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A Ring of Green

West 8 will redesign 11 miles of South Baltimore's waterfront
Dutch firm West 8 has beat out James Corner Field Operations and Hargreaves Jones for the chance to create an 11-mile-long stretch of parkland in South Baltimore. The winning proposal from the studio's New York office was chosen as part of the Middle Branch Waterfront Revitalization Competition, a city-backed plan to reengage locals with an underutilized section of the Patapsco River shoreline.  Located east of Westport and south of Port Covington across the river, the waterfront spanning from the existing Middle Branch Park will be expanded in the surrounding bay into a landscaped linear strip for recreational activities and observing wildlife. West 8 will partner with local teams from Mahan Rykiel and Moffat & Nichol on the multi-phase project, and figure out the best strategies to build a new green ring around the waterfront filled with piers, boardwalks, and other structures for performances and group gatherings.  Per the proposal, future phases will include converting the 103-year-old, Beaux Arts-style Hanover Street Bridge, which connects Middle Branch to Port Covington, into parkland as well. A new car-centric bridge will be built stretching from the planned Under Armour campus to Brooklyn, instead of Cherry Hill where Middle Branch Park is located. An artificial island will be built underneath it in the middle of the bay.  SouthBmore.com reported that in order to create this large ring of land, West 8 will redistribute dredge from a port nearby and place it further up the bay where it will eventually help form marshlands and other wetland ecologies. This move, according to Brad Rogers, executive director of the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, will help build an attractive waterfront for the South Baltimore community—one that could boost its economy like the other built-out improvements at Inner Harbor and Fells Point.  West 8 also aims to build a trail system that loops from Middle Branch Park to Westport Meadows and across Ridgeley’s Cove. A decrepit bridge there could possibly be made into a pedestrian-only thoroughfare as well, providing access to Swan Park in Port Covington.  For further context, the entire site sits south of M&T Bank Stadium and is close to the core of downtown Baltimore. A masterplan to revamp the Middle Branch area has been in the works since 2007, and the competition to redesign the waterfront started last summer, under the helm of the city-supported Parks and People Foundation.
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In Memorium

Remembering César Pelli
The death of César Pelli at 92 on July 19 marked the end of an era. Yet the firm he headed with Fred Clarke and his son Rafael Pelli continues, with dozens of important and innovative projects underway. Pelli’s modest demeanor belied the fact that he and his partners designed over 300 buildings and 68 unrealized or theoretical projects. The best known built works are the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (briefly the tallest buildings in the world), the colorful glass-skinned Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, the complex Cleveland Clinic, the American Embassy in Tokyo, and the recent Salesforce Tower and Transit Center in San Francisco (the tallest building there). In New York, they built the 1977-84 addition to the Museum of Modern Art and its residential tower, the World Financial Center—now dubbed Brookfield Place—in Battery Park City, the unusually contextual Carnegie Hall Tower, the Theodore Roosevelt Federal Building in downtown Brooklyn, and the pioneeringly energy-efficient Verdesian apartment building in Battery Park City, along with numerous other buildings that fit into their surroundings so well that they are not easily recognized. An office building for Trinity Church on Wall Street, the Yale Biology Building, the one-million-square-foot Bulfinch Crossing in Boston, a Natural History Museum in Chengdu, China, the Google Tower in Austin, Texas, and 3.3-million-square-foot Union Park in Toronto are among dozens of buildings underway now. Given the size of the practice, the complexity of its projects, their international range, size, scale, and sensitivity to place, it is surprising that the work of Pelli Clark Pelli has not received more critical attention. It is not something the partners sought. Doing innovative work and treating colleagues well has always been the firm’s priorities. César Pelli was one of architecture’s real artists and intellectuals. He was born in the medium-sized city of San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, where one of the most innovative architecture schools in the world opened just before he matriculated. His father, Victor Pelli, was an innovative tinkerer who loved to make things. His mother. Theresa Pelli was a professor at Resistencia, who taught alongside the mother of the woman César would eventually marry, Diana Balmori. They got to know one another in architecture school, and then applied to various graduate programs together around the world. They ended up moving to the United States, where César earned a Master’s degree at the University of Illinois. It was not easy. Other young Argentinians they knew soon returned home. Diana once told me that they sold their wedding presents to make ends meet, but that fact that she spoke excellent English helped. Then, César’s professor recommended that he join the very busy office of Eero Saarinen in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. That move was not easy for Diana either, who had two young sons, but it was there, on the lush Cranbrook campus, that she developed an interest in landscape design. Saarinen’s office, enriched by the opportunity to design the $100 million, 320-acre General Motors Design Center, had attracted talented young architects from all over the world. César soon became the one Saarinen trusted with some of his most challenging projects. The firm was thriving with numerous enticing commissions. Eero had recently remarried journalist and architecture critic Aline Bernstein Saarinen, who wanted to move to the East Coast where her career, and increasingly Eero’s, was centered. Lonely in Michigan, she often invited the Pellis to join them for lunch. But soon after the birth of their son Eames, Eero developed a brain tumor and died within days. The firm moved to New Haven as planned to finish his work. César was in charge of two of the most challenging projects: the proto-postmodern Morse and Ezra Stiles Colleges at Yale, which imaginatively acknowledged Gothic Revival buildings nearby, and the TWA Terminal at JFK (then Idlewild) Airport in New York, which has now been restored and turned into the centerpiece of a new hotel. When Saarinen’s work was completed, some associates formed a successor firm, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Partners, but the Pellis instead moved to the booming Los Angeles. César went to work first for the pragmatic commercial firm, Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall from 1965 through 1968, then to Gruen Associates from 1968 through 1976, often collaborating with young talented international architects he had known at the Saarinen firm, such as Anthony J. Lumsden. By the mid-70s, Pelli, who had been teaching part-time at UCLA, decided he would like to work in architectural education. He was offered deanships at UCLA, Harvard, and Yale, that last being where he moved in 1977 and had been living ever since. Soon he was invited to expand the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, so he opened the original Cesar Pelli & Associates office in New Haven, which continued to grow after he stepped down as Yale dean in 1984, but which still operates on an open-minded academic model. Over the years, Pelli worked on and off with Balmori, who herself developed an innovative practice in landscape design. She died in 2016. César Pelli is survived by sons Rafael and Denis, as well as dozens of colleagues, friends, clients, former students, and admirers. His legacy is enormous.
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On Mexican SO - IL

SO - IL is building a social housing prototype in the heart of Mexico
For many in Mexico, the phrase “social housing” conjures images of vast housing tracts falling into disrepair, abandoned by workers tired of two-hour commutes. While architects and planners look back to understand what went wrong in the country’s early-2000s push to build affordable housing on city outskirts, authorities and designers are also looking ahead to explore alternative strategies. The Municipal Housing Institute (IMUVI) of León, a city of 1.6 million people in the central state of Guanajuato, invited Brooklyn firm SO – IL to collaborate on the design of a new prototype for social housing in the city’s center, and the team broke ground on the result, the Las Américas project, in May. Designed for low-income families, the building includes 56 apartments, most of which will be sold at far-below-market rates. Guanajuato is traditionally known for its artisanal leatherworking, but more recently, rapid growth in the auto-manufacturing industry has transformed the region; León’s population has doubled since the 1980s. Like many Mexican cities, it grew outward, with limited government planning. Some new arrivals built informal settlements on the city edges or, with access to credit, bought into exurban subdivisions. IMUVI faces two monumental tasks: regularizing the informal settlements, which requires extending utility services and other infrastructure and building housing for those who still need it. According to Amador Rodríguez, director of IMUVI León, 45 percent of the city’s residents don’t have access to federal housing credit or traditional bank loans. Rodríguez estimates that the city needs another 80,000 housing units to meet the demand. Instead of building more units on the outskirts, far from schools, jobs, and services, IMUVI has committed to densifying the city center. Working with SO – IL, IMUVI identified a lot in a downtown neighborhood to build Las Américas, a 62,431-square-foot complex of one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments. SO – IL’s partnership with IMUVI began when Florian Idenburg, the firm’s Dutch co-founder, was invited to Mexico to share his experience with the firm’s New York City micro-housing project tiNY, lessons from which informed Las Américas. “Affordability should not go against quality,” said Idenburg. “And one of the qualities that is very important to us is light.” Thanks to single-loaded open-air corridors, the apartments in Las Américas receive natural light from at least two sides. No two units directly face each other, maintaining both density and privacy. The housing block wraps around two shared courtyards, while openings in the building’s mass create additional, elevated common spaces. Exterior stairwells link each level. Idenburg said these features foster interaction between neighbors and a sense of community. “It was very refreshing to work with this team in León,” Idenburg said. Even with a limited budget, he said, there are opportunities for customization in Mexico that can lend character to what could otherwise be a uniform building. The team worked with local fabricators to develop a precast concrete brick that can be installed in different positions, creating a variety of wall textures for the apartments. “We made really nice custom windows that are hand-welded,” he added. “You probably wouldn’t be able to do that in the United States because of cost.” The design process included workshops and meetings in León to understand the needs of low-income families. SO – IL worked pro bono on the project. “It was a very productive collaboration,” said Idenburg. “Everything was very collective.” While construction continues, IMUVI is identifying families to move into Las Américas. Out of a total of 56 apartments, 44 will be priced at just under half a million Mexican pesos (about $25,000), the legal limit for a social housing unit. The remaining 12 units will be available at market price to families with federal Infonavit (workers’ housing) credit. “I hope other people will see our project and think it is possible to achieve density and affordability in the city center,” Idenburg said. Finding central but affordable lots is an ongoing challenge for agencies like IMUVI, but Idenburg hopes Las Américas can become a model for social housing in city centers and inspire projects in developing economies facing similar conditions.
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Maybe?

New York's public housing is in crisis. Can architects design the way out?
The Regional Plan Association (RPA) has selected architects Miriam Peterson and Nathan Rich of Peterson Rich Office (PRO) to dream up housing and maintenance strategies for New York City’s deteriorating public housing for the nonprofit planning think tank’s newly-funded chair of urban design. The joint appointment will give the pair the opportunity to build on past work that reimagined the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) developments. It’s a tall order to step into a project that’s supposed to help NYCHA, the landlord for 400,000 New Yorkers, though it’s not necessarily the number of tenants that poses a challenge. The authority has been strangled by decades of under-investment, hobbled by long-running scandals, and faces an estimated $45 million backlog for repairs and capital projects. A December 2018 RPA report stated that maintaining the status quo of broken-down buildings could cost the city an additional $700 million every year that maintenance is deferred. The funding options for public housing are scarce, but nascent development plans aim to fill the gap created by missing funds at the federal level. Over the past five years, PRO has delivered concepts for building out the roofs of NYCHA high-rises and the transforming parking lots that surround the towers into units that scale to the size of two contiguous parking spaces. This time, PRO will have more financial resources and access to RPA experts at their disposal, allowing them to explore housing provision and maintenance in-depth.  While Peterson and Rich have a year to develop a book of scalable public housing concepts, RPA—not NYCHA—is PRO’s primary client. Moses Gates, RPA's vice president for Housing and Neighborhood Development, confirmed that NYCHA is not a partner on the project. He added that the no-NYCHA approach aligns with the organization’s usual M.O. of giving experts free rein to explore ideas that might not be feasible within an agency’s framework. Richard Kaplan, the architect who endowed the chair at RPA, gave the organization the funds so it could focus some of its efforts on urban design. Gates emphasized that here, and with subsequent Kaplan chairs, the architects' ideas are springboards for future action, not prescriptions. For inspiration, Rich told The Architect's Newspaper that they’re looking to London, where public (social) housing is similar in age and design to many NYCHA projects and has similarly struggled with disinvestment. But, unlike centralized NYCHA, London social housing is delivered on a borough-by-borough basis. Borough councils may act as developers, borrowing money against the value of their assets to build market-rate housing that subsidizes the upkeep of social housing units. That approach fits in with an emerging strategy in New York, where the city is entertaining plans to sell air rights and underutilized developable land in certain NYCHA projects to generate revenue for the cash-strapped agency. In a press release, the RPA stated that PRO’s mandate is to deliver ideas that will “bring NYCHA into financial solvency, while better integrating NYCHA into the surrounding communities.” Housing projects in New York are islands, separated spatially—and often socially—from their surroundings, especially in neighborhoods that are whiter and wealthier. From Chelsea to Canarsie, NYCHA stewards the largest portfolio of affordable housing within the five boroughs: If NYCHA residents had their own city, it would be larger than New Orleans, Cleveland, or Pittsburg. However, chronic mismanagement has impaired the agency’s ability to provide safe affordable housing. Last year, the New York Times reported that NYCHA officials routinely disputed the results of lead paint tests in its apartments and exposed children to the dangerous heavy metal. Elsewhere, thousands of families contend with vermin infestations and repair requests that go unanswered. The shameful conditions in the developments, as well as the opportunity to rework the modernist tower-in-the-park paradigm, make NYCHA housing a prime target for architects and planners looking for a do-good project. Most white-collar urbanists, however, have never lived in public housing, nor do they have personal connections to the projects beyond observing them from the sidewalk or reading about them in the paper. Designers also have to contend with a real fear on the part of some NYCHA residents that new development will catalyze displacement and spur neighborhood-wide gentrification. Under these conditions, how can a firm that’s best known for designing art galleries and high-end homes effectively design with, or for New Yorkers who live in public housing? First and foremost, Rich said, PRO intends to address immediate needs, like the mold that afflicts tenants in some developments and heating systems that fail in the dead of winter. This will be the firm’s first go at spearheading a community consultation, so they intend to collaborate with RPA-affiliates to help organize and guide the process.  “It’s just crucial that residents have buy-in during the process and into the project,” said Peterson. “We’re thinking about phasing, how to create a process that sets a project up for success.” RPA has a relationship with Community Voices Heard, a social justice organization primarily led by low-income women and people of color, and together they will work to facilitate connections with NYCHA residents.  NYCHA did not respond to multiple requests for comment on how it regards design proposals from outside the agency. Peterson and Rich first became interested in NYCHA after a 2014 fellowship with the Institute for Public Architecture (IPA) where they, along with urban designer Sagi Golan, thought through public housing in 9x18, a project that would infill development on NYCHA parking lots. The goal now, said Rich, is to think about incremental changes instead of jumping straight from an idea to a construction proposal. "NYCHA is a source of fascination for people in design and planning because it’s a city in a city; it’s just so big," Peterson said. "What we’re trying to do here is focus on actionable ideas."
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Everyone Wins

Five winning submissions picked in Buffalo park ideas competition
A competition to revitalize a 1.5-mile-long elevated railway in Buffalo, New York, has ended with five winners, and all five proposals will be combined to shape an RFP aimed at breathing new life into the abandoned rail corridor. The Western New York Land Conservancy launched the Reimagining the DL&W Corridor: International Design Ideas Competition in November of 2018 to revive an abandoned stretch of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western (DL&W) railway that runs from Canalside to the Solar City plant. Much like the High Line or the proposed QueensWay in the southern half of the state, the DL&W railway will be turned into an elevated park that will unite formerly-industrial neighborhoods with a continuous rewilded landscape. “Reclaiming Hill & Del” from the New York City–based Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects (MNLA) took first prize. Their ambitious proposal turns the corridor into an all-season multimodal path to the Buffalo River, using the varied topography of the ridge to add excitement to the routes. Native plants would be used to return the path to a state of nature. “The Dell, The Link & The Wanderer (DLW),” a collaboration between Marvel Architects, BuroHappold, horticulturalist and landscape architect Patrick Cullina, and graphic and placemaking studio NOWHERE Office took second place. The DLW would divide the railway into several distinct ecologies while threading through the neighborhoods. The Dell portion would bring secluded, wooded areas to the former rail line; the Link is where the new park would integrate with existing streets at grade; and visitors can Wander through meandering paths along the water’s edge. Third place was split between two proposals, “The Loop Line” and “Railn.” The Loop Line comes courtesy of the Brooklyn-based OSA, which wanted to turn the railway from a “barrier” to a “linear urban organizer” that capitalizes on investment along the Buffalo River. Unlike the other projects, The Loop Line was conceived as “seasonally inverted,” showcasing the majesty of Buffalo’s winters (even if they are buried in snow).   Railn was conceived of by a team of six graduate landscape architecture students from Beijing Forestry University. The project would overlay different axes, including transportation, quality of life, and economic improvements over the railway to create an inclusive, multimodal park. Finally, the community choice award went to Matt Renkas, a SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry grad and Buffalo resident, for his “The Del” proposal. The Del would integrate the industrial remnants along the new park into the landscape and include scrap steel sculptures of animals representing Haudenosaunee clans would dot the DL&W Corridor. The Del would also include several earthwork theaters and staging areas for performances and art shows. With the ideas competition complete, the Land Conservancy will launch a Request For Proposals for conceptual and schematic designs later this summer, integrating ideas from all of the submissions they received, not just the winners.
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Lakefront Landscape

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates reveals vision for new Buffalo waterfront park
Michael Van Valkenburgh (MVVA)’s vision for Buffalo’s expansive new waterfront park has finally been unveiled. Stretching 92 acres along the shore of Lake Erie, the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will be a verdant hub of cultural and recreational activity that connects downtown Buffalo to the city’s Lakeview neighborhood. Designed in collaboration with the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, the organization that donated $50 million towards the project, the park is a major beautification effort for the City of Buffalo. The foundation worked alongside MVVA, the city government, as well as the University at Buffalo Regional Institute over the last two years to engage different communities surrounding the existing 77-acre LaSalle Park—the landscape that the new project will overtake—to create a new and dynamic playspace for the lakeside city. MVVA’s initial aerial renderings reveal multiple shifts in the topography throughout the site, which, as it exists today, is fairly flat to accommodate straight views as well as room for sports. In a former interview, Van Valkenburgh told AN that this flatness would generally remain in the firm’s design proposal because “there’s a kind of wonderful, almost magical concept of playing at the edge of a lake,” he said. “At the same time, we’ll likely want to add some topography to the landscape to allow people to get to a higher level over the water to see Buffalo’s famous sunsets.” In keeping with the original functions of LaSalle Park, the upgraded landscape will include many baseball and soccer fields, as well as pools, playgrounds, and promenades with those uninhibited views of Lake Erie. Large-scale lawns, reminiscent of those found in Brooklyn Bridge Park, will also be integrated into the design so that families can picnic, play frisbee, or go sledding during Buffalo’s snowy winter. In addition, the design team has proposed what appears to be a peninsula built of terraced rocks where Buffalo residents can connect directly with the water—something the old park was lacking according to Van Valkenburgh. While this first set of visuals showcases the size and scope of the park project, it doesn’t yet include details on where or how these topographic changes will occur. However, a key component of the plan is that the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park will enhance the landscape directly surrounding the city’s historic pumping station (to the northwest of the park), as well as extend a branch of parkland across Interstate I-90, connecting into Lakeview. Van Valkenburgh said he plans to create some sort of noise buffer around the roadway to keep a peaceful tone within the landscape. Right now, a large-scale model of the landscape design is touring the city and locals can view the vision up close. On Thursday, it’s heading to the LaSalle Park Pool Building.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Coming Attractions

Atlanta amps up its entertainment industry with 27-acre Pullman Yard development
There’s a blighted train depot east of downtown Atlanta that’s getting the Hollywood treatment. In an upcoming $100 million mixed-use project, the historic Pullman Yard in the Kirkwood neighborhood will transform from a 27-acre underutilized industrial site into a new “creative city” for the entertainment industry. Spearheaded by the site’s new owner, Atomic Entertainment, the plan involves building a series of lofts, co-working spaces, a boutique hotel, retail, restaurants, and an outdoor concert venue to attract startups and other creatives to the east Atlanta site. A new set of renderings of the Pullman Yard masterplan was recently unveiled, featuring designs by Brooklyn-based studio OCX and Raleigh, North Carolina, firm Hobgood Architects. Atomic, led by two Los Angeles-based film producers, aims to turn the 115-year-old former railyard into Atlanta’s newest moviemaking mecca, a pedestrian-centric campus devoted to the city’s $9 billion film and television industry, and its booming music scene. Adam Rosenfelt of Atomic believes the entire project will become a “paradigm for development” going forward. “We’re coming at this from a slightly different perspective as people that work in a collaborative art form,” he said. “This is our first building project, so we’re trying to figure out how to build a mixed-use lot blending the creative and cultural economies of food, entertainment, living, and working, rather than setting up space for the traditional big-box retail economy, which could have easily overtaken this historic area." The site itself is formally known as Pratt-Pullman Yard and encompasses 12 buildings totaling 153,000 square feet. Constructed in 1904 as a sugar and fertilizer processing plant, it eventually developed into a repair facility for railroad sleeper cars, and during World War II, it housed munitions manufacturing. It has most recently served as the backdrop for scenes in futuristic films such as Hunger Games, Divergent, and the critically-acclaimed action movie Baby Driver. In 2009, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, though it has suffered from serious neglect for decades. In 2016, it was designated a local landmark. The site’s main facilities, two brick-and-steel, barn-like warehouses, will be renovated under Atomic’s vision as the central architectural focus of the preservation project. The renovation is part of the first phase of construction, now underway, and is led by OCX and local firm Lord Aeck Sargent. The rest of the masterplan, designed in collaboration with Hobgood Architects, includes upgrading other existing structures, constructing new buildings, and integrating a site-specific landscape component by James Corner Field Operations. Karen Tamir, principal-in-charge on the project, said Field Operations may use local relics in new ways to preserve the yard’s industrial roots. They’ll also add a new piece of parkland that stretches from the center of the site to the south as a nod to the old railroad delineation. “There’s also a large swath of woodland to the east of Pullman Yard that we’ll connect via existing trails, so overall there’ll be ample greenery and room for exploration and relaxation,” Tamir said. “We won’t, however, propose many trees for the historic core because traditionally, they weren’t there when the yards were built.” Keeping the site’s existing industrial conditions, while simultaneously promoting a verdant outdoor environment means thinking critically about the logistics of jobs that will take place there. To accommodate pedestrians and trucks coming in and out of the facilities, Luke Willis, principal of OCX, intends to connect all programs on-site via a diagonal axis that cuts through the various building blocks. “This allows us to diversify the building typologies and program use to ultimately contribute to the mixed-use development that Atomic envisions for their creative city.” At the heart of the campus will be the renovated warehouses and a series of soundstages, one of which will be born from an existing 20,000-square-foot steel-clad structure situated near Roger Street, which is the entrance to Pullman Yard, and the rail line leading to downtown Atlanta. Rethinking these historic structures, among other playful design ploys to attract residents and visitors, will make Pullman Yard both a live-work-play destination and a place that not only showcases its former value with pride but also brings new value to the city today, according to Rosenfelt. An official completion date for Pullman Yard has not yet been revealed, but Atomic hopes to finish the renovation projects by the end of 2020.
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Make Way for Ducklings?

Slow streets proposed for New York's Financial District
Now that the New York State government has decided that the busiest areas of Manhattan will have congestion pricing to discourage auto traffic (scheduled to take effect in 2021 for areas below 60th street), there are efforts to provide even more incentives to leave the island to bikers, mass transit, and pedestrians. One prominent example is a study commissioned by the Financial District Neighborhood Association (FDNA) titled “Make Way for Lower Manhattan.” This historic Dutch area of the city has long needed a sensible plan to control traffic on its narrow streets and lanes, but the city’s previous efforts (in 1966, 2010, and 2018) did not come to fruition. FDNA President Patrick Kennell hopes that this time things will be different. His study notes that the area has grown in population, owing mainly to the conversion of office towers to residential uses after 9/11. There are now 75,000 residents of the downtown area and over 300,000 daily office workers who regularly commute to and from the financial district. In addition, tourism has exploded, with more than 14 million visitors per year filling the small streets and waterfront. The new plan proposes a “Slow Street District” extending east-west from Broadway to Water Street and north-south from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park. Using bridge-traffic diversion, wider sidewalks, lighting, and other measures successfully implemented in cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Barcelona, the planners believe that vehicular traffic can be significantly reduced and pedestrian traffic increased. The plan’s before-and-after illustrations portray cobblestone streets full of tourists enjoying cafes and shops while people watching. Will such measures, along with less on-street parking and increased late night garbage collection, finally make lower Manhattan safe for pedestrians and the occasional feathered flock? Stone Street and Maiden Lane have seen many changes, and they can wait for a few more.
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Waterfront Forest

3XN reveals North America's tallest timber office tower for Toronto
Danish studio 3XN has revealed renderings of its latest addition to the Toronto waterfront, a 10-story timber office tower. Once complete, T3 Bayside will be not only the third 3XN tower to spring up in Bayside but also the tallest timber office building in all of North America. The 138-foot-tall office building is being developed by the international firm Hines and will provide office space for the 2,000-acre Bayside redevelopment (not to be confused with Sidewalk Labs’ nearby “Quayside” project). T3 Bayside, and its adjoining plaza, will join 3XN’s two nearby residential towers, and according to the developer, the development is expected to cement Bayside’s status as a live-work neighborhood. Using cross-laminated timber (CLT) for the tower’s frame allowed 3XN to reduce both projected construction costs as well as the building’s embodied energy. The structural timber will be left exposed inside, creating a warm interior that, according to 3XN, will also regulate the indoor humidity as the wood absorbs and releases moisture. 3XN has wrapped the building in vertically-oriented exterior louvers, that are partially interrupted to create a stair-like pattern of terraces across the facade—a design flourish that’s becoming increasingly common among office buildings. T3 Bayside is expected to welcome up to 3,000 tenants across a variety of coworking and community spaces, and flexibility was a major design driver. Double-height adjustable spaces that directly connect to the lobby, event and community spaces, more traditional offices, and communal “social” zones will all be mixed. From the renderings, it appears that T3 Bayside will also integrate parking on its second floor. A new plaza at the tower’s base will connect cafes, lobbies, exhibition and gallery spaces, and retail at T3 Bayside’s base with the larger Bayside development. 3XN hopes that by activating the ground-level, the design can lead visitors to the waterfront promenade along Lake Ontario. No estimated completion date or budget for the project have been released as of yet.
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The Hornet's Nest

Facades+ Charlotte will explore the growing dynamism of the Queen City
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Charlotte, North Carolina, is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, aided in part by the city's status as the nation's second-largest financial center after New York City. Thanks in part to a continually expanding light-rail system, entire corridors of the city have seemingly sprouted overnight, delivering thousands of residential units and dozens of significant commercial developments. On March 19, The Architect's Newspaper is bringing Facades+ to Charlotte for the first time to discuss the development and facade research being conducted in the city. Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, a local firm with an international presence, is co-chairing the event. Participants for the conference's symposium include Duda|Paine Architects, UNC Charlotte, NC State College of Design, MARC FORNES/THEVERYMANY, Northwood Ravin, BB+M Architecture, Perkins+Will, Crescent Communities, and Cousins Properties. In this interview with The Architect's Newspaper, Little Principal Eddie Portis, the conference co-chair, discusses the trends reshaping Charlotte and the work of Little within and outside the city. The Architect's Newspaper: Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing construction markets in the country. How is the current boom in development reshaping the Queen City?

Eddie Portis: Charlotte has been evolving toward an 18-hour city for several years and the current boom is accelerating this evolution. The improvements occurring within the Stonewall corridor are great examples of this. Over 4 million new square feet of office, hundreds of thousands of square feet of retail, including a Whole Foods grocery store, and countless new dwelling units are changing the fabric of our city.

AN: Can you expand on the above and focus on Uptown and corridors of transit-oriented development?

EP: We are experiencing the era of "convenience" as a result of the densification of our city’s core and the linear growth created by rail. When combined with our busing network, Uber, and even scooters, how we move through the city has undergone a massive, positive transformation. The way we can now move through the city is changing the way we shop, dine, work, and play. AN: What do you perceive to be the most exciting trends, be it in facade design or urbanistically, of this era of development? EP: I see a very positive trend in the downtown area as it relates to the public realm. There is a renewed focus on the ground plane and the involvement of buildings in our community. Large expansive office lobbies are giving way to more modestly-scaled lobbies so that more space can be created for retail of all shapes and sizes. The other factor we see, at least in office development, that is not a current trend but rather a constant pursuit, is daylight and views. The "fifth" facade—that from the view of the building occupant—has an incredible impact on our city. It creates eyes on the street and absorbs the energy of the city; it improves worker performance and enlightens our lives. AN: Little is one of the largest firms in the city. How are you embracing this moment and what novel enclosure practices are being used by your firm? EP: At Little, we encourage exploration and seek to implement breakthrough ideas. One way we do this is through our internal "ReThink" initiative. In this initiative, a team seeks to explore the latest thoughts in the industry and overlay those with design intent. This is demonstrated through a recent, winning design competition project where we worked with San Francisco State University to create a skin concept designed to capture water from the prevalent fog that helped allow for a net positive student housing facility. Another example is a design competition we recently completed through Metals magazine. Our "Living in the Wall" study demonstrated how the curtain wall can become more than a “line on a page," and instead become a multi-dimensional blur between people and the environment, technology, and humanity. Further information regarding Facades+ Charlotte may be found here.
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Man on a Mission

Mission Chinese's Brooklyn outpost is as psychedelic as the original
The Bushwick, Brooklyn, outpost of Danny Bowien’s San Francisco–born Mission Chinese Food opened recently. The new restaurant takes the borderline-psychedelic aesthetics of the downtown spot and restructures them, this time on a light-bright industrial grid in a space designed by Lauren Devine, Alex Gvojic, and Nikki Mirsaeid. The tubular lighting crossing the ceiling was designed by none other than Nitemind, the studio best known for adding effects to raves and tours of artists like Mitski and Kelela, as well as for their more permanent lights at venues like Bossa Nova Civic Club, also in Bushwick. The overhead LED tubes shift through a rainbow of colors, dousing the space in shades normally reserved for hours much later than dinnertime; fittingly, the restaurant is located in the same warehouse space as the club Elsewhere. There are also unusual lighting fixtures in the bathrooms—The Matrix–themed colored codes descend in obscure calculations down the mirrors—and above the bar, TVs lined up in a row play silent film clips of people dining alone. 599 Johnson Avenue Brooklyn, NY, 11237 (718) 628-3731 Lauren Devine, Alex Gvojic, and Nikki Mirsaeid