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Not So Fast
710 West Grand Avenue is one of several new projects affected by recent changes to Chicago's transit-oriented development ordinance.
Courtesy Brininstool + Lynch

With two similar developments still under construction along the Milwaukee Avenue corridor on Chicago’s northwest side, local architects Brininstool + Lynch unveiled in August yet another mixed-use rental tower as notable for what it lacks as for the handsome design elements advertised in its renderings—namely, it has less than half the number of parking spaces that a development its size would typically be required to provide.

In July, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed a plan to slash minimum parking requirements in the city, more than doubling the area eligible for so-called “transit-oriented development” status. Such TODs, as they are known, have been almost uniformly hailed by urbanists yet frequently opposed by community groups wary of rising rents and sudden shifts in density.

As of press time, the new development at 710 West Grand Avenue had not yet faced the public gauntlet, but others have. Packed public meetings in the Logan Square area have exposed some deep resentment from longtime residents of the gentrifying neighborhood toward new, high-density development. At the same time, many (including this editorial page) have praised the long-overdue easing of parking requirements in Chicago, which typically compel developers to provide one parking spot per residential unit. TODs are near transit, so the need for cars is less, the argument goes, and developments near train stations can qualify for parking-to-unit ratios less than 1:1.

But as the pace of TOD development picks up, enthusiasm for the policy’s basic principle appears to be crowding out important questions about the nature of neighborhood development. What are the implications of a wide-reaching TOD program for historic preservation? For affordable housing?

Scott Rappe, a principal of Kuklinski+Rappe Architects and past president of the local chapter of the AIA, was among the most vocal proponents of 1611 West Division, which in 2012 became the city’s first TOD thanks to a project-specific ordinance. Now, though, he is worried the label could be used to justify unnecessary teardowns and unsustainable development.

“I’m a solid supporter of TOD, but the recently introduced expanded provisions are causing me some real unease,” Rappe said. Specifically he’s worried about buildings marked as “orange” or “red” in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey—usually aging historic properties on small lots that could find themselves suddenly in areas incentivized by TOD policy.

“The threat I see, in terms of quantity of threatened buildings, is not really from the big TOD developments, but from little ones,” Rappe said. “The loss of a lovely vintage/historic building is not offset by a corresponding marginal TOD benefit of one or two units.”

Rappe did a quick survey of his area, Chicago’s East Village neighborhood, and estimated dozens of buildings could be in this situation.

For its part, the TOD ordinance does require developers to meet certain requirements in order to receive the parking waiver. It offers a boost in density to developers who provide affordable housing onsite instead of down the street (as allowed by the city’s affordable requirements ordinance). And it encourages “alternative transportation” options, like car sharing and bike parking.

But the ordinance could—and should—do much more. Owners of small lots within a half-mile of a so-called “pedestrian designated street” (defined at the whim of the local alderman) can now get more rent per square foot, offering more units instead of more parking. That is a powerful incentive for new development, and a golden opportunity to encourage the right kind. Why not scrutinize projects that propose teardowns, making them go through public reviews as any planned development would? Why not trade additional parking requirement reductions for greater affordable housing incentives? Would developers turn their backs on this huge windfall if it came with a small fee to fund public reviews and neighborhood development initiatives?

Transit-oriented development is a powerful tool, and it represents a positive direction for Chicago’s denser neighborhoods. But it is not the be-all, end-all of sustainable neighborhood development.

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Grab the Torch
The 2024 Olympics Bid pegs Downtown L.A. as a major event area.
Courtesy LA 24 Olympic Draft Bid

With Boston’s withdrawal from Olympic contention, Los Angeles now represents the United States in the race to host the 2024 Summer Games. The move became official when the U.S. Olympic Committee approved the city’s bid on September 1. From the looks of its bid book, which was developed by the Los Angeles 2024 Exploratory Committee with Lead Design Consultant AECOM, L.A. is using its wealth of existing venues and its infrastructural transformation—new transit, new airport terminals, and a revitalized river—as primary selling points.

Architecture and planning will play a starring role in this revamped environment, which the bid refers to as “The New L.A.” About 90 percent of the venues will be existing (although about 80 percent are new since the city last hosted the Games in 1984), so the plan will be more about “celebrating the city in its own context,” than about starting over, said Bill Hanway, AECOM’s executive vice president of global sports and global architecture.


The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will once again be the Games’ central stadium, but it will undergo a $300-500 million renovation (already being planned by USC), including improved seating, concourses, amenities, and a new roof to shield the sun. Venues near this hub will include the Los Angeles Convention Center, USC’s Galen Center, the Microsoft Theater, the Shrine Auditorium, the Staples Center for gymnastics and basketball, and Gensler’s proposed 22,000 seat MLS stadium in Exposition Park for swimming events.


Beyond that point, events will be clustered in five major areas: Downtown L.A. and Exposition Park, Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, the Coastal Cluster (including Santa Monica and UCLA), and the South Bay. Other scattered venues will include the Forum in Inglewood, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the StubHub Center in Carson, Dodger Stadium in Elysian Park, and several sites in Griffith Park.

The overall cost of the Games is estimated at around $6 billion. The bid team, which also includes Boston Consulting Group, has projected a surplus of about $160 million through a combination of television sponsorships, ticket sales, merchandising, and more.


The “New L.A.” will be able to connect these sites much more effectively than in the past, with a revamped public transportation infrastructure that includes more than 120 miles of track and more than 27 new stations. At a September 1 press conference, Mayor Eric Garcetti stressed that his city has “more aggressive public transportation plans than any city in the country.” Walkability will also be a priority. Linking Exposition Park to downtown will be “Olympic Way,” a 1.5 mile pedestrian-friendly stretch that has already been started. Each cluster will have its own similar “live site,” a walkable zone hosting daily and nightly events.


The bid team has proposed a site along the Los Angeles River for a new Olympic Village, hosting 16,500 athletes. The bid book proposed the Piggyback Yard, a former train transfer yard just east of Union Station, as the location, but Hanway said the site has not been finalized. Wherever the village ends up, the team wants to develop a walkable, mixed-use development to “dovetail” with the existing community during the games and in the future, said Hanway.

The bid team will continue to develop their plans until the winning team is announced in September 2017 in Lima, Peru.

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Obit> Legendary type designer Adrian Frutiger passes away at 87
The master of optical type and genius behind typefaces such as Univers, Avenir, and Frutiger, Adrian Frutiger passed away earlier this month on September 10 at the age of 87. If it wasn't for Frutiger, we may be misreading gate numbers, having to step ever closer to read departure lounge notice boards, and letting type get in the way of our lives. This may sound extreme, but as one of the first to properly investigate the legibility of type, Adrian Frutiger paved the way for future typographers and designers such as Erik Spiekermann, contributing to many of the typefaces we take for granted today. AN is a benefactor of Frutiger's work, using the typeface Univers in its printed publication, while JFK International and a whole host of airports employ his eponymous Frutiger for their signage. Without his pioneering work we may be disadvantaged on a mass scale in terms of identifying what it is we're actually meant to be reading. The Swiss-born type designer carried out rigorous tests when developing his works, examining readability at different distances, seeing what shapes and forms were easy to discern from one and other. Despite his death, his work will undoubtedly live on, making our meanderings through airports, train stations and other areas that employ his signage all the more easier.
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Affordable South Bronx
Via Verde in South Bronx, by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects.
David Sundberg/Esto

“The Times Square of the South Bronx” is an apt moniker for a place more commonly known as “the Hub”. Situated at the crossing of subway lines, bus routes, and major thoroughfares, the Hub is one of the busiest commercial districts in New York City. The corner of East 149th Street and Third Avenue constitutes the center of this half-mile, spoke-like network of traffic arteries that radiate into the Melrose and Mott Haven neighborhoods. You cannot stand in one place here: Hordes of commuters boarding buses and entering and exiting narrow subway entrances sweep you along. Street vendors occupy much of the sidewalk selling everything from sunglasses to sodas. Salsa music blares from curbside radios and the heavy smell of food being fried at street stands wafts through the air. On a weekday afternoon in June, virtually all passersby were Hispanic or African American, and a great many were wearing jeans and sneakers. No hipsters were apparent, and no one was wearing a suit.

Throughout this bustling area there are still stately old masonry theaters from the era when the magician Harry Houdini and actors such as Lionel Barrymore performed here. Today, many of these historic buildings are bedecked in a riot of awnings and signs advertising beauty parlors, pawnshops, and electronics stores. In some cases, billboards and posters—such as a long brown one advertising Envy Nails—cover entire rows of second story windows. Alongside the faded Beaux-Arts buildings are more recent arrivals—Lego-like cinderblock structures with plate glass windows. You can see unfulfilled potential in the dusty upper story windows of 149th Street‘s sturdy old loft buildings decorated with faded “Offices for Rent” signs that might be appropriate for tenants such as tech startups or design studios.


Today’s Hub

In many ways the Hub is still recovering from the dark days of the 1970s, when the South Bronx became the most notorious symbol of urban blight in the country. Community District 1, which includes the Hub, lost 43 percent of its population during that decade. Fires and abandonment destroyed up to 97 percent of the building stock in some census tracts. Take a turn off East 149th Street, one of the Hub’s main drags, and north on Bergen Avenue and you will find trash-strewn sidewalks and fenced-off, weed-covered lots abandoned for so long that small trees have taken root. Back when the Bronx was burning, many property owners stopped paying taxes, and the city used foreclosures and eminent domain to acquire a vast inventory of such properties. However, the area as a whole has improved recently, thanks in part to better policing, say local residents such as Tanjy Davis, a former restaurant owner out for a walk with her daughter. “Brook Avenue has changed so much,” she said. “They used to have prostitution over there and young kids were shooting guns.”


There are signs that the South Bronx as a whole is reviving. In 2013, the Opera House Hotel, the Bronx’s first luxury boutique hotel opened for business in a renovated 1913 theater on 149th Street. And in the past year there has been a tremendous amount of real estate speculation in the Bronx. According to the New York Daily News, multifamily sales rose 67 percent and sales of development sites were up by 85 percent. However in the area around the Hub virtually all the new residential buildings have been built as affordable housing, and they owe their existence to generous government subsidy programs that generally include the sale of city owned land to private developers for nominal sums of money. A case in point is Via Verde, the award-winning affordable housing development completed in 2012 at the corner of 156th Street, just beyond the empty lots on Brook Avenue. Via Verde received a slew of subsidies from the New York City Council, NYC Housing Development Corporation, The New York State Affordable Housing Corporation, the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and other government agencies.

Much of the new City-subsidized development in and around the Hub is targeted toward alleviating poverty. The 88,000-square-foot Triangle Plaza Hub is currently under construction on the site of a former municipal parking lot at 149th Street. The $40 million development will provide the South Bronx with essential goods and services that most Manhattan neighborhoods take for granted, including a primary care medical center for the federally designated medically underserved community. Triangle Plaza Hub will also house a Fine Fare Supermarket, which will benefit from tax incentives under the City’s FRESH program for grocery stores selling nutritious, affordable produce and meats in underserved communities.

La Central apartments in the South Bronx, by FXFOWLE and MHG Architects.
Courtesy FXFOWLE

La Central

The potential capstone to the Hub’s redevelopment is a proposed $345 million project called La Central, slated for the last large assemblage of vacant city-owned land in the South Bronx. A draft proposal for the project calls for a mixed-income affordable housing development of five buildings with 992 rental apartments, 2.2 acres of publicly accessible open space, and a host of new ground-level retail spaces. The project, which spans three existing blocks including a superblock created years ago by the de-mapping of a city street, will fill in the gaping hole between the residential developments along Brook Avenue, such as Via Verde, and the commercially-oriented areas around the Hub.

With so many government approvals and so many government subsidies required for such a large project to move forward, community support is critical. The draft proposal was presented at Bronx Community Board 1’s land use committee in June by a development team that packed the hearing room. There were representatives from La Central’s lead developer, the Hudson Companies, as well as the non-profit development partners for the project, which include Common Ground and the YMCA. In addition, there were representatives from a large design team that included FXFOWLE, MHG Architects, and Future Green Studio.

Aaron Koffman, a principal at the Hudson Companies, told the community board that La Central’s facilities and amenities were intended to provide services and recreational opportunities for the entire neighborhood. “It is about community, education, and affordable housing—those are the three pillars,” he said. One such space is a 10,000-square-foot studio and classroom space for BronxNet, a non-profit public access television station devoted to community-based programming and broadcast skills trainings for local residents. BronxNet would be joined by spaces for other non-profits, including music education program Music Has No Enemies, a day care center, and the South Bronx’s first YMCA, home to a diabetes prevention program run by Montefiore Medical Center.


FXFOWLE partner Dan Kaplan described how the project was designed to enhance the Hub with substantial open space within the development and a public plaza on an adjacent lot. Its street walls with ground-level retail seek to connect the buildings to the existing neighborhood fabric, and a pedestrian thoroughfare will reestablish a neighborhood connection lost when a section of East 152nd Street was de-mapped years ago. The massing ranges from a 25-story tower on the northern part of the site to 12-story buildings with two-story attached maisonettes. Articulated facades with recessed sections and bands of different colored bricks are intended to break down the scale of the development into smaller elements so as not to overwhelm immediate neighbors, among them low-lying warehouses along Bergen Avenue.

Because HPD is in charge of selling the land, the critical subsidy for such developments, it is able to exact a great many concessions in return. For La Central, HPD is mandating that the developers meet special green design standards established for affordable housing, setting the terms on the affordability of the units, and even requirements that the units be larger than those currently required by the city’s building code. The city‘s various stipulations might appear to be a difficult proposition for a private developer, except for the fact that the taxpayer will undoubtedly be picking up the tab for many of the features and amenities described in the draft development proposal. If the La Central deal goes through, the Hudson Companies and its non-profit partners will be able to buy the land for their development for a dollar per tax lot and potentially benefit from a number of subsidies that could include various government loans, tax-exempt bonds, and tax abatement programs that can last for up to 40 years.

Building state-of-the-art affordable housing can be quite profitable for private developers according to housing advocates. “The Hudson Company is certainly going to make money off of this and off of anything that is city sponsored,” said Moses Gates, Director of Planning & Community Development for the Association of Neighborhood and Housing Development, “If you have all of these great design elements, it is not the developer paying for them,” said Gates. “It is the public paying for them that is how it works, the developer has their return in mind and if they want to do all of this cool fancy stuff, they find funding for it and that funding is various subsidy programs.”


The proposed rents for La Central are designed to be affordable for households from a wide range of the income scale: between 30 percent and 100 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), or equivalent to an annual income of $18,150 to $60,500 for an individual or $23,350 to $77,700 for a family of three. The housing units awarded through government run lotteries that generally attract a tremendous number of applicants. In 2014, the tenant lottery for 2,500 subsidized apartments in New York City drew 1.5 million applications—a 600 applicant to unit ratio. To help preserve the neighborhood, the city is requiring the developers to fill 50 percent of the units at La Central with local residents from Community District 1.

However, despite being given preference on 50 percent of the units, for many Community District 1 residents, the rents will be unaffordable. According to data from New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, in 2013 Community District 1 had a 16 percent unemployment rate and half of household incomes were under $21,600. Further, close to a third of households in Community District 1 are “severely rent burdened”—which means that their rent equals at least 50 percent of their monthly pretax income.


Although his organization is focused on helping the poorest New Yorkers find housing, Anthony Winn, Chief Operating Officer of the influential local housing advocacy organization Nos Quedamos (We Stay), said that it is critical to have developments that can accommodate a variety of income ranges. “Often times you get an overemphasis on housing for the poor, which is important,” said Winn. “But when you are trying to grow and develop a community, you want to keep a balance between making sure that those with the most need are served while also making sure that you are not creating a concentration of poverty.”

For La Central to move forward, the land that it is slated to occupy must be rezoned from its current manufacturing designation to allow a residential use. And because the project involves a rezoning, the sale of city owned land and other government actions, the plan must pass through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a lengthy process that requires approvals from various agencies and public hearings before the New York City Council and the local community board. At the CB1 hearing on La Central, residents expressed concern about the building slated to be solely owned by the non-profits Common Ground and Communal Life, which would provide 96 studios at 30 percent AMI, 60 percent of which would be set aside for veterans with mental illness and low-income elderly people with HIV/ AIDS from throughout the city. Several board members said that the proposed supportive housing should address the needs of local elderly residents rather than accommodate populations with serious problems from across the city. Hudson’s Koffman responded that government financing was not available for an alternative supportive housing program and that his company was addressing guidelines set by the City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD): “We are doing nothing different from what they [HPD] are doing all over the city.” However, many at the hearing said that their community already bears too much of that burden. “There is and there has been a concern with an oversaturation of particular populations that cause major quality of life issues,” said Bronx Community Board 1 Land Use Chair Arlene Parks, “and the burden on a police department, the 40th Precinct, who already is so overburdened that they cannot respond to all of things we have going on here.”

Although the supportive housing component of the proposed La Central project remains contentious, the overall program wins praise from community members. “We are looking to have a diverse population in the district and for different persons of different incomes to be able to afford to live here,” said Cedric Loftin, District Manger of Community Board 1. “Those portions are going to have to be discussed, but we feel that the project will meet those needs.”

Melrose Commons

“It looks like a very exciting project in terms of what it is going to do for the community dynamic,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos, although he noted that his organization has not yet taken a formal position on the project. “There is diversity in what the structures are going to look like,” added Winn. “They are bringing in a diversity of formats in terms of the housing units, and it is looking at community use and community resources that go beyond the residents of the building—that YMCA, for example, is going to serve the greater Bronx community.”

Community-based organizations in Melrose, especially Nos Quedamos, have a formidable track record when it comes to influencing development outcomes. In the early 1990s, city officials made plans to raze the remains of a 30-block swath of Melrose and replace it with massive new developments. Neighborhood leaders found out about the City’s tabula rasa plan and formed Nos Quedamos to preserve what was left of their neighborhood. The New York City firm Magnusson Architecture and Planning (MAP) worked pro bono with the group to produce the alternative Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan in 1993. The plan, which included local residents in the design process and prioritized their housing needs, was adopted by the city the following year. “The vision was for a mixed-income neighborhood,” said Magnus Magnusson, Principal of MAP. “And although it was very hard to envision middle income there originally, we felt that it was very important to make the buildings look like middle income.”

The South Bronx is still one of the five poorest congressional districts in the country. But some of the government subsidized housing built in Melrose Commons over the past decade undoubtedly would attract a long line of prospective affluent tenants were they located in one of the city’s pricier precincts. One such development is the MAP-designed Aurora, an eight-story, 91-unit condominium building located on a tree-lined block of Washington Avenue. The boxy, brick-faced building is a good neighbor—it features setbacks to break up the massing and a supermarket and restaurant featuring Mexican food made from family recipes at ground level. The Aurora, which received subsidies from the Affordable Housing Corporation and the Bronx Borough president’s office, has every amenity on a checklist for middle income housing: bamboo floors, ceramic bathroom fixtures, and a gracious landscaped terrace for residents with play equipment for children.

According to the architects and developers who designed the recently completed Melrose Commons, because city-subsidized affordable apartments are built to guidelines imposed by HPD and are generally larger, they are also often are of better quality than market-rate units under construction in wealthier neighborhoods. And as opposed to the tower-in-the-park typology prevalent in other urban renewal areas, the affordable housing developed in Melrose typically relates to the street, with ground-level retail along the avenues and lower-scale townhouse buildings along side streets.

Although the South Bronx has not yet managed to attract much market-rate housing, the population moving into its affordable housing has become increasingly income diverse. “For many years the top income level at the typical new building in the South Bronx was 60 percent of AMI,” said Ted Weinstein, HPD’s Bronx director. In the case of La Central, the development proposal calls for half of the units to be between 80 percent and 100 percent AMI.

The city’s development policies in the South Bronx have also won support from affordable housing advocates. “On the whole it has been an unqualified success,” said Moses Gates from ANHD. “However, the availability of City-owned land has been critical to subsidizing that success,” explained Gates. “When you have land that is government-owned, you can go from the ground up and say how do we make it happen, rather than everybody throwing out bids and just taking the highest one.”

Frank Rivera

Sustainable Building

Over the past decade, in addition to shepherding the construction of thousands of units of rent stabilized affordable housing in the South Bronx, HPD has promoted the use of environmentally friendly designs and materials by awarding competitive points for green features in requests for proposals and by instituting minimum green building standards. “In the old days it was how many units and how cheap,” said Les Bluestone, a developer who in 2009 completed the Eltona in Melrose Commons, the first LEED Platinum affordable rental building in New York State. Bluestone credits the city for raising the bar: “The Bloomberg administration started looking at quality issues that weren’t studied so much in the past, and that is continuing under the present [de Blasio] administration.” Melrose Commons became the first neighborhood in the city to join the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Program (LEED-ND) in 2010.

Sustainable design certainly provides a host of benefits for people from any socio-economic group. But in the South Bronx, green features can be critical to the physical and economic health of low- and moderate-income residents. “In affordable housing, when it is a family of three and every dollar counts, the fact that utility bills could be knocked down by a significant percentage makes a difference,” said Kaplan, the architect from FXFowle. The development, which is aiming to achieve a LEED Silver rating, also includes a plethora of green features, such as solar panels to power a co-generation plant, which will reduce reliance on the city’s electric grid by 50 percent. A rooftop variable refrigerant flow system will eliminate the need for wall air conditioning units, allowing for tighter sealing throughout the building.

One of the primary ways La Central will reduce energy loads is through traditional block and plank construction, which utilizes precast concrete planks for the floor system and concrete cinderblocks for bearing walls, in contrast to the steel-beamed, market-rate buildings with glass facades being built in other parts of the city. “With market-rate housing you are trying to maximize the amount of glass that you have within the confines of the energy code and that generally means 45 percent glass,” said Kaplan. “La Central and other affordable housing projects we are designing are probably within 20 to 25 percent range for glass,” he said, noting that despite advances in glazing, glass generally is the biggest source of heat transfer in residential buildings.

Courtesy The All-Nite

The green features at new developments like La Central also have the potential to reduce the South Bronx’s high rates of asthma, linked in part to substandard building conditions like mold infestations. At The Eltona, developer Les Bluestone prohibited smoking and installed continuous background ventilation to reduce the impact of formaldehyde off gassing from residents’ furniture. In addition, non-toxic pest control systems such as non-cellulose wall structures and steel mesh termite barriers prevent the infestations like the recent ones that have been linked to repertory problems in New York City public housing projects. According to a recent Mount Sinai study, The Eltona’s features appear to have substantially reduced asthma attacks among residents. “It was absolutely amazing,” said Bluestone. ”People who were being hospitalized multiple times a month all of a sudden weren’t going to the hospital.”

La Central will not be the most high-tech or environmentally sustainable building in the area around the Hub. Across Brook Avenue from the fenced off vacant lots where La Central is slated for construction is the aforementioned Via Verde, designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw Architects. Via Verde is the most state-of-the art affordable housing development in New York City. With its colorful prefabricated aluminum, cement and wood panel facade, and rooftop farm, it can hold its own against the new iconic buildings along the High Line in Manhattan. Further, although it features ground-level retail and a community health center, Via Verde is a relatively self-contained development—a gated courtyard, although originally intended for public use, is generally open only to residents. And with 222-mixed income residential units, Via Verde is much smaller than the La Central development, which with its commercial spaces, public thoroughfare, and large public greensward promises to redefine the neighborhood. “One of the reasons that we like La Central from a design point of view is that it is bigger than a single building,” said Kaplan, “and we had an opportunity to create a neighborhood.”

With close to half of its units slated for renters making above 80 percent AMI and 11 percent slated for renters making up to 100 percent AMI, La Central promises to alter the demographics of this poverty stricken community. However, there is no way that the proposed development with its low- and moderate-income guidelines and its supportive housing component can be construed as being an agent for the kind of gentrification that is sweeping other New York City neighborhoods. “Somebody like me, who doesn’t make that much money, still makes too much money for buildings like these,” said Winn from Nos Quedamos. “If you make halfway decent money, you cannot get in because you make too much for the rental requirements and the number [of units] available at 100 percent AMI usually is just a fraction of the building, and then there is competition for those units.”

The developers hope to complete the ULURP process by April 2016 and purchase the property from the city the following month. Much about the project’s design could change as a result of the various reviews required under the city’s land review process.  However, neighborhood leaders say that things are off to a good start. “Community-based organizations are aware of what will be happening on the site and I am sure that there will be interactions short-term and long-term,” said Loftin from Community Board 1. “People are going to be looking at bringing educational engagement to the process and also seeing involvement long term, once the project is developed—so we are very excited.”

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Open data from Transport for London spurs 3D axonometric plans of the Tube so passengers can mentally map their next trip
Now you can strategize your next rush-hour skedaddle through the labyrinthine London Underground ahead of time—and choose all the right shortcuts. Transport for London (TfL) has released a series of 3D axonometric maps of the world’s oldest tube network, following a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request by Londoner Georges Vehres. While revealing the sheer intricacy of the Underground’s tunnels and the country’s longest escalator at north London’s Angel station, the set of 124 maps documenting stations A through W are not to scale, as becomes obvious by the unrealistically steep stairwells. Passengers can now devise a mental map of their most frequently-used stations. TfL’s release of a trove of public transport data following the FoIA spurred London-based visual developer Bruno Imbrizi to create 3D maps of his own that display the movements of all trains in the London Underground in real-time in brilliant color. Technically, the data is real-time accurate only from the moment you load the map, as it represents a prediction from TfL for the next 30 minutes of activity. Trains take the shape of shifting rectangles along a lace-like lattice of tunnels, disappearing and reappearing behind orbs representing each station to the tune of a soothing underground soundtrack.
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Best Mall of 'Em All
Polar Factory

Bangkok is a city full of shopping malls, and competition is most intense in the roughly three-square-mile area around Rama 1 road, which contains the bulk of them. The rivalry means retailers are constantly reinventing their identities and offering “new” shopping experiences to younger generations. The lifespan of buildings here is similar to that of fashion collections, and the structures are expected to be either highly adaptable or expressly unique.

At the end of this road is Ratchaprasong, the largest mall in Bangkok, which has undergone several major redesigns in the last 20 years. Its latest addition is The Groove at CentralWorld, situated in front of an office tower, occupying what used to be a rare open space in central Bangkok. It connects to the local BTS Skytrain via a walkway bridge. The requirements and the setting did not provide an easy task for the architect, Los Angeles–based Synthesis Design + Architecture, which needed to respond to the context’s fast pace and surreal setting. Since the main approach to the building is not on street level, the smaller-scale building had to nonetheless attract commuters’ attentions from the Skytrain, and from the walkway between its stations.


The overall concept of The Groove, like most new semi-outdoor boutique malls in Thailand, is to be more intimate and friendly than its predecessors. The project features restaurants and bars, so it accommodates customers both day and night. The emphasis of the design is on the facade’s curving lines, and creating a sense of fluidity within the internal circulation.


The central courtyard, which provides space for many activities, is covered with a translucent roof, allowing soft light into the building. This makes the space feel open and airy while keeping the heat out.

The external facade incorporates perforated aluminum panels, which shine during the day against Bangkok’s sun. At night, the LED lighting system illuminates the facade as a graphic display, emphasizing the lines of the openings. When viewed from the Skytrain, the building looks futuristic yet informal—a rare treat in the Bangkok skyline.

Though an old, established brand, Central Group has been refreshingly brave with its choices of architects for newer projects like The Groove, Central Embassy, and even provincial malls such as Central Salaya. The design, or in some cases, redesign, of these buildings is reinvigorating the company’s identity and could set the tone for shopping malls throughout Thailand.

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Moving Lights
Courtesy Transbay Joint Powers Authority

Transbay Center

San Francisco, California
Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects / Auerbach Glasow French

Pelli Clarke Pelli’s $1.89 billion Transbay Center in San Francisco, set to open in 2017, promises to catalyze the redevelopment of its downtown neighborhood, centralize the Bay Area’s vast transportation network, and serve more than 100,000 rail, subway, and bus passengers a day.

San Francisco–based Auerbach Glasow French (AGF) designed the lighting scheme for the four-block-long project. The goal was to accentuate the architecture and make the glassy structure glow from within. “The building wants to feel like it’s filled with light,” said AGF principal Larry French. Achieving this effect came with its challenges. One, the project is aiming to be one of the most energy efficient transit structures in the country, so daylighting had to be a large component of the design. Two, towers surround the site, casting long shadows. In answer, the design team developed an inventive method to pull in as much natural light as possible while using the most efficient fixtures available.


The centerpiece of the 1.5 million-square-foot, five-level project is the Light Column, a massive steel structure that pierces the building’s multi-story Great Hall. The column is uplit and downlit by powerful fluorescent spotlights mounted on its frame. Similar lighting is attached to the building’s exterior columns and beams. Thus far LEDs are not powerful enough to fill the hall’s vast volume, said French, but that may change as technology advances, so the fluorescents may be switched for LEDs before construction starts. “Trying to keep the technology current is very difficult because of the very long lead times,” said French. The team began working on Transbay eight years ago, and the first construction documents were completed four years ago.

Most of the building’s vertical surfaces are washed with LED fixtures, emphasizing their planes and bouncing light out of the building. LEDs also line the railings of the escalators and stairs, and are present in gaps between areas with lower ceilings, such as in the bus deck below the rooftop park. French chose moderation over excess when it came to distributing the fixtures. “We tried not to have too much going on. A building can get busy very quickly,” he said.


During the day, the artificial light supplements the natural illumination enabled by the design. Glass curtain walls on all four sides of the building are covered with perforated metal “awnings” that allow dappled light to filter inside in geometric patterns.

Natural light flows in from above through three elliptical skylights, with ceramic fritting to limit heat and maximize privacy. The two smaller skylights measure about 65 feet by 40 feet, while the largest, hovering over the Light Column, measures 85 feet by 65 feet. Daylight also enters through a translucent and multi-layered 150-foot-long glass floor, which is part of the center’s 5.4-acre rooftop park. The Great Hall has its own glass floor that admits light into the center’s lower levels. It is a similar system to the rooftop, but measures about 40 feet in diameter.

Sunlight is balanced during the day with strategically placed fixtures, which were calibrated through extensive lighting studies. “You don’t want to bring in too much natural light and have dark contrast areas,” explained Heather Kim, a senior associate at Pelli Clarke Pelli.


The combination of natural and artificial light is punctuated by “Parallel Luminous Fields,” a light sculpture designed by James Carpenter for Shaw Alley, a covered pedestrian passage leading to the center’s main entrance. The piece consists of 54 illuminated pairs of cast acrylic resin glass pavers set into the wave pattern of the ceiling and illuminated benches set into the pre-cast concrete floor. These two planes of light will create a sense of movement leading people into the center.

This varied combination of light sources is meant to aid with wayfinding and make users feel as comfortable as possible. But it doesn’t hurt that it adds a little “magic,” as French put it. “It’s exciting. The building is really going to be quite striking,” he said.

Sam Lubell is AN’s West Editor.

Courtesy SGA / IBI Group / Alsop Architects

Pioneer Village Station

Toronto, Canada
Alsop Architects, SGA / IBI Group, Realities United

When The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) opens six new stations along its Toronto York-Spadina Subway Extension, subway riders in Canada’s biggest city will not only be connected to an extra 5.3 miles of track. Thanks to an installation that doubles as platform lighting and a work of art, riders at the Pioneer Village Station will also gain a glimpse into the personalities of their fellow train riders.

Working from 3D models developed by station designers Alsop Architects and SGA/IBI Group Architects, Berlin-based Realities United created a station-specific art installation that allows visitors to broadcast a written message on an LED scroll displayed above the train platform. Dubbed LightSpell, the piece is composed of 40 LED chandeliers, organized into a row of 16-segments capable of displaying letters, numbers, and special characters.

According to the artists’ project description, “LightSpell is an experiment in public interaction and will entail various aspects of the theme of the freedom of the individual versus the interest of the larger group.” The intent is to anonymously display what riders type into the station’s five message kiosks, without filtering or oversight from TTC. That is still up for discussion, said Realities United’s Jan Edler, but he hopes “to come to a fruitful agreement with the stakeholders.”

The station’s centerpiece is an art installation called LightSpell designed with Berlin-based Realities United. It comprises 40 LED chandeliers in a row of 16 segments that display uncensored messages typed by riders on a public keyboard.


“It is a democratic installation: Any wording—however rude, stupid, offensive—will inevitably also be the light source serving the demands of the community of other waiting people,” continues the project description. “We do believe that the interest to use the system in a stupid way will diminish once the students notice that there is NO censorship and hope that it will rather be used creatively,” Edler told AN by email.

The station sits at the intersection of Steeles Avenue and Northwest Gate on the edge of York University’s campus. Lighting is an integral part of the station’s design. “It’s a true hybrid between an art installation and function,” said Bruce Han, an architect with IBI Group.


While the illuminated messages of LightSpell comprise the bulk of the lighting along the subterranean platform, a conical opening in the roof at the platform’s center conveys natural light from above. Elsewhere in the station, the design team worked to include natural light wherever possible. Large triangular windows rise from ground level in the station entrance, filling the circular space with daylight. Metal poles topped with fluorescent fixtures lead visitors into the station, whose jellybean-shaped volume connotes playfulness, said Han.

When completed in fall 2016, the Spadina extension will be the first TTC rail line to span the city limits of Toronto. Pioneer Village Station includes a 1,900-space parking lot as an accommodation to suburban commuters in the adjacent city of Vaughan.


“We wanted to create a new public focal point that would encourage future development as well,” said Han. A swooping, cantilevered canopy shelters a regional bus terminal for York Regional Transit. Together with the train station entrance, the transit hub’s entrances serve as sculptural focal points, bisecting the parking lot.

Taking inspiration from rock-climbing walls, the architects wrapped the weathering steel-clad building with triangular planes and knobby shapes. Inside, above the escalator and stairs leading down to the platform, IBI added a light installation of its own: a cylindrical volume of perforated steel that transmits the glow of tubular LEDs inside through a peppering of small holes at its base.

Pioneer Village Station is not the only station along the York-Spadina extension that has been designed with an integrated art installation. TTC hired artists to enliven all six new terminals along the route, using funds from the “one percent” program it bakes into public construction costs. Whatever opinions subway riders have about the program or the new station’s design surely will not go unheard—just keep an eye on the LightSpell scroll once it is up and running.

Chris Bentley is AN’s Midwest Editor

These renderings depict the concept proposal to light the IRT crossing (top) and the 12th Avenue Viaduct (above).
L’observatoire International

125th Street Corridor

New York City
Mathews Nielsen
L’Observatoire International

West 125th Street in Manhattan between Broadway and the Hudson River has long been a no-man’s land of broken sidewalks and shuttered storefronts, a scar of urban blight in a neighborhood full of them. But it won’t be for much longer. In 2004, the New York City Economic Development Corporation hired New York City–based landscape architecture firm Mathews Nielsen to redesign the corridor as part of its West Harlem Master Plan. The $14.5 million street enhancement project was developed to improve access to the revitalized West Harlem Piers Park, which runs along the Hudson River between St. Claire Place and West 135th Street, while at the same time preparing the ground for the future development of Columbia University’s Manhattanville campus expansion. In March 2014, a decade after the design was commissioned, construction got started. By the end of 2016, this one-time blasted heath should be ready for the safe passage of college students and condo-dwelling urban professionals.

Mathews Nielsen’s design includes pavers and plantings to make the corridor a more pleasant place to be.
Courtesy Mathews Nielsen

Mathews Nielsen’s design works within the guidelines of New York’s Complete Streets initiative to make the thoroughfare accommodating to people on-foot, cycling, and driving. Signaled crossings and pedestrian refuges aim to make the corridor safer for all, while trees and other plantings soften the urban environment’s hard edge. At the west end of 125th Street there is an intermodal plaza with a bus turnaround and a link to a ferry landing in the Hudson.

As it has done in many of its urban revitalization projects, Mathews Nielsen used existing infrastructure in the area to add flavor to its design. Old rails still imbedded in the pavement from the Third Avenue Rail System, for example, are being preserved as historic markers of sorts. More significantly, the design is making use of two steel arch structures that flank the site—one supporting the elevated tracks of the IRT subway on Broadway and the other the raised section of River Side Drive known as the 12th Avenue Viaduct. “There are these two incredible bookends of the 1 Train structure and the 12th Avenue Viaduct,” said Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen. “We thought about those as a way to create a sequence as one moves toward the water.”

The design team mocked up the lighting scheme on the IRT station to test its effectiveness and to make sure glare did not interfere with the operation of the subway or cause light polution that might bother the neighbors. The blue light combines well with the yellow street light and is a saturated color that works well with LED technology.
L’observatoire International

To accentuate this sequence at night, these structures are being illuminated with lighting schemes designed by New York City–based L’Observatoire International. The lighting approach was different for each structure due to their distinct formal qualities as well as the peculiarities of the agencies that maintain them. The MTA, for example, would not allow the design team to attach light fixtures to the IRT structure, so the fixtures are being mounted on U-shaped poles that thread through the subway platform’s arch. NYCDOT, which maintains the 12th Avenue Viaduct, had no issues with the attachment of light fixtures. Here the designers are nestling the fixtures in the hips of the arches, where they uplight the cathedral-like spans.

While both structures are lit with white light, here again there is a variation. The designers chose warm, 3000K white light for the MTA bridge, which is painted beige, produced by four 315W metal halide fixtures with narrow four-degree beam spreads to cut down on glare and light pollution. The subway crossing also features blue light that comes on when a train is approaching the station, produced by eight 28W LED fixtures with six-degree beam spreads.

The team chose cooler 4000K white light for the viaduct, which is painted gray, produced by eight 150W metal halide fixtures. Under the current project scope, the lighting scheme will only be applied where the viaduct crosses 125th Street, but it is modular and could be rolled out along the entire length of the bridge, a proposal that the design team has put forth to the local business improvement district, in case it feels like funding it.

Aaron Seward is AN’s Executive Editor.

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Jeddah hopes a high-design transit network by Norman Foster can transform the Saudi city into a transit capital
British design firm Foster + Partners recently inked a deal reportedly worth upwards of $80 million to master plan a city-wide public transportation network in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Currently, just 12 percent of the population resides within a 10-minute walk from a transportation hub, and just 1–2 percent of commuters use public transportation. But can high design lead to higher ridership? The new network will encourage pedestrianization with shaded streets in deference to the sweltering climate, while the ambitious transportation grid will introduce a 42-mile light rail metro system and public spaces at key locations below the elevated tracks. The grid will also build on the existing ferry, bus, and cycling networks, and this three-line network will operate from 22 stations. In addition, a sea transport network with 10 stations will be built along the Corniche to boost tourism. The overarching "architectural vision" by the British firm will address everything from station design to trains to branding, all the while with careful regard for the “high-density, compact urban model of Al Balad,” Foster + Partners wrote in a statement, referring to Jeddah's historic district. “Each station node will create a new neighborhood with a unique characteristic.” The Norman Foster–owned firm has set a goal for a 2020 completion date and 2022 opening. According to the Saudi Gazette, the new transportation network could reduce traffic by 30 percent within the next 20 years. Also on board for the project are architecture and engineering firm AECOM, which signed an 18-month contract in May 2014 to provide pre-program management consultancy services. Meanwhile, French railway engineering firm Systra was appointed in July to provide preliminary engineering designs.
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Alan Hess
Pann's diner exterior.
Alan Hess

The avalanche of support for Norm’s La Cienega, the Googie Modern coffee shop recently threatened with demolition, exposes an often overlooked fact: Modernism can be popular.

Many early modern architects sought to bring the fruits of the industrial age to the average person. Over time that goal was often blurred as modernism focused on custom homes and skyscrapers. Today modernism has been narrowed to a stripped-down, less-is-more aesthetic of white walls and spare furnishings, but back in the day there were many modernisms—including the vibrant, popular public architecture of Googie coffee shops that began in Los Angeles and spread nationwide.

In midcentury Southern California, the everyday life of the average citizen was filled with modern architecture: supermarkets, gas stations, banks, bowling alleys, drive-through laundries. Leading the list were the exuberant Googie-style coffee shops (not “diners”) that were prominent on the streets of Los Angeles. Besides a half dozen Norm’s by Armet and Davis, there were Tiny Naylor’s and Biff’s by Douglas Honnold, the Wich Stand and Pann’s by Armet and Davis, Ship’s by Martin Stern, Jr. in Westwood and Culver City, Bob’s Big Boys by Wayne McAllister, and many more. They helped define the urban character of the car-centric city. Most have been replaced, and always by buildings designed not nearly as well.

Norm’s in La Cienega.
Hunter Kerhart

Googie, the name given to this ultramodern roadside style, comes from the name of a 1949 restaurant on the Sunset Strip designed by master architect John Lautner, who studied with Frank Lloyd Wright. It exhibited the hallmarks of the style: outside, a boldly scaled roof to grab the attention of motorists driving by, with a neon sign integrated into the design. Inside, large glass windows gave views of the lively street scene, and the kitchen was open so customers could watch their food being made. True to modern principles, form followed function in Googie design, and the function was to draw in customers in their cars, and feed them in an appealing, exciting modern environment.

In Los Angeles, to be part of the modern age you didn’t need to hire A. Quincy Jones or Ed Killingsworth to build you a Case Study house. For the price of a hamburger and coffee you could step into the modern world, anywhere in the city.

Tiny Naylor’s interior.

In dozens of examples, Googie was excellent design—modern architects orchestrating modern materials, technology, and lifestyles into thoroughly modern spaces and structures. Step inside Norm’s today and the optimism, the openness, the innovation of its style is still striking. Instead of the traditional box enclosed by four walls, the space is open, defined by glass walls that eliminate the barrier between inside and outside. Slender columns clad with ceramic tiles support the truss roof that sweeps upward to expand the space. Every detail, from the shape of the roof, to the integral neon sign, to the jazzy angles of the tables and banquettes, to the custom-designed stainless steel kitchen counters, grills, pie cabinets, and spring-loaded plate holders, contributes to a unified design. The kinetic shapes, natural textures, landscaping, and warm colors reflect the organic modernism of Frank Lloyd Wright, not the austerity of Bauhaus modernism.

The quality of Googie Modernism is no mystery. Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, the architects of Norm’s and a series of definitive Googie coffee shops, trained at the USC School of Architecture, one of the headwaters of California Modernism.

Yet in spite of this heritage, and its fulfillment of modernism’s quest to serve the average person, Googie has been largely neglected by official histories. “Googie was used as a synonym for undisciplined design and sloppy workmanship,” explained writer Esther McCoy.

Googie bowling alley sign.
William Bird

Most establishment critics considered Googie the bastard child of modern architecture. Residential and institutional design was respectable; commercial design (especially coffee shops) was not. Googie’s flashy neon, exaggerated forms, and its appeal to the masses disqualified it as serious design. Plus it was from California.

Modernists may have embraced the masses in theory, but the profession’s patrician heritage found popular architecture distasteful.

Paul Rudolph (perhaps with a touch of defensiveness) warned in 1952 about the lack of discipline he detected in Googie. Freedom in design was fine, but needed to be carefully guided. Then “one could unleash the imagination… without fear of producing ‘Googie’ architecture,” he lectured. The modernism heralded by Museum of Modern Art exhibits was elegant, tasteful, subdued. It did not need to shout. Googie did.

So successfully was Googie suppressed that to this day there are academics from the east coast who have never even heard of the term.

But Esther McCoy was right: “Googie was not a name forgotten in a year; it clung to us.” The support for Norm’s La Cienega proves Googie has stood the test of time.

Make no mistake, Googie is as Modern as a Craig Ellwood house. From now on when we think of Los Angeles Modernism, we must think of the public modernism of Googie as well as the private modernism of the Case Study houses. They’re two sides of the same coin.

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Princeton Train Station
The steeply pitched roof of the new station gives it an outsized civic presence.
Jeff Goldberg / Esto

Rick Joy is an architect’s architect. Few American practitioners harmonize form, materials, light, and space with his consistency and clarity. Based in Tucson, he has rightfully earned a reputation as a preeminent desert modernist, transcending the sometimes unfairly pejorative title of a regionalist with starkly timeless buildings, elemental in their form and their connections to their sites. Fellow travellers like Peter Bohlin or Tom Kundig may be better known, but Joy may have the stronger vision. His best houses always bring Luis Barragán to my mind. They mark and heighten the unique qualities of the landscapes in which they are set.

So how surprising and pleasing to find him on the East Coast, in that most straight-laced and elite suburb of Princeton, New Jersey, where he has designed a tiny commuter rail station for a New Jersey Transit train line that serves the college town, known as the “Dinky” in Ivy-speak. It’s an odd but creative pairing. Joy’s work is anti-sentimental. Princeton as a community and a university is immersed in a powerful nostalgia for the past, which it constantly re-inscribes as a part of its identity and perpetuation of privilege. The University’s rolling campus is studded with massive trees and collegiate gothic outcroppings bordered by mansions and Victorian houses. Its atmosphere is powerful and imposing. Joy has internalized that culture to produce a building that is of its place, but is also one of the more conservative works of his career.


Joy’s site is modest and tucked away, as if the train connection were a kind of back-of-house function that the town wanted kept from view. The University is working to change that. A new art museum by Steven Holl is rising immediately across the street, which will give the station an appropriately important and civic neighbor. Still, like most commuter rail stations, it is flanked by parking, a large surface lot and a multi-level garage, which sap it of much of its urbanistic energy.

Joy’s design attempts to overcome the limitations of the site. His station is actually two buildings, a small chapel-like waiting room, and a larger building housing a WaWa convenience store and public bathrooms. A courtyard designed with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and a canopy along the train tracks link the two buildings. With a steeply pitched roof and a somber colonnaded entrance, the tiny waiting room makes a bigger play for attention. Inside, the space is filled with natural light, with a blackened stainless steel ceiling, which follows the pitch of the roof. Wood benches with a natural-edge on the top of the seatback, produced by the Nakashima studio, are inset in the widow bays. The serene space distills the meditative qualities of a space of worship or a library, and its forms evoke the collegiate gothic buildings that define the campus without stooping to mere replication.

The colonnaded entrance evokes the prevailing campus style, Collegiate Gothic.

The dark-metal clad convenience store is comparatively recessive. There is something satisfying about a great architect taking on the utterly mundane typology of the convenience store. The handsomely detailed exterior relates architecturally to the waiting room building with a peaked corner entrance with a very small and discreet sign. The interior is entirely conventional, but the bathrooms are the nicest I’ve ever seen in a public transportation facility. They, presumably, will be maintained by the store, which will help keep them at such a high level of cleanliness.

As we as a nation begin to reinvest in public transportation, we would be well served to remember that good architecture reinforces how we use infrastructure. By committing to good design, communities and commuters alike would get more from their investments—noble spaces that would make these systems more successful. While few towns or transit systems will be able to match Joy’s luxurious materials and fine detailing, his train station is a reminder as the transit systems of the last century were being developed even small pieces of architectural infrastructure were often endowed with civic importance and a sense of grace. The architectural language may have changed, but Joy shows us that small, everyday buildings can attain a higher public purpose.

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Santiago Calatrava
Inside the World Trade Center Transportation Hub
Courtesy Santiago Calatrava

With the World Trade Center site incrementally becoming more a part of Lower Manhattan, and the blades of the Transit Hub peaking interest from behind the fence, Santiago Calatrava sat down with former AN executive editor Alan G. Brake to discuss the civic role of his architecture, which he hopes will rank among New York’s great infrastructural works of the past. He is also completing the Greek Orthodox Church at the south side of the site, his first religious structure, which is scheduled to open for Easter 2017.

Santiago Calatrava.
Michael Falco

Alan G Brake: You’ve been working on the World Trade Center site for a long time, what do you think of how it’s coming together as an urban composition, now that people are able to access it more?

Santiago Calatrava: You see, it’s a little bit early to judge it. Fulton is not yet open. Greenwich is also cut in two, or is only accessible at one end. And at this point the platform where the Greek Orthodox Church is is still a construction site. Even the skyline is not finished, but in any case it’s very promising. You see that the site will be concluded. Once Greenwich is open and you have the church in place and then the skyline is concluded and the PATH is working and the plaza we have done is also accessible, it will become a very interesting site, just from the pure urban point of view. You see I always considered my project from beyond just the architectural aspects and the engineering aspects—very much from the urban point of view. The mezzanine under the 1 and 9 [subway] is like a plaza. The oculus is like a plaza, very light with open views out to the skyscrapers. My project was always about the urban configuration and even complementing the original master plan. I proposed detaching the station from Tower Three and making it an autonomous building in a plaza, which was different from the master plan. My approach has been looking at it as a contribution to the city. I think the whole scheme with the memorial gardens and the enormous towers is very powerful, and also the station is like one block of New York with a plaza around. We create a lower scale, it brings the scale of towers to the scale of the pedestrian.

The East/West Corridor has opened, and it’s giving people a preview of what’s to come. How does it relate to the larger composition of the station?

I tried from the very beginning to do that whole network of connections extending from the oculus as a single unit. So the character of the structural members you can see with the ribs, and a certain character in the paving, and a certain character in the front of the shops is already delivering a character that a person will see all the way through. So if you are in the oculus or the mezzanine, or in the other corridors to Liberty Street or the other internal streets towards Liberty Plaza, or towards Wall Street or towards Fulton, all these areas are marked with the same character. My goal is to create a space where as soon as I arrive in the transportation hub I know I am in the transportation hub, no matter what corner I enter from. Also, something that the corridor delivers is a sense of quality of spaces. I have built seven of the major transportation hubs in Europe, in Lisbon, in Lyon, in Zurich, in Italy, and so on. Getting out of this experience, it’s very important to create places of quality, because people behave according to that. You see after all the enormous effort to bring all the subways and the trains to this place and see to maintain the service through all the construction—why shouldn’t these places have a certain material and structural quality that you can enjoy in a day-to-day way, not just commuters but visitors who arrive in this place. I think the station will match with the tradition in New York of great infrastructural works, as you see today in Grand Central and in the former Penn Station. If it had not been demolished it would be recognized as one of the greatest stations worldwide. I hope people can see some of these material qualities in the East/West corridor.


The development of the World Trade Center site as a whole has been very complex, and there have been a lot of delays, and changes of authority and ownership. Can you talk about how that has impacted the transit hub and what you have fought to keep through all those changes?

The transit hub is more than just a series of stations that are linked together, and maybe that is difficult a priori to understand. It is conceived to represent all the transit access to the towers, also all the vehicular access of cars and lorries, it represents the energy center for many of the towers, for the museum, the memorial. The transit hub is also the basement of Towers Two and Three. The first three or four floors of Tower Three have been built as a part of the Port Authority’s commitment. It is also the support for the memorial plaza. It is the support to the entry to the museum, and the support for the future art center. All these things will let you understand materially what extends into the transit hub. It is also the 1 train diagonally crossing the site, which we have had to underpin, and keep in service the whole time. All of this has been done while fully preserving service of the subway lines and the commuter trains to New Jersey. To build the hub has been an enormous challenge.

Greek Orthodox Church.
Courtesy Santiago Calatrava

Your work has often been described as cathedral-like. What has it been like to work on your first religious structure, the Greek Orthodox Church?

I have been working in Greece for a number of years because of the Olympics in 2004, on the Olympic Ring covering the stadium and the velodrome. So I have an enormous sympathy for the culture and for the Greek diaspora. I discovered the beauty of the Orthodoxy. I knew Hagia Sophia, but I had never approached it from a religious point of view. I approached it as you approach the Parthenon. You can study it. You can buy books. But you can never fully understand it as a religious place. If you look at the project, it’s very anomalous with the rest of my work. I’ve never used a dome before, except in the competition for the Reichstag in Berlin, where I proposed a dome. Also there is the problem with scale, simply because the building is very small. The restraints that the Greek Orthodox Church negotiated with the Port Authority and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is a small building where the height is limited, the width is limited. But I knew that the monumentality was important. It will bring an accent to the site, as the entry to the PATH will do. This building will bring you a relation to the scale of the person because they have almost a domestic scale. I like that. We try with these two buildings to give a sense of the human being, the scale of man. It’s like a three-story house. I have to say it was a great idea from the Port Authority and the church to put it on a podium, which is the vehicular entry for security screening. It’s a small church floating above an oak forest. The oaks will not become enormous because they are in planters. I like this scale in relation to the pools of the memorial. We came up with this idea of making the dome out of translucent stone, so the light from the interior will have a little glow. It will never be excessive, but it will help give the impression of a 24-hour open place. So that people who need help, they will be able to find a place to go. Finally, the interiors, we are trying to do a place for everybody, an open place.

So it won’t have heavy religious iconography?

Certainly it will have the necessary iconography to officiate the liturgy. People can enter and light a candle if they are believers or not believers, if they are Christians or not, they can light a candle close to the memorial.

There has been a certain architectural language that runs throughout much of your work. Can you talk about the shared language of the church and the transit hub, and what you are working toward in terms of light, space, and structure?

I am also an engineer. If you look at my work, there is a very marked presence of structure. This is without any doubt the case with the hub. All these beams are steel and they are carrying the weight. The structure is used as an expressive element. So if you look back at all of the transportation hubs and railway stations in Europe, this is the case. In the hub you see the idea of bringing in light and making a very clear place. I employ it because it is also a matter of comfort. In places with high levels of security concerns, the feeling of safety is not only an objective feeling, it is also a subjective aspect. So a woman waiting for a train at midnight when the station is not so busy has to feel comfortable. For that, the ambience of clarity. Also orientation, if you take the East/West corridor as you see today you end up in the Fulton corridor. And you can see that optically through, because easy orientation, particularly in chaotic or dangerous circumstances is the most important aspect. So I am mixing architectural aspects—the color and the light—with functional aspects and the sensation of comfort for the users and also the quality of the spaces.

It’s interesting to compare with the Greek Orthodox Church. These aspects are much more mitigated because we’re not making an expressed structure. We’re trying to make a building that is expressive through the relation of the volumes. So I am stepping into a more complex and maybe a more classical aspect of architecture: the game of the volumes and delight. There are the four towers, the front facade, and the dome. Not the expression of the nerves or the tendons or the muscles of the body, but an expression of the relations of volumes and proportions, related to the person. It is much more classical. The Hagia Sophia, why is it what it is? You see the effort of carrying this enormous dome, but you do not feel it in the interior—it is all sublimated by the light. And also you enter the narthex and the anti-narthex and then into the nave. It’s a continuous crescendo. We also have this in our building.

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Carpenters Union builds the nation's largest training complex in Las Vegas
Every architect has horror stories about construction quality on job sites. The United Brotherhood of Carpenters (UBC) union wants to prevent that, investing $250 million for a training center in Las Vegas to teach and certify their workers. The group has been building the International Training Center, just outside McCarran Airport, over the past several years, and recently completed phase five of the complex, bringing its total size to almost 1 million square feet. The facility features more than 70 classrooms, its own dorms (with 300 guest rooms), and training shops fitted with facilities like scaffolding mock ups, concrete form making stations, a pile driver pit, flooring stations, glass curtain wall mock ups, turbine pit, a robot zone, and even a tank to practice underwater welding. Third year apprentices from around the country train here for two weeks at a time. They include general carpenters, interior systems carpenters and drywallers, millwrights, floor coverers, millworkers, cabinetmakers, framing and residential carpenters, pile drivers, lathers, scaffolders, roofers, and workers in forest-product and related industries. The UBC sponsors more than 200 training centers across North America (there are about 3,500 full- and part-time instructors associated with the UBC), but this is by far the largest. “Our job is to make sure our members are trained and ready,” said Bill Irwin, executive director of the Carpenters International Training Fund.