Search results for "Manhattan"

Placeholder Alt Text

Disaster Dioramas

Artist Josh Kline brings climate change home in a new Manhattan show
In case you’ve missed it, the world is ending. There’s war, displacement, drought, famine, rising seas, sinking cities, faster winds, and a frightening U.N. report suggests irrevocable, possibly humanity-ending results if we can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100 percent of 2010 levels by 2050. Artist Josh Kline wants to give us a vision of this un-future. In Climate Change: Part One, Kline has transformed Chinatown gallery 47 Canal in Manhattan into a dystopian funhouse, one that reflects and refracts our world—and its possible undoing—back at us for unnerving effect. Through the first door, which features the stars of a mangled American flag peaking through plastered-on sand, you’ll encounter an irregularly shaped green table mounted with a lit vitrine. Against the nearest wall are a series of large, whirring industrial freezers. The tarp floors make a slight, sticky sound underfoot. This table is one of three bearing names that read like euphemisms for the current state of catastrophe capitalism: Transnational Finance, Technological Innovation. In this one, Representative Government, models of various seats of power—the White House, the Reichstag, rendered in Potomac River mud and placed against a satellite photo of Washington, D.C.—slowly drown under the water of melting miniature icebergs. The freezers sustain the chunks of ice just enough that the submergence is painfully slow, taking place over the month-and-a-half of the show's run.  As we know, cooling a small space puts out a great deal of heat elsewhere, rendering the gallery quite warm. Other vitrines hold different building typologies, like skyscrapers rising together from an imaginary Manhattan made from all the world's tallest buildings. The Burj Khalifa and the Chrysler Building aren’t in the same city, and there's no iceberg floating and melting in New York's Upper Bay, but you get the idea. The real-life ice may be far away, but water, and the planet, is a continuity. An ice shelf north of Greenland crashing into the sea has implications that reach far further than the Arctic Circle.  Through the doors there are other, unenclosed tables, with pink soy wax in the shape of insurance buildings and suburban homes melting down tubes that collect and direct the colored sludge into buckets below. Waste is not hidden, as everything is a system. The doors, each named after a degrees Celsius, with a second parenthetical appellation, are themselves artworks, but also serve their usual purpose. Some rooms, arranged together like a cartoon hallway from a Scooby Doo villain's mansion, can only be entered through a singular door, some an array of doors. They present a false sense of choice, and all lead to the same room, each degree of difference still resulting in the same ruins. The checklist is very clear about origins, at least for some of the more “natural” materials: beach sand from New York City, Shenzhen, and California; desert sand from Texas and the Sahara; steel powder from China. The flags, too, have origin stories, however misleading they might be. We might imagine that the nylon flags desecrated and pasted onto the doors with paint and sand and kelp may represent Germany, the U.S., China, and so on, but they are likely to all be from somewhere else, maybe the same factory, possibly located in none of these countries. To the tentacles of global commerce, borders are long gone. For the refugees of climate disaster and resource wars, the same can’t yet be said.  The doors, with their disfigured flags, are meant to represent the dissolution of borders and nations that Kline predicts climate change and its cascading ramifications will bring about. They also represent our willful participation in the house of horrors-style drowning disasters shown in each of the different rooms as we open and close them. Even when faced with three doors, the sense of choice is false: each opens to the same room. Whether our actions raise global average atmospheric temperatures by 2º C (Dutch, Belgian, French, and German flags, all compressed with Sahara Desert sand—a Colonial Chain Reaction) or 3º C (a mashup of the Union Jack and Japanese flags along with kelp and chlorella) or 5º C (American and Russian flags, Potomac River mud), we’ll still find ourselves in too deep, so to speak. Particularly resonant are the banal and domestic scenes. Situated in hermetically sealed versions of the fume hoods from your college chemistry class painted in subdued, aesthetically-pleasing shades of urethane paints with lighting to match, are scenes with dollhouse miniatures, submerged underwater (or really, cyanoacrylate glue and epoxy). They depict sorrily-stocked grocery stores, bland offices, and suburban home interiors, but their titles are not so bland: Erosion, Inundation, and Submersion.  Disintegration isn't loss, it’s transformation. Even as rising water washes away the mud of the miniature buildings, that same dirt just is transported elsewhere, but formless. Matter is conserved, even if our environment is not. What once was just becomes something else, and with us gone, who will be there to name it or know the difference anyway? Things happen on scales too large for us to know, or to know to even ask questions about. Kline shows us this, plainly, perhaps even at first propagandistically. In this show alone, the interlocking problems of political power, globalization, financialization, housing, architecture, technology, and climate change are all put on display. But there’s no real call to arms here, just a documentation of the future present. But it does make one have to ask: If this is Climate Change: Part One, what happens in part two? Climate Change: Part One 47 Canal 291 Grand Street, 2nd Floor, New York Through June 9, 2019
Placeholder Alt Text

Carpet Diem

Miniature undulating cityscape comes to Madison Square Park
Manhattan’s Madison Square Park has opened its 38th outdoor installation to the public today, dropping an evocative, interactive “cityscape” from sculptor Leonardo Drew into the park that will stay up until December 15. The 100-plus-foot-long City in the Grass stands as a solitary statement on its own but also makes ample reference to the city surrounding it, including the Empire State Building, which looms over the park. The piece is a tapestry of colors, textures, and materials that simultaneously evokes growth, comfort, ruins, and intimacy on the park’s Oval Lawn. Three stepped spires, the tallest of which tops out at 16 feet, anchor City in the Grass and are an obvious allusion to the Empire State Building to the north. Each spire is made from a mixture of plaster and latex paint, and Drew says that their eclectic appearance is a reference to Cuba’s dilapidated hotels, where peeling paint reveals the underlying structure. Surrounding each spire is an abstracted landscape of black and white wood offcuts of varying heights, reminiscent of buildings, but without a specific reference. These urban islands “float” in between waves of steel panels adorned in colored sand and patterned after Persian carpet designs, literalizing the “ebb and flow” of urban life through peaks and valleys. The peeling, layered look of the carpet, complete with holes and seams that let the grass below poke through, is meant to evoke the feeling of a familiar, well-worn home item. While the piece may look like it was assembled from found materials, Drew was quick to point out that he doesn’t use found objects; every piece and tear is deliberate. Drew is typically known for his wall pieces and City in the Grass is his first outdoor public installation. Appropriately enough, the piece is meant to encourage public interaction. While City in the Grass might look fragile, visitors are encouraged to sit, stand on, and explore it from every angle (just don’t climb on the spires). City in the Grass was commissioned by the Madison Square Park Conservancy. As the exhibition will remain up throughout the fall and winter, visitors can experience the materials weathering in real time in response to the natural landscape around it.
Placeholder Alt Text

Jail Simulator 2019

AECOM chosen to oversee design-build of Rikers replacement towers
A joint team of AECOM and the Philadelphia-based construction consulting firm Hill International has been tapped by the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to oversee the design and construction of the four borough-based jail towers that will replace Rikers Island. The pair was awarded a $107.4 million contract to administer the four teams that will build the new jails, one team for each location. Once complete, the four new jail towers will each be expected to hold approximately 1,500 beds, as well as rehabilitative and reentry programs, counseling, educational, and health components, as well as community space, at a total cost of $8.7 billion. If the new jails in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan move ahead, they would be the city’s first design-build projects. The DDC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Program Management Consultant team in October of 2018 for the borough-based jails project. AECOM touts that the company is no stranger to building correctional facilities, and the company’s broad architecture and engineering experience makes it a good fit for design-build, where the architects and builders work in tandem to realize the project. The AECOM-Hill team will work off of a framework first devised by Perkins Eastman, which, along with 17 subcontractors, laid out the potential sites and space requirements for the replacement jails. Their final determination was that the city should refurbish existing buildings or build new jails close to the central courthouses in each borough so that inmates could easily make their court appearances. Of course, the plan hasn’t been without its detractors. All four jails are being moved through the Uniform Land Use Review Process at once in an effort to close Rikers as fast as possible, but residents have been pushing back against erecting new jails in their neighborhoods, and clashing with carceral activists. At the time of writing, four community boards have voted against the plan (Community Board 1 rejected building a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street on Tuesday), although their votes are nonbinding.
Placeholder Alt Text

Augmented Materiality

Designer and engineer Nassia Inglessis creates responsive canopy
Today, most people live in cities—artificial structures that determine how we move through space and relate to others and the world around us. But, all too often these cities feel fixed, designed and determined by larger powers that shape a landscape that the average denizen has little direct influence over. So what would a responsive city, one that worked like a natural ecosystem and subsumed participants in its very fabric, look like? This is the question that Nassia Inglessis, founder of Studio INI, is provoking in her installation Urban Imprint, now on display in Brooklyn at A/D/O by MINI. A 340-square-foot pavilion, Urban Imprint invites visitors to move all over a field of brick-red, water-jet-cut rubber-concrete composite tiles that sinks slightly underneath one's feet, in turn deforming a hidden web of laser-cut steel below. Above, a web of that same brick-red material deforms upwards, rising in direct proportion to the weight of participants on the platform. The entire project was conceived and prototyped in just under six months, fabricated in Athens and then shipped to New York for its unveiling during New York Design Week. So often, Inglessis said, our cities are a “design that somebody has given us and we have to navigate.” From the grid of Manhattan to the walls of a building, “there is no imprint that you are leaving behind, no evidence that you've been there.” This lack of interaction leaves citizens feeling “muted,” Inglessis said, “you feel just part of somebody else's design, and we often feel that we are quite lonely in the city.” Urban Imprint is designed to resist this static notion of architecture. “It doesn't have a final form and it never will because the human element is what completes the design.” Plus, when more than one person steps on the surface, it reconfigures entirely how you relate to one another—your sightlines and ground shift and move, and the effect of other participants in this microcosm of urban space is quite palpable. You're all participating in remaking this "space." While “there are a lot of digital tools and fabrication and computational design that went into [Urban Imprint], the actual end result is completely analog,” Inglessis explained. A series of pulleys with cables hidden behind the red-hued mirrors, a color chosen to accentuate the brick facade of the former industrial space, operate the entire process. In function, Urban Imprint is like “a physical megaphone,” suggested Inglessis—taking the deformation of its participants and expanding it four times above their head, helping visitors imagine what it would be like to “have your urban environment give evidence of your presence.” Speaking on the choice of creating a analogue, mechanical final form, Inglessis reflected: “Although I had the knowledge and tools of all these amazing new capabilities that have opened up from computational design and digital fabrication tools [both of which were used to design and fabricate the steel and rubber-concrete components], I felt there was so much activity moving us towards living in a headset.” Instead, she said, “we should look at technology and the new digital tools as a means to an end, rather than an end itself.” So often, beyond just simulating the “real world” on screens and headsets, many new mixed-reality technologies just overlay digital elements onto a physical world that’s “still pretty static.” Instead of augmented reality, Inglessis proposes “augmented materiality,” a sort of “new analog” that blends old and new fabrication, production, and experiential tools to create new possibilities in our physical, urban world. In Urban Imprint, she says, “the material itself has the ability to transform, to be dynamic, to create interaction, and to be seamless.” Urban Imprint was realized by Inglessis with the help of Manos Vordonarakis and the Studio INI team. It will be on view at A/D/O in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until September 2.
Placeholder Alt Text

Pyramid Power

Weekend edition: Pei passes, Apple in D.C., and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! I.M. Pei passes away at 102 Pioneering architect I.M. Pei has passed away at 102, after a storied career designing modern buildings all over the world, as well as a Pritzker Prize. Winner revealed for University of Illinois at Chicago arts building competition The University of Illinois at Chicago picked OMA and KOO Architecture to design its new 88,000-square-foot Center for the Arts building. Apple takes over Washington, D.C.'s historic Carnegie Library Apple Carnegie Library has taken over one of Washington, D.C.'s historic structures, turning it into a massive "town hall"–style store. Shirley Chisholm monument designers discuss using space to honor a legacy The architect-artists won the open call to design a new monument dedicate to Congressperson Shirley Chisholm in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. The World Trade Center Oculus is still leaking The lengthy skylight of the WTC Oculus is designed to open every September 11, but computer errors last year may have ruined the opening's rubber seals. Have a great weekend!
Placeholder Alt Text

Ready for her Close-up

Statue of Liberty Museum by FXCollaborative opens this week
How do you design a museum that makes the most of a small plot, honors the history and spirit of the Statue of Liberty, and can handle millions of visitors a year? The FXCollaborative-designed new Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island, which opens to the public this Thursday, had to address all of these concerns. The materiality of the 26,000-square-foot museum is intrinsically linked to the Statue of Liberty it lies directly across from, and the pedestrian mall it connects to. When approaching the island by ferry, the museum’s prominent 14,000-square-foot green roof and vertically-striated exterior precast concrete firmly distinguished the building from anything else in its surroundings. The most striking feature is the 22-foot-tall wing dedicated solely to the Statue of Liberty’s original torch, which was replaced in the 1984 renovation. The glass walls provide a nearly 360-degree view of the island, the Manhattan skyline, and the statue itself from inside, but also make the torch highly visible from the exterior. To enter the museum and reach the green roof, visitors must first ascend a series of steps made from Stony Creek granite, the same stone used in the Statue of Liberty’s podium. The museum’s entrances and programming are designed to be highly permeable, as they are expected to accommodate up to 500 visitors an hour. As such, the museum offers several different branching “paths” once inside. Other than the aforementioned torch room, an immersive theater, broken into three discreet rooms, is stationed near the entrance and provides an immersive, 10-minute movie on the history and impact of the statue. After filing out, guests can either move to the “Engagement Gallery,” which dives deeper into the French workshop where sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi assembled the statue, or to the "Inspiration Gallery." In that space, visitors can snap a selfie and append a note about what liberty means to them; that photo will then be added to a collage called “Becoming Liberty.” The interactive exhibitions were all handled by ESI Design. On the roof, visitors are afforded unobstructed views of pretty much everything in the area, including Manhattan, Staten Island, and New York Harbor. Eagle-eyed patrons might notice that the roof flares both upwards and downwards in certain points, including a dramatic dip over the main entrance. FXCollaborative extended the green roof along the harsh incline by using a series of tray planters smoothed over to appear as if they’re one continuous slope, protecting against any potential runoff. Liberty Island is also a hotspot for migrating birds, and the team specified a fritted glass to cut down on the reflectiveness of the windows and mitigate bird strikes. The Statue of Liberty Museum will open to the public on May 16, and admission is included in the cost of a ferry ticket: $18.50 for adults, $14 for seniors, and $9 for children.
Placeholder Alt Text

Torts, Tech, Towers

Weekend edition: Tech urbanism, liability explained, and more
Missed some of this week’s architecture news, or our tweets and Facebook posts from the last few days? Don’t sweat it—we’ve gathered the week’s must-read stories right here. Enjoy! Forty-five story jail tower could be coming to Lower Manhattan The plan to close the jail facilities on Rikers Island is chugging along, but community opposition towards the borough-based replacements is bubbling over. The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape Author and professor Sharon Zukin looks at the history and the origins of the urban tech landscape, and how it has manifested in New York and elsewhere. Are design professionals liable for failing to anticipate the effects of climate change? Two experts give advice to architects about their legal liability in designing for climate change in their projects—just following code may not be enough. After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment After New York City's Hudson Yards megadevelopment elicited critical disappointment when it opened, our editor in chief posits Sunnyside could be next. Mexico City’s cost-saving replacement airport to break ground in June President Andrés Manuel López Obrador canceled the $13 billion Mexico City airport after a public referendum, but the alternative will soon break ground. Have a great weekend, and see you Monday!
Placeholder Alt Text

Decks (over) and Yards

After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

Placeholder Alt Text

Going Down, Coming Up

Forty-five story jail tower could be coming to Lower Manhattan
The de Blasio administration’s 10-year plan to close Rikers Island and replace it with four borough-based jails is ahead of schedule, but community groups are voicing their opposition to some of the proposed replacements. Residents of Tribeca and Chinatown are up in arms over the decision to build a 45-story jail tower at 125 White Street, currently the Manhattan Detention Complex more infamously known as “the Tombs.” While the city had originally planned to shift a portion of the island’s projected 5,000 inmates (the administration expects to reach that number from the current 9,000 through bail and sentencing reform) to a 40-story tower at 80 Centre Street in Lower Manhattan, that fell through in November of 2018. Now, the plan is to demolish the two towers at 124 White Street (13 stories) and 125 White Street (9 stories) and replace them with a 45-story, 1.27-million-square-foot tower with 1,440 beds. The entire Rikers replacement plan is currently moving through the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and thanks to a $7.7 billion bonus to the Department of Corrections (DOC) in the 2020 capital plan, is expected to wrap up in 2026, a year ahead of schedule. But as part of the ULURP, each of the four borough-based jails are currently facing public feedback as part of the environmental and land use review. Tempers have flared at Community Board 1's meetings over the 125 White Street tower. At an April 8 meeting before the board’s Land Use, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, residents clashed with social justice activists. Because the proposed tower would be 37 percent larger than what the area’s zoning allows, the jail requires a permit from the City Planning Commission before it can proceed, of which public feedback is taken into consideration. Overall, a number of Tribeca, Chinatown, and SoHo residents raised concerns over the cost (the new jails will require $11 billion to complete); the shadows cast by the tower, which would stretch from West Broadway to Mott Street in the winter and from Church Street to Chrystie Street in the summer, according to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); the impact of the Tombs demolition on the surrounding neighborhood; and the potential repurposing of the proposed tower into luxury housing if the city manages to decrease the number of incarcerated peoples enough. While that last concern may seem a tad outlandish, the original proposal for the tower at 80 Centre Street did involve a mix of affordable housing units. Architect Alice Blank, who sits on Community Board 1, also raised concerns about the potential history that would be lost if the Tombs came down. Blank pointed out a resolution recently passed by Community Board 3 against the demolition, which states: “The Art Deco/Art Moderne-styled South Tower of the current Manhattan Detention Center is NYC Landmark eligible, and the Manhattan Criminal Courts Building and Prison at 100 Centre Street have previously been determined to be New York State National Registry-eligible. These eligibilities suggest that the proposed demolition and redevelopment would be an inappropriate and significant loss of historic and architectural resources. The 100 Centre Street building, which retains some Egyptian Revival architectural details from the original ‘Tombs’ building, as well as 80 Centre Street and 125 Worth Street constitute a coherent architectural group in Civic Center. The demolition of ‘the Tombs’ would undermine the value of a visible piece of the criminal justice history and the historical development of NYC.” Of course, criminal justice and prison reform advocates have pushed back. In 2017, Rikers was appraised as being so dangerous by the State Commission of Correction that the agency halted transfers of inmates into the jail from outside of the city. At the time, the oversight commission found that Rikers failed to meet minimum safety standards. The Tombs has its own well-documented legacy of violence, and the building’s squalid conditions aren’t helped by the tiny slit windows punched into its monolithic facade. At the April 8 meeting, it was clear that pro-jail tower activists saw the issue as a racial one, while opponents of building a jail tower in Manhattan have argued that renovating Rikers Island would only cost $1 billion and would mitigate all of their concerns. “I’m disgusted to hear that y’all don’t even want to have a new jail when 90 percent of the people who are incarcerated in the Department of Corrections are black and brown Latin people. Not any of you that are opposing this tonight!” a woman shouted at the CB1 meeting, according to The Tribeca Trib. “Having jails on Rikers Island doesn’t solve half of our problem,” said a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office, who offered to comment after AN queried the DOC. “Renovating Rikers wouldn’t do it. The facilities are too archaic and old, and they don’t have the appropriate space or programming. To say that Rikers can be rehabilitated is untrue.” Centralizing the jail population on an island mainly accessible via the Rikers Island Bridge adds an extra level of undue hardship to the jail’s staff, visitors, and inmates who have to meet court dates in their home boroughs—each jail tower has been proposed for a site close to the borough’s courts. It also damages inmates’ connections to their local support networks, added the spokesperson. Building new facilities will allow the city to not only increase the cell size for each inmate and better the light and air conditions, but to add vocational, health, educational, and re-entry programs to each location. When asked whether the city could convert the Manhattan jail tower into market-rate housing down the line, however, the spokesperson was unable to rule it out. They said that it was too early to draw any conclusions about where the prison population would be ten years down the line, especially before the bulk of Mayor de Blasio’s bail reform proposals took effect. Time will tell whether the city alters its Manhattan tower proposal before appealing to the City Planning Commission. The Manhattan Community Board 1 Land Use Committee will be voting on a recommendation for the Borough Based Jails/Manhattan Detention Complex ULURP application on May 13. A full board vote will come later in May, followed by a public hearing held by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. After that, the scheme will be voted on by the City Planning Commission, and finally, the City Council. It should be noted that all of the preliminary massings released thus far have been just that, and no concrete design details have been made public yet. Update: An earlier version of this article stated that Rikers Island was reachable by ferry, which is incorrect. While plans to connect the island to the NYC ferry system have been proposed, it is not a stop at the time of writing.
Placeholder Alt Text

Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.

Placeholder Alt Text

Column Couture

OMA reorients the Sotheby’s New York headquarters towards the public
The renovation, reorganization, and revitalization of the Sotheby’s New York headquarters is complete, and the public is welcome to wander the newly expanded exhibition space. Instead of moving the Sotheby’s headquarters as originally planned, the OMA team (and executive architect Beyer Blinder Belle), led by Shohei Shigematsu, expanded the public galleries in the auction house’s York Street location in Manhattan from 67,000 square feet to 90,000 square feet. That meant shifting and condensing all of the public programming to the building’s first four stories, and reorienting many of the floors towards a public, museum-like experience. Works of every scale can be found throughout, and the 40 public galleries vary in size to accommodate them. The most noticeable additions are the three two-story galleries, which provide Sotheby’s with enough space to display the largest pieces of art. Concrete columns have been left exposed throughout the headquarters, and combined with the polished concrete floors, and exposed HVAC system, reference the building’s industrial past. All of these flourishes are used to accentuate sightlines and, in the ground floor’s lobby gallery, frame massive paintings and sculptures. To bring the New York Sotheby’s location in line with the auction house’s Paris and London locations, stained walnut woodwork has been used to clad the entrance portals. The renovation covers 20 different gallery typologies, from the 150-foot-long Grand Gallery, to a smaller Octagon Gallery for displaying jewelry and watches, to the Enfilade Galleries, which are punched through by a hallway. The public exhibitions, which opened May 3, highlight Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art through May 14, putting works from Picasso, Monet, Rothko, and more on display. Apart from the gallery renovations, visitors to 1334 York Avenue can also enjoy a new haute Sant Ambroeus Coffee Bar on the ground floor, next to the Sotheby’s wine store, in the summer.
Placeholder Alt Text

It Might Take a Miracle

Governor Cuomo trying to jump-start stalled Calatrava World Trade Center church
A year and a half after progress was halted at the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine in Lower Manhattan after the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA) defaulted on its construction payments, Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly stepping in to get the church finished. Santiago Calatrava’s design for the church, an $80 million replacement for the 1916 building at 155 Cedar that was destroyed in the September 11th attacks, was first unveiled in 2013. That capped years of negotiations between the GOA and the city, which agreed to lease the land beneath the church to the Archdiocese for $1 a year, for 198 years. Construction on the ribbed, glowing church—Calatrava drew inspiration from the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Istanbul—began in 2014, and the building topped out in 2016. While St. Nicholas was originally on track to open in 2018, Skanska USA, the church’s head construction firm, terminated its contract with the Archdiocese in December 2017 over the GOA’s failure to pay. As first reported by The Pappas Post, the Archdiocese had tapped a restricted pool of construction funds to pay off a mounting deficit, leaving it shorthanded when payment was due. The church has sat vacant and unfinished ever since. In a statement released last year, the Archdiocese installed a new board of trustees to oversee St. Nicholas, and formed the nonprofit Friends of St. Nicholas to fundraise for the church's completion. At the time, the Archdiocese called these "significant steps" towards resuming construction. The formation of the board follows recommendations stemming from an earlier internal investigation, with work from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Now, according to the New York Post, Governor Cuomo is reaching out to potential backers to make up the $40 million shortfall. Cuomo has reportedly been reaching out to donors with deep pockets to join Friends of St. Nicholas and fundraise to finish the church. John Catsimatidis, the billionaire owner of the Gristedes Foods supermarket chain, Democratic donor Dennis Mehiel, and Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas have all been contacted by Cuomo, according to the Post. According to a spokesperson for the governor’s office, Cuomo has also made overtures to the Port Authority as well.