architecture criticism column to La Repubblica.

Because the entitlements of loss and grief are the third rail of the [WTC] rebuilding effort, no one has challenged the subversion of the aims and intent of the plan. The parts that speak of hope and the future have not been able to survive the pressure for a single-minded commitment to the tragic past ... No one has had the courage, or conviction, to demand that the arts be restored to their proper place as one of the city's greatest strengths and a source of its spiritual continuity. We have lost what we hoped to gainna creative rebirth downtown. At Ground Zero, what should be first is last. An affirmation of life is being reduced to a culture of death.
Ada Louise Huxtable, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005

 

 

 

 

Rem Koolhaassnow the most overexposed architect since Frank Gehry, is likely to be the token avant-garde contestant. He has already declared his interestt?I seem to be one of the few architects who liked enormously the World Trade Centerr? Self-serving though that tribute to Minoru Yamaski's behemoths may sound, Koolhaas has indeed always indulged a perverse weakness for Nelson Rockefeller's most bombastic architectural boondoggles, particularly those designed by his court architect Wallace K. Harrison, to whose chilly 1950s-style urbanism he paid homage in his retrograde master plan for the French city of Lille.
Martin Filler, The New Republic, September 6, 2002

 

 

 

How skyscrapers meet the ground is as important as how they scrape the sky. It is not encouraging that Calatrava's tower will emerge from a tiered, four-story podium like a stripper popping out of a cake. That is a crude way to bring a skyscraper to the street. It makes this tower resemble a piece of sculpture on a pedestal, fit for an on-the-make, look-at-me Persian Gulf boomtown like Dubai. But this is Chicago, where we don't need to put ourselves on the map. We need great architectureeand the thoughtful civic debate that is essential to creating it.
Blair Kamin, Chicago Tribune, July 27, 2005

 

 

 

We have high expectations of our best artists because their work and words carry special weight. It is not possible to build this project [Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem] without an opinion on larger issuessreal issues of toleranceein the region. What is Gehry's? This is not a question of the use of titanium versus Jerusalem stone. It is one of justice.
Michael Sorkin, Architectural Record, June 2004

 

 

 

What twins [Marilyn Monroe] and the [Guggenheim Bilbao] in my memory is that both of them stand for an American style of freedom. That style is voluptuous, emotional, intuitive, and exhibitionist. It is mobile, fluid, material, mercurial, fearless, radiant and as fragile as a newborn child. It can't resist doing a dance with all the voices that say ''No.'' It wants to take up a lot of space. And when the impulse strikes, it likes to let its dress fly up in the air.
Herbert Muschamp, The New York Times, September 7, 1997

 

 

 

If the very idea that has, arguably more than any other, helped define Southern California for a century has been rendered obsolete, what does that mean for the region's vision of itself? Will density spell the end of the unique relationship between Angelenos and their houses? Will residential architecture simply fade as a factor in defining the city in the coming century? The great challenge for the city's residential architects over the next couple decades will be making the old model of affordable charisma fresh and relevant again for a post-sprawl (or even a post-post-sprawl) Los Angeles.
Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times,
July 7, 2005

 

 

 

Even at this early stage, the [planned East River] esplanade is one of the few current projects to give voice to a young generation of architects intent on redefining our vision of the contemporary metropolis. Along with the High Lineewhich transforms a section of gritty elevated tracks in downtown into a public gardennit represents a clear and much-needed break from the quaint Jane Jacobssinspired vision of New York that is threatening to transform Manhattan into a theme park version of itself, a place virtually devoid of urban tension. It proves that there are still some in the city who are culturally daring, even if their numbers at times seem to be dwindling.
Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times,
June 28, 2005

 

 

 

Lincoln Center has sometimes seemed less the vibrant source of the neighborhood's energy than the empty hole in the middle of the doughnut. Often there is more buzz on the sidewalk in front of the multiplex theater a couple of blocks north, or amid the parade of mall-like retail stores that now line Broadway, than there is at Lincoln CenterrLincoln Center needs, desperately, a shot of adrenalinee
Paul Goldberger, The New Yorker, July 7, 2003

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AIA New York 2005 Housing Design Awards

The local chapter resurrects its housing award program. As Anna Holtzman discovers, this year's jury champions affordability.

Murphy Burnham & Buttrick's Bronx Row Houses, designed for Habitat for Humanity.
Each unit has a small front yard with a stoop,
a backyard, three bedrooms, and a skylight-topped stairwell.
courtesy murphy burnham & buttrick

>I don't expect this project to be published in the magazines,, said architect Jeffrey Murphy of his firm Murphy Burnham & Buttrick's award-winning project. His sentiment sums up that of many architects who submitted to the AIA New York Chapter 2005 Housing Design Awards. Displayed in an exhibition at the Center for Architecture and titled Everything Housing: From Homeless Shelters to Luxury Living (open through December 3), the awards span the gamuttfrom a supportive housing development in Brooklyn by Polshek Partnership to Richard Meier's exclusive Charles Street tower. Yet the focus of the judges, and of the AIA New York Chapter housing committee behind the awards, was clearly on the unglamorous side of the shelter spectrum: affordable housing.

1  front yard
2  living room
3  kitchen
4  rear yard
5  master bedroom
6  bedroom
7  storage
8  basement hall

Spearheaded by housing committee chair James McCullar, the nascent program drew 102 entriessincluding built projects and those approved for constructionnfrom which judges Julie Eizenberg, Adele Naude Santos, and Michael Pyatok selected nine awards and five citations. The New York AIA housing committee hasn't held an awards program since 1981, said McCullar, for unexplained reasons. And somehow with the Design Awards program, housing got lost in the shuffle,, he recounted. In the last few years, New York architects have been invited to submit to the Boston Society of Architects (BSA)'s biennial housing awards. [But] with all of the recent zoning changes in New York, such as the Greenpoint waterfront,, said McCullar, there could not be a more opportune time to bring local housing efforts to the forefront. Shaun Donovan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and a guest speaker at the October 17 awards ceremony, drove McCullar's point home when he stated, Since 1990, New York City has added more people than the population of Boston,, creating an unprecedented need for affordable housing.

Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates' Marcy Avenue Residence in Brooklyn serves the mentally ill.

courtesy jonathan kirschenfeld associates

Donovan lauded such projects as the Schermerhorn House, Polshek Partnership's citation-winning, glass-faced supportive housing project for Common Ground Community, which brings luxuriously light-filled interior spaces to a mix of low-income and formerly homeless residents. Donovan's praise was tempered, however, by a more critical take from the jury. We were hoping to see some new typologies as far as spatial arrangements and clustering of units,, said Santos, but the truth was, there wasn't any of thatton the first pass, we said, Boy, these New Yorkers are really conservative.'' Eizenberg concurred, When everything is brick with sensible windows, you start to get a little worried.. In explaining their initial reaction, Santos proffered, We were very much a West Coast jury.. While Santos teaches at MIT, she is also a partner in San Francisco firm Santos Prescott & Associates; Eizenberg's practice Koning Eizenberg Architecture is based in Santa Monica, and Michael Pyatok practices in Oakland, California. Santos continued, In some ways, it's easier for us,, without the harsh climate, material constraints, stringent codes, and contextual pressures plaguing architects in dense East Coast cities.

The L-shaped building shelters an interior courtyard.

On closer inspection, the jury uncovered a group of projects whose stories go deeper than their practical brick walls. Among the award winners is Jonathan Kirschenfeld Associates' Marcy Avenue Residence, a Brooklyn home for the mentally ill, which the jury likened to the brick buildings of the Amsterdam School because of its carefully articulated faaade on which interior configurations are expressed by gestures such as recessed windows. Murphy Burnham & Buttrick Architects won an award for theiroriented toward a community garden across the street, and skylights within make the most of limited space. As the jury notes stated, These aren't cheap gestures, but [the architects] decided where to prioritize,, bringing an element of delight to this low-budget scheme. Another standout project, Melrose Commons in the Bronx, took root when Magnusson Architecture & Planning began pro-bono consulting for the client, Nos Quedamos ((we stayy in Spanish), a community group formed in 1993 to protest the city's Urban Renewal plans for Melrose. The project won an award in the Building Communityy category, more for the community-involved design process than for the buildings themselvesstidy rowhouses with sliver-sized front lawns, awnings, and orange-and-terracotta patterned faaades.

Ground-floor plan, top, and second-floor plan, below.

 

Similarly, Murphy admitted of his firm's Habitat project, The architectural expression is not necessarily that exciting, but the result is exciting: The people who live there are now a close-knit group of friends because they worked on the houses together.. As Santos stated, There's always been some kind of ambiguity, as to whether housing is really architecture with a capital A.. And for this reason, Eizenberg posited, People who do housing feel a bit marginalized.. She concluded, I'm glad they're doing [this awards program]]the people working in housing need all the support they can get.. If McCullar has his way, this will only be the beginning. The New York AIA housing committee is in talks with the BSA about coordinating both cities' housing awards, with New York taking the odd-numbered years and Boston the evens. But for its inaugural year, the New York Chapter's Housing Design Awards was all about the home city: Following the same criteria as the New York Chapter Design Awards, announced on September 19, all of the projects had to be either by or for New Yorkers.

 

Courtesy Magnusson Architecture & Planning
Magnusson Architecture & Planning worked with community group Nos Quedamos to draw up a renewal plan for Melrose Commons, a 35-block area in the Bronx. The plan includes several new residences, including a 95-unit coop (top) on 3rd Avenue between 158th and 159th streets.
 


Anna Holtzman is a New York based writer and a former editor at Architecture magazine. She is completing a documentary about New York City's subway musicians.

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Architects Turned Developers

With a booming real estate market and an ever-increasing general appreciation for good design, more and more architects are betting their own hard-earned cash that their skills will pay off in the development business. Deborah Grossberg asks New York architects how and why they made the leap to the other side.

For much of the AIA's 150-year history, the organization prohibited architects from engaging in development work. Intent on distinguishing architecture as a noble professionn on the level of fine art, distinct from baser building trades like carpentry and masonryythe AIA also felt the need to protect its members from the economic ruin met by early architect-developers, like Robert Adam in London and Charles Bulfinch in Boston. It was not until 1964 (by then, the profession was well established and the success of architect-developers like John Portman of Atlanta celebrated) that the AIA relaxed its ban on working in property development. It even issued a document in 1971 encouraging architects to pursue it.

But the practice still carries some stigma, harkening to the AIA founders' fears that the crassness of the business would compromise the conduct of the gentleman-architect. Architects have always done development, but high design firms haven't,, said Gregg Pasquarelli of SHoP Architects, a firm that's been involved on the development side of its projects since building the Porter House at 366 West 15th Street in Manhattan's Meatpacking District in 2003. But all that's changing now..

The simplest reason why better firms are getting involved in development is the skyrocketing real estate market. Peter Moore, an architect who's been developing his own projects with his firm Peter Moore Associates since the 1980s, said, Because real estate has become so lucrative in the last dozen years, it's attracting more and more people, including good architects.. Another factor is the public's increased sensitivity to design since 9/11. There's more of a recognition now that architecture can create value,, said Jared Della Valle, principal of Brooklyn-based firm Della Valle + Bernheimer, which has been involved with an affordable housing development project in Brooklyn for the past three years. In other words, developers are beginning to see architects on more equal footing, as valuable creative partners who can help them conceptualize a projecttand make it more profitableefrom the outset.

Pasquarelli, who is trained as an architect and holds an undergraduate business degree, agrees that the perception of what designers can bring to the table has improved. We're not just selling a building wrapper, but solving real design problems,, he said. There's been a big shift in the value and vision that architects bring to a project, and we're finally being remunerated in equity, partnership, and property..

For a ground-up construction at 258 East 7th Street between Avenues C and D, Derek Sanders designed a building partly on spec and partly for a clientta couple willing to front the money for the 10,000-square-foot triplex penthouse. The couple's investment helped offset the cost of the rest of the project, which includes seven additional units, mostly two-bedrooms. It is slated for completion in late summer 2006.

It may be a prime time to dive in, but getting started in the development game still has a fair share of challenges. For one thing, the financial interests of developers and architects are often at odds, so doing both can at times feel schizophrenic. Working as both developer and architect, in a way you're negotiating against yourself on fees,, said Della Valle. Since architects' fees are paid at the beginning of a project, you're paying interest on any dollar you get for fees as part of your loan. Architects' fees are one of the things that developers are always trying to reduce.. Besides pouring their own man hours into their project, Della Valle and co-principal Andrew Bernheimer also asked three other firmssArchitecture Research Office, BriggsKnowles, and Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewissto collaborate on designs in an effort to give each unit in their affordable housing development a unique identity.

Aside from conflicting interests, the hardest part for most architects is scraping together the cash for that first down payment on property and construction loans. Small practices often have trouble convincing banks that they're right for a mortgage, and many don't want to risk their entire livelihood even if financing is attainable. The most common solution is to partner with a developer or investors, but on a more equal basis than in a standard for-fee project.

Many architects who develop their own projects swear by starting small. Pasquarelli worked with developer Jeffrey M. Brown on the Porter House project, investing a small fraction of the total cost but a much larger percentage of his firm's net worth. It was really, really frightening,, he said. The risk paid offfone bedroom flats sold for more than $700,000 and the four-bedroom duplex penthouse went to fashion mogul Carlos Miele for over $4 million. Now Pasquarelli is using the profits from the project to finance four collaborative development projects in New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Derek Sanders, a 44-year-old architect and principal of CAN Resources who recently began investing in his own projects with the help of a young developer, Seth Tapper, said, With our first project, we started out with a much smaller percentage of the equity. We waived our fees entirely and contributed a little capital. The first project made money, which we rolled into the second one.. According to Sanders, the approach has paid off. Architects don't usually get paid very well anyway,, he reasoned. As long as you have low overhead, you can make multiples of your regular fees [by trading them for shares]..

AvroKO invested about 50 percent of the capital for the development of twin one-bedroom co-op apartments at 23 Waverly Street in Greenwich Village. The firm outfitted each unit with everything you could get excited about,, according to principal Kristina O'Neal, such as bacteria-killing lights, a Murphy bed with an astronaut foam mattress, and energy-efficient appliances.

Architect Galia Solomonoff went even further with the bartering idea for a six-story residential building she's working on in the East Village: She and the couple who owns the lot (they bought it for peanuts in the 1980s) took no loans at all, and convinced all the contractors involvedd Solomonoff includeddto waive part of their fees in exchange for equity. The traditional wisdom of business people is to borrow as much as you can, put your building up as quickly as possible, and flip it before you pay too much interest,, said Solomonoff. The wisdom of artists is don't borrow and don't rush..

Sanders has made his equation work partly by picking a co-developer who's relatively new to the game. Not having done a lot of development already, Seth is open to new ideas,, he said. He's also used some creative methods to offset up-front costs. With the help of real estate broker Larry Carty, Sanders and Tapper managed to find a Japanese couple to pre-purchase the penthouse apartment in a ground-up construction they're working on at 258 East 7th Street. Sanders is designing the top three floors according to the couple's specifications, but the rest of the building is up to him. Because residential work relies so much on the sanity of your clients, I'm of the opinion that the more you can be your own client, the better,, said Sanders.

The young design firm AvroKO also got into development to shed the burden of designing for clients. For us, the core reason to do self-propelled projects is to be able to do something you can't do with conservative clientssto go with the ideas you want,, said Kristina O'Neal, one of AvroKO's four principals. The group owns and operates the restaurant Public, which opened in Nolita in 2004. This year, they designed two fully-outfitted one-bedroom apartments in Greenwich Village under the moniker smart.space. They are marketing the units themselves, and at press time there was a bid on the less expensive, smaller of the two units (the asking price for the 590-square-foot unit is $649,000, and $753,250 for the 655-square-foot space). Investors fronted part of the cash for both projects, though AvroKO owns significant stakes in both. But according to O'Neal, they're not in it for the money. It's been somewhat profitable,, she allowed, but we're mainly supporting ourselves through fee- based work.. The firm is currently planning more smart.space units, to be completed in 2006, as well as another internally-developed project to be released in the fall. We learned a lot from these projects,, said O'Neal. The next ones will be easier and more affordable..

Peter Moore, an architect who began developing affordable housing projects in the 1980s in Brooklyn, is currently involved with five development projects in Manhattan. For a project at 520 West 27th Street in Chelsea, Moore partnered with Flank Architects to develop a new 11-story, 50,000-square-foot mixed-use condominium building currently under construction on the site of an old four-story warehouse and showroom for American Hanger and Fixture.

Developing projects offers as many constraints as freedoms, but many architects have found the new limits compelling. It was fantastic because we only had to answer to ourselves,, said Pasquarelli. We had to ask, Do we really think that extra stainless steel detail is worth it?' And if the answer was yes, then we had to pay for it!! Bernheimer agreed, You have to make decisions informed by economics but there's always the opposite challenge to do something unexpected within the constraints..

The first development project is always the hardest for architects unaccustomed to working in real estate. From an architect's standpoint, the most daunting part of our development project has been the time commitment,, said Bernheimer. The learning curve has been so steep that, of the three years we've spent on the project, a good year was spent learning the ins and outs of the real estate market.. The educational experience can be a plus, though. Solomonoff said, I really enjoy that the team of experts you work with becomes larger. In a project where you have a developer interest there's a real estate person with a different outlook on the architecture and design market, as well as lawyers who have a more conservative point of view about the value of design. It enriches your role as an architect..

Bernheimer and Della Valle brought in partners with more development experience to help them sort out the rigmarole of purchasing land from the city for affordable housing. The firm felt that city RFP requirements, which demand finished designs before a bid is won, tended to force affordable housing developers into cheaping out on architecture services. Developers usually just submit something that's already been done to avoid spending money on architects' fees,, said Della Valle. But for most of the people [for whom affordable housing is created], it will be their first home purchase. That requires more thought about design rather than less..

Moore is working on another 11-story condo project, at 302 Spring Street in the West Village, with Zakrzewski & Hyde Architects. Principals Stas Zakrzewski and Marianne Hyde (who are married with two children) earned a three-bedroom stake in the new project in exchange for waiving design fees. Their design incorporates a small communal courtyard as well as a stainless-steel shutter system which allows residents to control the flow of light and air without losing privacy.

Moore agreed that the city could do more to encourage good architecture along with development. City Planning and the Landmarks Preservation Commission make feeble attempts, but they're not doing enough,, he said. They should encourage a more fully integrated approach to harness the boom.. Since the city hasn't managed to keep developers in check, Moore thinks the biggest strength architects can bring to development is a sense of responsibility for the built environment. It's encouraging to have architects develop because they bring integrity to the process. If you're looking to maximize your value, it's not necessarily a strength to be an architect, but building buildings isn't an abstract thing like selling bonds,, said Moore.

Most architects involved with development are continuing with their regular practice as well. Said Sanders, You have to balance how much risk you want to take on.. Perhaps the most compelling reason for architects to get a taste for what it's like to be a developer is to encourage better understanding across the divide. I'm interested in having the most participatory role possible as an architect,, said Solomonoff. There's both more freedom and more responsibility..
DEBORAH GROSSBERG IS AN ASSOCIATE EDITOR AT AN.

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All Rise

New Yorkers have always been real-estate obsessed, and as housing price records are broken on what seems like a weekly basis, the conventional wisdom is that everyone should get in while they still cannit's not a bubble, it's New York City. There is logic to the sentiment, of course: While the space is finite, the demand doesn't appear to be.

There are plenty of more concrete and measurable reasons, too, for such widespread interest in the real estate market, from still-reasonable interest rates to a noticeably development-friendly climate. The Bloomberg Administration has been more proactive about rezoning neighborhoods in all five boroughs than any in recent memory: West Chelsea, the Hudson Yards, Downtown Brooklyn, and the Williamsburg/Greenpoint waterfront will all become significantly denser over the next decade.

The development process has also become more transparent. According to Laura Wolf-Powers, urban planning chair at the Pratt Institute (and a regular contributor to AN), there are also some institutional reasons. New York is seen as development friendly right now,, she said, explaining that beyond the highly publicized rezoning initiative the Department of City Planning has championed along the Williamsburg waterfront and scuffle over the future of the Hudson Yards, quieter changes have taken place that make it easier for newcomers to get into development.

>Under the Bloomberg Administration, the Department of Buildings has basically moved fromm the 19th to the 21st century, so it is much easier to pull permits. There is a new website [www.nyc.gov/html/dob] where all that information is accessible. It used to seem like an insider's game, in which you had to know somebody, or pay expediters, but that has changed..

All of these forcessboth large and small, based on economics or just gut instinct and crossed fingerssare adding up to what looks like a new environment for development in New York. Here's a look at some of the new buildings that are reshaping neighborhoods all over the city.

Manhattan
Between 14th Street and 59th Street

Bank of America tower
Location: One Bryant Park
Developer: Durst Organization/Bank of America
Architect(s):Cook + Fox Architects
Consultant(s): Severud Associates, Jarros Baum Bolles
Size: 54 floors, 2.1 million sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2008
Along with office space, this project includes a reconstructed Georgian-style theater and was approved for Liberty Bond financing. One of the nation's largest green office buildings, the project includes a graywater recycling system, high ceilings for maximum daylighting, and an advanced HVAC system. It will be the first large-scale office tower to seek LEED Platinum certification.

 

31st Street Green
Location: 125 West 31st Street
Developer: The Durst Organization / Sidney Fetner Associates
Architect(s):Fox & Fowle with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s):Gotham Construction Corp.
Size: 58 floors, 459 units, 583,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2005
This green mixed-use tower will loom over its low-lying Hell's Kitchen neighbors. In addition to hundreds of condominiums, the tower will also include the headquarters for the American Cancer Society and a treatment center and hospice. The building's slim profile will allow natural daylighting into its core, and it includes bike storage areas and low VOC building materials.

 

IAC/InterActivCorp Headquarters
Location: 11th Avenue between West 18th and 19th Streets
Developer: IAC with The Georgetown Company
Architect(s): Frank O. Gehry Associates with Studios Architecture
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 9 floors, 147,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Late 2006
Frank Gehry makes his contribution to the ranks of glass-facade buildings that are beginning to line the West Side Highway. The block-filling headquarters (financed in part by Liberty Bonds) for Barry Diller's InterActiveCorp media company will be clad in a skin of fritted white glass.

 

Clinton Green
Location: 10th Avenue at 51st and 53rd streets
Developer: The Dermot Company
Architect(s): Fox & Fowle
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Langan Engineering, Edwards & Zuck, Site Architects

Size:
24 floors, 300 units, 400,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Budget: $170 million
This mixed-use development in Clinton (nne Hell's Kitchen) includes spaces for two theater companies, retail, and loft-style and conventional apartments. The architects and developers will seek LEED certification for the project, which includes bike storage, Zipcar parking, low-energy glazing, and locally produced and low VOC materials.

 

325 Fifth Avenue
Location: 325 Fifth Avenue
Developer: Continental Residential Holdings
Architect(s): The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Consultant(s): WSP Cantor Seinuk Structural Engineers, I.M. Robbins Consulting Engineers, Thomas Balsley Associates, Levine Builders, Andi Pepper Interior Design
Size: 42 floors, 250 units, 390,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Budget: $200 million
This tower, right across the street from the Empire State Building, features floor-to-ceiling glass walls and balconies, which is somewhat unusual for a glass curtain wall building. A landscaped plaza designed by Thomas Balsley is open to the public.

 

4 West 21st Street
Location: 4 West 21st Street
Developer: Brodsky Organization
Architect(s): H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): Bovis Lend Lease, Rosenwasser Grossman, T/S Associates
Size: 17 floors, 56 units, 93,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Spring 2006
Budget: $60 million
This new loft building in the Ladies' Mile Historic District is a harbinger of the area's many planned residential conversions. The structure gives a nod to its contexttincluding its next-door neighbor on 5th Avenue, which housed the offices of McKim, Mead & White from 1895 to 19155with its masonry facade, cornice lines, and window proportions.

 

Bryant Park Tower
Location: 100 West 39th Street
Developer: G. Holdings Group and MG Hotel
Architect(s): Nobutaka Ashihara Associates Architects
Consultant(s): Kondylis Design
Size: 45 floors, 93 units, 53,860 sq. ft. (plus 2,052 sq. ft. roof deck)
Completion (est.): Late 2005
The top ten floors of this new tower a block from Bryant Park are devoted to rental apartments, while the remaining ones will become a 357-suite Marriott Residence Inn, which is oriented towards extended visits.

 

High Line 519
Location: 519 West 23rd Street
Developer: Sleepy Hudson
Architect(s): ROY Co.
Consultant(s): ABR Construction
Size: 11 floors, 11 units, 18,600 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Spring 2006
The first ground-up project for the new development company Sleepy Hudson, this floor-through condo project on a 25-foot-wide lot is nearly adjacent to the High Line. The east wall of the building, facing the elevated tracks, is sheathed in wood and punctured by a small number of windows. Curved metal scrims on the south and north facades function as balustrades and balconies, respectively.

 

50 Gramercy Park North
Location: 50 Gramercy Park North
Developer: Ian Schrager
Architect(s): John Pawson
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 15 floors, 23 units
Completion (est.): January 2006
A home that's a refuge, not a second careerr is how Ian Schrager describes this condo building attached to his posh Gramercy Hotel, also under renovation on the site of the old Gramercy Park Hotel. With units going for $5 to $16 million (up to $3,000 per square foot), and only four left at press time, buyers are eating up the building's featured lifestyle managerss ((ber-concierges) and clean, modern design by John Pawson.

 

Manhattan
Above 59th Street

One Carnegie Hill
Location: 215 East 96th Street
Developer: The Related Companies
Architect(s): HLW International
Consultant(s): HRH Construction, Cosentini, Ismael Leyva Architects, The Rockwell Group
Size: 42 floors, 474 units, 582,000 sq. ft.
Continuing the trend of marketing residences by their architect, Related Residential Sales is using the name of The Rockwell Group to attract attention to its newest tower. Related chose to give Rockwell two amenity floorss?the lobby and common spacessto design, while Ismael Leyva Architects designed the bulk of the interiors.

 

Cielo
Location: 438 East 83rd Street
Developer: JD Carlisle Development Corp.
Architect(s): Perkins Eastman Architects
Consultant(s): M.D. Carlisle, Rosenwasser Grossman, Cosentini Associates
Size: 28 floors, 128 units, 247,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Winter 2006
Budget: $50 million
The twist on this Yorkville luxury condo is a focus on art. There is an art concierge service for residents and free memberships to the nearby Whitney Museum of American Art. Developer and art aficionado Jules Demchick of JD Carlisle also commissioned a mural from artist Richard Haas for the wall of a 19th-century building across the street.

 

170 East End Avenue
Location: 170 East End Avenue
Developer: Skyline Developers
Architect(s): Peter Marino + Associates, Architects
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, MGJ Associates
Size: 19 floors, 110 units, 300,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Fall 2006
In response to this development's location on Carl Schurz Park on the East River, its relatively large site, and developer Oren Wilf's desire to move in to the building with his family, Peter Marino designed the project around the idea of suburban livingg in the city. In translation, that means homes are fairly large and have features like fireplaces and views of grassy yards.

 

Riverwalk Place
Location: Roosevelt Island
Developer: The Related Companies and the Hudson Company
Architect(s): Gruzen Samton with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): DeNardis Associates, Ettinger Associates, Monadnock Construction
Size: 16 floors, 123,620 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Spring 2006
Budget: $45 million
Part of Roosevelt Island's larger revitalization, Riverwalk Place is the third building in Southtown, a smaller community on the island that will introduce 2,000 new housing units, some of which will be reserved for students at Cornell University's Weill Medical College.

 

Manhattan
Between 14th Street and Canal Street

163 Charles
Location: 163 Charles Street
Developer: Barry Leistner
Architect(s): Daniel Goldner Architects
Consultant(s): Regele Builders
Size: 8 floors, 3 units, 13,671 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): June 2006
An earlier owner had asked Zaha Hadid to design a tower on this Far West Village site, but developer Barry Leistner wanted Daniel Goldner Architects for the job. Goldner's design for the modestly scaled building has a penthouse triplex and two duplex residences, and uses brick and glass to respond both to the neighborhood and the adjacent Richard Meier towers.

 

One Kenmare square
Location: 210 Lafayette Street Developer(s): Andrr Balazs and Cape Advisors
Architect(s): Gluckman Mayner Architects with H. Thomas O'Hara
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Gotham Construction, Prudential Douglas Elliman
Size: 6 and 11 floors, 53 units, 84,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Fall 2005
Budget: $26 million
Balasz originally planned to build a hotel on the site called the Standard, but due to economic conditions after 9/11,, said Gluckman Mayner project architect James Lim, he decided to change the program to condos. Gluckman Mayner also designed the hotel, but chose to start from scratch when the project went condo.

 

Urban glass house
Location: 328 Spring Street
Developer: Glass House LLC
Architect(s): Philip Johnson Alan Ritchie with Selldorf Architects
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 40 units, 90,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): April 2006
Budget: $30 million
After being put on the back burner for more than a decade, Philip Johnson's design for condos will be built, albeit with a different developer. The original plan was for a radical and multifaceted building,, said project architect Matthew Barrett; it was turned down by local community groups. More recently, Selldorf Architects was asked to redesign the plans for the interiors.

 

Cooper Square / Avalon Chrystie Place
Location: Houston and Bowery, E. 1st Street and Bowery, 2nd Avenue and Bowery
Developer: Avalon Bay Communities
Architect(s): Arquitectonica
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 6, 7, 9, and 14 floors, 708 units, 877,500 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): April 2006
This mixed-use residential development includes four individual mid-rise buildings spread out among three adjacent city blocks on the Lower East Side. They include ground-floor retail and a community fitness center, and incorporate two existing community gardens. As the first building on Houston nears completion, some neighbors are excited about the arrival of Whole Foods Market, while others worry about the scale.

 

255 Hudson
Location: 255 Hudson Street
Developer: Metropolitan Housing Partners and Apollo Real Estate
Architect(s): Handel Architects
Consultant(s): Gotham Construction
Size: 11 floors, 64 units, 94,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
At the base of this glass, concrete, and zinc building are three duplex apartments, each with a 60-foot-long private backyard. The backyards arose from zoning restrictions on the project's extra-deep lot: The developer toyed with the idea of creating a courtyard or public park before settling on private gardens to raise the value of the lower units.

 

40 Mercer
Location: 40 Mercer Street
Developer: Andrr Balazs and Hines
Architect(s): Ateliers Jean Nouvel with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): Cosentini Associates, Gilsanz Murray Steficek, Ravarini McGovern Construction
Size: 13 floors, 50 units, 156,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Budget: $60 million
This super-luxurious condo development incorporates all the comforts of Andrr Balazs' hotelsspersonal shoppers, housekeeping, and continental breakfast deliveryyas well as a bathhouse with a 50-foot lap pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, and private lounge. Nouvel's first residential project in the United States, the building features red and blue glass curtain walls, massive sliding glass walls, and floor-to-ceiling windows.

 

Switch Building
Location: 109 Norfolk Street
Developer: 109 Norfolk LLC
Architect(s): nArchitects
Consultant(s): Builders & HVAC, Sharon Engineering, AEC Consulting & Expediting
Size: 7 floors, 13,600 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Spring 2006
Budget: $4.25 million
According to Mimi Hoang, cofounder of nArchitects, her firm got this job when a group of thee independent developers strolled into 147 Essex, a group studio housing several young firms. The developers saw the firm's portfolio and were impressed enough to hire them for their first major building.

 

Blue at 105 Norfolk Street
Location: 105 Norfolk Street
Developer: John Carson and Angelo Cosentini
Architect(s): Bernard Tschumi Architects with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): Israel Berger & Associates, Thornton Thomasetti, Ettinger Engineers
Size: 16 floors, 32 units, 60,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Budget: $18 million
The irregular form of this building is due in part to a series of site restrictions: The developers purchased the air rights to the building next door so that they could build over it, but zoning regulations do not permit the insertion of a column within the neighboring commercial space, so the architects had to cantilever the upper floors out over the adjacent building. The upper levels taper back because of setback requirements.

 

Manhattan
Below Canal Street

One York Sreet

Developer: One York Property
Architect(s): TEN Arquitectos
Consultant(s): Donald Friedman Consulting Engineer, Ambrosino Depinto & Schmieder Consulting Engineers, Bovis, Israel Berger & Associates
Size: 12 floors, 41 units, 132,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
TEN Arquitectos inserted a 12-story condo tower in the center of an existing six-story building on the edge of the Tribeca Historic District at Canal Street and Sixth Avenue. New balconies, roof terraces and windows will embellish the older building, while the top six stories are housed in a transparent volume.

 

Tribeca Green
Location: 325 North End Avenue
Developer: The Related Companies
Architect(s): Robert A. M. Stern Architects with Ismael Leyva Architects
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Matthews Nielsen Landscape Architecture, Steven Winter Associates
Size: 24 floors, 264 residential units, 350,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Late 2005
Tribeca Green in Battery Park City features photovoltaic panels in its crown, a green roof, a graywater recycling system, operable windows, and a high-performance curtain wall. Located adjacent to Tear Drop Park, the blocky building has a massive brick-clad lower-level with glass and steel corners.

 

200 Chambers
Location: 200 Chambers Street
Developer: Jack Resnick & Sons
Architect(s): Costas Kondylis Partners
Consultant(s): Cantor Seinuk Group, Cosentini Associates, Plaza Construction, Israel Berger & Associates, Thomas Balsey
Size: 30 floors, 258 units, 470,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Along with office space, this project includes a reconstructed Georgian-style theater and was approved for Liberty Bond financing. One of the nation's largest green office buildings, the project includes a graywater recycling system, high ceilings for maximum daylighting, and an advanced HVAC system. It will be the first large-scale office tower to seek LEED Platinum certification.

 

200 Chambers
Location: 200 Chambers Street
Developer: Jack Resnick & Sons
Architect(s): Costas Kondylis Partners
Consultant(s): Cantor Seinuk Group, Cosentini Associates, Plaza Construction, Israel Berger & Associates, Thomas Balsey
Size: 30 floors, 258 units, 470,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Foster and Partners was the original architecture firm behind this project but parted ways with developer Jack Resnick & Sons after the design encountered opposition from the community, which disliked its scale. New York is quite different from Europe,, says to Joy Habian, director of communications at Costas Kondylis Partners, which now has the job. The company has designed more than 46 highrises in New York alone.

 

Vestry Building
Location: 31133 Vestry Street
Developer: Vestry Acquisitions
Architect(s): Archi-tectonics
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 9 floors, 30,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Unavailable
Despite initial problems with city approval because of its location in a landmarked district, the Vestry building is slated to begin construction within a year. Although it is of a consistent scale with its surroundings, Winka Dubbeldam has designed a cool, glazed-front building that stands in relief from its chaotic neighborhood.

 

River Lofts
Location: 425 Washington Street, 92 Laight Street
Developer: Boymelgreen Developers
Architect(s): Tsao & McKown with Ismael Leyva Architects
Consultant(s): Alisa Construction Company, N. Wexler & Assoc., Lehr Associates
Size: 13 floors, 65 units, 200,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Fall 2005
Tsao & McKown scored River Lofts, the firm's first project with Boymelgreen Developers, through Louise Sunshine of the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. The project, part ground-up construction and part restoration of a loft warehouse on the edge of the Tribeca Historic District, is designed to respect that marriage, as well as the surrounding neighborhood,, according to principal Calvin Tsao.

 

Historic Front Street
Location: Front Street at Peck Slip
Developer: Yarrow LLC
Architect(s): Cook + Fox Architects
Consultant(s): Robert Filman Associates, Lazlo Bodak, Saratoga Associates, Steven Winter Associates
Size: 96 units
Completion (est.): 2005
Located just north of the South Street Seaport at Front Street and Peck Slip, this retail and residential development comprises both sides of the street along a full block, including eleven 18th-century buildings and three new ones. The renovated buildings preserve historic building materials while integrating green technologies such as green roofs, photovoltaic panels, and geothermal heating and cooling.

 

Fultonhaus
Location: 119 Fulton Street
Developer: Daniell Real Estate Properties
Architect(s): Hustvedt Cutler Architects
Consultant(s): NTD Realty
Size: 14 floors, 19 units, 31,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Summer 2006
Budget: $8 million
A 7-story addition doubling the height of a 1908 office building by architect Henry Allen, Fultonhaus is a contemporary steel and glass structure half enclosed by early 20th-century masonry. Because the original structure was so narrow, the greatest design challenge, according to project architect Bruce Cutler, was structural and seismic.

 

Millenium Tower Residences
Location: 30 West Street
Developer: Millennium Partners
Architect(s): Handel Architects
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, I.M. Robbins, Flack + Kurtz, Matthews Nielson Landscape Architecture
Size: 35 floors, 236 units, 410,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Winter 2006
Budget: $180 million
The tallest of the new Battery Park City residential towers is the Millenium Tower Residences. The building will consume 25 percent less energy than a conventional residential tower, and will include solar panels, green roofs, a fresh air intake system, and locally-sourced building materials. The developers did not apply for Liberty Bonds because they opted aginst a 5 percent set-aside for affordable housing.

 

The Verdesian
Location: 211 North End Avenue
Developer: The Albanese Organization
Architect(s): Cesar Pelli & Associates with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): DeSimone Consulting Engineers, Flack & Kurtz, Balmori Assoc., Turner Construction
Size: 24 floors, 253 units
Completion (est.): Fall 2005
Budget: $73 million
The Verdesian employs many of the same green technologies used in Cesar Pelli & Associates' last sustainable residential tower in Battery Park City for the same developer, the Solaire, such as building-integrated photovoltaics, a fresh air intake system, and low VOC building materials. The developer is seeking a LEED gold certification for the Verdesian. This project was financed in part by Liberty Bonds.

 

Brooklyn
Downtown

Atlantic Yards
Location: Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenues
Developer: Forest City Ratner Company
Architect(s): Frank O. Gehry Assoc.
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: In 17 buildings: 6,000 units, 230,000 sq.ft. retail,
Completion (est.): Arena, 2008
Budget: $3.5 billion
Another sports team, another railyard: Forest City Ratner Company's (FCRC) proposal to build a deck over the Atlantic Yards and develop the 21-acre site into offices, retail, housing, and a sports arena, is creating some controversy based on its scale and dependence on eminent domain. But by upping the percentage of affordable rental units to 50 percent, FCRC has managed to defuse a great deal of community opposition.

 

Williamsburg Savings Bank
Location: 1 Hanson Place
Developer: The Dermot Company with Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds
Architect(s): H. Thomas O'Hara
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 34 floors, 216 units
Completion (est.): Unavailable
The Williamsburg Savings Bank building isn't in Williamsburg; rather, it has anchored downtown Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal with a gold-domed clock tower for 78 years. In May, HSBC sold the building to a partnership including basketball star Earvin Magicc Johnson's development company, Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds, which intends to restore and renovate the old commercial structure into a condo building with 33,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.

 

189 Schermerhorn Street
Location: 189 Schermerhorn Street
Developer: Procida Realty and Second Development Services
Architect(s): The Stephen B. Jacobs Group
Consultant(s): Rosenwasser Grossman Consulting Engineers, Sideris Consulting Engineers
Size: 25 and 6 floors, 214 units
Completion (est.): 2007
Architect Stephen Jacobs split this development into a 25-story tower and a 6-story block, and separated them with a courtyard. In the block, there are 15 larger townhouselike apartments, while in the tower, the apartments are somewhat smaller but have a view.

 

Schermerhorn House
Location: 160 Schermerhorn Street
Developer: Hamlin Ventures and Common Ground Community Development Architect: Polshek Partnership
Consultant(s): Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, Silman Associates, Flack + Kurtz
Size: 11 Floors, 189 units; 98,000 sq.ft.
Completion (est.): 2007
This affordable housing development is built with a cantilevered superstructure to accommodate subway tunnels that consume 45 per cent of area under the site. The building includes a green roof and recycled and low VOC building material, and also includes retail, community and performance spaces, and support services for tenants.

 

Brooklyn
Williamsburg

184 Kent Avenue
Location: 184 Kent Avenue
Developer: 184 Kent Avenue Associates
Architect(s): Karl Fischer Architect
Consultant(s): Lilker Associates, Severud Associates
Size: 10 floors, 240 units, 520,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2008
Budget: $80 million
For the renovation of this 1913 Cass Gilberttdesigned Austin-Nichols warehouse along the East River, architect Karl Fischer plans to add four new floors to the roof pulled back from the parapet. He also plans to insert an 80-by-20-foot open-air courtyard in the center of the existing 500,000-square-foot building.

 

Schaefer Landing
Location: 440 Kent Avenue
Developer: Kent Waterfront Associates LLC
Architect(s): Karl Fischer Architect with Gene Kaufman
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 25 and 15 floors, 350 units, 530,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Late 2005
Budget: $90 million
As the first tall residential building along the Williamsburg waterfront, this development provides a glimpse of what is likely to come under the new higher density zoning regulations. The phased two-tower project also includes public park space along the East River.

 

Brooklyn
Dumbo

70 Washington Street
Location: 70 Washington Street
Developer: Two Trees Management Co. Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 13 floors, 259 units, 360,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): December 2005
Budget: $50 million
The rehabilitation of this 1910 manufacturing building is DUMBO's most recent conversion of a factory-turned-artist's studio into condominiums. The building's relatively narrow floor plates made it more suitable for residential use than many of its bulkier neighbors, several of which will remain as studio space.

 

Beacon Tower
Location: 85 Adams Street
Developer: Leviev Boymelgreen
Architect(s): Cetra/Ruddy
Consultant(s): Linden Alschuler & Kaplan, Benjamin Huntington
Size: 23 floors, 79 units, 116,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): September 2006
Budget: $45 million
At 314 feet tall, Beacon Tower will be the tallest building in DUMBO. The architecture firm Cetra/Ruddy collaborated with feng shui consultant Benjamin Huntington to design what is being marketed as a positive living environment.. Located directly adjacent to the Manhattan Bridge, the building was designed with dual-glazed laminated glass and sound absorbing acoustic liners to keep the noise out.

 

The Nexus
Location: 84 Front Street
Developer: A.I. and Boymelgreen
Architect(s): Meltzer/Mandl Architects
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 12 floors, 56 units, 86,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): January 2006
This 12-story new condo building is similar in scale to its early 20th-century neighbors, but doesnnt employ their industrial vocabulary. According to principal Marvin Meltzer, the client had already purchased the yellow brick, and so his firm decided to incorporate more contemporary metal panels in green, blue, and metallic silver on the facade.

 

Queens

The Windsor at forest Hills
Location: 108824 71st Road
Developer: Cord Meyer Development Co.
Architect(s): Ismael Leyva Architects
Consultant(s): Rosenwasser Grossman Consulting Engineers, Burrwood Engineering, Bovis Construction
Size: 21 floors, 95 units, 166,242 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): Late 2005
The site of the Windsor is along a stretch of Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills where there are currently no comparably scaled projects. Mid-rises across the street balance the proposed building somewhat, but project architect Luen Chee of Cord Meyer foresees the neighborhood being developed at a much larger scale in the near future.

 

Flushing Town Center
Location: College Point Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue
Developer: Muss Development
Architect(s): Perkins Eastman Architects
Consultant(s): Bovis Lend Lease, Langan Engineering, Urbitran/Rosenbloom Architects
Size: 1,000 units, 750,000 sq. ft. retail, 3.2 million sq. ft. total
Completion (est.): Spring 2007
Budget: $600 million
On a 14-acre site in downtown Flushing near Shea Stadium, this mixed-use commercial, residential, and manufacturing development on the site of a former Con Edison facility is attracting big-box retailers to its 50,000 to 130,000-square-foot commercial spaces. The Flushing waterfront was rezoned in the late 1990s to accommodate such developments.

 

Queens West Six and Seven
Location: Centre Boulevard, Long Island City
Developer: Rockrose Development Corp.
Architect(s): Arquitectonica with SLCE Architects
Consultant(s): Unavailable
Size: 30 floors each, 965 units, 1,159,000 sq. ft.
Completion (est.): 2006
Budget: $200 million
This mammoth development on a 22-acre industrial site along the Queens waterfront consists of seven buildings ranging from 7 to 35 stories in height. It will form an urban edge between the traditional mid-rise structures of Queens and the East River waterfront park.

 

Researched and written by Alan G. Brake, Deborah Grossberg, Anne Guiney, Gunnar Hand, Jaffer Kolb, and Jenny Wong.

Also in this issue:

Developmentally Challenged

Architects Turned Developers

Practically Ready


Sustainable


NEW Developers


Liberty Bonds


Conversions

Eminent Domain

 

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Decent, Fit, and Green
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Housing Aid on the Way

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LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH (BUYERS) AND FAMOUS (ARCHIT

With the real estate market up and public appreciation for design surging, residential buyers are willing to pay more for the cachet of a big-name architecttand developers are catering to the new demand. But are designer buildingss adding quality to New York's urban fabric or just padding developers' pockets? Anna Holtzman finds it's a little of both.

Is residential real estate in New York finally catching up to its stylish inhabitants? The city seems to be going through a design boom: Richard Meier, Santiago Calatrava, Philippe Starck, Tsao & McKown, Winka Dubbeldam, Gwathmey Siegel, and Michael Graves have all recently made, or will soon make, their mark on the lower half of Manhattan. And there's talk of on-the-boards residential buildings by Frank O. Gehry and Christian de Portzamparc. The projects come with swanky names (the River Lofts, the Downtown), luxury amenities, and high-end price tags to boot.

If you suspect this designer craze is all about name-branding, you're right. The draw of well-known architects for developers is obvioussthey establish a certain price-point, like a designer label; they add status to a project,, said Bassie Deitsch of Boymelgreen, the developer responsible for the Starck and Tsao & McKown buildings, both on the lower west side. But before dismissing this phenomenon as a superficial trend, one must take into consideration the bigger picture. As New York architect and developer Peter Moore put it, any builder taking the risk of high design is a good thingg?whatever the initial motivation. And motives evolve. As Izak Senbahar, developer of the new Richard Meier tower on Charles Street, said, It raises the bar. Everyone is working for profit, but when you drive around the city and see something beautiful and elegant, you're encouraged to do more of that..

For Frank Sciame's first real estate development, 80 South Street, Santiago Calatrava proposes townhousess floating in the air.

Opinions vary on what has spurred this recent interest in design. Perry Street, and the amount of press it generated, did a lot to create that awareness,, said Meier, referring to the pair of gleaming residential towers he designed. Others see it as the result of broader influences: The time was right for this,, said Frank Sciame, developer of the Calatrava-designed South Street tower, currently in the works. Five years ago, we would have done a conventional tower.. Ironically, it was the tragic events of September 11 that indirectly led him to select a visionary architect for the project. After 9/11, given the great buildings that were going up at Ground Zero and the fact that this site was [relatively nearby and] at the river's edge, we decided that it should also be a tangible symbol of Manhattan's recovery.. What emerged was an unusual design by Calatrava comprised of 10 boxlike units that seem to float independently in the air.

Senbahar agreed that post-9/11, New Yorkers have a greater appreciation of good architecture. So if you create something of quality, people will pay more for it,, he said.

So why has it taken New York this long to wake up to design, when cities such as Miami and London started using architects to market residential buildings years ago? Senbahar posited, In New York, apartments sell from the inside out. Layout is important.. Meanwhile, faaade is secondary. There's also a greater demand for real estate in New York, so you have a captive audience,, said Senbahar. In Miami, you're talking about mostly second homes, so you have to entice the buyer with attractive buildings.. He continued, In construction, if you keep it simple, it's a lot easier.. So when the real estate market was lower, developers preferred to play it safe by sticking with conventional designs that were cheaper to build. Now that the market is up, developers are taking advantage of the fact that buyers won't blink at higher price-tagssand are using the added value of design to compete with one another.

Dubbeldam, who designed the interiors and undulating curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project, cringed at this sort of thinking. Quality is not more expensive,, she stated emphatically, because it pays out more in the long run. It's better for the developer in the end.. Dubbeldam is appalled by the majority of American developers, saying that they have no consciousness about energy, no thinking about ecologyythey think that architects are just fancy picture-makers..

The glazed curtain wall of the Greenwich Street Project by Winka Dubbeldam of Archi-Tectonics cascades to the street.

Just how far developers are willing to involve architects in their grand plans varies from project to project. In many cases, as with the now two-year-old 425 Fifth Avenue designed by Michael Graves for developer Trevor Davis of Davis & Partners, the exterior and interior designs are done by a high-level architect, but considerations such as floor layouts and interior detailing are determined by a combination of real estate consultants and contract architects. The Sunshine Group is one such consulting firm. In addition to marketing, the group consults developers on pre-development planning, which architects to work with, apartment layouts, ceiling heights, number of bathroom fixtures, closet size, et cetera. Boymelgreen brought in Sunshine to consult on the Downtown, which in turn selected Starck to infuse the interiors and entryway with his signature playful style. Layouts and faaade, however, were left to project architect Ishmael Leyva.

Terraces, French doors, skylights, fireplaces, Sub-Zero and Miele appliances, and spa-like bathrooms are among the amenities at the River Lofts, a combination restoration and new construction project by Tsao & McKown.

Some architects are pushing to increase the scope of their roles, however, and changing developers' minds in the process. In the case of Tsao & McKown's River Lofts, for example, Sunshine initially invited the architects to work on the project to add our particular brand of lifestylee to the interiors of the apartments, said Calvin Tsao. However, Tsao & McKown ultimately convinced the developer, Boymelgreen, to let them have a hand in the faaade as welllwith the support of Sherida Paulsen, then chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. When it came to the firm's next project with Sunshine and Boymelgreen, the Spring Street Lofts in SoHo, the architects were brought in at an earlier phase and were able to collaborate with the client in a much more organic way. Rather than look askance at being called in as lifestyle gurus,, said Zack McKown, we saw it as an empowering position..

The newest Meier tower, still under construction, echoes the first two completed in 2002, in design, luxury amenties, and price points.

A rare few architects are getting in on development at the ground level. Dubbeldam was brought onto the Greenwich Street Project by developer Jonathan Carroll of Take One before he even had a site in fact, Dubbeldam wound up find ing its location. In the case of Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place tower, the architect found himself in the unusual situation of starting out on the client side, as a board member at Cooper Union. Before signing on as the designer, he hired the developer, Related Companies, and selected the site himself. It was only later, after a series of unscripted events including Gwathmey leaving Cooper's board, that he was brought on as architect and was thus able to shape every part of the project, from the footprint to interiors.

What truly smart developers have come to understand is that taking architecture into consideration from the get-go can only benefit the value of their building in the long run. Senbahar chose Meier for Charles Street in deference to the Perry Street Towers, which were already built by developers Ira Drucker, Charles Blaichman, and Richard Born when he came on the scene. He wanted to maintain a consistent aesthetic among a grouping of buildings that he believes may someday be landmarked. In improving the neighborhood, this move also improves that which remains a developer's main concern: real estate values.

Charles Gwathmey's Astor Place is being touted by its developer, the Related Companies, as Manhattan's first rotational, asymmetrical, sculptural building..

Unfortunately, as Dubbeldam pointed out, the vast majority of developers are still stuck in the dark ages in terms of design. I think [these high-design buildings are] just isolated projects,, said Dubbeldam, but I hope they can inspire overall change.. Yet when it comes to the realm of affordable housing, even the optimistic have little hope that these high-end projects will inspire change. Unfortunately,, explained Senbahar, whenever design requires a higher level of construction, it's reflected in the cost, and therefore it would be very difficult, especially with the high land prices in New York.. Developer Moore lamented, We still have a long way to go [towards better design for the city as a whole]. That's where the city should get involved. There's no even-handed aesthetic control. We need an aesthetic cop..
ANNA HOLTZMAN, A FORMER EDITOR AT ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE, IS PRODUCING A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT SUBWAY MUSICIANS.

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The Shipping News
 
 

As shipping containers begin to break out of Red Hook, Elizabeth, New Jersey, and the outer-borough rail yards that are their natural habitat, and show up on the Upper East Side's museum row, it is fair to ask: Why containers, and why now? The architectural zeitgeist has settled -- at least for the summer -- on the container as the building material of moment. In New York City, two projects are on display: Sean Godsell's Future Shack is currently in the garden of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, and LOT-EK's Mobile Dwelling Unit will open on July 1 in the Sculpture Court at the Whitney Museum of American Art. (Another container-based project, Adam Kalkin's Quik House, was installed this spring at Deitch Projects in SoHo as a part of the gallery's exhibition, Suburban House Kit. It closed on March 27.)

LOT-EK's Mobile Dwelling Unit (MDU) is the prototype of what the firm imagines could be a moveable living space that would plug into a purpose-made vertical infrastructure dock in cities around the world. The 40-foot container is fitted out with zones for sleeping, living, bathing, cooking, and working. Once it is lifted into place and attached to the hypothetical dock, each zone could slide out, creating a useable series of rooms. When the occupants want to go elsewhere, they could undock or replace individual zone modules so that the MDU's profile is once again that of a standard container, and move on.

Godsell's Future Shack represents a more Spartan approach to refitting a container for domestic uses than the MDU, but since it was conceived as a potential solution for housing refugees around the world, its rough and ready quality makes sense. The interior is clad with plywood sheets, and skylights provide interior light. A shed roof above the container is fitted with solar panels to provide electricity. Godsell had been working on the idea for several years, but since entering the Future Shack in the nonprofit group Architecture for Humanity's competition for housing refugees in Kosovo, the project has garnered notice and credibility.

Kalkin's first container project was actually a performance piece, but since then, he has moved closer to the unglamorous concerns of cheap housing. The tongue-in-cheek order form that accompanied his Deitch installation may have been the last gasp for the performative elements of his projects, because he says he is now developing ideas about containers as housing in Afghanistan.

These contemporaries clearly have some superficial similarities, but each seems to have used the shipping container as a vessel for decidedly different ideas. While Godsell's no-nonsense approach uses an abundant and inexpensive resource for its possibilities for speedy assembly and reasonably low cost to house people in need, Kalkin coyly references everything from Duschamp's multiples to 1950s ideas of modern living. Meanwhile, LOT-EK's Ada Tolla explained part of her and partner Giuseppe Lignano's fascination with shipping containers stems from the fact that they embody a much larger global system. "It is not just an object that sits," she said. "It has connotations of Asia and Africa, and the infrastructure behind this network. We try to transport that network and its systems into architecture."

The abundance of shipping containers is a byproduct of a trade imbalance that means that many more arrive in the United States than leaves. In and around New York, shipping containers are as numerous and unwanted as pigeons, with thousands arriving every year. The costs for their shippers to have them return, empty, runs up to $9000which is not much less than the cost of buying them. From the windows of the PATH train to Newark, one can see yards with countless multi-colored containers stacked high, waiting for freight that may never arrive. This glut has made them fairly cheap to buy: Depending on condition, a basic model begins at about $2,000.

People have been using shipping containers for things other than storage for a long time now -- without the help of architects, thank you very much. The yard on the outskirts of Newark periodically doubles as an unofficial homeless shelter. An auto body shop in Williamsburg uses several containers to house everything from spare parts and offices to a pair of understandably irritable Rottweilers who guard the lot at night. Seabox.com, the website of a container manufacturing and outfitting firm in East Riverton, New Jersey, shows pictures of containers tricked out as a shed with aluminum siding and Palladian windows, and in one truly impressive case, a mobile home for an elephant.

Circus animals, guard dogs, and monkey wrenches are no longer the only ones to enjoy such accommodations though. Beyond LOT-EK, Godsell, and Kalkin, firms including Jones, Partners: Architects, Jennifer Siegal's Office of Mobile Design, and even typically mild-mannered Fox & Fowle have developed proposalssand in Siegal's case, actually builttfor projects ranging from single-family houses to large-scale, multi-unit developments. While Jones and Siegal have both used the boxes as the basis for prefabricated houses, Fox & Fowle's award-winning entry to a Boston Society of Architects ideas competition sketches out a development of 351 live/work units on a 18.5 acre brownfield site in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The plan is still more of a conceptual exercise than anything at this point, according to lead architect Mark Strauss. Strauss says that he chose containers as the building block because of their structural qualities and the chance to address the problem of their abundance.

From a material standpoint, it is easy to see why the homely shipping container has seduced so many architects. They have a steel framework that is not compromised when several are stacked up, and steel or aluminum cladding that can be modified or stripped away fairly easily. Containers are often insulated and waterproof, and come with wooden floors. There are international size standards, with the most typical modules being 8 feet wide, 8 feet and 6 inches high, and 20 feet long.

The London-based real estate development and management firm Urban Space Management has demonstrated the practical and urbanistic potential of container-based buildings in Container City on Trinity Wharf in the Docklands. In creating artists' live/work spaces, they found the cost to construct a new building would have amounted to 120 per square foottabout three times what artists typically pay for studio space. Containers were an affordable and structurally efficient alternative. The first Container City, completed in 2000, was so successful that two others have followed.

According to both Ada Tolla and Mark Strauss, the short answer to the question of shipping container's sudden appearance in the spotlight is a straightforward one: Because they are there, and there are so many of them. Their long answers are more complex (and very different) but also suggest that shipping containers, because of the variety of ways architects (and people) approach them, may not always be relegated to their rusty piles along the waterfront.