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A Spoonful of Sugar
Courtesy Landmarks Preservation Commission

Despite calls from some preservationists to protect more of the sprawling Domino Sugar Refinery adjacent the Williamsburg Bridge, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated only three interconnected buildings at the center of the site at its weekly meeting on September 25. The decision paves the way for the New Domino, a mixed-income development designed by Rafael Viñoly that will occupy much of the refinery’s land.

In an interview, LPC chair Robert Tierney said the commission had to balance preserving North Brooklyn’s industrial waterfront while still serving its current residents. “On the merits, this is clearly the way to go,” he said. “Assuming there are no other constraints—an unlimited budget, no housing, the community didn’t care—then it would be great to save everything, but you have to be realistic.” Part of the reason the community cares so much and wants to only preserve part of the refinery is that nearly a third of the New Domino’s 2,200 units will be affordable for low- and moderate-income families.

Not all of the complex could be saved while making room for such an ambitious project. The commission decided to keep the pan, finishing, and filter houses, which comprise the massive brick structure that is the heart of the complex, both historically and visually— it is the oldest intact portion of the complex as well as the tallest, with a 210-foot smokestack. It should make a nice counterpoint to a the 30- and 40-story towers that will rise beside it. (“How Sweet It Is,” AN 13_08.01.2007).

Some preservationists, however, see this decision as a whitewash job. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, applauded the Domino designation but said he wishes more could have been saved to better convey the history of the refinery. He was also concerned that the newer buildings could overpower the older ones. “Ten years from now, we’ll look at that, and will anyone understand what it was?” he said of the refinery. “We’ll have part of it, but is that enough? Is this really the purpose of preservation?”

Tierney did emphasize that the commission considered all buildings on the site and maintained only those worthy of preservation. This, however, does not include the concrete Bin House that has held aloft the iconic yellow neon Domino Sugar sign since 1960. (The developer has said it intends to keep the sign in some fashion.)

The 19th-century Adant House, which has been repeatedly modified, will not be saved. Neither will the many warehouses that line the site, which no one has campaigned for specifically. “The difficulty is not that we didn’t do enough,” Tierney said. “It’s that we did any preservation at all. It may seem like a given, but it is very possible nothing could have been saved. They’re going to keep the buildings that count.”

But which buildings count is a matter of debate, even for Tierney, given his statements during the September 25 meeting. “If sugar was king in Brooklyn,” he said at the time, “the former Domino complex for decades was its crown.” Does that then mean that only a handful of jewels have been saved?


421-a Deal Struck

For a moment, it seemed like the months of hard work spent transforming the 421-a tax abatement program into an engine for affordable housing would come crashing down. After the program emerged from the State Legislature in late June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg felt his plan had been so changed that he asked the governor to veto it if no compromise could be reached. And as often happens in Albany, a last-minute deal was struck on August 7, “a positive result for affordable housing in New York City,” said the mayor in a statement.

“I’m happy with the final outcome of the bill,” said Assemblyman Vito Lopez, architect of the bill the mayor opposed. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we’re happy.” Namely, the city’s demands for middle-income housing have returned, whereas Lopez wanted the program to only benefit low-income families.

Some New Yorkers are still missing what they most wanted, though. Under the June bill, Forest City Ratner’s (FCR) Atlantic Yards development received what critics are calling a “carve out” that could have netted the developer $300 million. Even though he is a supporter of the project, the mayor had threatened to revoke city funds, arguing that Ratner’s windfall would be the city’s loss. Instead, he balked and knocked the subsidies down to $200 million with the guarantee that affordable housing would be built during each phase of the project instead of at the end, when critics claim Ratner could renege on promises due to lack of funds.

For Atlantic Yards opponents, the deal still goes too far. “The provision is giving Bruce Ratner a tax break no one else can get,” said Dan Goldstein of Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. “It’s just a little bit smaller, but he shouldn’t have it at all. The mayor said that, ACORN said that, everybody said that.” Neill Coleman,spokesman for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, said the city won appropriate concessions from FCR, and the deal made sense. "This restores its position very close to where it was before the City Council passed its bill” in December," Coleman said of Atlantic Yards. “Back then, it was not in the exclusion zone.”

Central to the debate are the boundaries of the zones that are excluded from eligibility. The 421-a program, created in 1970 to spur residential development in a beleaguered city, was so successful in parts of Manhattan where the market was strong, an exclusion zone was established. To gain tax breaks within those areas, developers had to create affordable housing equivalent to 20 percent of the units in the project.

Mayor Bloomberg decided two years ago to expand these zones to encourage affordable housing, which would now have to be built onsite within an exclusion zone that would encompass most of Manhattan, and the Brooklyn/Queens waterfront. The City Council expanded that zone, as did the legislature. Lopez expanded the zone to all of Manhattan, and every borough has one. Developers outside the exclusion zone still receive the tax abatement as-of-right.

The Bloomberg administration hopes to negotiate the exclusion zone when the legislature reconvenes next year—they think the latest additions will see a lack of necessary development—but the city is happy with its larger victory, the inclusion of middle-income projects like Queens West and Willets Point. Now developers must make a percentage of units affordable to 90 percent of the area mean income, though this is actually an average that extends between 120 percent and 60 percent. “It’s one-for-one,” Lopez said. “For every middle-income unit, there will be a working-class one.” Coleman estimates this will help realize 10,000 units the city had planned but feared lost under the new rules. 

Midtown's Dream Team

 

Several weeks ago, in one of the most unique planning exercises in recent city history, six leading design professionals donated their time to collaborate on a day-long charrette in a vacant storefront at United Nations Plaza. They produced a bold new vision for the redevelopment of Midtown Manhattan’s forlorn-looking East River waterfront.

 

Most of the area that the designers focused on, between East 38th and East 42nd streets, is currently a no-man’s land that bears the imprint of a period in planning when cars were given priority over pedestrians. The dominant feature is a nine-acre development site where a Con Edison plant was once located in front of a massive elevated off-ramp from the FDR Drive.

 

The charrette, which was held under the auspices of the Municipal Art Society (MAS), was an effort to harmonize the development agendas for four proposed projects: the United Nations expansion, the renovation of the FDR Drive, the extension of Manhattan’s greenway up the East Side, and the redevelopment of the Con Ed site. “We wanted to bring all the players together,” says Kent Barwick, president of the MAS.

 

On the morning of the charrette, Midtown East stakeholders—including representatives from Manhattan CB6, the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York City Parks Department, and East Side Realty Company, which is redeveloping the Con Ed site with a master plan by Richard Meier and David Childs—made a presentation to the participating designers: Ricardo Scofidio of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Kate Orff of Scape Studio, Margie Ruddick of WRT, Ken Smith of Ken Smith Landscape Architect, Brian Jencek of Hargreaves Associates, and Matthew Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. This was actually the first time that their representatives, with the exception of the UN, discussed their objectives in the same room.

 

In many ways the different visions presented appeared to be irreconcilable. For example, some of the stakeholders presented plans showing options for decking over FDR Drive to provide access to the East River. But for the DOT, there are major constraints against building a deck that slopes down to the river, most notably the FDR’s elevated 42nd Street exit ramp.

 

However, the design that was unveiled the following Sunday addressed the various objectives of the different stakeholders. It links together the proposed projects with a 33- to 36-foot-high terrace running from East 38th Street to East 42nd Street, which cantilevers over FDR Drive. A forested hill on the terrace conceals infrastructure, by surrounding a ventilator shaft and covering over the FDR's 42nd Street exit ramp. Access to the waterfront is provided by a pedestrian/ bicycle ramp descending from the terrace across the FDR and another extending across the highway. A six story glass pylon at the river’s edge would house a restaurant and a ferry terminal. “We realized that if this was going to be viable,” said Scofidio, “we would have to please the DOT.” 

Las Vegas on the Hudson?

Dueling proposals for Pier 40 on Manhattan’s West Village waterfront have whipped community groups into a frenzy, and, at a cacophonous public hearing on May 3, one scheme was blasted as a gaudy “Vegas on the Hudson,” while the other was deemed a lesser (but vastly preferred) evil. The brouhaha comes from the fact that the pier’s caretaker, the Hudson River Park Trust, solicited proposals from private developers in order to finance upgrades of the pier structure itself as well as the public spaces of the park. All of which means the Trust will have its hands full as it ponders the future of the site and tries to balance its own financial needs and the strong feelings of the surrounding community.

The 14-acre pier, at West Houston Street, is now home to a two-story parking garage and offices, wrapped around a courtyard with 3.5 acres of athletic fields. The fate of those fields is at the heart of the debate. At the hearing, soccer clubbers and political leaders alike lashed out at the specter of Jumbotrons on the Hudson.

Denouncing the “humongous development... destroying and disturbing this community,” Deborah Glick, state assembly member for the 66th District, vowed to oppose any retread of Robert Moses’ Westway proposal to tunnel a highway under Manhattan’s western shore . “We fought Westway so that we would have open recreational space,” she told the lively crowd of 1,500 at P.S. 41. “What we need is a direct connection to the waterfront.”

And so in one corner is the Related Companies, with its $626 million bid for a performing arts and recreational center, including an 1,800-seat home for Cirque du Soleil. The plan also calls for a 12-screen cinema for the Tribeca Film Festival, brasseries, galleries, dog runs, and more than 10 acres of public space and ball fields—most of which would be elevated to a rooftop, a move which angers local leagues.

In the other corner is the so-called People’s Pier, developed by summer camp operator CampGroup with Urban Dove, a youth service organization. The $145 million plan focuses on sports facilities, plus an educational complex housing a high school and college. CampGroup architect Richard Dattner cited his firm’s hugely popular Riverbank State Park, built atop a sewage treatment facility over the Hudson River, as a model. The plan would adapt most of the existing pier structure, add a glass entrance tower, and, crucially for ball field boosters, keep the fields at ground level. “I’ve never seen American Idol,” Dattner quipped as the crowd wildly cheered his team, “but this must be what it’s like.”

As the largest pier structure in Hudson River Park, Pier 40 hasn’t seen a major upgrade since it opened to the public in 1962 to serve the Holland America Line. Either proposal would need to fix severely deteriorated steel H-piles holding the structure up. Related’s team, which includes Arquitectonica, Elkus/Manfredi Architects, and Rockwell Group, along with landscape architect DIRT Studios, would also extend Houston Street through the pier as a central, pedestrian-only thoroughfare.

Further complicating matters, Pier 40 is one of only three designated revenue-generating piers in Hudson River Park (the others are Chelsea Piers and the World Yacht/ Circle Line piers), and a central question is what revenue sources should be included to fund the pier’s renovation and the overall park budget. Pier 40’s garage racks up $5 million per year for the park trust, and both proposals call for more than 2,000 parking spaces to keep that cash flowing.

But the hearing made clear that pier advocates had successfully framed the affair as a referendum on T-ball. “The People’s Pier ensures that no one will take these fields away,” declared Urban Dove founder Jai Nanda. For his part, Related Companies president Jeff T. Blau promised “bigger and better fields” and “complementary cultural and entertainment uses.”

For many in the audience, the Related team’s talk of LEED certification and high-performance turf was no match for Little Leaguers who lined up at the microphone. As one youngster dolefully explained, “I would be really disappointed if our field was turned into a mall.” 

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Dialogue: Shaun Donovan & Gwendolyn Wright

In March, the Department of Housing Development and Preservation announced that it had reached the one-third mark in its initiative to develop and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing. To mark the occasion, AN asked housing historian and Columbia professor Gwendolyn Wright to sit down with HPD commissioner Shaun Donovan.

Gwendolyn Wright: What surprises you about working in city government?
Shaun Donovan: One of the most pleasant surprises has been that in a city so famous for politics, how un-political this administration has been. I think Rolling Stone did a profile of the mayor that said New Yorkers have an opportunity to see what government can be without politics, and it actually feels that way inside. It’s amazing how much support we have from the mayor and City Hall to stand up and say this is why we do what we’re doing. 

GW: Having lived in New York for the last 25 years, I can tell you it wasn’t always that way. What does that actually mean in terms of the way things work downtown?
SD: It has a broad set of implications, but there’s a piece of it that’s all about leadership. For example, Iris Weinshall [the recently-departed transportation commissioner] called me the other day and said, “You know what, we’re going to give you these seven parking lots.” For her to make that decision is actually a remarkable thing inside government, because what’s the upside for the transportation commissioner? Not a lot. Even though a given lot is only 25 percent full most of the time, she’s going to get yelled at by the local merchants because the people who use it can’t get to their shops as easily. To me, that says there’s a clear message from City Hall that affordable housing is a priority for the mayor.

GW: What is the role of the private market in the New Housing Marketplace initiative?
SD: That has been the single biggest challenge and opportunity here. When I arrived, the mayor had already started to shift the strategies towards recreating a market in places where there wasn’t one, such as the South Bronx and lots of Harlem. He did this through the New Housing Marketplace plan. I think the real shift that I’ve tried to make is to figure out how to harness the market, rather than recreate it. In affordable housing, a $5 million condo can actually be your friend: It can be as simple as building a few market rate units for the cross-subsidy they create for affordable ones. I think it has also meant that we have a broader opportunity to create mixed-income communities across the city than we did before. One of the great failures of housing policy has been to think about low-income housing as something dangerous that has to be separated out. We try to blur the lines as much as possible, and leveraging the market is really important in doing that. 




Donovan (top) and Wright.  
Aaron Seward
 
 

GW: It is interesting that the mayor and your agency speak about a marketplace, which is different from the market. When people invoke the market they tend to mean the upper tier of it, and how to keep those guys happy—and they’re pretty happy right now! But the marketplace is a circumstance where you have the realities of economics: many different prices, many different groups, and many different kinds of markets. You’re allowing New York to function like a city as opposed to a place defined by the market aspirations of a few major developers.

SD: Housing advocates often focus on how much money government is putting into something, but the levers that we hold in government are often much more powerful than the money. Inclusionary zoning is a perfect example of that. We’ve got million-dollar condos going up on the waterfront in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but we could never have thrown enough money at those projects to end up with what we’re getting, which is that 20 to 30 percent of these buildings are affordable. This is some of the most prime real estate available. The only reason it will be a truly integrated community is because we used the powers of zoning to say that there is a benefit to the marketplace, and we want the marketplace to flourish there. We’ll allow you to build taller, but if you do, you’ve got to give something back for that density.

GW: You seem quite interested in design innovations of various sorts. What are the possibilities for architects?
SD: At the simplest level, it’s about increasing our engagement in design and opening up the process to architects. I think [commissioner] David Burney has really done that for public work through the Department of Design and Construction, and I hope that we’re following that example. Look at all the entries for the New Housing New York competition we just held. I think it is the best example to date of a process that integrates architecture in a way that was not just about design, but about creating a sustainable community. We’re going to do more design competitions like that, but we can’t do it on every single project. It was an enormous effort and expense, but there are a lot of principles that we can integrate into our smaller projects. 

GW: One of the things that you’re doing, which is unusual and wonderful, is challenging architects to imagine and innovate in new ways.
SD: I think there has been a mutual fear within affordable housing and the architecture community about the failure of design in public housing. I strongly believe that design gets a bad rap for lots of other failures, most of them around the social makeup of a project or its financing, all of which have fed into the disintegration of many public housing communities. There’s disillusionment about the possibilities of architecture. I worry about the retreat into traditionalism and contextualism as a way of repairing that. In this competition, we had a long discussion about whether the city was ready for a tower in the park that wasn’t the traditional model. 

GW: I think you’re absolutely right. A lot of architects have felt that housing in general, beyond very expensive luxury housing, tied their hands; there was a demand that it be traditional because then it would seem familiar and somehow ease over all the social problems. It’s almost modernism in reverse. How do you think we can open up a definition of housing beyond the accretion of units in some kind of block or bar?
SD: I think a lot of that is thinking about urban design as part of the work that we do. If you look at Arverne [Arverne Urban Renewal Area, Far Rockaway, Queens] we’re essentially creating new towns there. Our relationship with City Planning is so much stronger than it once was.  

GW: Let me shift a little and ask you about homeownership. It’s emphasized in a lot of the literature put out by the Bloomberg administration. It’s also becoming more controversial due to the problem of subprime mortgages. Homeownership is not the right thing for everyone. What do you see as the advantage of homeownership?
SD: We just reached a record high of homeownership in New York City: 33.3 percent, though it’s the lowest rate of any metropolitan area in the country. We’ve created close to 20,000 low-income homeowners through the limited-equity properties we created through cooperative programs. These were city-owned buildings that we took in foreclosure, renovated, and sold for $250 a unit to the residents. That’s an incredible amount of equity that’s been created for low-income people, and has built a stable financial existence for them. In that sense, I think it’s an increasingly important tool that works within the marketplace. It will never be our primary strategy, but is an important piece of the overall strategy. 

GW: There are several exhibitions on Robert Moses in the city right now. He’s a controversial example of someone not elected to office who exercised enormous political power over the environment, social services, transportation, and housing. What does he teach political figures today?
SD: This goes back to my earliest experiences in government, when I realized the importance of balancing public consensus with moving ahead consistently. That balance is probably the single most important thing that a public servant can achieve, but it is extremely difficult to do. I think it’s very clear that Moses was too far on one side of the spectrum. There was no respect for the importance of building consensus. On the other hand, I think this administration has tried to move toward big things again. Look at Williamsburg: It’s two miles of waterfront. It’s not about small plans. A lot of it is about setting a framework for growth that has an organic quality. The city is a living organism and we have to think of it in that dynamic way. We can’t freeze New York at any time. We have to be ready for change.

On the Waterfront

While the neighborhood around South Street Seaport is rapidly changing, the company that operates the mall there is taking its time to develop plans to connect the complex with the rest of Manhattan. The operator,General Growth Properties, hired Sharples Holden Pasquarelli (SHoP Architects) to develop a masterplan for making the Seaport more compelling to locals, citywide shoppers, and tourists. SHoP (along with the Richard Rogers Partnership) is also working for General Growthhs landlord, the city, to implement a plan that will turn the waterfront north of the Seaport into a major new park. The other major change that has made the area more attractive for development was the Fulton Fish Marketts 2005 move to Huntts Point in the Bronx.

Pasquarelli told AN that his firmms work for both clients aims to make the South Street waterfront more accessible and further open its views to the Brooklyn Bridge..We have spent three years working with the community and are trying to make sure that any [mall] proposal complements and hopefully even solves some issues with the esplanade..He added that preserving the current three-story mall remains a distinct possibility.

But some community residents worry that the private operator will try to cash in on the public improvements at South Street by creating a condo or a hotel.That was clear at General Growthhs scheduled February 27 presentation to a Seaport subcommittee of Community Board 1.While presenting the many concepts currently under study, Pasquarelli and others found themselves defending their work to the often hostile crowd of more than 100 people.

Pasquarelliis presentation stressed Pier177s current disconnect from the street grid..You get to Fulton and Water [streets], and you cannt see the historic ships,, he said. The ideas he presented included restoring the rotting piers under the three idle Fish Market buildings and moving one, the 1907 Tin Building, to line up Beekman Street with waterfront access. But meeting attendees dwelled on a single slide that showed how shrinking the mallls footprint to create a slender tower would open more of the pier.Many charged that the operator secretly plans to sell condos without providing parks and schools. General Growth representative Michael McNaughton insisted that any redesign would enhance the community..This is the beginning of a process,, he said. Pasquarelli echoed this, saying that there were at least 25 plans under discussion, and many more months of design research.

Many groups want to influence the process: Preservationists want to refurbish the South Street Seaport Museum and its historic vessels.And the Drawing Center, which was originally slated for the cultural institution lineup at Ground Zero, is one of many nonprofit organizations that have expressed interest in using the site.

And New York City, as owner of the underlying piers,will scrutinize any decision on aesthetic and contextual grounds..The city would seek improved access to the waterfront and development that enhances the unique historic waterfront and important views,, said a city planning spokesperson. This means balancing residentss views with those available to visitors.

ALEC APPELBAUM

Eavesdrop: Alexander Gorlin

Robert A.M. Stern’s 800-pound gorilla (actually, 11 pounds) of a book, New York 2000, was the topic of a discussion at Columbia that turned out to be a cross between a roast and a fest. Tom Wolfe shocked everyone in the audience (including Suzanne Stephens, Mike Wallace, and Kenneth Jackson) by proclaiming that the Whitney should move “out of the Breuer Bunker and into the Huntington Hartford Building. Then you could demolish the Brutalist, WWI machine–gun turret and sell the land to a developer!” This, from the man who wrote despairingly of the alleged death of the Landmarks Commission in a recentNew York Times Op-ed, lamented ripping the face off Edward Durell Stone’s 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts & Design (MAD). Little did Wolfe know that one of the “walking dead,” landmarks commissioner Margery Perlmutter, was very much alive a few rows away, listening with rapt attention and taking careful notes.

Speaking of the devil, MAD architect Brad Cloepfil, who was allowed to brazenly demolish Ed Stone’s facade without so much as a hearing at the LPC, was seen at the Pentagram party for new partner Luke Hayman, with friend, Pentagramist Lisa Strausfeld…or was that her twin sister Laura?

Talk is going around that Columbia dean Mark Wigley is being considered as chairman of Harvard’s GSD. Leave New York for Boston? He must be mad too!

Up the Hudson, at down-in-the-dumps Newburgh, a week-long charrette to resurrect the city, led by DPZ’s Andres Duany and developer Steve Maun of Leyland, uncovered that the culprit behind the razing of a major part of the city’s historic waterfront was none other than our very own Frank O. Gehry! The architect signed the order in 1966 as part of what was then known as “urban renewal.” Can we chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, or is his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn just another case of, as the French say, plus ça change?

Rumor has it that Architectural Record still has NO plan to redesign its magazine, despite universal agreement that it needs a major facelift. I mean, it doesn’t even have any competition. You would think editor-in-chief Robert Ivy

would take a chance! Finally, a mysterious gift arrived without a note from Tsao & McKown: a flimsy cotton tote bag. When questioned, their office said it was a very, very late Christmas gift, now coming for the Year of the Pig. ThanksCalvin, Zak, and...!

At press time, yours truly was in a stylish car crash, right in front of Mies’ Seagrams Building! I knew it was a mistake to meet a client on Presidents Day, and all of a sudden there was a car making an unexpected left hand turn directly onto our path on Park Avenue. Luckily, we all walked away unharmed (if dazed), save for broken front lights and bumper. Just then, I noticed that we were exactly at the southwest corner of the plaza, where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard had a tete-a-tete in Breakfast at Tiffany’s! C’est la vie!

ALEXANDER GORLIN IS THE PRINCIPAL OF ALEXANDER GORLIN ARCHITECTS, A PROLIFIC AUTHOR, AND MAN ABOUT TOWN.

SEND OBSERVATIONS, TIPS, SUGGESTIONS, FLOWERS, ET CETERA, TOEDITOR@ARCHPAPER.COM 

Eavesdrop

Robert A.M. Sternns 800-pound gorilla (actually, 11 pounds) of a book, New York 2000, was the topic of a discussion at Columbia that turned out to be a cross between a roast and a fest. Tom Wolfe shocked everyone in the audience (including Suzanne Stephens, Mike Wallace, and Kenneth Jackson) by proclaiming that the Whitney should move out of the Breuer Bunker and into the Huntington Hartford Building. Then you could demolish the Brutalist, WWI machineegun turret and sell the land to a developer!! This, from the man who wrote despairingly of the alleged death of the Landmarks Commission in a recent New York Times Op-ed, lamented ripping the face off Edward Durell Stonees 2 Columbus Circle for the Museum of Arts & Design (MAD). Little did Wolfe know that one of the walking dead,, landmarks commissioner Margery Perlmutter, was very much alive a few rows away, listening with rapt attention and taking careful notes.

Speaking of the devil, MAD architect Brad Cloepfil, who was allowed to brazenly demolish Ed Stonees facade without so much as a hearing at the LPC, was seen at the Pentagram party for new partner Luke Hayman, with friend, Pentagramist Lisa Strausfeld>or was that her twin sister Laura?

Talk is going around that Columbia dean Mark Wigley is being considered as chairman of Harvardds GSD. Leave New York for Boston? He must be mad too!

Up the Hudson, at down-in-the-dumps Newburgh, a week-long charrette to resurrect the city, led by DPZZs Andres Duany and developer Steve Maun of Leyland, uncovered that the culprit behind the razing of a major part of the cityys historic waterfront was none other than our very own Frank O. Gehry! The architect signed the order in 1966 as part of what was then known as urban renewal.. Can we chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, or is his Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn just another case of, as the French say, plus a change?

Rumor has it that Architectural Record still has NO plan to redesign its magazine, despite universal agreement that it needs a major facelift. I mean, it doesnnt even have any competition. You would think editor-in-chief Robert Ivy

would take a chance! Finally, a mysterious gift arrived without a note from Tsao & McKown: a flimsy cotton tote bag. When questioned, their office said it was a very, very late Christmas gift, now coming for the Year of the Pig. Thanks Calvin, Zak, and...!

At press time, yours truly was in a stylish car crash, right in front of Miess Seagrams Building! I knew it was a mistake to meet a client on Presidents Day, and all of a sudden there was a car making an unexpected left hand turn directly onto our path on Park Avenue. Luckily, we all walked away unharmed (if dazed), save for broken front lights and bumper. Just then, I noticed that we were exactly at the southwest corner of the plaza, where Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard had a tete-a-tete in Breakfast at Tiffanyys! CCest la vie!

SEND OBSERVATIONS, TIPS, SUGGESTIONS, FLOWERS, ET CETERA, TO EDITOR@ARCHPAPER.COM

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LMDC's Legacy
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Courtesy WEISS / MANFREDI
Weiss/Manfrediis concept design for Park Row introduces a landscaped, terraced pedestrain connection to the elevated Police Plaza.

The mandate of the LMDC, formed by Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the aftermath of 9/11, was not only to oversee the rebuilding of the WTC site but to spearhead the comprehensive, integrated urban renewal of all of Lower Manhattan. To that end, it commissioned several major urban studies in areas below Canal Street by top-tier design firms, and encouraged them to truly think big-picture about rebuilding downtown. Weiss/ Manfredi, H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, Robert A. M. Stern, and Smith-Miller + Hawkinson were all awarded contracts, amounting to over $2 million in fees, according to research compiled by AN at the time of these particular planss completion in 2004 (see World Trade Windfall,, AN 19_11.16.2004). When the LMDC announced last July that it would dissolve in the months to come, it maintained that its primary responsibilitiess selecting a masterplan and memorial design for the WTC site and allocating more than $2.78 billion in federal grants toward fostering business, residential, and cultural growth downtownnhad been fulfilled. Construction of the memorial and development of urban design guidelines for the site has been since delegated to the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, but the fate of the urban studies the LMDC initiated has been more difficult to assess.

The LMDC was never intended to be the agency that implemented such plans. Moreover, there is never a guarantee that any commission will translate into a realized work. But the fact that so little has been publicly discussed with respect to urban design at the WTC site or its surrounding neighborhoods since 9/11 merits a closer look at these plans, and at how or whether the ideas they propose might be expressed in built form.

According to LMDC spokesperson John DeLibero, all of the above-mentioned plans have been transferred to the Department of City Planning (DCP). Rachaele Raynoff, DCP press secretary, confirmed that the DCP is in possession of them but could not specify how the plans are being prioritized. At present, the DCPPs biggest initiative in Lower Manhattan is the East River Waterfront Study by SHoP Architects and the Richard Rogers Partnership.

One piece of news that gives reason to be optimistic that the plans wonnt end up in a drawer is Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis announcement in May 2005 of a comprehensive allocation plann for the LMDCCs unspent $800 million. The plan earmarked $110 million to implement certain elements of the LMDCCs urban plans, including the studies conducted by Weiss/ Manfredi, H3, and Stern. For some of the designers, the announcement was the last concrete news they received regarding their projects.

Raynoff confirmed that the DCP, together with the Department of Transportation (DOT), is currently studying one aspect of Weiss/ Manfrediis larger plan, which looked at the area surrounding the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage (see A View from the Bridge,, AN 10_6.08.2005). The plan envisions connecting Chinatown to the seaport through streetscaping, and makes specific recommendations for reinvigorating the closed-off area under the Brooklyn Bridge and replacing the concrete retaining wall behind Police Plaza on Park Row with a grassy, stepped pedestrian path to connect the elevated plaza with the street.

After the architects presented the plan to the LMDC in 2005, the LMDC and other consulting city agencies focused on their recommendations for Park Row as a feasible project. Shortly after, as part of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Patakiis allocation plan, $32 million was granted to fund components of their study and a related Chinatown study, including Park Row. As of yet, however, the DCP and DOT have not announced any concrete plans or schedule for the project.


Courtesy H3 HARDY COLLABORATION ARCHITECTURE
H33s design for Greenwich Street South proposed roofing over the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to create a park along with new residential and commerical space.

Aspects of the Greenwich Street South Study, developed by a team of seven design and consulting firms headed by H3 Hardy Collaborative Architects, also appear to have a promising future. This study proposes decking over the existing entry to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (owned by the MTA), which currently separates Battery Park City South from the financial district south of the WTC site. The plan suggests that the new surface area of the deck would create valuable buildable space in an area where opportunities for largescale development no longer exist. In that new space, it recommends the creation of a 2-acre park surrounded by residential and commercial developments, as well as a bus garage south of Morris Street that would decrease current street-level congestion and house buses that might be displaced by potential developments on the East River Waterfront and Pier 40.

At H33s last meeting with the LMDC in September, attending city officials agreed that if the engineering required to build the deck could be coordinated, the MTA would revisit the proposals. The DCP anticipates working with the Governor Eliot Spitzerrs administration to realize this plan. Though the prospects for the plan seem positive, principal designer Hugh Hardy still worried, With the fading of the LMDC, [the plan] doesnnt have a champion.. Senior associate John Fontillas added, The unfortunate thing is that [the LMDCCs former vice president of planning and development] Alex Garvin intended for all of these parts to knit together. With personnel changing, therees little institutional memory.. Though the designers have not received any updates on the status of the plan, it has been allotted $40 million under the 2005 Bloomberg-Pataki initiative.

By comparison, aspects of Sternns Fulton Street Revitalization seem to be moving forward. With $38 million (again, part of Bloomberg and Patakiis 2005 initiative) approved by the LMDC board of directors in February 2006, the parts of the plan that have been retained for implementation, according to the DCP, include: enhancing the 35,000-square-foot Titanic Memorial Park and Pearl Street Playground, both set for completion in 2008; improving retail, facades, and streetscape elements along Fulton toward the East River; and creating a new open space at corner of Fulton and Gold streets. It is difficult to know, however, how close these elements are to the original design recommendations of Stern and partner on the study, Gensler. A public presentation of the study in 2005 was cancelled at the last minute, and even then, the plan was reportedly only in draft form (see Fulton Street Plan Chugs Along,, AN 12_7.13.05). Moreover, both then and now, the designers have declined to comment, barred by the LMDC from speaking about the plan.


COURTESY SMITH-MILLER+HAWKINSON ARCHITECTS
Louise Nevelson Plaza is the result of a larger study by Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects to identify open-space possibilities in the blocks east of the WTC site. View west toward William Street.

The most tangible results from any of the studies are from Smith-Miller + Hawkinsonns comprehensive urban study Strategic Open Space: Public Realm Improvement Strategy for Lower Manhattan. The study, which won a P/A Award in 2003, canvassed 500 acres of Lower Manhattan in the area roughly bound by Fulton, Church, and Water streets to identify possibilities for creating new public spaces and bolstering existing ones. One site, Louise Nevelson Plaza, a run-down traffic island at the corner of William and Liberty, stood out as a feasible location to move forward on right away. The architects worked with the LMDC and other consulting city agencies to draft construction documents, and had successfully gone through the majority of the approval process well before the LMDC began to phase out. Since the LMDCCs dissolution, the Department of Design and Construction has taken over execution of the project, and has folded it in among its general infrastructure improvements on Liberty Street.

The design for the plaza involves a series of changes meant to create, in principal Laurie Hawkinsonns words, a 24/7 open spacee in an emerging mixed-use neighborhood. The park will feature benches of cast glass, new lighting and planting, and seven restored Nevelson sculptures that the artist herself donated to the park in the 1970s. The project will break ground this summer, and is expected to be completed in 2009.

The LMDC has never been forthcoming about its undertakings, despite the fact that these compelling urban design studies are nothing to hide. Even now, no one from the LMDCC including Kevin Rampe, chair of the LMDC boarddwill comment on the planss respective fates. The arrival of Governor Spitzer, who has been critical of the way the LMDC has been operating, may bring a change in direction. A. J. Carter, spokesperson for Empire State Development Corporation, the LMDCCs parent body, offered, We are taking a fresh look at everything and re-evaluating whatts been done and what needs to be done as we get started with the [Spitzer] Administration..

SAMANTHA TOPOL IS AN EDITOR AT AN.

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Nine Million Stories in the Naked City?
Red Hook, 2005

Demographers say that New York will grow by a million residents within the next 25 years, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wants to plan for them. An as-yet unreleased report commissioned by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff makes some interesting recommendations—like decking over the Sunnyside yards and parts of the Brooklyn-Queens expressway—but doesn't get into the nitty gritty of who might actually pay for them. Is the report, Visions for New York City, really that, or is it a map for the next generation of developers? By William Menking and Anne Guiney. Photography by M. E. Smith.

In his 2006 State of the City address, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg promised to deliver a strategic land-use plan that would encompass housing, transportation, and infrastructure for all five boroughs, and would be closely tied to redevelopment initiatives already underway. For a city whose planning process has historically been decentralized, it was welcome news. Word of the report began circulating several months later, and this August, a copy appeared on the website Streetsblog.com. Visions for New York City: Housing in the Public Realm (which has not been officially released yet, and is therefore presumably still in draft form) covers much of what the mayor suggested it would, but comes from a different quarter than many expected: It was commissioned by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and prepared by Alex Garvin & Associates for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC). (The two worked very closely together on NYC2012, the bid to bring the Olympics to New York.) As it makes explicitly clear, Visions for New York City is not official policy, but when it is ultimately released, will nonetheless likely provide the framework for coming discussions about what New York will look like in 25 years, and how the city will get there.

The introduction to Visions for New York City cites a projection from the Department of City Planning (DCP) that by 2030, New York City's existing population of over 8 million will exceed 9 million, if not sooner. It makes the reasonable argument that while the city's current economy is strong and has a well-planned infrastructure and a high quality of life, this cannot be ensured if growth happens in an unplanned fashion. The report thus makes a series of recommendations on where the city might house this population and how to improve its infrastructure.

Visions for New York City is divided into two sections: Increasing the Housing Supply and Improving the Public Realm. The first, and more comprehensive, section essentially looks at what developers call soft sitess in all five boroughs, i.e., areas that are now either underutilized, such as neighborhoods zoned for industrial uses where little industry still occurs, or rail yards or highways which could be decked over and turned into blank development sites. Some of the many sites Garvin & Associates studied are the Sunnyside Yards in Queens, portions of the Bronx and Harlem Rivers in the Bronx, Staten Island's north shore, and the sunken section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Cobble Hill. The report further suggests that increasing mass transit into underserved areas will stimulate development. It also acknowledges the unlikelihood of securing major public investments to extend existing subway lines, and concedes that the creation of light rail or bus rapid transit systems is far more feasible.

Sunnyside Yards, 2001

Red Hook, 2003

These potential building sites would allow for the creation of between 160,000 
to 325,000 new residential units with virtually no residential displacement,, depending on how densely each site is zoned. Such a significant amount of new housing without any displacement is politically appealing, but of course there is a catch: The largest and most promising site is the Sunnyside Rail Yards in Queens, which would need to be decked over before it could be developed as housing. It is close to Manhattan, and if developed, would reconnect Astoria to Sunnyside Gardens, which, from an urban planning standpoint, would be an additional benefit. But at 166 acres, the very aspect that makes it so appealing —its size—is likely to make it politically and economically difficult to pull off. The site has been coveted for development since the Regional Plan Association's 1929 Regional Plan of New York and Its Environs proposed it as a place for an intermodal train station to relieve overcrowding in Manhattan. And while the Metropolitan Transit Authority owns the majority of the site, this summer, real estate attorney Michael Bailkin purchased a development option on part of it, which raises the financial stakes for anything that happens on the site. Without massive city subsidies, the cost of building such a large deck—the relatively diminutive 13-acre deck planned for Manhattan's Hudson Yards is estimated to cost $350 million—is likely to discourage anything but extremely high-density or luxury housing. According to Vishaan Chakrabarti, a senior vice president at The Related Companies who served for two years as the Manhattan director for the DCP, making some of that new housing affordable will be difficult. "The implication of the report is that all of the housing will be market-rate, but when you are talking about building housing on platforms, there are economic drivers that make [building any of it as affordable] difficult," Chakrabarti said. "We have not yet perfected the mechanism to harness market forces to build affordable housing, though it is not for a lack of trying." He added, "I was hoping to see something about this in the report."

The Sunnyside Yards are not the only familiar item on the list of suggestions: as D. Grahame Shane, a professor of urban design at Columbia's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (and a contributor to AN) said, "The list of development opportunities reads like a record of every university urban design studio for the last 15 years." That said, the report does represent an effort on the part of Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Doctoroff to think spatially about the future of the city. This is something architects and planners have long hoped would be true of city politicians. But Ronald Shiffman, a former City Planning Commissioner himself under Mayor David Dinkins and director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, nonetheless had reservations about Visions. "These same politicians are afraid to engage the public in a discussion to flesh out its finer points," said Shiffman. "They have come up with a proposal but don't discuss the social infrastructure: They don't say how this million new people will make a living. I'm glad that they are looking at it, but they also need to engage the broader community on other levels. This whole new population won't work in offices."

 Sunset Park, 2005

 Sunset Park, 2005

This oversight on the part of the report has serious drawbacks, according to other observers. Laura Wolf-Powers, chair of Graduate Center for Planning and the Environment at the Pratt Institute, believes that Visions uses a narrow and shallow definition of the public realm, since it only discusses housing and to a lesser account some transportation issues. "There are many important quality of life issues that are not acknowledged in this report, like sanitation and waste water remediation facilities. Not only that," she added, "these uses are often located in the very manufacturing zones like those along the Bronx and Harlem Rivers that the report would give over entirely to housing." While these sites might be better used as housing, these functions must go somewhere. It's not news that manufacturers and industrial businesses that want to remain in the city are having trouble finding affordable space. The East Williamsburg Industrial Park, for example, which is home to over 2,500 small businesses, is facing residential encroachment from gentrifying sections of Williamsburg and Bushwick. One of the areas cited in the report as worthy of future study is the Sunset Park waterfront, which is mostly industrial today and has been recently designated as an area that the city has committed to keeping that way. While Visions acknowledges the value of the area's current character and only recommends converting 90 acres of surface parking (operated by the Department of Small Businesses) into sites for development, it still proposes 27,400 new units of housing, which would undoubtedly put pressure on the area's industrial functions.

Infrastructural capacity is a looming issue, said Chakrabarti, and one that cannot be ignored. Nor should it preclude the kinds of conversation that Visions will surely raise: "Energy capacity and wastewater treatment are real problems. We have capacity now, but not for another million people. Still, I don't think you can say, 'We don't have the infrastructure, so we can't fulfill the demand for housing.' It just means that housing will get more expensive."

The very fact that the report was commissioned from a private planning firm 
and did not come out of DCP is telling about the nature of its recommendations. There is an underlying assumption that public investment will allow for private sector development; the ultimate feasibility of finding these public monies is skated over. In the past, the city's planning reports have come out of the DCP, or people engaged with the Planning Commission—like Robert Wagner, Jr.'s 1984 New York Ascendant under Mayor Ed Koch—but Visions rarely mentions the DCP and any role it might play in planning for the future. (Doctoroff's office and the DCP both declined to comment for this article.) In fact, the report details a list of government agencies that must coordinate to make such far-reaching new policies work, like the EDC, the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD), the Department of Transportation, but goes on to suggest, "The Mayor's Office must delegate management for these projects, as doing so is integral to their execution and ultimate success." While some might see this as a cession of public authority, Chakrabarti points out that sometimes, outsiders can say things that City Hall cannot. "There are often conflicting goals in terms of what is good for the city as a whole and what an individual neighborhood may want, especially in regards to density," he said. "An outside consultant can make important suggestions that are politically difficult."

One wonders if the secretive nature of the process, and its stress on the primacy of the private sector, is a product of Doctoroff's recent trouble with getting the West Side Stadium built, which was the sine qua non for bringing the Olympics to New York City. Several of the larger sites mentioned in Visions for New York City are on land that is at least partially owned by the state, not the city, which means that they are exempt from the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and thus due much less public review. But the controversy and public acrimony surrounding Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal—which also involves decking over infrastructure, public subsidy, and no ULURP—the now-defunct West Side Stadium project, and the World Trade Center site should suggest that proposals with only a nominal amount of involvement are no less immune to trouble than those which involve public input. When Visions is released, no doubt in a modified form, we hope that it is treated not as an identification of development sites across the city, but the starting point for a comprehensive and very public conversation about New York City's long-term needs. 

William Menking and Anne Guiney are editors at AN.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS: When photographer M. E. Smith noticed one day about 10 years ago that the subway station at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues in Brooklyn had been torn down, he decided to start documenting the changes in the city around him. As the pace of development picks up and once-desolate areas fill with commerce and people, his photographs have inevitably taken on a documentary quality. A show of his work in and around New York was recently on view at Cooke Contemporary in Jersey City (see Functional Shift, AN 16_10.06.2006).

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Grand Plans

The Biennale featured, in the Arsenale and various national pavilions, the works of many photographers known for their urban documentation, including Armin Linke, Gabriele Basilico, Edward Burtynksky, Antoni Muntadas, Bas Princen, and Sze-Tsung Leong. Italian photographer Olivo Barbieri's site specific_SHANGHAI 04 (2004), above, and Spanish photographer Dionisio Gonzalez Heliolopolis (2006), below, both appear in the mini-exhibition C on Cities, curated by the magazine C International Photo Magazine.


Courtesy Galerra Max Estrella
 



Cities Without Architecture
Richard Ingersoll
Architecture critic and author; professor at Syracuse University in Florence

Behind this year's Venice Architecture Biennale lurks a daunting moral imperative: Something must be done before the planet is overrun by urbanization. But whether architecture is the problem or the solution remains a serious doubt. The title of the show, Cities, Architecture, and Society, is peculiarly inaccurate in that the content of the major exhibition in the stadium-length Corderie of the Venice Arsenal is devoted to 16 urban regions of a size and complexity that can no longer be called cities. Any of them—London, Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Mumbai, Shanghai—are made of a fusion of several cities around a historic core city, each comprising a sprawling megalopolis of millions of inhabitants in areas that are usually more than 50 kilometers in diameter. Aside from this linguistic anomaly, the main exhibition suffers from a more egregious absence: There is no architecture: that is, there are no memorable projects presented meaningfully through drawings, models, or photographs. The buildings and projects that are visible in an impressive series of films and photographs used in the show are furtive—always incidental to some greater reality. At first this lack of architecture strikes one as a pleasant surprise in an exhibition known for its incestuous relationships to star architects and its tendentious promotion of formal trends. But after 300 meters of being hounded by statistics and zenith views of cities, one starts to miss the company of celebrity authors and their trademark works, or at least some sense of a project for architecture.

This year's director, Richard Burdett, professor at the London School of Economics and architectural advisor to the Mayor of London, aside from delegating the Golden Lion career award to his close friend Richard Rogers, has studiously avoided giving any notion of a criterion for architecture. Good intentions, however, are blazoned on the walls—sustainability and social justice—but they are not given any particular aesthetic agenda. Nor do the few specific examples, such as the transport system in Bogota, offer any notion of what can be done. An exemplary project for urban regeneration, for instance, Barcelona's 22@, a 200-hectare new town, is thrown in with hundreds of images and completely lost. Burdett's vision of the megalopolis, as he states, is of promising challenges, providing the opportunity to re-design the meanings, the functions, the aptitudes and the positive features of the various urban structures and strategies. But the display remains primarily analytical.

The alarm over uncontrollable urban growth has been sounded frequently since the end of the 19th century, when Ebenezer Howard, reacting to the inhumane densities of London, the world's first boundless megalopolis, proposed the Garden City as a means of restoring the balance between city and nature. Two generations later Jose Lluis Sert published the modernist notions of decentralized urbanism in his 1942 tract Can Our Cities Survive? And more than 50 years back the most influential urban historian, Lewis Mumford, was constantly engaged in battles against sprawl and urban growth. The Dutch Pavilion directed by Aaron Betsky recuperates some of the bird's-eye-views of how Dutch architects confronted the question of urban crowding, using archival materials, such as H. P. Berlage's 1910 plan of South Amsterdam and the 1960s beehive scheme of Bijlmemeer. The Austrian Pavilion, curated by Wolf Prix, also recuperated historic exhibitions of urban utopias, including a recreation of Fredrick Kiesler's 1925 City in Space and Hans Hollein's 1964 malaprop collages of aircraft carriers in wheat fields. These historic works were in fact the closest thing to an architectural agenda in the Biennale. The only other truly inspiring exhibit from a formal point of view was Metro-polis, curated by Benedetto Gravagnuolo and Alessandro Mendini, devoted to the new subway system in Naples, a series of art-stations designed by well-known international architects and artists as varied as Dominique Perrault and Anish Kapoor.

If the question of rampant urbanization is by now rather old, what's new about Burdett's analysis? Nothing, really, except the consideration of the ever-increasing dimensions of scale and the influence of digital technologies, which have resulted in the concept of flows. He promises that 75 percent of the world will live in urban situations by 2050, but since most of Europe and developed nations have already surpassed this measure, this fact does not seem so controversial. Uncontrollable urban growth is a vexing problem in terms of its environmental consequences, but this has not really yielded a show that provides convincing solutions; rather, it is a bit like walking through a geography textbook. There have been other recent exhibitions, such as MVRDV's traveling installation Metacity/Datatown (1999) and Rem Koolhaas and Stefano Boeri's Mutations: Harvard Project on the City at the Arc en Reve in Bordeaux (2000) that were more successful in creating a graphic method for appreciating the quantitative difference of the contemporary megalopolis.

A surprising number of the national pavilions were devoted to what can be called everyday urbanism. The Australian Pavilion in fact uses the term specifically, the Belgian is devoted to the beauty of the ordinary, and those of the U.K., Hungary, Korea, and many others worked on the pervasiveness of vernacular and commercial landscapes, which in general excludes the work of architects. The Japanese eccentric Terunobu Fujimori was featured in his country's pavilion, offering a movement called ROJO (Roadway Observation Society). One had to remove their shoes to walk through the charred wooden walls into a room paved in tatami mats to look at the weird collection of things found on the roadside and the architect's arcane additions to these landscapes.

The U.S. Pavilion was typically out of step. While the choice of the theme of Hurricane Katrina was a good one considering that most large urban agglomerations contend with a considerable degree of risk from disaster—a subject that has been beautifully investigated by Paul Virilio—the curatorial team of Architectural Record and Tulane University completely avoided the international scandal of the disaster in New Orleans, and the continuing scandal of governmental indifference. They simply offer some student project–like solutions on stilts that will never be built.

The Spanish Pavilion was one of the most formally satisfying, and while it includes many fine urban projects, the focus is exclusively on the presence of women. It presents three dozen white boxes, each with a vertical video screen showing a woman from the waist up, speaking about urban questions. The curator, Manuel Blanco, somewhat like the filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, has produced an exclusively feminine version of a world dominated by men, presenting women who work as planners, politicians, artists, developers, taxi drivers, street vendors, and, of course, architects. Architect Carme Pinos commented, "Everyone says how great I look in the video, but no one seems to have noticed my tower," referring to her recently finished the 20-floor Torre Cube in Guadalajara, Mexico. Her comment captures the spirit of this year's Biennale, which downplays the role of architecture.

The French Pavilion is by far the most exuberant and popular, and perhaps best captures the overall atmosphere of this year's Biennale as cities without architecture.. Directed by architect Patrick Bouchain, it sprawls outside and over the top of its neoclassical porch, with deck chairs and card tables scattered about. Inside one finds scaffolds that shelter a bar, kitchen, and a workshop for artisans to make tee-shirts and other take-home items. The structure also supports a stair for ascending to a roof terrace where visitors can enjoy a sauna, sundecks, and hammocks. A frolicking, hedonistic, and purposely messy affair, much in the spirit of Lucien Kroll, who was involved in its planning, this invasion of the existing structure makes a serious case for participatory design by adaptation rather than settling for the imposed formal order of architects.
 




Digital Globe / Telespazio


QuickBird satellite views of (from left to right) Milan, Barcelona, and Bogota. Similar views of all the cities under examination appear in the Corderie of the Arsenale.
 



The Big Reconciliation
Liane Lefaivre
Chair of architectural history and theory at the Applied Arts Academy; research fellow in the urbanism department of the Technical University of Delft

For over five hundred years, since Leon Battista Alberti, architects and urbanists formed a whole, working together in the making of cities. That is until the early 1970s, when architecture and planning went through The Big Divorce in American architecture schools. Among the reasons for the break-up was the drying up of publicly-funded support for urban revitalization programs. Urban issues were, largely, thrown out of architecture schools. Key figures left for schools of government and policy, geography departments, and such. As a result, for the past 30 years, architects and urban professionals stopped speaking to one another almost entirely.

Now, Richard Burdett, director of the Cities Program at the London School of Economics and head of the itinerant Urban Age conference series, has, at the request of the Venice Architecture Biennale organizers, kick-started a dialogue between the two disciplines. In order to do so, he presented some of the grubbiest, grittiest, and dynamic cities in the world, including among others Istanbul, Shanghai, Caracas, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, Mexico City, and Sao Paulo.

The concept behind the exhibition is exciting, with greater implications for the health of the planet and humanity than the latest architectural trends. No one has attempted a comparative study of the world's megacities on this scale before. The exhibition itself won't likely wow the general public, however. Panels of text, images, and charts filled with unprocessed information about the lower depths of urban reality is not the stuff of blockbusters. Among the show's shortcomings is the fact that issues like density and society are raised but are left hanging in the air. In the age of Google Earth, one might also wonder why more interactive media was not used. But what the show lacks in depth of coverage will presumably be supplemented by other activities throughout the next two months while the Biennale acts as a forum for debate and an incubator for policy brainstorming with a planned series of high-level workshops. Here, one supposes that issues like democratic rights, sustainable growth, local government versus World Bank–dictated rules of governance, and Hernando de Soto's brand of neoliberalism will be addressed.

The theme of cities had a galvanizing, almost psychoanalytic effect on many national pavilions. At the U.S. Pavilion, Robert Ivy's team at Architectural Record along with Reed Kroloff of Tulane University grappled with the profound dysfunctionality of post-Katrina New Orleans and wound up with a statement of the inability of architecture alone, in spite of endless good will, to overcome certain political and social realities. The French Pavilion, perhaps as a form of expiation for the race riots that marked the nation's suburbs last year, was turned into one big pop-anarchist Rabelaisian bistro, celebrating togetherness in the midst of delicious food smells and plentiful wine. Austria fell back on two of its bluest chips, venerable masterpieces by once rebellious artists, one by Friedrich Kiesler of 1925 and one of 1964 by Hans Hollein. By contrast, the Hungarian Pavilion took a chance on an independently minded, youthful approach—examining the reach of Chinese-made goods in the world—and came up with a relevant contemporary statement on a specific urban reality. At the Russian Pavilion, the work of Alexander Brodsky, with his hilariously Gogolian black humor, offered a commentary on urban life in Russia today. The Spanish Pavilion was devoted to 52 of the most important women involved with architecture and urbanism in Spain. The overwhelmingly encouraged feminine presence goes a long way in explaining why this country has such great architecture and cities.

Of all the countries, Great Britain was the most active in organizing real discussions. Paul Finch, the editor of Architectural Review, together with Odile Decq, Peter Cook, and Robert White of White Partners should be commended for presenting a series of public debates called The Dark Side Club, which took place every night during the vernissage from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m., after all the other parties had ended. And the British Council assembled a panel called My Kind of Town: Architecture and Urban Identity, featuring Rem Koolhaas, David Chipperfield, author Alain de Botton, Nick Johnson of visionary development firm Urban Splash, critic Alice Rawsthorn, and Sudhev Sandhu, author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City. Judging by the international attendance, these lively events might set a trend in future Biennales.

Richard Rogers used the high-profile moment of winning this year's Biennale Golden Lion Award for Life Achievement to stress the need for strict government regulations, citing Portland, Oregon, as the most popular city in the U.S. because it is the best at regulating and containing sprawl and encouraging inner-city densification. Of all the speakers I heard, he was the one who got the most enthusiastic response. In the same vein, this Biennale brought the work of a generation of designers in their 40s to the fore, including James Corner of Field Operations in New York, Rahul Mehrotra of Mumbai, Yung Ho Chang of MIT and Beijing, and Jeremy Till from Sheffield, England, to whom architectural issues are not antithetical to urban, political, social, or ecological concerns.
 



Austria


Markus Pillhoffer


Italy


Giorgio Zucciatti / Courtesy Venice Biennale


Japan


Courtesy Institute for Japanese Culture

Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrrger (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: With the opening of the Italian Pavilion in the Tese delle Vergini (near the Arsenale), the old Italian Pavilion in the Giardini was given over to dozens of smaller exhibitions organized by various schools, countries, and research groups. The facade of the pavilion is wrapped in Olivo Barbieri's photograph of the Gonehexin Road overpass in Shanghai. Bottom: The Japanese Pavilion is devoted to the work of Terunobu Fujimori, whose naturalist architecture features the use of charred wood, planted roofs, and rough stone and earth. Within this woven hut, installed in the pavilion, visitors could watch a slideshow of images taken by ROJO, the Roadway Observation Society, founded in 1986 by a group of artists, including Fujimori, dedicated to documenting extraordinary roadside phenomena.



Architecture Between the Cracks
Toshiko Mori
Principal, Toshiko Mori Architect

The Biennale is basically a provocation from director Ricky Burdett to architects and planners. Why do architects not have a role in the forming of cities, why are we not involved more, or voicing opinions more? Why do we have such a lame role in civic discourse? Planners always seem to have good ideas, but they do not follow through. If they did we would not witness the degree of dystopia displayed at this Biennale. Planners do not have power, they are disengaged with physical reality; instead they seem to be buried in paper statistics. With the war in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, poverty, starvation, and genocide erupting around us, how do we answer the questions posed by the exhibition's organizers: Can planning promote social cohesion? Can good governance improve things? Do we all answer "yes" and go and have a Bellini? This is when the 1970s come to mind: Back then, we went into action more directly and architecture's sense of purpose ran deeper.

How did architecture become perceived to be surface-deep? It's an apt question to ask in a city like Venice, where the tourist-pleasing Serenissima facade comprises less than one-third of the city. Going around on the vaporetto (ferry) #82, one sees the blue-collar industrial and working gut of Venice. Author Alain de Botton asked me if I liked the decoration on the building facades. I recommended the vaporetto commute so he could see beyond the place's surface happiness. Architect Patrick Bouchain, organizer of the French Pavilion Metacity/Metaville, where two dozen architects, graphic designers, and media artists set up house and every day go about domestic chores like cooking and sweeping, told me that in Paris, street sweepers are called technicians du surface. The traditional French respect for the worker stands in contrast to the country's recent crisis over the lack of assimilation of immigrants. Intolerance and antagonism are causing riots and lawlessness because people are unable to share discourse and civic values. The message is simply to go back to what we all have in common, and try to establish direct communication among lives in the cities. (The irony is that the pavilion encourages both a sense of community and anarchy, breaking the decorum of exhibition halls by making it an inhabited space, a fragment of a city, with all the transgressions they encompass.)

The Spanish Pavilion, curated, designed, and organized by the perfectionist super-phenom Manuel Blanco, is the individuated and collective voice of women in Spain from all walks of life: female vox populi. It is a very clear, powerful, and credible message. Women are animated, beautiful, sympathetic, and most of all humane. Manuel says his approach was obvious since Spain has a feminine prefix, yet female voices have been suppressed by strong male dominance in politics and culture.

The Irish have the most to show in terms of their efforts to balance Ireland's fast economic growth, ecology, large planning efforts, and sustainability. It is unfortunate that their room, in the old Italian Pavilion, is painted black, since their projects are realistic and send a positive message about the robust engagement of politicians, planners, and architects to make the semblance of utopian future possible.

The relationship and balance between the obvious and visible architectural quotient of a city versus the support fabric of its infrastructure is the point of this Biennale. I was not so worried that there was not enough architecture. A lack of buildings does not mean architecture is absent. There is a territory where architects can take over creatively, as is demonstrated by the Irish group show, which is filled with strong case studies.

There was a lot of dialogue and discussion going on during the vernissage, but one looming question was: Where were the Americans? The U.S. Pavilion sent a strong impression of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. The intricate moving model of cubes suspended by fragile strings is a metaphor for New Orleans housing as a puppet of mechanized bureaucracy. Once these strings are cut, the cubes float aimlessly without life support (full disclosure: this is the work of GSD students). And yet Americans had a weak (if any) presence in the public discussions organized by the Biennale. It made me realize that not only is the U.S. isolating itself in foreign policy, but we may be in danger of isolating ourselves in the area of urbanism too. What can we learn from others, what can we share? Are we engaged in this global discourse? If so, we should certainly be able to have several alternatives and viable models other than New Urbanism.
 



France




Cyrille Weiner ( top); Stefan Jonot (bottom)

The French Pavilion has become temporary home to two dozen artists and designers, who have outfitted the neoclassical building with bunk beds, a kitchen, bar, DJ stand, rooftop sauna, and sundeck.



China






Stefan Jonot (top and middle); Danish Architecture Center (bottom)

Top: The Austrian Pavilion, directed by Wolf D. Prix, features Hans Hollein's 1964 Flugzeugtrager (aircraft carrier). The piece suggested how to install a complex urban structure in a rural setting, and also served as ironic commentary on the relationship between the city and nature. Middle: Their Tiles Garden is made over 60,000 tiles recycled from demolished structures in Hangzhou. Bottom: The Hungarian Pavilion made use of cheap, Chinese-made plastic goods to create animated canopies, wall-hangings, and other installations. The Danish Pavilion proposed various projects for sustainable development in China, including Magic Mountains, a green business district.



The End of the Line for the Biennale?
Hugh Pearman
Architecture critic, London Sunday Times; editor, RIBA Journal

Despite the importance of the subject matter and the high seri- ousness with which it has been approached, this Biennale, for me, does not work as an exhibition. The long, long gloomy columnar promenade of the Corderie in the Arsenal complex—in recent years the heart of the show, crammed with goodies—has never been sparser. You feel you are attending a stern lecture. Only the lecturer is absent, and has sent along his notes instead.

The rest of the show, over in the pocket garden suburb of national pavilions and scattered here and there throughout the city, is as patchy as ever though one finds intermittent flashes of joy. But it is difficult to imagine where this exhibition can go from here. The last good one with a strong theme was curated six years ago by Massimiliano Fuksas, Less Aesthetics, More Ethics. That allowed plenty of provocative architecture, but it also required an analysis of the social dimension.

And now? The architecture biennales are always rather touch-and-go. The go button is always pushed late: It is always a scrabble to get it together in time. This one feels like the end of an era. If the series is to continue, it must be comprehensively re-thought. It must have a reason to exist.
 



The Laser-Print Biennale
Aaron Betsky
Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute; Incoming Director, Cincinnati Art Museum

As far as I am concerned, the best room was the central space at the Italian Pavilion, where the imaginative power proper to art and architecture were used to confront, criticize, and speculate on the city as a reality, rather than reduce it to facts and figures. For sheer scale, the AMO layout, an aerial panorama of the whole Gulf coast, from Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, could not be matched. And of course in our historical exhibition [at the Dutch pavilion] we tried to bring up the issue of the city as a real place for which we have to take responsibility as architects, not just as concerned citizens. For the same reason I appreciated the attempts by the Russians, the French, and the Hungarians to make this point in an imaginative way. And that would lead to my major gripe: Just as architects should not pretend to be graphic designers or landscape architects, nor should they claim to be sociologists or politicians. Positioning your work within a social and political field is one thing; claiming to be Al Gore is another. The imagination was buried too deep beneath the pavement of Venice this year to be unearthed by any statistical tools.
 



Highs and Lows
Paola Antonelli
Acting Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

The Venice Biennale is, as always, worth it, even though the overall lack of normall architectural scale—meaning models, drawings, reference to neighborhoods—made this year for a rollercoaster between the elegantly cold and the sometimes overdone touchy-feely. The show at the Arsenale belongs in the former category. Director Richard Burdett's momentous analysis of 16 great cities was impeccably presented in an installation designed by Aldo Cibic and his partners. The installation had some beautiful moments, some planned—the room comparing densities, for instance, filled with self-explanatory beautiful styrofoam stalagmites, or the views of the cities flowing under your feet in small connecting bridges—and some serendipitous: in the Caracas corner, an oil stain in the floor that ghostly mimicked the shape of the city hung on the wall just above. The deeper you went into the Arsenale, the more you could get lost in data, comparative studies, and gorgeous satellite pictures, but somehow you longed for people and buildings.

The pavilions were very uneven. One wonders why some nations don't just stay home, or rent out their pavilions to the other countries that might really have something to say. Among the interesting ones: the Spanish, curated by Manuel Blanco, my favorite, with women of all walks of life talking about their cities, with architecture a part of their soundtrack. The British, taking the city of Sheffield as a case study and exploring it at different scales, from sheep to satellite view. The Japanese were a bit out of theme, but soothing and beautiful. The Slovenian: at last some innovative architecture. The French overshared—do we really need to see guys cooking in a pareo?—but were a hit because they were very hospitable, to the point where otherwise respectable architects were hopping the fence to join their late-night parties and the police were called nightly to kill the fun.

Personally, I learned to blog. Together with London's Architecture Foundation, MoMA launched a wild beast of a blog that became quite the recipient of everybody's rants and raves (www.venicesuperblog.net).
 



Disquietingly Quiet
Odile Decq
Principal, Odile Decq Benoit Cornette

When we try to describe a city, we often start by quantifying its inhabitants, expressing through its size what typology of city we are speaking about: small, middle, large, or extra-large. The presentations of the 16 megalopolises in the Arsenale strive to analyze the phenomena of how they came to be. But never could a collection of quantified facts express what a city is.

Architects are dedicated to thinking about and organizing people and life; architecture exhibitions are dedicated to vicarious representations that are free of the noise and smell of flesh-and-blood cities. This Biennial takes a non-risky position, avoiding experiments on concrete strategies. It is a pity for the general public and the thousand of young future architects, desperate for inspiration for visions of tomorrow.
 



Planning Potential
Ron Shiffman
Director, Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development

Richard Burdett's exhibition begins with a description of cities in a changing world and ends with an invitation to cities to change the world. At critical junctures, displays focus on issues such as income disparity, density, mobility, and information flows. Implied throughout are the issues of class and race, which underlie many of the disparities the exhibition highlights.

The individual city presentations varied in quality. New York's presentation (coordinated by Pamela Puchalski of the Center for Architecture) successfully captured several of the city's innovative planning and development initiatives such as the High Line park and the effort to build more housing along the city's waterfront. Given the city's penchant to diminish its mandated participatory planning processes by surrendering its decision-making role to the state, as they have in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards proposal, I was surprised to read in the exhibition text that New York has decided to accommodate growth by capitalizing on its edges along the water, investing heavily in new housing projects in the outer boroughs, and involving its citizens in the debate on the future of the city. One wishes it were really so. Too little investment and far too little debate. Perhaps New York City should borrow from the Norwegian city of Tromss, which decided to call a time-out on large-scale development and engage its citizens in what is truly a public debate.
 



Painting by Numbers
Hani Rashid
Principal, Asymptote

After the painful, but visually enticing, onslaught of Burdettian data, statistics, and images of cities on the verge, perhaps the upcoming Venice Art Biennale will follow suit by filling the Corderie and Giardini Pavilions with the financial statements of artists, galleries, and museums (leaving out the art). Now that could actually be interesting!
 



Comparative Views
Barry Bergdoll
Chair, Department of Art History, Columbia University; Incoming Philip C. Johnson Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of Modern Art

In 1933 CIAM studied 34 world cities in aerial overviews and statistical analyses aboard the S.S. Patris while cruising between Marseille and Athens. The result, the Athens Charter, published in 1943, was the lingua franca of postwar modernism's bid to take charge of the city through functionalist and universalist criteria. It was hard not to think how far we are from this venture of over 70 years ago, arriving by air in one of Europe's prime museum cities, Venice, to take in Richard Burdett's ambitious marshalling of aerial views and statistics comparing 16 cities on five continents. If the pious list of five recommendations at the show's conclusion had more to do with issues of city governance—even in a display largely devoid of analysis of the vastly different historical and political forces at play—the results displayed could not have been further from CIAM's taking hold of the reins through design. The Biennale was filled with small-scale interventions in the impoverished quarters of the Third World and landscape re-workings of the detritus of the industrial past in the cities of the First World. The shrinking city of Berlin, where capitalism and democratic political process has eclipsed Europe's communist past, were lumped together with Shanghai and with Mumbai, the latter earmarked soon to overtake Tokyo as the largest city in the history of civilization. Caracas, presented neutrally as yet another booming metropolis, with little acknowledgment of the distinct political and economic situation of the petroleum capital with its populist anti-imperialist leader (a not so subtle protest is registered in the Venezuela Pavilion where the sole exhibition objects are a grainy aerial photograph and a broadsheet declaring a complete lack of interest in any Westernn-imposed urban solutions). As the exhibition embraces the notion of a globalized crisis—with many of the virtues and problems of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth—the particularity of each city begs for attention. Projects were modest and isolated, except for large-scale planning sponsored by developers, who increasingly have turned to star architects.

What could have underscored how omnipresent a very different urban condition in 2006 is than the looming mass of the Norwegian Jewel cruise ship, whose towering 15 decks threw the national pavilions at the Giardini in shadow during much of the preview. None of the tourists disgorged was clamoring for entry to the Biennale, even if the morning Gazettino di Venezia featured both the influx of international architects and a photo reportage on the visible erosion everywhere of Venice's fragile brick and stone fabric caused by the ever-increasing traffic of super tourist liners in the lagoon.
 



The No-Stop City
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi
Architecture Critic

The Italian Pavilion curated by Franco Purini presents the design of Vema, a theoretical city for 30,000 residents located between Verona and Mantua. Contained within an area measuring 3,720 by 2,300 meters, the city is divided into sectors designed by 20 groups of architects under 40, chosen from among the most promising young practices in Italy. The immense model of Vema, which dominates the exhibition space, can be appreciated on two levels. For the general public, Purini's project will seem to go against the grain: The creation of a newly founded city in a Western country, so similar to the Renaissance examples of Sabbioneta and Palmanova, is in clear opposition to the dominant urban model of sprawling metropolis or the Koolhaasian Generic City. What makes Vema contemporary are the projects designed by young architects. The result is thus a strange hybrid in which the ideal cities of Filarete and Vignola coexist with deconstructivist, super-modern, and neo-organic projects.

For insiders, Purini's project is an attempt, as brilliant as it is unconvincing, to reduce the tension between young, experimental architects and the old guard, of which Purini himself is a leading exponent. The video that accompanies the exhibition thus presents a picture of Italian architecture as a continuum, where the old and new coexist without conflict, and wherein we are able to overcome the violent clashes that have historically occurred, for example, between figures such as Manfredo Tafuri and Bruno Zevi, and gain inspiration from models as diverse as the baroque Paolo Portoghesi and the radical Archizoom.
 



Women on the Verge
Below is an excerpt of architectural theorist Beatriz Colomina's video observation included in the exhibition Espana [f.] nosotros, las ciudades (Spain [f.] we, the cities) at the Spanish pavilion, curated by Manuel Blanco. Hers was one of 52 recordings of Spanish women—clients, architects, citizens—speaking about their experiences of particular buildings or of urban life in general.

What interests me most about cities is how they are so radically transformed with each new technology, from gas lamps to trains to electricity to video cameras. Lately I have become interested in cell phones. No technology has transformed the city more than cell phones in a long time. They have completely revolutionized the relationship between public and private. To be in a city you no longer have to be in the street—you can join a friend in a cafe simply by calling—and if you are in the streets you may not be in the city, as when you are so immersed in a conversation that you are somewhere else and the streets you are walking become a kind of mirage. In fact, in almost any city today there are more people on the phone than in the streets. Every aspect of our experience has changed.

This became evident on September 11 when any traditional sense of public and private space became obsolete. In the heart of the spectacular nightmare, covered continuously by every single television channel, the most intimate exchanges were taking place. For the first time in the history of a catastrophe, the families and loved ones of many of the victims were among the first to know when they received cell-phone calls made from hijacked airplanes and from inside the World Trade Center towers. These calls carved out a whole new sense of space, a last vestige of domesticity.

In the aftermath of the events, the desperate attempts on the part of cell-phone companies to deliver the last messages that had not gone through attested to the importance of this form of communication. In a situation in which there were very few human remains recovered, those messages were all that was left, the very thing that is always missing in tragic accidents. No longer simply a fragile substitute for real people, the digital record became the most solid reality.

There was a new sense of space constructed by the unrelenting bombardment of repetitive images through TV and the Internet and the simultaneous exchange of the most intimate and unique, one-on-one communications via cell phones.

If 9/11 in New York revealed the cell-phone as the last vestige of domesticity, 3/11 in Madrid revealed the cell-phone as a weapon, triggering the train bombs. Personal defense became public attack.



Spain


Cemel Emden



Painting By Numbers
Wolf Prix
Principal, Coop Himmelb(l)au

The theme of the 10th International Architecture Biennale is key for the architecture of the next decades. Thus I find that though the main exhibition at the Arsenale displays a striking collection of different factors and important data, it fails in developing a theory or visions out of this information. On the other hand, the shows at the national pavilions in the Giardini present, with a few exceptions, the helplessness of architects in association with strategic city models.



I Heart New York
Alexander Gorlin
Principal, Alexander Gorlin Architects

Maybe Richard Burdett, the curator of the Architecture Biennale's Cities theme, should have first listened to Madonna's latest song, I Love New York, before putting together a mind-numbing, statistic-fest that completely fails to understand the essential experiential differences among cities around the world: 

I don't like cities, but I like New York / Other places make me feel like a dork / Los Angeles is for people who sleep / Paris and London, baby you can keep

Other cities always make me mad / Other places always make me sad / No other city ever made me glad / Except New York,  I love New York


Walking through the Arsenale, one would hardly know there was a difference between Bogota and New York. In fact it seems that Cairo is denser than New York, therefore...exactly—so what? The quality of the characteristics that make a difference between cities is leveled in this show by categories that have nothing to do with living in each place, such as stock market capitalization or the ranking of their commodity exchanges. Most of the cities appear to have been selected for politically correct purposes: one from continent A, one from continent B, and who knows why so many from South America? The show also suffers from extreme Google Earth–mania, an obsessive fascination with those satellite maps that are now available to everyone. But who experiences a city at 250 miles up in outer space?

In the end, the whole show should have been about New York—Manhattan, to be precise—in an attempt to understand why it is clearly the most exciting city on earth and the present-day capital of the world—I love New York!

If you don't like my attitude than you can F-off / Just go to Texas, isn't that where they golf / New York is not for little pussies who scream / If you can't stand the heat, then get off my street



The China Syndrome
Cathy Lang Ho
Editor, The Architect's Newspaper

China crops up often in the Biennale, which perhaps should not be surprising given its dizzying rate of urbanization and the extent to which its rapid development has affected global architectural and construction practices, not to mention the world's ecological balance. The Danish Pavilion followed curator Henrik Valeur's prompt: How can we improve people's living conditions without exhausting the very resources needed to sustain a better life? The display presents the sort of dramatic statistics that Rem Koolhaas first introduced with his Pearl River research almost a decade ago, alongside theoretical projects by teams of Danish architects and Chinese architecture schools. Their fantastical gestures—business centers that resemble picturesque mountains, a peaking infrastructure-laden mega-wall circling a city—betray the sense that the country is still perceived, by too many in the world (including the Chinese themselves) as a tabula rasa.

Hungary had a quirkier approach to the topic of China as both a consequence and protagonist of globalization: Its pavilion was filled with artful installations made of cheap China-made toys: a canopy of chirping plastic penguins, a wall of plastic resin with repulsive furry toys imbedded within. The installation was part of a larger project, documented in a fine catalogue, investigating the impact of Chinese immigrants on the world's cities and of Chinese-made goods on life everywhere. It was one of the few projects that conveyed what I wish the Biennale accomplished more: how globalization and urbanization has affected people's lives. This was poignantly communicated in Hu Yang's Shanghai Living (2005), a photographic series displayed in the Italian Pavilion, showing a factory worker, shop-girl, office manager, and dozens of other Shanghai residents in their homes. Each is presented with a statement from the subject, personalizing the effects of the phenomena measured elsewhere in the Biennale.



Hu Yang's images are on display in C on Cities, a special photography exhibition in the Italian Pavilion, curated by the London-based publication C International Photo Magazine. Issue 3 is dedicated to its Biennale presentation, and is available through www.ivorypress.com.


Shanghai Living
 (2005) by Hu Yang 
Tang Zhen'an
(Shanghainese general manager)
Up to now I am satisfied with my life, and I like photographing and collecting western art works during my leisure time. I have pressures, mainly from competition within the circle and requirement from inside. I want to do everything I can to promote Shanghai's photographing industry.



Shanghai Living (2005) by Hu Yang
Wei Yufang
(Shandongnese vendor)
We are leading a hard life and eat battercakes, pickles and a glass of water for all three meals. When our kids want meat dishes, we cook them an egg. We work more than 15 hours a day if it doesn't rain. We want our kids to be educated and not to live like us. I will risk anything for our kids to go to university. My eldest son is excellent and wins prizes every semester. I suffer being teased by local ruffians.

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A Bridge Too Far

A Bridge Too Far
The long-awaited Brooklyn Bridge Park's maintenance will be funded by commercial and housing developments within its boundaries, which has some locals worried whether the trend toward private funding of public spaces has gone too far. Alex Ulam reports.


courtesy michael van valkenburgh

Proposed new developments
1 Proposed building
2 Unprogrammed greenspace
3 Promenade
4 Ball courts
5 Boat launch/marina
6 Existing building (360 Furman Street)
7 Beach

After defeating a 1984 plan by the Port Authority to sell off the piers along the East River waterfront below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, neighborhood groups began to advocate for a new park along the same site. Twenty years later, their efforts have begun to pay off: A 1.3 mile-long stretch of the East River waterfront from Atlantic Avenue to just north of the Manhattan Bridge is about to be developed as Brooklyn Bridge Park. New York State and New York City have committed $150 million to design and build the 85-acre park; construction is expected to begin next year.

But for some Brooklyn residents, the current master plan, which was approved in January, looks more like a pastoral backdrop for luxury coops than an urban park: Almost 10 percent of the land has been set aside for commercial development within the site. The plan allows for five new buildings within the park's boundaries, the tallest of which could be 30 stories, and several preexisting structures will be converted into housing and commercial space. The bulk of this new development is clustered near the park's main entrances at Atlantic Avenue and at Fulton Street, where plans call for a 225-unit hotel and a residential complex.

Brooklyn Bridge Park marks the latest stage in the growing involvement of the private sector in the financing of public spaces, especially along the waterfront, where building and maintaining a landscape is more expensive than in upland areas. Hudson River Park, for example, which is still under construction along Manhattan's West Side, is the first public park in the state that depends solely upon commercial entities within its boundaries to pay for its maintenance and operation costs. These parks also represent a new paradigm in that they are not being developed by parks agencies but rather by quasi-public entities headed by political appointees; in this case, by the Brooklyn Bridge Park Development Corporation (BBPDC). Brooklyn Bridge Park has expanded on this model by including housing. Through a financial arrangement called Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT), the condo buildings slated for the park will, instead of paying property taxes to the city, directly pay for the park's maintenance and operations as well as capital maintenance, which in total is estimated will cost $15.2 million annually.

Developers have not been chosen for the new development parcels. According to Deborah Wetzel, a spokesperson for the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), the BBPDC's parent organization, Requests For Proposals will be issued this fall. In addition to the new developments, legislation passed in the State Assembly in June made it possible for an existing building within the site, at 360 Furman Street, to be removed from city tax rolls and incorporated into the park. The developer of 360 Furman Street is Robert Levine, who bought the former Jehovah's Witnesses book plant for a reported $205 million several years ago. Through a spokesperson, Levine refused requests to be interviewed for this article. But in a May 2006 article in The Real Deal, Levine was interviewed about the funding of Brooklyn Bridge Park. The municipality is no longer able to support these things,, he said. The only way it can work is with private funds..

Not everyone believes that it has to be that way: In May, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, a group formed to oppose the BBPDC's plan, filed a lawsuit in Brooklyn Supreme Court against the ESDC seeking to remove the approximately 1,200 units of luxury housing from the park. The lawsuit charges the ESDC with violating state laws, which they say prohibits public parkland from being used for non-park uses. The suit also claims that the plan violates a 2002 agreement between the city and the state, which restricts development of the park to activities consistent with an earlier masterplan developed at the behest of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Local Development Corporation (BBPLDC), comprised of representatives from community organizations and local elected officials, and formed in 1998.

For the Defense Fund, the planned residential development not only compromises the current design, but also has potential create conflicts between park users and residents. Our goal is to get a real park that people can use without privatizing it for housing,, said the president of the Defense Fund, Judi Francis.

Citing the litigation, Wetzel declined requests for interviews with ESDC officials. But in a written statement, she maintained that design guidelines for the new buildings, being developed by Robert A. M. Stern Architects, will protect the park's public aspect. The guidelines will ensure that public benefit from development is maximized, including requiring high-quality architecture and buildings that contribute positively to the life and vibrancy of the adjacent parkland and the surrounding neighborhoods,, the statement reads.

Noting the park's relatively remote location from residential neighborhoods, the park's landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh says that the hotel and housing will enhance the quality of the park user's experience by establishing a critical mass of people in the park at all times. Who the hell would go to this park in the winter and at night if you didn't have activity down there?? he asked. From Atlantic Avenue the walk to the Brooklyn Bridge on Furman Street, which is very forlorn, is about 20 minutes. You go down there today and you won't pass a single personnwhere in New York can you walk for 20 minutes and not see anybody??

Opponents of the plan contend that the maintenance budget is unrealistic and that the park has been over-designed. They have jacked up the maintenance costs in order to justify building all of these buildings,, said Bronson Binger, a former assistant commissioner for the New York City Parks Department, who filed an affidavit on behalf of the Defense Fund's lawsuit. My main problem is the $15.2 million maintenance costs per year for about 85 acres of park,, he said. Compare that to $23 million for Central Park's 840 acres. Clearly, there are things in there that shouldn't be.. But Matthew Urbanski, a principal with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, counters that the complications of maintaining the piers and a waterfront landscape justify the relatively high maintenance costs. We have massive piers three times the size of the size of the ones in Hudson River Park built on wooden piles,, he said, adding, We have to jacket the piles with plastic or concrete and then maintain them from year to year..

At the root of the controversy over Brooklyn Bridge Park are two competing visions contained within two separate plans: one is the current Van Valkenburgh plan, the other is the 2000 masterplan, commissioned by the BBPLDC from Urban Strategies (Van Valkenburgh was a subcontractor on the plan). The BBPLDC held a year's worth of public meetings to develop the park's program. Several years later, the BBPDC was founded and conducted a financial analysis of the Urban Strategies plan. State officials determined it was not financially feasible, and hired Van Valkenburgh to devise a second masterplan. The Urban Strategies plan featured a hodgepodge design with recreational facilities interspersed throughout the whole park. Its maintenance and operations budget was to be financed primarily through recreationally oriented commercial development as well as stores within the park. In contrast, the later Van Valkenburgh plan concentrates most of the active recreational activities on the piers. The upland areas are reserved primarily for passive recreational activities, housing and retail.

Roy Sloane, a former board member of the BBPLDC, is concerned that the interests of many neighboring communities, which have been agitating for more recreational facilities, are not adequately served by the Van Valkenburgh plan. The state threw out the community-based plan,, said Sloane. The recreational center, which we needed, was removed and replaced with 1,200 units of housing..

Urbanski argues that the current plan actually includes more opportunities for active recreation, and cites a pier devoted to basketball and handball courts and large protected areas set aside for kayaking. Furthermore, in Urbanski's view, many elements of the 2000 plan, such as its siting of large buildings on the park's piers, would not have worked structurally. The old plan made assumptions that were terribly erroneous,, he said, adding that studies show that the 2000 master plan's maintenance budget was grossly inadequate.

Binger, however, maintains that the civic qualities of the park will inevitably be compromised by the current plan: When parkland abuts private land, conflicts inevitably happen.. Van Valkenburgh has responded that his design ensures that public aspect of the park will be preserved. The housing and hotel parcels back up to public streets that are not in the park,, he noted. We have used a series of devices like landforms to create discrete but precise limits between the development parcels and the park..

A case is scheduled for a court hearing on August 2.

Alex Ulam is a manhattan-based writer who focuses on environmentalism and urbanism.