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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.

Hoist Me Up

At the Engineering Transparency conference at Columbia University in September, Laurie Hawkinson, of Smith-Miller+Hawkinson Architects, quipped that with all the glass we are using these days, how will we ever clean it? Her discussion of window washing began and ended there, but the comment revealed an issue that is a growing concern for architects around the world. As buildings use more glazing and become more complex in form, the systems for accessing their facades—not just for cleaning, but also for repair—have had to keep pace. Not that there have been any major revolutions in access technologies, but architects, one hopes, are taking facade access into consideration much earlier in the design process: If you can build that bravely curved or drastically angled envelope, you had better know how to get up there to keep it looking handsome (in an economically feasible way) throughout the life of the building.

Facade access technology has remained basically the same for the past 40 or 50 years. As was done in the time of the Seagram Building, you still hang a basket over the edge of the parapet, drop it down on ropes, and haul it back up. But two things have changed. For one, never-before-seen building profiles and rooftops crowded with mechanical systems have challenged facade access engineers to fit their machines within tighter spaces while pushing them to attain spans of over 100 feet and drops in excess of 1,000 feet. And secondly, this pushing of the envelope (along with code changes) has brought about a convergence of the systems used in the United States and those employed in other countries.

As with many aspects of the building industry, facade access technology developed along different lines in the United States than it did in Europe. This divergence in approach centered on one essential point: Where to put the hoist that raises and lowers the basket? In Europe they favored mounting the hoist on the roof of the building and powering descent and lift from there, whereas here, with our love of individualism and need to be in control, we decided to put the hoist right in the basket.

Both methods have their virtues, of course, and are suitable for a variety of applications. The machinery for self-powered baskets, for example, is quite a bit cheaper than its roof-mounted counterpart. But roof-mounted systems have become more sophisticated and versatile—employing cranes with telescoping booms and articulating heads—capable of reaching 100 percent of a building’s envelope no matter how curvaceous it may be. This factor alone has made these systems a necessity for much of today’s architecture. A quick glance around the recently completed high-profile buildings in New York, including the Hearst Tower, InterActive Corp’s headquarters, and The New York Times Building, will reveal a spate of these European devices. The roof-mounted systems are also more suitable for tall buildings since they store all excess rope, wire, or other necessary tools on the roof. Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) code states that rope cannot dangle beneath the window cleaning platform, meaning that self-powered systems must hold all excess rope on the basket. And when an elevation is very high, the amount of rope it will take to reach all the way down can begin to outweigh the lifting capacity of standard hoists.

Someone very recently noticed this problem and, despite the grumblings of the penny-pinching American building market, decided to do something about it. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) A120.1-2006 Revised Standard demands that buildings in excess of 490 feet use a system where the hoist is anchored on the rooftop. Of course, the vast majority of buildings going up across the country are well under 490 feet, and the codes that govern facade access, like most codes in the building industry, are self-enforcing and loosely policed. Furthermore, where there is one code that demands you do the utmost, there is another that allows you to put forth the least amount of effort, not to mention upfront capital cost. The International Window Cleaning Association (IWCA) I-14 Safety Standard allows buildings under 300 feet tall to employ boatswain’s, or bosun’s, chairs—basically a plank dangling from a rope on which a window washer sits.

In fairness, the IWCA standard was targeted at building owners who were not equipping their roofs with any system, an all too common phenomenon that led to workers tying off to vent pipes and then falling to their deaths. Liability concerns aside, facade access consultants, as a rule, do not recommend bosun’s chairs. “Facade access isn’t just about window washing, but about building maintenance,” said Keenan Potter of Lerch Bates, one of the country’s largest facade access consulting firms. “In bosun’s chairs you can’t replace glass, just wash windows.” His point is an important one for those who think about the life cycle of buildings. While expensive, the price of sophisticated facade access systems is nominal when compared to overall building costs. And they get even cheaper when you consider that in 15 to 20 years, when your mullions begin to leak, you won’t have to cover your building in scaffolding just to patch it up.

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40/40 Vision

With star-powered, high-stakes condos sprouting up as quickly as bank branches in this city, it is ultimately the details that will inform the way the owners will live in them. After the hype has ebbed, residents will continue to come home tired, pad around the living room in their socks, and appreciate that the electrical outlets are strategically placed.

On paper, 40 Mercer and 40 Bond seem to share one common idea—a modern take on the loft buildings indigenous to the neighborhoods in which they are both located. Those original cast-iron structures may have been rugged, but they provided unprecedented open spaces with abundant natural light, qualities the two 40s deliver in spades. The hoteliers-turned-developers Ian Schrager and André Balazs both know the ropes when it comes to luxury product with flair, but each provides markedly different notions about the downtown living experience: Mercer delivers simplified luxury; Bond, idealized simplicity. Both visions cost more than $3,300 per square foot to realize.

40 Bond, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is in some ways surprisingly traditional for the Swiss duo. The luminous, cast bottle-green glass grid (fitted to the structure with bolts concealed under an enamel frit behind the glass) that orders its large windows feels organic, as if utilizing some age-old technique that was related to cast iron but fell out of favor. The apartments themselves feel like, well, lofts—the floor-to-ceiling windows, the wide plank floors, white kitchen cabinets and countertops. But here the simplicity is idealized, the materials top-notch. Flooring is smoked Austrian oak, the windows cleverly operative (they tilt inward with a crank mechanism), the cabinets high-gloss lacquer, the counters intricately wrought Corian. Even the door handles are polished chrome designed by Konstantin Grcic for Colombo.

In the master baths, there is a sauna vibe with more smoked oak covering the walls and floors and double vanity sinks in an arched niche (more Corian) with theatrical, globe-shaped fixtures. The seamless “wet room,” a combination tub/shower area is a marvel of fabrication. The tub alone is made of 40 pieces of precisely cut Corian, and some of the shower surfaces feature a computer-routed graffiti pattern reiterating a main theme in the lobby. The bathrooms took nine months to fabricate, according to Chris Whitelaw, the senior engineer for Evans and Paul, the Queens-based company that did the work.

The lobby could easily exist in one of Schrager’s hip hotels. Twenty-foot high, graffiti-etched undulating panels of white Corian line a narrow corridor (under a gleaming punched steel ceiling) linking the reception area (an Alpine oak box, also graffiti-carved) with a back garden. The effect is a bit planet Krypton (or, if your Haldol dosage needs adjusting, a scene from The Shining). The walls are made up of more than 280 pieces of Corian, which was first etched, then heat curved, a process that can (and did) expand the panels slightly, causing problems with pattern matching. To compensate, pieces were made slightly larger than needed and later trimmed to make the designs realign; even then, hand shaping was sometimes necessary to create the seemingly seamless fit. “The lobby is awe-inspiring,” says Whitelaw, whose crew spent about three weeks gluing and polishing the seams on-site following two months building parts in the workshop.

The now-famous gate/fence, a graffiti-inspired, Gaudí-esque, cast-aluminum semibarrier between the gritty outside world and pristine white lobby within, will also guard private entrances to the five townhouses on the ground floor. The theme is repeated (and repeated) in the concrete out front, on embossed aluminum that wraps the entranceway, and even the interior walls of the elevators in oak.

Designed by Jean Nouvel, 40 Mercer is, from the outside at least, a simpler affair. From Mercer Street, the building reads like a discreet medium-scale residence or hotel. Upon rounding the corner, it takes on the look of a massive office with a large expanse of glass and steel. But the block-long structure has a mirrored alley or “cut” in the facade (ingeniously reflecting the brick building across the street) dividing the building into two less massive parts—one of its many, subtler charms. Some corner windows on the Mercer side are bright red; some larger ones on the Broadway side are blue. Not quite Boogie Woogie, but definitely Mondrian.

The lobby, lined on the downtown side with a double wall of glass printed with black trees, is at once moody and elegant. It is dark and night-crawler cool, punctuated here and there with red or blue armchairs. (It takes your eyes a moment to adjust before the trees emerge from the forest.) “It’s a nighttime building by design,” Balazs says. “Night is Jean Nouvel’s time of day.”

Upstairs, the apartment landings are signature Nouvel—perforated black steel grates suspended beneath dim lighting reflecting off welcome mats made of steel floor tiles. One half expects the apartments to be industrial minimal chic, but they are in fact rich, nuanced, and warm. The use of wood is exceptional—the kitchens alone feature custom Molteni cabinetry in wenge, Italian walnut, and tanganika. Countertops and shelves are laminated mixes of these woods, which warm the brushed stainless countertops, sinks, and backsplashes, lit with halogen lights hidden beneath the cabinets. Throughout the apartment, door handles are Nouvel-designed, wood-clad Valli & Valli.

Flooring is 3-inch-wide white oak with a clear finish, save the master bedroom (and some secondary bedrooms) where walnut is used. Giant moving walls, also walnut and with steel and cable shelving units, can close off a section of the main space creating an office or guest room. But these are child’s play compared to 12 units that have 17- or 20-foot-wide windows that, with a touch of a remote, can slide open, turning the living room into a virtual outdoor space.

Bathrooms are decidedly swank and busy with more wood (walnut, white oak, and mahogany) cabinets, plus floors and showers in Calacatta Gold marble, painstakingly matched with mirror grain patterns to form Rorschach-like effects. Counters are back-painted glass, in white; flattering lighting is vertical, wall-mounted fluorescent tubes. “People spend an inordinate amount of time in bathrooms,” says Balazs.

Asked about the overall attention to detail at 40 Mercer, Balazs’ response could just as well apply to his arch-rival’s 40 Bond: “You can’t take the hotelier out of our company’s psyche. A typical developer builds it, sells it, and gets out of there. When we build something, we have to live with it forever and sell it over and over, every night.”

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To the Highest Bidder
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli/TJPA

The night of August 6 couldn’t have been a more exciting one for San Franciscans. Thousands watched as they saw their vested interests realized in the form of three ambitious design and development schemes for a new Transbay Transit Center and Tower located on a 12-acre site in the city’s South of Market district. A considerable improvement over the existing Transbay Terminal, a drab and inefficient facility built in 1939, the new 1 million-square-foot transit center will serve local and regional buses, and in future stages, a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. Surpassing the iconic Transamerica pyramid not far away, Transbay will be the tallest tower on the West Coast.

That night at City Hall, proposals unveiled by Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and Pelli Clarke Pelli showed the potential for architectural innovation to sit alongside—not destroy—the city’s legacy of historic preservation. Each scheme had a striking newness to it, and it seemed as if the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA), the governing body behind the design and development competition, could not go wrong in choosing any of the three.

pelli clarke transbay
COURTESY SOM/TJPA

pelli clarke transbay

Proposals by SOM, top, and Rogers Stirk Harbour, above, included a hotel and condos, while Pelli’s is an office-only building. COURTESY ROGERS STIRK HARBOUR & PARTNERS / TJPA

Fast forward to September 10, when the competition jury announced its recommendation of Pelli Clarke Pelli to the TJPA. In the jury’s statement, one message was loud and clear: By outbidding the other teams by nearly $200 million, the team of Hines and Pelli Clarke Pelli had made the TJPA a financial offer it could not refuse.

In a press release posted on TJPA’s website, the nine-person jury, which included local architects, engineers, planners, transit experts, and critics, issued the following statement: “The Pelli/Hines design for the Transit Center and Tower best met the TJPA’s operational, functional, and aesthetic requirements, and Hines’ offer of a purchase price [$350 million] for the Tower property was significantly higher than the offers by the other teams.” Although there had been surprisingly little discussion about the design-driven aspects of the winning proposal on September 20, the TJPA board voted unanimously in favor of the jury’s recommendation.

In design terms it remains to be seen if and how the Pelli/Hines proposal trumps the other schemes. A Peter Walker–designed park will top the glass-and-steel terminal’s roof, creating a tension between the apparent lightness of the building and the weight of the park, which includes grass swales and trees. A series of “light columns” will bring daylight into the terminal and connect commuters to the more leisurely atmosphere above. The adjacent 1,200-foot-tall tower will have a rectilinear base that tapers into a slightly conical form at the peak, topped by wind turbines, one of many green strategies incorporated into the project. 

Unlike the other two proposals, which called for mixed-use towers including a hotel, offices, and condominiums, the Pelli/Hines proposal calls for an office-only tower. The single-use scheme is projected to be much more profitable than a mixed-use tower, although some argue that a mixed-use tower could enhance the project’s benefit to the public by providing a 24-hour draw to the 19-acre site.

pelli clarke transbay
The entrance to the transit center by Pelli.
 COURTESY PELLI CLARKE PELLI / TJPA

Even with such financial surety, there are no guarantees that Hines’ bottom-line approach for the tower will buy the best design for it—or for the transit terminal. It’s of course still early in the design process, but, pointed out San Francisco Chronicle critic John King, “the Transbay design isn’t ‘just right.’ It’s just OK.” Still, Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, remains optimistic about the potential for the project’s symbolic value: “There’s an old Renaissance idea that the tallest building in your community should express your value system. Transbay is a modern take on that idea, as it will mark the city’s commitment to public transit and a more sustainable form of urbanism.” 

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Commodity and Delight
Tom Dixon's Glowb installation in Trafalgar Square.
Courtesy London Design Festival

People were clamoring to honor Zaha Hadid during this year’s London Design Festival. Her Urban Nebula installation of jagged concrete modules sat in front of the South Bank Centre beside the Thames, her Aqua table was rendered in marble for furniture company Established and Sons, and London’s mayor Ken Livingstone awarded her the inaugural London Design Medal at the event’s opening.

The fifth annual London Design Festival, which also incorporates the longstanding tradeshow 100% Design, was—like Hadid herself—an intriguing mix of hard commerce and entertaining experimentation. The polished concrete wall commissioned by the festival organizers as part of the project Size + Matter aimed to blur the boundaries between architecture, design, engineering, and sculpture by partnering Hadid and Future Systems’ Amanda Levete with manufacturers of precast concrete and Corian, respectively, to create installations to be auctioned off by Phillips de Pury & Co. When asked to make a sales pitch for the installation during a series of talks hosted by Blueprint, Hadid expressed a desire to make her work accessible.

You might be forgiven for thinking there weren’t any other designers in the city, but not everything was Zaha-related. Tom Dixon demonstrated deft skills in public relations and reaching the public with his Glowb giveaway, in which 1,000 Dixon-designed energy efficient lightbulbs were given away on a first come, first served basis. His site-specific chandelier, a suspended carpet of his “Blow” bulbs, was the flame to crowds of mothlike customers swarming Trafalgar Square during the festival’s opening days.

The first Tent London product design show, set up by 100% Design founders Ian Rudge and Jimmy MacDonald, was staged in the former Truman Brewery building in East London. Rather than products, the highlight here was the Urbantine Project, an open competition aimed at budding architecture and design practices to design and construct a temporary pavilion that responds to the need for flexible workspaces. The winner, architect Alex Haw, built an concertina-like system of interlocking plywood panels to form a sequence of work/leisure spaces.

It was clear that the thriving and affluent commercial design scene and the designers/ makers still emerging remain disparate entities. Unlike in Milan, where the furniture show has roots in the city’s manufacturing industry and retains an affinity with the production process, it was evident this year that the lack of a coherent focus in London is what gives the festival its character. The charm lies in finding the oddities and individual highlights.

Pelli Crowns SF Skyline

Pelli Clarke Pelli bested rivals Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners for the opportunity to remake the San Francisco skyline. The Transbay Transit Center, which includes an extension of the Caltrain line, and will serve as the future home of the California high speed rail line, will be topped by a new park flanked by an 80-story tower. Surpassing the iconic Transamerica pyramid not far away, Transbay will be the tallest tower on the West Coast.

Though the three shortlisted teams are known as leading tower designers, financing may have played a larger role than aesthetics in the selection of the winner. Paired with Hines as the developer, the Pelli team offered $200 million more than SOM and Rogers, who were paired with Rockefeller Development Corporation and Forest City Ratner, respectively. “Absolutely everyone was caught by surprise,” said John King, urban design writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think even the Hines people were surprised that they were so far ahead.” King contends, however, that the jury, which recommended the Pelli/Hines proposal unanimously, was swayed by the design as much as by the financing, especially the elevated park. The jury report noted, “The proposal extends the program of the transportation center beyond a transportation hub to add value through a wonderful urban ‘city park.’ As a catalyst for development in itself, the park has the potential to link to new adjacent buildings as redevelopment proceeds, further defining the urban form.” Rogers was ranked second and SOM third.

The 1200-foot tower has a rectilinear base that tapers into a slightly conical form at the peak. Like the Freedom Tower, wind turbines will top it; they are one of many green strategies employed in the project. The Peter Walker-designed park will cap the glass and steel terminal, creating a tension between the apparent lightness of the building and the weight of the park, which includes grass swales and trees.

Unlike the other two proposals, which called for mixed-use towers including a hotel, offices, and condominiums, the Pelli/Hines proposal calls for an office-only tower. “There is some concern that an office tower will be too quiet after hours,” said King.

Many Questions in Ground Zero Fire

It was a casualty of September 11, a ghost draped in black that has loomed over Ground Zero for years. It grew all the more terrifying on August 18—swathed in flames that leapt from its belly—and all the more tragic when it claimed the lives of two firefighters from a SoHo firehouse, home of Engine 24 and Ladder 5.

130 Liberty Street, the former Deutsche Bank building, has been beset by delays and controversy since debris from the south tower of the World Trade Center tore a massive gash in the building and caused irreparable structural damage six years ago. What caused a fire on the 17th floor of the building, which spread through much of its upper portions, has yet to be determined, though faulty wiring and cigarettes have both been the target of a full report from the fire department’s Bureau of Fire Investigations.

Investigators are also looking into why a pre-fire plan had not been devised for perhaps the most complicated demolition project in the city’s history, which involves the piece by piece deconstruction of the building while also dealing with a suffusion dangerous toxins, including asbestos and “World Trade Center dust,” a miasma of pulverized metals created by the collapse of the twin towers (“In Deconstruction: 130 Liberty Street,” AN_06.20.2007).

The lack of a pre-fire plan has been partly to blame for the deaths of two firefighters, Robert Beddia, 53, and Joseph Graffagnino, 33, because the labyrinthine system of plywood walls used to keep toxins at bay created unusual and disorienting conditions. Another reason is that the standpipe, which feeds water to the various stories in tall buildings during a fire, had in one place been dismantled. The fire department admitted in an investigation update on August 22 that the standpipe had not been checked since November 1996, when the building was still occupied. The fire department also said in the update that it must visually inspect standpipes every 15 days for buildings under demolition, which had yet to happen. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced on August 20 that it has opened its own investigation into the fire, and State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he is also looking into 130 Liberty Street.

The Department of Buildings (DOB) required Bovis Lend Lease, the general contractor on the project, with maintaining the standpipe. According to a DOB release, a recent investigation of the standpipe on abated floors showed no problems, suggesting it was intact. A 20-foot piece was missing in the basement, which was flooded with water desperately needed by firefighters above. It is not yet known why the pipe section was removed. Since deconstruction began in March, the DOB has inspected 130 Liberty Street 60 times, issuing 19 violations and six stop work orders. “We are not speaking to the press at this time,” a Bovis spokesperson said.

Bovis did speak with the subcontractor in charge of deconstruction, the John Galt Corporation of the Bronx. In a letter obtained by The New York Times and posted on its website on August 23, James Abadie, Bovis’ principal-in-charge at 130 Liberty Street, informed Galt that its contract had been terminated. “Over recent weeks and most notably in the days following the tragic accident that occurred at the Project site on August 18, 2007, Galt has demonstrated an inability to comply with the terms of its Trade Contract with respect to site supervision, maintenance, and Project safety,” he wrote.

The Times reported the day before that Galt was a shadow corporation for two legally suspect companies, Regional Scaffolding and Hoisting Company and Safeway. The latter had mob ties and once of its executives has served two jail terms. Bovis reportedly hired the companies because no other contractors would take the dangerous and uncertain project, especially during a construction boom. “There was only one contractor willing to work on taking down the building, as far as I know,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

Perhaps the one tragic positive to come from the fire at 130 Liberty Street is that the complex system keeping the asbestos and other toxins at bay protected the city from the poisons entombed in the building. The state Environmental Protection Agency, which has been monitoring the site for years, said that no dangerous levels of toxins had been released during the fire.

Though the DOB has determined the building to be structurally sound, no one yet knows when demolition could continue. “We have to let the investigation run its course before we reassess any timelines,” Errol Cockfield, spokesman for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which is overseeing the project, wrote in an email. He said it could take months to clear debris and replace damaged systems to return the building to the same place it was before the fire.

This does not account for the need to find a replacement for Galt, no doubt a challenge given additional problems now surrounding the site, as well as those of the past, such as insurance and labor disputes and environmental concerns, all of which delayed the project for years. The specter of 130 Liberty Street may well remain with the city for some time to come.

Margaret Helfand, 1947-2007

Margaret Helfand, one of New York’s best known female architects, died yesterday in New York. A former associate in the office of Marcel Breuer and designer in the short-lived office Archigram, she studied art history at Swarthmore College and architecture at the University of California at Berkeley. She also studied with Peter Cook at the Architectural Association in London.

She founded Helfand Architecture in New York City in 1981 and won many awards for designs including Time Out New York’s headquarters, the NYU Stern School of Business, Friends Seminary School, the United Science Center of Swarthmore College, and Automated Trading Desk Technology Campus in Charleston, South Carolina. She served as president of the AIA New York Chapter in 2001, and in 2006 she designed the exhibition The Fashion of Architecture: Constructing the Architecture of Fashion at the Center for Architecture in New York City. She was the recipient of the 2002 Rome Prize in Architecture and lived in New York City and Orient, New York.

Libeskind: Crystal Clear in Toronto

 

At an event celebrating the June 1 opening of his addition to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Daniel Libeskind spoke about one of the many pleasures of a building’s completion and opening: “The architect doesn’t speak for the building, the building speaks on its own, and will be clear.” While the design for the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal undoubtedly has conceptual underpinnings that might seem be obscure to anyone but the architect himself, the result has a pleasing literalism that does speak for itself.

 

The 175,000-square-foot addition is made up of five distinct glass-and-aluminum volumes that burst forth from the arms of the original building, and looks very much like the geodes in the collection that reportedly inspired it. Visitors now enter the museum through the Crystal’s lobby, a tightly-framed space that opens up dramatically into an atrium where the old and new buildings meet. The entire first floor will be open and free to the public, in keeping with Libeskind’s original proposal to make a grand public room.

 

At the center of the museum,both literally and metaphorically, is the “Spirit House”, a space created by the intersection of the five volumes. Other than 13 massive Libeskinddesigned stainless steel chairs, there is nothing in it, although the museum plans to add a sound installation by composer John Oswald. This atrium extends up the full height of the museum, and is criss-crossed by metal bridges that connect different galleries. The bridges are an important part of the museum’s circulation, which is designed to allow visitors different views of the building, both old and new: One can look across the atrium and can see an exquisite kimono neatly framed in an interior window, or the clean juncture of the old building’s yellowgray brick and the plaster walls of the new.

 

The logic of the jagged form means that there are very few vertical walls in the whole addition. This level of follow-through is certainly admirable, but it does create some highly irregular spaces. At times, as in the top floor gallery for temporary exhibitions, it can work very well: A small statue of Buddha is set into a tight corner with a spot light, turning the otherwise-difficult space into a purposeful frame. According to director William Thorsell, because the majority of the ROM’s collection is made up of threedimensional objects, a traditional museum’s concern—i.e., wall space for hanging paintings— doesn’t factor. Dinosaur fossils, for example, look just as dramatic against a tilted wall as a straight one. The basement level, however, has a more traditional gallery space, which at 17,000 square feet, is the largest in the museum. The massive diagonal steel members that support the addition, which is structurally independent of the original building, cut through the space, but other than that, the gallery functions more or less as a white box, and will be dedicated to traveling shows.

Pro Design


Pro Design
Last month, the annual spring orgy of design known as the International Contemporary Furniture Fair spilled over into events and exhibitions throughout the city, flooding the scene with new products, experimental prototypes, and even reproductions of Peggy Guggenheim’s bat glasses. Our editors combed through it all to bring you a sampling of standouts to consider for residential, office, or public spaces.


ALCOVE SOFA BY RONAN & ERWAN BOUROULLEC FROM VITRA
The Breton-born, Paris-based Bouroullec brothers say their Alcove Sofa was inspired by the Arabic al-kubba, a cushioned room for lounging and sleeping. And it does seem to shut out the world as it envelops users in padded comfort. More than just ample cushioning, the high back and sides are also designed to dampen sounds. Zippers at the corners give the back and sides some sway. The Alcove Highback adds 16 inches and more privacy, suggesting an office life for the sofa as a meeting unit. MC

BOTANIST FLORA FROM ORANGE22
Flexibility is the name of the game with the Botanist series from LA-based Orange22. It’s available in three sizes: bench, end table, and cocktail table. The bent aluminum furniture can be finished in seven wood veneers or an indoor-outdoor powder coat that is weather and UV resistant and comes in red, white, blue, and black. While the waterjet-cut flower motif is au courant, custom logos and graphics can also be cut into the aluminum. MC

PICK CHAIR FOR BBB BY DROR BENSHETRIT
Born in Tel Aviv, educated in Holland, and designing in New York, Dror Benshetrit has always approached furniture as pieces of art. His new plywood-and-aluminum Pick Chair from by BBB is an embodiment of this concept. Easily transformed from 2D wall art into 3D functional seating, this foldable (and surprisingly sturdy) cantilever chair saves space in a poetic way. MP

LAX 3X WALL-MOUNTED SHELF BY MASH STUDIOS
A sliding folded aluminum panel is the main feature of this flexible wall-mounted shelf (58 inches by 15 inches by 13 inches) and a signature detail of the minimal LAX Series collection by the West Coast’s MASH Studios. The hardware-free, white powder-coated doors smoothly slide along the shelf (available in simple plywood or luxurious solid walnut), creating a versatile storage space and a clean look. MP

PARAMETRE BY 3FORM
Similar in concept to the hanging shoe organizer, Parametre, the latest patent-pending product from the progressive manufacturing lab 3form, is a partition system made from four layers of polyester sewn into 1 1⁄2-inch-deep cellular structures. It can hang vertically from ceiling-mounted tracks or horizontally between easily movable posts, and it is durable enough for indoor or outdoor applications. Parametre is available in an opaque sheet, but it is the patterned version perforated with circular, triangular, or rectangular apertures that casts the longest, most interesting shadow. AS

CHAIR BY ENZO MARI FROM HIDA
When Italian designer Enzo Mari decided to collaborate with Japanese furniture manufacturer Hida, he did so for one reason alone—the wood. Hida had developed a technique to compress the soft wood of the common sugi tree (a member of the cypress family) to a third of its size with steel molds, creating furniture-quality lumber and a sustainable solution to Japan’s timber shortage. Mari’s designs are spare, taking their inspiration from traditional Japanese furniture and emphasizing the rosy color and supple grain of the wood, knots and all. AS 


Clockwise: Catnip for the typographically obsessed, the Font Clock by British designer Sebastian Wrong from Established & Sons displays 11 classic 20th-century fonts (plus one 18th-century script) arranged in random combinations. Available in three sizes, the clock is sold at Matter in Soho (www.mattermatters.com). Helen Louise Gifford’s Silver Lining makes hash of the notion that compact fluorescents can’t shine by encrusting the energy-saving bulb with a multitude of decoratively shaped incandescents affixed to a wire armature (www.helenbilt.com). The product development company Designtex introduced Sonic Fabric by the Texas-based artist Alyce Santoro. The durable, multipurpose, and audible fabric is woven from polyester and reclaimed cassette tape recorded by the artist with the sounds of street life in the city (www.designtex.com). Gudrun Gunnlaugsdottir is an Icelandic designer who understands the importance of built-in poetic uplift. Her Rocking Beauty, a pressed composite of plywood, aluminum, and Makrolon strips, makes the most of its minimalist form with laser-cut flowers inserted in the void (www.bility.is). LD

Movers & Shapers 07

Movers & Shapers 07

The nexus of design currently hovers somewhere in the ether above The Netherlands, England, and Italy, and draws the occasional spark from Germany, France, and Belgium. This ferment is fueled by a group of youngish creative-types who work across borders, media, professions, and aesthetic sensibilities, intent on rethinking everything from the most prosaic bathroom tap to the production economies of small villages in India. Here’s a look at what’s on the minds and the drawing boards of a few of the key European designers who will be in NewYork during this year’s International Contemporary Furniture Fair.
Produced by Julie Iovine and Melissa Feldman

TOM DIXON
LONDON / UK


Only two years ago, British designer Tom Dixon dismissed the ICFF as a marginal player on the international furniture scene. “I don’t think New York figures, frankly,” he told the Financial Times, in explaining why he preferred to be in Milan and at 100% Design in London. But in 2007, the UK superstar and former creative director of the Londonbased retail chain Habitat decided to come to America under the flag of his own company, Tom Dixon, to show his latest lighting, furniture, and accessory designs at the ICFF and at Moss on Greene Street. “For a long time America has been very obsessed with either Italian luxury or nostalgic movements like Shabby Chic or the Eames generation,” Dixon said. “It feels like things are changing—there’s a contemporary mood in the air.”

If Americans know one Dixon design, it is probably the Jack Light (1994), a stubby polyethylene lamp for the floor in the shape of play jacks and possessing considerably more oomph than a nostalgic Noguchi lantern. Lighting continues to figure largely in Dixon’s work, but he rarely sticks to one material, preferring “industrial experimentation” in substances ranging from copper to cast iron to foam. His 2007 theme is metal, but he has gone way beyond architecture’s stainless steel or fashion’s silver and gold. His Beat Lights are hammered brass, made with traditional methods in India, while the Copper Shades are plastic coated in vacuum- metallised copper.

At Moss he’ll be showing his CU29 chairs. While this set is a limited edition of eight, their form— based on a Big Mac container—is the same as that of 500 polystyrene chairs given away last August in Trafalgar Square. “Those were the cheapest of the cheap, i.e. free,” he said. “These are the polar opposite. These have a skin of pure copper,” which is applied by submerging each chair in an electrified vat of copper sulphate. “The edition is limited by the amount of time it takes and the difficulty of the process.”

For his own label, Dixon is trying to design for “the opposite of planned obsolescence,” he said, or in other words, future classics. One contender is the Link Easy Chair, whose metal frame is wired in a pattern that Dixon said is Celtic in inspiration but is also structural. With Finnish manufacturer Artek (Dixon is creative director), he recently launched the renewable Bambu line, and has the company buying vintage Aalto pieces from schools to put back in circulation. He doesn’t have a green agenda for the accessibly-priced Habitat stores (where he remains as “nonexecutive” director) but instead sees them as a showcase for young European designers. Dixon helped select 100 emerging talents for a new Phaidon book, & Fork. “The British don’t have the finesse of the Italians or the conceptual nature of the Dutch,” he said. “We have sturdiness. Metal is a material of value and it is long-lasting, so we should make things a bit more robust and anti-fashion.” 

ALEXANDRA LANGE


PATRICIA URQUOILA
MILAN / ITALY


With her rapid speech and restless energy, architect-designer Patricia Urquiola is a natural fit for New York City. She is based in Milan, but recently spent some time here as she worked on designing her first American retail space, Moroso at Moss. An extension of the legendary Moss design store, the new boutique at 146 Prince Street showcases the furniture of Italian firm Moroso and the textiles of New York–based Maharam. During one visit a few weeks ago, Urquiola zipped around the still-raw 3,800- square-foot space, gesturing like a choreographer to indicate where mirrors, platforms, and other design elements must be to transform the former warehouse into an ultrastylish store and offices in time to open during the ICFF in late May.

Best known for bold and uninhibited furniture, Urquiola is an architect with a keen awareness of space and a designer’s appreciation for beautiful forms, fabric, and patterns. At the new store, reflective and semireflective surfaces afford multiple perspectives on the furnishings and allow viewers to see themselves with the products. Four platforms of varying heights help create a sense of separation and order in the open space; an alcove showcases Maharam’s textiles and accessories.

Color plays a central role in conceptualizing the store’s frequently changing decor, just as it’s a strong element in Moroso furniture. But beyond brand identity, Urquiola seems most concerned with honoring the individual visions of the designers whose works will be on display, such as Ross Lovegrove, Tord Boontje, Ron Arad,Tom Dixon, and Urquiola herself. She often speaks in poetic terms of her desire to help “tell the histories” of the creative talents.

This is not Urquiola’s first crossdisciplinary venture. After studying architecture, she switched to design near the end of her studies at the Politecnico di Milano, inspired by her teacher Achille Castiglioni and others in Milan who were equally “in love with the big ‘A’ of architecture and the little ‘d’ of design,” she said. Since graduating in 1989, she has done everything from residential architecture and luxury interior design to booth and showroom design, though she’s perhaps most famous for her furniture designs for Moroso, Driade, Kartell, and other companies. In 2001 she founded her own firm, Studio Urquiola.

Aside from Moroso at Moss, other ventures include new products for Italian furniture company B&B Italia and interior designs for two hotels, one in Vieques, Puerto Rico, the other in Barcelona. While most of her work is centered outside the United States, she said she’s “happy to share in the energy” of Prince Street and become a part of its “genius loci.” 

LISA DELGADO


TORD BOONTJE
BOURG-ARGENTAL / FRANCE


Industrial designer Tord Boontje’s ascent was triggered by light and fairytales. In 2002, the British home retail chain Habitat commissioned Boontje to produce Garland, an affordable mass-produced light based on an early version of a limited edition design. Garland sold for about $30, and quickly became the It shade to dress a bare bulb. At the same time, the soft-spoken Dutchman made a splash with his Blossom chandelier for Swarovski, which was a sparkling branch covered with chunks of crystals unveiled during the 2002 Milan Furniture Fair.

Two years later, Boontje was back in Milan with a showroom exhibition entitled Happy Ever After for the Italian furniture company Moroso. It was the culmination of work based on his ideas involving nature and technology, and crystallized the nascent trend in design towards the decorative. Boontje included prototypes and one-of-a-kind pieces: rocking chairs, tables, poufs, as well as his signature laser-cut fabrics upholstered on furniture and draped in loops from the ceiling.

A number of Boontje’s designs will be on display in New York at the new Moroso at Moss store opening during the ICFF. His Bon Bon tables made from glass and Corian are decorated with floral patterns created by a technique known as dye-sublimation printing, and will be available at retail stores along with Nest, a molded polyethylene outdoor seating system. A book by Rizzoli has just been published on the designer’s work, and it showcases the past ten years of his processes and designs. Tord Boontje is lavishly produced with flourishes including burlap covers and pages elaborately die-cut with punched patterns that exemplify Boontje’s careful craft. Martina Margretts, the author, describes him as “a William Morris for our times, taking a local message and practice and transforming it for mass consumption.”

Designed in London with his longtime collaborator Graphic Thought Facility, the huge book takes the reader on a visual tour of Boontje’s career, starting with his early days in Holland at the Eindhoven Academy. There, he honed his skills in ceramics and textiles before going on to study at the Royal College of Art in London and eventually settling in the south of France with Emma Woffenden, his wife and design collaborator.

Upcoming work in the studio includes a large architectural project in Shanghai with a spa and wellness center, and a design museum with shops and a restaurant. New products are also in the works for the Table Stories collection for Authentics as well as new lighting for Artecnica. Time will tell how far this latter-day William Morris hopes to go. 

MELISSA FELDMAN


WIEL ARETS
MAASTRICHT / THE NETHERLANDS

Wiel Arets’ path to architecture and product design was an oblique one, to say the least. His early childhood interest in sports changed forever when the United States landed a man on the moon in the summer of 1969. “I was flabbergasted that we as human beings could put someone on the moon and drive a car there,” said Arets, the Maastrichtbased architect and designer. Spellbound by the space program, Arets began to study physics, but quickly decided that, while the subject was necessary to hurtle humans to extraterrestrial destinations, it was not for him. At the same time, he realized that if an astronaut were to drive a car on the moon, someone had to design that car in the first place. So Arets shifted his focus to architecture, and after graduating from the Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, he founded Wiel Arets Architects in 1984.

From the very beginning of his architectural practice Arets designed products, primarily one-off custom jobs that attracted little attention. That all changed in 1994 with his Stealth office furniture line—a series of cabinets,benches,and conference tables that combined minimalist design with acoustic materials to provide sound-dampening in large, open-plan spaces. Designed for AZL Headquarters in Heerlen, the Netherlands, the line quickly garnered international attention and was picked up by the Dutch furniture maker Lensvelt in Breda. Three years later Italian design house Alessi—a company that has a long history of working with architects— contacted Arets, inviting him to design a coffee and tea service. Now he is involved in six projects with Alessi, including a watch called Watch.it, which was just introduced; a forthcoming espresso machine, and a line of bathroom fixtures, Il Bagno Alessi Dot, which will be on view at the AF New York showroom in September.

For Arets, the difference between designing a building and an espresso cup is primarily a matter of scale—meters to millimeters. “As far as how I design, there is little difference between architecture and products,” he said. “I develop a concept and that leads me to the design.” His Alessi bathroom line is a prime example of this idea-to-form approach; the idea here, naturally, is water. “When a water drop falls on the floor you have a dot,” said Arets, “so I thought the circle should be the main design element.” From this simple concept, Arets decided to de-emphasize the materiality of his fixtures and focus attention on the fluid component by “chopping off” the steel spigots and ceramic pedestals and leaving simple basins with flat edges.These elegantly primitive forms with their exaggerated circle motifs make water the central feature. 

AARON SEWARD


JEAN MARIE MASSAUD
PARIS / FRANCE


With a mantra like “Design is nothing, Life is everything,” it’s surprising that Jean-Marie Massaud is so sought-after right now on the corporate branding scene—he has designed stores for Lancôme worldwide, auto-show installations for Renault, and a makeover for the stolidly exquisite Italian furnituremaker Poltrona Frau. Then again, the 41-year old Paris-based designer (who has Jean Nouvel’s bare pate and Gerard Depardieu’s twinkle, and has done time in Philippe Starck’s studio) embodies an approach to design that is unabashedly sensual but environmentally aware and seems to be catching on. When Massaud edits a chair to almost nothing, he is not making an aesthetic statement so much as trying to use as few resources as possible. In addition to furniture for several leading Italian brands, including B&BItalia, Cassina, and Cappellini, his portfolio contains more than a few hypothetical projects; his favorite is an airship in the shape of a whale made for tourists in order to keep their footprints off the land. A seemingly improbable project in Guadalajara, Mexico, for a $120 million stadium in the shape of a grassy volcano with a floating sunscreen roof and berm-buried parking, may actually get built.

Closer to home, the furniture Massaud presented in Milan this year was varied, but each piece played with the idea of collecting sensual experiences over objects— a very French response to rampant consumerism. His bath collection for Axor-Hansgrohe, introduced two years ago as a Water Dream complete with a Corian thundercloud swelling to burst over a luxurious sunken bath, is now in production. Surprisingly pragmatic, the Axor collection features a tap with water cascading from the lip of a 16-inch shelf, handy for shampoo or candles. In 2006, the molded mineral washbasin and faucet received the International Forum Product Design Award.

The designer’s Heaven chair for EMU and the Ad Hoc outdoor chair for Viccarbe display the same hightech organic elasticity as Spider Man’s web. During the ICFF, the Ad Hoc will be shown in both black and white as part of an exhibition of new furniture from Europe at the just-opened Lepere Gallery on 20 West 22nd Street.

JI 


TRUE TO FORM
Zaha Hadid’s forays into furniture design have become serious events ever since her Aqua Table sold at Phillips de Pury in 2005 for $296,000, a record for contemporary furniture at the time. In Milan last month, Hadid exhibited three new pieces for three different companies at very different scales and materials but all bearing remarkably similar DNA. Top to bottom: the 9.4-foot-long, vinyl-fabric-covered Moon system for B&B Italia; the 7-foot polyester resin Gyre with polyurethane lacquer in a limited edition of 12 for Established & Sons; and a sterling 27.5-inch silver bowl also in a numbered edition of 12 plus 3 artist’s proofs for Sawaya & Moroni.

Foul Ball

On February 14, New York City’s Franchise Review Committee gave the go-ahead to plans that would put the future of Randall’s Island ball fields in the hands of 20 private schools. The 20-year contract guarantees prep students school-day playtime from 3 to 6 p.m. on most of the city-owned fields. For this privilege, the schools will pay $52.4 million, which will go a long way toward providing the $70 million required for the renovation and new construction of the sports areas.

The island is home to a jumble of municipal buildings as well as 400 acres of greenspace. In1998, the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation developed a masterplan to make better use of the land. “Full realization of the island as a park never took place,” explained city parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. “When landlocked private schools first started to go out to the fields, they were almost all unused.” He lauded the new proposal as an enterprising public-private partnership that not only maintains, but also expands the number of baseball, softball, football, soccer, cricket,and rugby fields on the island, bringing the total from 36 to 63. Currently at peak usage times, the private schools’ athletics programs occupy two-thirds of the fields; the remainder is shared between public school kids and adult leagues; all fields are open at off-peak hours. The plan has raised hackles because some see it as a step towards the privatization of public space. Manhattan borough president Scott M. Stringer was the sole vote against the project, and city councilor Melissa Mark Viverito is also opposed.

Access to the island has long been an issue. Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., resisted the proposal last year when it came before the committee, but was swayed in favor when bus service for public schoolers (with the Department of Education) was added. Benepe believes the underwriting is an opportunity and not precedent for funding the rest of the city’s parkland.