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If You Plant It, They Will Learn
Courtesy Rafael Vinoly Architects

While he was working as the first Research Fellow at Rafael Viñoly Architects in 2005, Joseph Hagerman spent his time devising a more efficient, effective, and affordable green roof. When it came time to test Hagerman’s ideas, the firm considered building a prototype on the 5,000-square-foot roof of its Hudson Square loft. “We decided, why not do something for the community,” Ned Kaufman, Director of Research and Training, told AN. “That’s when we hit upon the idea of a school.”

The school in question is the Adlai Stevenson campus in the Unionport section of the Bronx, an incubator that houses eight boutique high schools. The architects partnered with the Salvadori Center, which embraces education through the built environment and is also located in the Bronx, to choose a school and build a network to help with design, financing, and construction.

Putting a green roof on a public school would be a civic contribution in and of itself, but Viñoly wanted to do even more. “The key thing with this green roof is that it’s not just a green roof, but also a classroom,” Kaufman said. “That’s why we call it a ‘learning landscape.’”

Not only will students be able to tend the plants for botany classes at the environmentally-focused school, but all the data from the monitoring instruments, which are being supplied and installed by Columbia, will be used in math classes and the architecture-themed school will study its construction and function. To jumpstart the process, test boxes were erected on the roof Tuesday to allow students to play—make that learn—in the dirt.

Materials came from Pittsburgh Corning, which provided the Foamglas base, and Tremco, for the sealant. The Gaia Institute helped choose the 30 species of native plants, 20,000 of which will eventually cover the 70,000-square-foot roof. In the crucial area of funding, $800,000 was contributed by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. and Councilmember Annabel Palma. Kaufman estimates another $1 million will be needed to complete the first phase of 25,000 square feet.

Upon its completion, the hope is the city’s School Construction Authority, which oversees the construction and maintenance of schools citywide, will be swayed to complete the project and even spread it to other schools. “It would have been a whole lot easier just putting the thing on our roof, which we considered,” Kaufman said. “Our feeling was that we could show the School Construction Authority that it could be done. Once it’s been done once and is shown to be affordable and effective, then they can replicate it going forward.”

“And when you consider the size of the SCA and everything it controls,” Kaufman added, “that’s a real path to system-level changes.”

Matt Chaban

An aerial view of the existing roof (left) and the proposed green roof.
All images courtesy Rafael viñoly Architects
Students and teachers discuss the fauna to be planted in mock ups of the green roof on June 10.
all phots by Tobias everke
a group of students planting in one of the boxes.
students inspect renderings of the proposed green roof.



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Rudolph Revisited
The restored Rudolph Building, above left, includes improved mechanical systems and new sustainable features. Gwathmey Siegel's addition, above right and rendered below, will house the History of Art department.
Courtesy Gwathmey Siegel & Associates


Paul Rudolph’s 1963 Art & Architecture Building at Yale University may be the most hapless masterwork in the canon of modern architecture, but its fortunes appear to be changing. This early example of brutalism is being restored to Rudolph’s original intention by one of his students, Charles Gwathmey, who received his Master of Architecture degree there in 1962. He has also designed a reverent addition, linked in name to a key donor from the same class and to be known as the Jeffrey Loria Center, which will house the university’s history of art department. The client is another student of Rudolph’s, Robert A. M. Stern, class of ‘65, currently the dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The entire project, budgeted at $126 million, is due to be completed by mid-August.

Paul Rudolph designed the building, known on campus as the A&A Building, while he was chair of the Yale School of Architecture. An intricately conceived, grooved, bush-hammered concrete structure with 37 levels on 10 floors, it was hailed by critics as a marvel of space, light, and mass. But its fortress-like appearance, rigid plan, and indifference to its neighbors won few campus admirers. In that era of political uproar, students saw it as an emblem of establishment arrogance. In 1969, it was severely damaged in a fire, the cause of which was never determined.

To make matters worse, Rudolph’s successor as chair of the architecture department was the postmodernist Charles Moore. He oversaw the building’s reconstruction, including the removal of asbestos insulation throughout. To address students’ needs, Moore permitted the ad hoc partitioning of the interior, significantly altering its spatial integrity. Over the years, other alterations further diluted Rudolph’s vision, causing him to ultimately disavow what had once been considered his crowning achievement. “The building was a victim,” said a rueful Gwathmey, who was a leading defender of modernism in the style wars of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Ironically, one of his chief antagonists was the young turk postmodernist Stern. While Stern calls Rudolph “the most talented architect of his generation,” his commitment to renovating his professor’s landmark is as a historicist.

While there is a renewed critical interest in Paul Rudolph, Stern notes that getting Yale to restore the much-derided building was “a hard sell.” The university only agreed because tearing it down would have been more expensive. While Gwathmey proudly recalls evenings in grad school “spent hunched over a drafting board with my rapidograph, working on the building’s plans,” he was not the original choice for the task. Stern first selected Richard Meier to design the addition and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s David Childs, class of ‘67, to undertake the renovation. But dividing the project between two architects proved unfeasible. Rumor has it that the collaboration between the teams was less than smooth, and that Meier’s addition blocked the panoramic views from the building’s upper-floor studios, one of its few cherished features, irritating the architecture faculty. Apparently in response to all this dysfunction, the renovation’s patron, Yale alumnus Sid Bass, whose Fort Worth home is one of Rudolph’s most celebrated residential designs, pulled his pledge of $20 million. More evidence, it seemed, that the building was jinxed.

Gwathmey professes ignorance of what exactly prompted the earlier team’s dismissal or Bass’s displeasure, conceding only that “it’s a challenging commission because the clients are all architects.” He added that Meier graciously provided him with his model of the building when he took over the project in 2005. Happily, when Bass saw Gwathmey’s new scheme he reinstated his gift, along with the stipulation that the renovated structure be known henceforth as the Rudolph Building.




The A&A Building as it appeared in 1963 (top), in bold contrast to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery (center) across the street. The Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library (above) links the original structure to its addition.

Gwathmey’s firsthand knowledge of Rudolph’s design was of little use during the renovation. Intimidated by building next door to Louis Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery, Rudolph not only designed numerous iterations of what he hoped would be the greatest modernist building of its day, but he also continued to tinker with his design even during the construction process. This was possible because the university had negotiated a time and materials contract with the builder. “The more complicated it got, the better he liked it,” Gwathmey chuckled. “Almost every day we discovered conditions that were not in the plans.” Unfortunately, Rudolph’s ambition surpassed the construction technologies of the time, and by the time the university was ready to renovate, the building was in poor condition, with rebar poking through the concrete in some places.

For Gwathmey, one of the worst indignities to Rudolph’s building was the installation of insulated fenestration composed of small busy panes, which detracted from the building’s spatial rhythms. He rectified matters by installing what are the largest panes of Viracon insulated panes ever fabricated. He has also restored Rudolph’s clerestories, his dramatic open spaces on the main floor and between the fourth and fifth floors, and the internal bridge. Gwathmey’s scrupulous attention to detail has extended to commissioning an orange carpet based on the exact specifications of a two-inch-wide swath of rug rescued from the original building, and to designing lighting fixtures fitted with energy-efficient metal halide bulbs that mimic the exposed incandescent ones in the suspended lighting system Rudolph conceived for the building.

One of the reasons students deemed the building arrogant was that while Rudolph fussed over architectural details like custom lighting, he neglected creature comforts like air conditioning, which made the building insufferable in summer. Remedying this situation posed a challenge because there was little tolerance in the ceiling for wiring and ducts. Gwathmey opted for an energy-efficient radiant ceiling panel system, which cut the ductwork by two thirds. (The project has a LEED Silver rating.)

Accessibility posed another contemporary challenge for designers. Few buildings could be more hostile to the disabled than the A&A. So that it would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Gwathmey placed additional elevators in the tower at the A&A’s north end, which he transformed into the fulcrum between the building and its addition. The tower also houses a handicap-accessible lobby and entrance for the main lecture theater, Hastings Hall. While there are still multilevel passages that are not accessible by wheelchair, there are now alternative routes.

Gwathmey has sought to give the adjacent zinc-paneled Loria Center an identity of its own, while engaging the A&A in a visual dialogue, matching the glazed void of its facade with a protruding limestone solid that similarly has three rows of windows. His addition consists of a three-story base with a tower rising to the same height as the Rudolph building. Its outdoor terraces on the fourth and seventh floors offer views of the building never before seen. Linking the two on the ground floor is an expanded glass and aluminum library, which for the first time brings together the university’s art, architecture, drama, and arts of the book collections under one roof. Gwathmey’s use of zinc and limestone is an attempt to remedy Rudolph’s supposed contextual indifference. Louis Kahn’s nearby Center for British Art is also clad in zinc, and the limestone not only picks up the hue of Rudolph’s concrete, but is also a material used throughout Yale’s old campus.

Ornery but brilliant, much like the man himself, the Rudolph Building will doubtless provoke and inspire many generations of Yale students to come. However, once a statement of a defiant modernity, it is today an architectural relic, making it an instructive icon as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Not Again
The damage done.
All Photos by Matt Chaban 

There is no question that today’s crane accident—the second in about as many months, leading to the 14th and 15th construction fatalities so far this year—is a horrible tragedy. And yet from his remarks today at the site of the collapse, Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed to be suggesting that what happened was merely the cost of doing business.

“Keep in mind construction will always be a dangerous business,” Bloomberg said at a press briefing only a few hundred feet from the tangled mess of debris that lay broken in the intersection of First Avenue and East 91st Street. “Now two crane collapses may look like a pattern, but there is no reason to believe so. We have to have a balance [between safety and expediency] to be able to build in this city.”

Two days earlier, the Department of Buildings released [.PDF] “Revised Protocols for Erecting and Dismantling (Including Jumping) Tower Cranes.” It was a revision of new regulations put in place on March 25, following the first crane accident ten days earlier. The thing is, it did not help much. As Robert LiMandri, the acting commissioner of the increasingly beleaguered DOB, said earlier this morning, all protocols had been followed.

“There was a pre-installation meeting of all the parties concerned, that was on 4/17,” LiMandri told the press. “Three days later, erection began, and department engineers and inspectors were on hand as the crane went up on 4/20 and 4/21. The crane was jumped twice, on 4/22 and 4/27, and it was inspected both times by our engineers.” A flurry of questions followed, the refrain remained, “We’ll have to look into that.”

Everyone—an army of officials and politicians, hordes of local, national, and international reporters, and onlookers both from within the damaged building, 354 East 91st Street, and without—were left scratching their heads. If everything was up to code, then what went wrong?

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was short on explanations but long on solutions. “I think the Buildings commissioner has done a good job, but he needs more help,” Stringer told AN, just as a woman passed by wearing a dust mask. “We need to have an agency-wide strike force to address these persistent issues.”

Many who lived in the building wore masks in an apparent state of constant fear, or at least uneasiness. One woman, who gave her name simply as Carrie and was leaving the scene with her boyfriend, said that when they felt the building, 354 East 91st Street, shudder from their bedroom on the 18th floor, they immediately knew the cause. “We stare every day out our window at that thing,” she said, referring to the crane. “We used to wave to the guy in the cab. We all knew it was only a matter of time before it came down.”

Another woman, who lives on the seventh floor and was wearing a Princeton ’94 baseball cap, took a slightly more sardonic view of the situation. “I look at it like in The World According to Garp,” she said. “You know, where the plane flies into the building, and he says, ‘We have to live there. It’ll never happen again.’” She added that her biggest concern was making sure her pets and those of her neighbors were okay.

While the deaths of the two construction workers is terrible news, it is also fortunate the accident was not more devastating, like March's, which destroyed an entire five-story walk-up and killed seven. At one point, LiMandri was quick to point out that the crane spared busy First Avenue and countless lives as a result. Then again, and for the second time, it also spared the building that led to the accident.

Tony Avella, the Queens City Council member and frequent critic of the Department of Buildings and the Bloomberg administration, said in a phone interview that nothing had changed since the last accident, and he remains skeptical that it ever will.

“We have to send a message to the construction companies and the developer that we’re not going to stand for this anymore,” said Avella, a candidate for mayor for whom development reform is at the heart of his candidacy. “I don’t know what else to do at this point. I really think we just have to shut everything down. Shut them down until they can prove that this will never happen again.”

Such a proposal could be considered anathema to the development-first Bloomberg administration, but that is pretty much what happened, when LiMandri requested that all tower cranes forgo work over the weekend, with all Kodiak models—the same as the one that fell today—ceasing indefinitely. He also called an emergency meeting of industry leaders for tomorrow morning.

Before he arrived on the scene, Mayor Bloomberg was hosting his weekly radio show. While discussing the accident, he declared, "Nobody wants this economy to grow more than me, but we’re not going to kill people." Maybe there is hope for change after all.

Matt Chaban

The streets surrounding 335 East 91st Street, a development known as the Azure, were swarming with emergency responders after the cab of a crane working on the project fell into a neighboring building, 354 East 91st Street.
A half-dozen news helicopters were dispatched to survey the damage.
Across the street, two inspectors have a look of their own.


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St. Vincent’s Hail Mary
An aerial view, with the hospital at left and the development at center right.
Courtesy St. Vincent's

“If O’Toole had to go, this is a much better option,” Gil Horowitz said. The former member of Community Board 2 and Greenwich Village resident of more than 50 years was referring to St. Vincent’s Hospital’s revised plans to build a new 21-story hospital tower at the western corner of 7th Avenue and 12th Street, demolishing the distinctive, saw-toothed landmark O’Toole Building in the process.

St. Vincent’s, along with its development partner the Rudin family, presented the new plans to a board committee last night, where many community members and preservationists seemed to agree with Horowitz. “They really listened to us and took our suggestions and criticisms, as well as those of Landmarks, to heart,” Horowitz said.

It was a stark turnaround from two weeks earlier, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission said that it could not support the plans as designed, and the development team insisted there were no alternatives.

In addition to the hospital, those plans involved the sale and demolition of eight buildings on the eastern side of the hospital campus, to be replaced by the Rudins with a condo tower and townhouses designed by FXFowle. The $310 million sale would pay debt service on the campus and help finance the $835 million hospital, which is designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.

The new plans call for restoring and adaptively reusing four of the easterly buildings for residential use. (The commission recommended retaining five of the eight buildings,  which, along with the O’Toole Building, lie within the Greenwich Village Historic District.) The condo tower will shrink in height by 30 feet and in width by 60 feet, and the number of townhouses will be reduced. “This really locks back into the architecture of the neighborhood,” FXFowle partner Dan Kaplan said.

The hospital will lose two stories, falling from 329 to 299 feet, as well as a 53-foot prow that was proposed for its southwestern corner. “This should really open up the sky on the west side,” Ian Bader, the project architect for Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, said. The bulk will remain the same, however, by raising the five-story podium base to six and expanding the elliptical tower by four feet on each side.

Some in the audience were vexed by the hospital’s quick trip back to the drawing board, though they were generally happy with the results. “You should be congratulated for coming up with a plan so quickly after you told us last time you couldn’t reuse any of the buildings,” said Carol Greitzer, a member of the board’s Omnibus St. Vincent’s Hospital Committee, which was expressly created to oversee the hospital’s expansion for the board. “But there is no doubt the result is a better contribution to the streetscape.”

While they shared the optimism of the community, preservationists remained cautious. “It’s amazing how much better it looks with the buildings still present,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “But there may still be some major concerns.”

“I’m not yet sure what to think,” added Nadezhda Williams, a preservation associate at the Historic Districts Council. “There’s a lot to digest.” Meanwhile, roughly a dozen hospital workers and unionists showed up, waving signs that declared, “Lives Not Buildings.”

The plans now return to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a new round of public review on June 3. Though the appropriateness of the designs will be vetted as usual, the focus will likely be St. Vincent’s hardship application.

Last invoked in 1993, this provision of the city’s landmarks law allows landlords hamstrung by the commission’s findings—in this case, the determination of historical importance for the O’Toole Building, one of Albert Ledner’s four 1960s buildings for the Maritime Union in the city—to argue that they cannot maintain the landmark and either turn a profit or, in the case of a nonprofit like Saint Vincent’s, serve its charitable purpose.

“At the end of the day, the O’Toole building is the only site St. Vincent’s can move into,” Shelly Friedman, counsel to the hospital, said. In the end, that will likely be the case: Only three of 15 hardship applications have been denied.

Matt Chaban

The O'Toole Building will be torn down to make way for a new hospital tower, assuming the Landmarks Preservation Commission allows it.
Matt Chaban
The height of the hospital has been reduced by 30 feet and a 53-foot prow has been removed. The previous building envelope is outlined in red.
All images courtesy St. vincent's
As the renderings, which look north up seventh Avenue, show, the changes greatly open the building's western side to the sky.
The current hospital will be replaced by a condo tower while the historic buildings that line 12th Street will be repurposed as residences.
north Elevation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.
West eleveation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.
South elevation of the current and previous plans and the existing condition.

Eavesdrop: William Menking


For the design press, the second thing in April means but one thing: hotel rooms in gray and rainy Milan; and long, jetlagged subway rides to the Rho fairgrounds to tramp through dozens of pavilions, each the size of the Javits, in search of the latest and hottest in $150,000 kitchens and high-end plastic chairs. Yes, dear readers, we went to the annual I Saloni del Mobile—tough work, we know! There was design on display everywhere in the Lombard city, from public buses with pictures of great-looking Flos lamps to the cover of Italian Men’s Vogue, with Rem Koolhaas in a red double-collar shirt on the cover. We knew he was never a stickler for the old form-follows-function notion, but two collars?

For the foot-weary journalist, the days do not end when the fairgrounds close and we jostle past 340,000 other attendees to get back on the subway. (N.B.—thin Italian designers have very sharp elbows, so beware.) The real action at I Saloni happens after hours, at the parties. Andiamo! There’s prosecco to toss back, focaccia to nibble, and gossip to trade! Many of these parties are in the Zona Tortona, which used to be where young designers showed one-offs, hoping to interest a manufacturer, but these days, huge companies like Swarkoski and Corian play host. There is still lots to see, though, perhaps too much: MAP principal Laurent Gutierrez joked to us that “in the art world, people need to understand a work before they like it, but in design, they just need to like it.” This wise observation may help explain the scores of barely functional chairs, over-the-top shower heads, and similar objects destined either for the pages of glossy magazines, the dustbin of history, or both. But how to explain the work of the Czech design studio Koncern from Prague? It showed a line of broken glass carafes and goblets called “Domestic Violence” with publicity shots depicting a mad Czech designer attacking a young woman with a meat clever at her neck. Sex sells, sure, but uxoricide?

We were feeling very special and insider-ish when we got handed a VIP card by a fellow from Established & Sons (the London company run by Alasdhair Willis that produces the work of designers like Amanda Levete and Jasper Morrison) inviting us to skip the queue at their party at La Pelota. We were delighted by the idea of putting aside our strongly held democratic principles for a moment—the polloi can wait!—and cutting the line for some prosecco. Unfortunately, every journalist in Milan seemed to have the same card. Hopeful partiers would flash their VIP credential, only to be told to stand in line with all the other cardholders. We put a good face on things, rediscovered our principles, and waited with the crowd.

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The Storytellers
At the Park Avenue [Season] Restaurant, snap-on upholstery, mountable wall panels, and pendant lamps can all be easily changed and stowed away until next year.
Michael Weber/Courtesy AvroKO

“We like to think of ourselves as the most open-minded clients we’re going to have,” said Greg Bradshaw, principal of the downtown architecture/interiors/fashion/book/concept/ ethos/lifestyle/design firm AvroKO, which he heads along with Kristina O’Neal, Adam Farmerie, and a very tired—that evening, at least—William Harris. The four of them were sitting at the end of the bar at PUBLIC, their first venture as their own clients, and were talking about everything from the just-completed transformation of the restaurant Park Avenue Winter into Park Avenue Spring (on which Harris has been working non-stop), to their plans for a new restaurant on the rapidly gentrifying Bowery, to joking about what exactly O’Neal’s SAT scores were, and what exactly they mean.

The four, who met when they were eighteen, each have different approaches, personalities, and skills, but together they make up a coherent and collaborative whole. Initially, however, they operated as two firms, Avro Design (Bradshaw and Farmerie) and KO Media Studios (O’Neal and Harris). After many years of collaborating, the two firms merged while working on PUBLIC. Their ethos is research-driven as much as it is fantastical, interpretive as much as creative, and conceptual as much as style-conscious. The firm has become known mostly for its historically referential restaurant design, clear in everything from the Lower East Side’s Stanton Social, which adopted the neighborhood’s long history of tailoring with a herringbone-riffing wine wall, to PUBLIC—the restaurant they own and above which they work—where they took the discarded fixtures of municipal buildings from the 1930s and recast them, so that an old library card catalog is used to store old menus.

Bradshaw talks about the process of collaborating (on a good day) and struggling (on a bad) with a client. “Most clients don’t have briefs, or an idea of what they want to do,” O’Neal explained. “If they’re coming to us, it’s often because they’re looking for a concept or a name—for the tabletop, the interior design, architecture.” So how do they make something—the boudoir-inspired upstairs dining room at Stanton Social, the gastropub-meets-manor-kitchen of E.U.—from nothing? “We try to apply information based on what we’re feeling on the location, space, and chef,” O’Neal said. “And then we find the seed idea.”

The seed for Stanton Social, then, was a gender-specific interpretation (silk florals upstairs, manly leather downstairs) of the neighborhood’s fashion history. The seed for E.U. was to turn the kitchen inside out, embracing the theater that restaurants have become in the last few years.
























And for Park Avenue [Season], the seed was a cheekily literal take on the current craze for food that is fresh, seasonal, and local, and a recognition of the fact that people like to eat differently in different weather. Switching from one season to another is a 72-hour process that completely transforms the space at the same time as the chef is transforming the menu. In the most recent transition from Winter to Spring, AvroKO replaced a spare white motif with one that Bradshaw described only as “Green!!!” Not literally, they all jumped in to explain, but more the idea of what “green” could be—by swapping out cushions, changing the lighting and fixtures, and re-coloring the wall. “Everything had to be flexible,” Farmerie explained of the firm’s design, which was as much about creating the details—quick but stable snaps, packing systems, storage ideas, and an installation plan—as a look.

AvroKO’s adoption of restaurant-as-stage is one sign of the way in which the firm co-opts the contemporary ethos without adopting the current trend. It’s easy to see the horse head jutting out of one of PUBLIC’s walls as just another example of the urban-rustic style currently fashionable in restaurant design—weird taxidermy, rusty farm implements, and un-ironic waistcoats—until it’s just as easy to remember that not only did AvroKO come first, but they’re already onto the next thing. “The design that we’re doing in New York now is shifting away from that,” O’Neal said of the craze for old brick and dark wood. “It starts as an ethos and then gets translated down as a trend,” she pointed out. “So what you wind up with is a flat version of what should be a dynamic experience.” 

So. How to keep things moving? 

“Neon!” Farmerie said, and it’s a sign of how thoroughly defined AvroKO’s overall aesthetic is that none of the group—especially him—took it seriously. “Our design is driven by our desires and wants and needs, and that’s driven by the landscape,” Harris said. “And if that landscape starts to shift, then we’ll shift as well.” Their Bowery restaurant is a perfect example. When the Bowery Hotel was under construction two years ago, homeless men took shelter under the scaffolding; by the time it opened, the glitterati that fill it every night had forgotten this. “It has so many histories—its rock-and-roll history, its life as a restaurant supply center,” Farmerie said of the neighborhood. “But I think there’s a sensibility of invention that’s always been on the Bowery.”

“It’s about not making things too precious,” Harris added. “Many designers can get very wrapped up in quote-unquote design.”

Instead, the four are looking to push things as far as they can. How far? “It’s like the title of the book; it’s the best of the worst,” Harris said, talking about Best Ugly, a book on the firm’s design philosophy that has just been released by HarperCollins. “It’s not conventional, it’s not traditional, it’s not so self-conscious—you just have to let things float and trust yourself enough.” How do they know when they’ve pushed it too far? “It’s when all four of us are looking and we all say ‘that doesn’t work,’” O’Neal said.

It’s clear, talking and listening to them, that the way they work together can’t be easily broken down into Bradshaw and Farmerie: architect or Harris: designer—much as they like to break it down into personalities like, “Kristina: smart one.” The number of sentences that go unfinished and the ones that go lovingly heckled is a sign of just how entrenched these four are in working together. “Before PUBLIC, we were like individual cowboys working together,” Harrison said. “And with PUBLIC, we were like a gang!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Eavesdrop: Anne Guiney

These last few Sunday nights we’ve been glued to the TV, watching as many Jane Austen movies as possible, and this could explain why the immortal words of Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Bennet keep coming to mind—”For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” In that spirit, we had ourselves quite a chuckle the other day when reading Blair Kamin’s reviews of two new architecture shows in Chicago, one at the Graham Foundation and the other at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. We will never, ever, ever criticize the former, because we may ask Sarah Herda for a grant someday, but the CAF doesn’t give out money and so is fair game! Kamin praises both shows, and both seem interesting. We have to wonder what on earth was going through the curatorial heads at the CAF, however, when they settled on this title: Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Architectural Heritage? Hmmm, we need a second to think about this—is it a trick question or something? Gosh, we are stumped, but we’re going to go out on a limb here and say we think not.

Speaking of odd titles and polemics, we also smiled at Allison Arieff’s latest blog entry in The New York Times, “Is Your House Making You Look Fat?” It took us a minute to get the joke (we think it has something to do with fat Americans who have to drive everywhere) and then settled in for some good old-fashioned suburb slamming. The former Dwell editor mentions a Brookings study projecting the need for hundreds of billions of square feet of space to accommodate future growth, and then tosses in this provocative and inflammatory piece of rhetoric: “In planning for that need, why not think beyond the formulaic subdivisions that threaten to turn our once architecturally varied landscape into indiscernible swaths of cookie-cutter sameness?” Eureka! Why didn’t we think of that? Okay, fine, not everyone shares our pleasure in thinking about transit-oriented developments all day long, but come on now, Gray Lady! 


Eavesdrop: Alissa Walker

We thought an announcement that Dwell was debuting a narrower magazine printed with more soy inks on recycled content paper, saving about 930 trees per issue, was a sign that the erratic publication had finally settled on a theme: Sustainability. But when we got the February issue in our hands its direction seemed more convoluted than ever: Was this Modernism for Dummies, a Design Within Reach catalog, or straight-up shelter porn? The redesign rallies a cavalcade of new fonts—many completely unreadable over the splashes of gratuitous color—and overcrowded pages bisected by bizarre dotted lines. Former staffers have expressed frustration with the mag’s bipolarity, but insist it’s nothing new. “Dwell’s biggest problem has always been that the message from the very top has been very confused,” a past contributor tells us. “I suspect the editors aren’t really being given total control now and so what we’re seeing is a really watered-down version of what they probably wanted to do.” The changing vision of founder Lara Hedberg Deam and publisher Michela O’Connor Abrams notoriously didn’t mesh with the pub’s two previous editors-in-chief, Karrie Jacobs and Allison Arieff, who both left the magazine very publicly at odds with its philosophy (more than 20 staffers also departed in Arieff’s wake). But it seems the current editor-in-chief Sam Grawe might not mind letting Deam and Abrams steer the ship. Grawe is reportedly devoted to his budding music career: Windsurf, an electronica duo where he performs with a musician calling himself Sorcerer, and a solo project under the name—we swear we’re not making this up—Hatchback. We hear he’s pretty good, too. 

There were rumors that sales were not as scintillating at Design Miami this year, but we’ll let you be the judge: The two most talked-about installations were trash(y)—a Tokujin Yoshioka installation of white plastic straws and Stuart Haygarth’s chandelier made from used water bottles—and almost everyone mentioned that the Swarovski crystal lights by heavyweights Diller Scofidio + Renfro looked more like glowing scrotums. Yves Béhar emerged as a big winner at the One Laptop Per Child party, where he sold seven works by Jorge PardoJohn BaldessariOlafur Eliasson and others to raise funds for the project. Perhaps the bling was located elsewhere, like around the neck of hip hop producer Pharrell Williams, who hung with Arik Levy’s posse, and later showed up at the tattoo parlor manned by Tobias WongJosée Lepage, and Eavesdrop alum Aric Chen. According to Chen, Williams was so psyched on the limited-edition tattoo designs by designers like Tord BoontjeVito Acconci, and Hella Jongerius, he wanted to contribute his own design. Okay, maybe next year, Pharrell, but only if you bring Justin Timberlake.

Robert A.M. Stern may have already gotten the gig, but surely he could use some help designing the George W. Bush Presidential Library, right? The Chronicle of Higher Education is holding a competition to deliver Stern a wealth of ideas. Standard architecture contest rules apply, with one catch: Your entire concept must fit on the back of an envelope. Readers will vote on the best design, the winning designer will get an iPod Touch, and the architecture world will earn the undying admiration of the Republican Party. Deadline is February 1. To vote, visit 

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Miami Confidential
Courtesy Moss

Miami has always been a city of extremes, but never more so than during the week of Art Basel/Design Miami in December. On Design Miami’s opening evening, the usually sleepy streets of the Design District, a stone’s throw from impoverished Little Haiti, were jammed solid with flashy sports cars, luxury sedans, and even a few stretch limos. Inside the Moore building, where dealers in vintage modern and contemporary design exhibited their pricey wares, there were so many beautiful people with foreign accents milling and swilling champagne that it was a challenge to see what was on show. The most visible—and tone-setting—“art design” piece may have been the golden Cross Cabriolet concept car from Audi, a Design Miami sponsor, which sat on a platform surrounded by tension cables “simulating its design lines in three dimensional space.”

Recycling is a current trope in the design world and Design Miami took it literally, recycling several installations that first previewed in Milan last spring, such as Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Light Socks display for Swarovski. Composed of hundreds of lozenge-shaped crystals heaped into mesh sacks with a halogen bulb hidden within, the deconstructed chandeliers offered a fresh and truly dazzling take on modern glamour, even though the “double socks” looked like an illumined scrotum. On the top floor, Design Miami Designer of the Year Tokujin Yoshioka also reprised his Milan hit Tornado, an installation of huge, undulating swathes of plastic straw tubing, in which he nestled his “art chairs” made of experimental materials like glassine paper and baked polyester elastomers. Yoshioka greeted admirers while sitting on a futuristic crystalline throne. It was an image that spoke volumes, but seemed lost in translation to the crowd.

Next door and inside the fair were the dealers in contemporary design. Moss was center stage with the Dutch duo Studio Job’s limited-edition, gilded bronze Robber Baron furniture suite, comprised of a monumental table (above), cabinet, clock, lamp, and jewel safe, each an assemblage of emblems representing industrial power, pollution, war, and obscene wealth. Was it art, design, or satire? Who cares! Three of the tables from an edition of five sold immediately at around $180,000 each.

As a reaction against all this ostentation and excess, another band of designers presented sweetly provocative performance pieces. Among the most engaging: Brit Stuart Haygarth’s patient assembly of a striking teardrop-shaped chandelier made from water bottle bottoms, and Mexican-born, LA-based furniture maker Tanya Aguiñiga’s transformation of metal folding chairs into festive seating swathed in brightly colored felt. Outside at the so-called “GlassLab” set up by the Corning Glass Museum in collaboration with Vitra Design Museum, Constantin and Laurene Boym were among a group of designers playing gingerly but inventively with molten shards of glass. In keeping with its “Sustainability is an Attitude” theme, Artek recycled its Milan-premiere Shigeru Ban-designed pavilion, constructed out of a fiberboard made from surplus self-adhesive labels, to exhibit its 2nd Cycle initiative of reclaimed Aalto stools. Nearby, Dornbracht staged graphic designer Mike Mieré’s Farm Project. The controversial pioneer of the “New Ugly” trend in European magazine design, Mieré turned the chic minimalist kitchen on its head with a sensory-rich living/cooking environment replete with Staffordshire dishes, potted herbs, hay bales, chickens, bunnies, and goats (which is just how people in Little Haiti live, but with Martha Stewart-worthy pottery).

Next day, in downtown Miami, the British urban planner Ricky Burdett spoke to a packed auditorium about how urban design was affecting the lives of more than three billion city dwellers and the planet’s dwindling resources. After scaring the audience with factoids such as “58 people move every hour to Lagos, Nigeria, a city with no coherent urban planning,” he showed how cash-strapped cities like Bogotá, Colombia, were transforming themselves into sustainable organisms through modest but clever urban design and mass transit initiatives. After his talk the audience fled, apparently uninterested in local Miamian responses. This reporter stayed long enough to hear Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, dean of the University of Miami’s Architecture School, observe that if global warming continues at its current pace half of the city will be under water within a generation. Not the kind of climate forecast real estate developers want to hear, especially those behind Art Basel/Design Miami. 

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Wonder Wheels at Work
Courtesy Coney Island Development Corporation

There may be light at the end of the long dark ride for Coney Island after all. For Joseph Sitt, of developer Thor Equities, it's no tunnel of love, but at least he hasn't been ejected from the Cyclone at top speed.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's announcement of the new Coney Island Development Corporation (CIDC) rezoning plan on November 8 put to rest local residents' concerns that a high-priced private complex would turn Stillwell Avenue into Vegas East. Dividing a 19-block, 47-acre district into three differently zoned segments, the CIDC aims to foster new residential and retail development in two areas further removed from the current Astroland and other attractions, and, in the Mayor's words, "to preserve the world's most famous urban amusement park in perpetuity" by mapping it as city parkland managed by a single specialist developer. In return, by de-mapping a site officially identified as parkland—but currently used only by Cyclones baseball fans as a parking lot for Keyspan Park—the city would give developers incentives to create a thriving new mixed-use neighborhood with connections to the boardwalk and the beach.

The proposal is essentially a land swap, with the public sector offering the property near the ballpark plus a negotiated subsidy that Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff estimated at probably tens of millions of dollars to obtain the land owned by Thor as part of a projected $1.5 billion investment. Mapping the Coney East amusement area (West Eighth to West 19th streets between Surf Avenue and the boardwalk) as parkland makes it harder for Thor simply to warehouse its holdings, wait for a successor administration that might favor its scheme, and lobby for zoning changes that would allow Sitt's complex to go forward. Should Thor hold onto its parcels (or flip them) instead of taking the city's offer, zoning will remain at its current C7 level, offering little incentive for construction. "The value that he will be offered [in Coney West] will be substantially greater than that," said Doctoroff, asserting that this win-win scenario should obviate eminent-domain proceedings. "One assumes," commented the mayor, "that Mr. Sitt is rational."

Instead of Thor's plan—visionary in its way, but unpopular with local business owners, community groups, and city officials alike—the CIDC plan preserves what planning chair Amanda Burden called the essence of Coney Island: "It has to be open, accessible, and affordable." Under the new plan, Coney would feature year-round, all-weather attractions such as water rides and a modern ice rink; an open-air performance space; a high-speed roller coaster winding through the district (echoing early designs executed for Thor by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn and Thinkwell); and some 4,500 new apartments, 20 percent of them affordable. High-rises will be allowed outside Coney East, with height limits respecting the Parachute Jump. Changing what Bloomberg repeatedly called "outdated zoning" will allow 100,000 square feet of new retail space in Coney North (bounded by West 20th Street and Stillwell, Mermaid, and Surf avenues) and 360,000 square feet in Coney West (south of Surf to the boardwalk, between West 19th and West 24th). Upzoning along Surf will create an additional million square feet of new entertainment-related retail, including hotels and restaurants. Noting that C7 zoning bans sit-down dining in Coney East, Bloomberg commented that after all these years, "Nathan's would like some company." Parking for Keyspan Park will be integrated and a new street network will replace superblocks, enhancing sightlines and beach access. Overall, Bloomberg projects $2.5 billion in private investment in Coney over the next decade, creating 3,000 permanent jobs and 20,000 construction jobs over 30 years.

The mayor's projections for Coney East remained cautiously hypothetical. Along with Doctoroff, Burden, and assorted commentators, he acknowledges the need for substantial work before new features begin to appear. The city needs to consult with the community about details of the RFP; select a master developer with amusement expertise; negotiate terms with Thor and other landowners, possibly integrating some existing attractions into the park; undergo ULURP; obtain state approval to demap Coney West; and explore mass transit options to handle the residential influx. Not surprisingly, Bloomberg stressed the value of his congestion pricing plan as a feasible funding source. DCP's timetable sets an initial public scoping meeting for January 2008 and projects a complete ULURP by summer 2009. Bloomberg expressed a wish to have developers begin work before he leaves office in 2009 and estimated an end date ten years away.

Community Board 13's Chuck Reichenthal says the plan is "pretty damn close to what we initially had worked out with the [2005] Strategic Plan. It's open; it's still a people's playground." Phil DePaolo, however, a community organizer working with the Save Coney Island group, expressed concern over just how affordable the district will remain, both in the amusements and in residential areas. Affordable housing may be little help to many, he says, if it is based on citywide rather than local Area Median Income. The new Coney is likely to spur displacement in as-of-right areas just outside the new zones. "Three blocks over, there are no rules, so that's where [gentrifying developers] are going to go," DePaolo observed. "Once you put density in an area, the city tends to allow the density to expand. The city grants variances like water. These are all the trickle-down mechanisms that people don't look at; they just say, 'Oh, good, no towers on the boardwalk.'"

Meanwhile, Coney Island USA's Dick Zigun, the seersucker-suited "Mayor of Coney Island," is still feeling optimistic these days, calling the plan brave and visionary.