Search results for "affordable housing"

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Tatooine Vernacular

Kanye West is designing Star Wars–themed affordable housing
Not content with a sneaker empire, Kanye West has entered the affordable housing game with structures straight out of Star Wars. In a profile of the rapper-producer, designer, and business mogul, Forbes writer Zack O'Malley Greenburg described how West drove him to a wooded area near his home in Calabasas, California, to show him prototypes for igloo-like modular housing units that the author compared to what was found on Tatooine, Star Wars protagonist Luke Skywalker's home planet. While West didn't provide images of the top-secret structures, in the original Star Wars, Tatooine is a desert planet populated by humans and other settlers who live in groups of adobe huts with rounded roofs. In actuality, the movie was shot in the deserts of Tunisia, where George Lucas took inspiration from the country's vernacular architecture to build the structures and vehicles of Tatooine. West's minimalist concept models—there were three of them in the woods—will we deployed as low-income housing if the project moves forward. According to the article, West is hoping to lure deep-pocketed investors from San Francisco to bankroll construction but hasn't managed to land any yet. According to Greenburg, the homes resemble "the skeletons of wooden spaceships ... each oblong and dozens of feet tall." West said they could be dwelled in at-grade or submerged in the earth and daylit from up top. This isn't West's first foray into architecture or affordable housing design, and marks a notable departure from what he's shown in the past. Last year, he founded his own architecture studio, Yeezy Home (Yeezy is West's pseudonym), and soon after West and four collaborators revealed renderings of concrete-paneled affordable housing around a courtyard. The stark interiors are similar to the ones in the celebrity's own California home, designed in collaboration with Axel Vervoordt.    
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Turning The Tide

The first phase of DS+R's linear London park is now open to the public
The first phase of The Tide, London’s version of the High Line, officially opened to the public on Friday. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) in collaboration with London-based firm Neiheiser Argyros, the inaugural section of the linear park marks one-fifth of the overall three-mile-long landscape coming to the banks of the River Thames. As an outdoor cultural destination set in the city’s burgeoning creative district, Greenwich Peninsula, The Tide features what Kerri Sibson, director of the local development office, calls a “bold 3D landscape” that’s perfect for enjoying nature and absorbing art. “The Tide brings to London an unrivaled outdoor experience in the city,” Sibson said in a statement. “Most importantly, it’s a place for everyone.” When fully finished, the elevated and at-grade park will weave through and connect the seven different neighborhoods being constructed as part of the 150-acre Greenwich Peninsula district. This new urban enclave will boast architecture by Santiago Calatrava, C.F. Moeller, SOM, and SelgasCano, among others, and is currently being marketed as London’s emerging art and design community. The Tide is just one element that’s slated to attract future residents to the Peninsula over the next two decades as it is built. The mega-plan includes adding 15,000 new homes, nearly 4,000 affordable housing units, 13,000 new jobs, two new schools, and 48 acres of public green space to the formerly industrial zone—a move prompted by the area’s recent regeneration sparked by enhanced transit connections to downtown London. Though this level of development is substantially larger than what DS+R’s High Line has inspired in New York’s Chelsea, The Tide is actually a project that’s been envisioned ahead of future growth in the district, and of course, it’s being done from scratch. Unlike DS+R's seminal urban park project, the British iteration will be built in tandem with the buildings that will rise above and around it, while still making nature, art, and city views the focal point of the landscape. And it won’t necessarily be a tourist destination either, according to the architects, who have envisioned it as a source of respite for locals with ample programming for meditation, running, and waking. The first section of The Tide features curvaceous walkways that mirror the ebb and flow of the river, as well as terraces, and overlooks, all which are supported by 28 angular steel stems. Some parts of the park’s initial viewpoints feature support structures as tall as 29 feet high. The paths themselves also stand out with a striped pattern that doubles as a wayfinding tool, guiding visitors from one section to the next. Giant sculptures by Damien Hirst and Allen Jones already populate the introductory segment  The Tide’s above-ground routes act as canopies covering the plazas below, which DS+R used asphalt and granite Portuguese paving stones to surface. Edinburgh-based landscape studio GROSS.MAX designed a textured vision for the park’s many elevated and sunken gardens, of which phase one includes native birch and pine, waterside trees, seasonable bulbs, ornamental grasses, and sections of groundcover. All of the open spaces above, below, and within the park, including the jetty garden and a picnic area that boasts an 88-foot-long communal table, were intended to invite incoming locals to experience the city from the waterfront and create community through it. These activation areas make up a network for recreation, culture, and wellness. Benjamin Gilmartin, partner-in-charge of the project at DS+R, said The Tide aims to “embed a new public realm into the daily rhythms of Greenwich Peninsula” as it grows.  “Diverse programming along the way will act as islands that welcome the surges of commuters, visitors, cyclists, and runners,” Gilmartin said in a statement, “while also providing intimate places for pause contemplation, conversation, and people watching.”
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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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Chicago Chic

Chicago moves to modernize as city overhauls building codes
On April 10, under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago City Council approved an overhaul to the Chicago Building Code, the first update since 1949. This announcement has invigorated the local design, construction, and real estate industries as it brings the building code in line with national standards and promises greater affordability, sustainability, and innovation to modernize the city. It’s a big win for architects building in Chicago. A couple of major takeaways from the update:
  • A wider range of building materials will be allowed for construction,
  • New sprinkler system and seismic requirements will enhance safety,
  • Cost-effective construction of single-family homes will be incentivized,
  • There will be greater opportunities to convert existing basements and attics into livable space,
  • Additional flexibility for rehab work will be provided, encouraging the preservation of existing buildings,
  • The permitting process will be streamlined,
  • Newer methods and approaches to construct green buildings will be allowed, and,
  • The city will adopt International Building Code standards, making it easier to follow Chicago-specific code requirements.
Chicago’s code changes are meant to improve and encourage new building projects of all sizes by increasing affordability towards materials, construction, and even time spent in the permitting process. A clear emphasis has been placed on making residential projects more accessible and achievable, a potential boon for the real estate industry. It is evident in the city’s lack of new construction—single-family, two- and three-apartment housing typologies have slowly died-out in Chicago—that home renovations and historic rehabs have been difficult to achieve when abiding by Chicago’s existing code. Existing buildings that previously had no hope for a realistic update were felled either by demolition or vacancy, leading to even deeper issues around housing, safety, and social issues. Previously, if an owner added more than 25 percent to the building’s square footage, then the whole project had to comply with new construction building codes no matter if it were a single-family, neighborhood home, or downtown skyscraper. To alleviate such issues, the new code will offer more flexible requirements to differentiate between a project type and its appropriate needs. Moreover, the reduction of the minimum ceiling height requirement and added options to meet light and ventilation requirements will boost accessory dwelling units. Chicago’s need for a more cohesive, citywide strategy to approach affordable housing is more apparent than ever. These changes could attract more investment from the average Joe and developers as projects appear more achievable than resource-sucking and expensive. Within her first days of office, new Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot addressed Chicago’s development community with a strapping message: “Developers can no longer skip their responsibilities by taking tax dollars but leaving it to someone else to solve our affordable housing crisis.” With these code changes, it’s expected that more developers will take on affordable housing projects, a dire need in Chicago and most other cities. Still, developers will need to grapple with the political explosiveness that surrounds gentrification. Neighborhoods like Pilsen and Logan Square are known to fight new construction and developer-led projects, whereas others, such as Garfield Park, struggle to attract interest. The city has anticipated potential drawbacks with the new code and has allowed themselves flexibility in altering it as challenges arise. The overhaul will be gradually phased in, and the first phase is expected to be implemented in Fall 2019, with further phasing between December 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020. Read and download the full ordinance here.
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The Bigger Picture

Mapping Community unveils how public buildings get built in NYC
A new exhibition now on view at the Center for Architecture explains how money moves across New York’s public building sector. It’s a complex system that, if you’re not directly involved in it, can seem unnecessarily confusing and slow. Mapping Community: Public Investment in NYC demystifies how things like libraries, schools, and parks pop up, as well as the players behind them. Curated by Faith Rose, former executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission, and David Burney, professor of urban placemaking management at the Pratt Institute, the showcase walks viewers step-by-step through the process of capital planning. It’s spread out over two floors and utilizes a very clear and graphic layout so that the information is distilled to the audience in a digestible yet still visually distinctive manner.  “No one entity is responsible for the entire process, and even people deeply involved in one part aren’t always aware what the other pieces entail,” said Rose in a statement. “I don’t believe there has ever been an exhibition that tracks the mechanisms of capital planning from start to finish.”  There probably hasn’t.  That’s likely because New York City boasts one of the largest local government systems in the United States and its beast-of-a-procurement-process is less than transparent. But things are changing and this big-picture view of the “ecosystem of agencies” involved reveals the work it takes to make tangible improvements to the city. This knowledge, for better or for worse, arguably gives a viewer (or in this case, a local resident), the agency to insert themselves into the planning process and help shape their own neighborhood.  To communicate the complexity of the subject, the curators pieced together an in-depth look into one public project per borough, separated by typology, and detailed the planning process at the community level. One of those case studies centers on Essex Crossing, the massive, mixed-use development on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. A contentious construction project from the start, it was once an empty six-acre lot but now houses everything from luxury condos by SHoP Architects, to an affordable housing complex by Beyer Blinder Belle, a senior living community by Dattner Architects, and the newly-opened Essex Market.  This part of the exhibition tells the story of how Manhattan Community Board 3 and other local organizations fought over a series of negotiations with the NYC Economic Development Corporation, as well as the site’s developer, to get a new K-8 school in the program. Here, it explains why the Department of Education has currently decided not to move forward with building a new school. It also reveals how local needs in other areas can affect capital projects.  Whether it was the right thing to do or not, garnering this information allows locals and exhibition audiences to better understand how the 1.9-million-square-foot Essex Crossing has come to be, what its future may look like, and how they can have a say in that. According to Hayes Slade, 2019 AIANY President and principal of Slade Architecture, that’s the key to improving the city. “New Yorkers should feel empowered to be part of community-building,” she said, “and that is only possible if they are knowledgeable of the process.” Mapping Community will be on view through August 31. 
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Call To Action

The Architecture Lobby issues official statement on the Green New Deal
The Architecture Lobby (TAL) has come out in support of the Green New Deal, the sweeping piece of potential legislation that’s aiming to transform the U.S. economy and help combat climate change and economic inequality. In an official online statement, TAL called on architects, designers, and allies within similar disciplines to support the resolution through four points of action: by reforming practice, redefining resilience, reassessing technology, and re-empowering labor.  “In order to tackle decarbonization efforts more effectively, the way we work and the way the profession is structured must change,” TAL argued. “Architects must reject the current model of practice as a service profession responding rapidly to private capital... Architectural work for the Green New Deal must not become another conduit for accumulating wealth at the top.”  In other words, architects must look beyond design and at the bigger picture by becoming activists in the industry for smart and equitable collaborations that benefit all. TAL wrote that architects must also refuse to work with clients, manufacturers, or any company whose values “do not support a transformative redistribution of power.” This includes rejecting groups who utilize unfair labor practices, and holding government agencies accountable by both participating in civic processes and policy development, as well as demanding a uniform contact and fee schedule from municipalities. The principles outlined by TAL also encouraged architects to “advocate for carbon neutral affordable housing for all” and help configure new ways to finance such projects other than private development dollars. Additionally, architects must understand that, in the fight against climate change and social injustice, “technology is not neutral,” and it’s important to recognize the power structures behind its development.  In the same vein, TAL urged architects to recognize that advances in technology will inevitably change the way the built environment is designed and constructed, so it’s key to “be deliberate about automation in the profession” and make sure any jobs lost are replaced by reskilling, “so that solving one crisis does not cause another.” According to TAL, “there can be no sustainable world without sustainable labor practices.”   TAL’s statement on the Green New Deal comes months after the American Institute of Architects issued its support. Around that time, AN spoke with a handful of architects across the country to detail their reactions to the draft legislation and what goals they have for achieving a carbon-free economy, social equality, and more. For TAL’s full vision of architects’ role within the Green New Deal, read more here.
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Logging On

Sidewalk Labs unveils full Toronto waterfront master plan that's a timber-topia
The smart city is the king of go-to solutions for the problems that bedevil urban areas. At the moment, the concept—tech innovates those problems away!—is trending hard in Toronto thanks to the work of Sidewalk Labs, the Alphabet-owned company that dove face first into urban design a few years ago with a plan for a lakefront district in Ontario's capital. Now, that plan is a completed master plan, the foreground to any large development. The public got its first look at Sidewalk Labs' new neighborhoods yesterday when the company released a full run through of their finalized plans. Unlike New York's super-sleek Hudson Yards, a comparable "big development," there will be a forest's worth of wood buildings in this project.  The digital doorstopper runs 1,500 pages and is available here, but the basic premise is two new mega-developments, with the potential for more, will be built mostly from mass timber and kitted out with sensors and data collectors that will, its authors contend, make life more pleasant for Torontonians by providing affordable housing, non-car transit options, jobs, and economic development. The company will, for a substantial investment and cut of the profits, develop real estate, finance transit networks, provide management services to government, and deliver what it calls "advanced systems," the whiz-bang infrastructure that supports the building of Quayside and Villiers West. The computerized promise of better services has garnered a lot of attention. Trash-sweeping robots would displace nifty nabber trash grabbers. Sensors embedded in crosswalks could, for example, keep the walk sign on until a pedestrian is safely on the opposite curve. Google's business model relies on pawning off data advertisers, but in a media briefing, Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff claimed that the very valuable data Sidewalk Labs collects will be underpinned by the "strongest data and privacy regime for any urban data in the world." That protection was certainly absent for Google Nest Cam users, and government officials still have concerns over whether the company's policies will align with Canadian data security laws. Data gleaned in Toronto, Doctoroff noted, will be stored in a data bank and won't be shared with third parties without users' "explicit consent." While it's too soon to tell how that promise shakes out, there's plenty of information on the smart city's design and construction. Unlike 20th-century glass-and-steel corporate modernism that projected power and influence, Sidewalk Labs is turning to mass timber for 12 major buildings in the Quayside portion of the development. The showcase here is both structures by London's Heatherwick Studios, the eminent go-to firm for megadevelopers, and an $80 million vertical timber supply chain for those buildings that will extend from forests to an Ontario factory to fashionable city blocks. Doctoroff said his company is working with the Toronto buildings department to amend rules that cap timber building heights at six stories in order to build up to 30 stories tall. The developments will feature a standard of mixed-use towers, but about 70 percent of the project will be devoted to housing. Of these units, about 40 percent, or 1,700 units, will be rented below-market. "We expect to make money the way a normal real estate company would," said Doctoroff. Sidewalk Labs is investing over $680 million in what is projected to be a $2.9 billion development.  The credits list New York's Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) and Heatherwick Studio as the teams responsible for the master plan sketches and renderings, but Doctoroff said Canadian firms would be behind most of the projects to come. Along with Stantec, BBB gets top billing for design and engineering services, while Snøhetta who were tapped for design services back in February, is credited alongside Heatherwick and dozens of other firms for research and development.
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Upzone City

Seattle makes affordable housing mandatory in upzoned neighborhoods

Architects and developers building across much of Seattle will soon have to meet the city’s new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements, a set of rules passed with a spate of recent comprehensive zoning changes designed to ensure that “new commercial and multifamily residential development contributes [new] affordable housing.”

The MHA regulations were approved this spring and are expected to add over 6,000 new low-income housing units to the city’s housing stock over the next decade. The changes are part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Living Agenda, a three-pronged effort undertaken by city agencies several years ago to increase housing supply in order to stem escalating rents and property values across the thriving region. The fiercely contested changes in land use will allow for a greater level of residential density in many of the city’s neighborhoods and will ask builders to either include affordable housing on-site or pay into a general fund that can be used by city agencies to create new affordable housing in other areas.

The new regulations span five categories of development density, from low-rise detached and row house neighborhoods to taller mixed-use districts where buildings will be allowed to rise to a height of 95 feet or more. The efforts will upzone roughly 6 percent of the city’s single-family zones. Single-family zones ultimately make up over 80 percent of the city’s residential areas.

MHA regulations, according to planning documents provided by the City of Seattle, will be pegged to the degree of upzoning that takes place: Under the plan, areas that have been upzoned most significantly will be required to add a relatively higher proportion of new affordable housing. The required fees administered in lieu of on-site affordable housing construction will start at $5.58 per square foot for projects located in low-rise areas outside downtown Seattle and will go as high as $35.75 per square foot for larger mixed-use developments, according to city agencies.

The requirements will necessarily affect the work of architects designing buildings in these areas, but it is so far unclear exactly how.  The MHA requirements are set to go into effect immediately, as the city’s rezoning initiatives are approved on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.

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50/50 Chance

Stalled California housing bill could give architects chance to redesign the state’s cities
California needs 3.5 million housing units. That’s more housing units than currently exist in most states. This shortage—California ranks 49th in housing units per capita, ahead of only Utah—developed slowly but has metastasized into a true crisis, with housing costs rising to untenable levels for all but the most well-off Californians. In considering how and where to add a volume equivalent to all of Virginia, a key question is, what state—or, rather, what city—will those new units look like? Will they look like the tract homes of Phoenix? The row houses of Philadelphia? The high-rise apartments of New York City? The triple-deckers of Boston? The genteel mansions of Richmond? Or, perhaps worst of all, the mid-rises of Hollywood? The answers depend in large part on where new housing gets built. A recent bill in the California legislature almost provided the answer—almost. Senate Bill 50, sponsored by San Francisco–based State Senator Scott Wiener, would have mandated increased housing densities around major public transit lines and “jobs rich” areas throughout the state by requiring cities to permit multifamily buildings of up to five stories by right. Wiener contended that California needs more housing and that the best locations are those that enable residents to minimize commuting by personal automobiles. A relatively late amendment would have eliminated single-family zoning, permitting homeowners to build up to four units on any single-family lot, and limited the high-density provisions to counties of over 600,000 residents. California has always maintained a tense relationship with density, often failing to plan for it while suffering its ill effects all the same. SB 50 could be the catalyst to help the state abandon its suburban fetishes once and for all. An updated version of a bill that Wiener sponsored last year, SB 50 nearly made it out of the State Senate until Appropriations Committee Chair Anthony Portantino scuttled it with a procedural tactic, refusing to bring it to a vote in committee. The move put an abrupt end to what had arguably been the most heated debates over land-use legislation in state history. SB 50, like many other recent controversies related to development and housing in California, did not inspire neat loyalties. While its core support came from the increasingly influential YIMBY movements and core opposition came from homeowners, the politics were messy at best. Conservatives could love its relaxation of regulations but hate its emphasis on dense urbanism. Liberals were more intensely fractured. SB 50 appealed to values of inclusion and of progressivism, be they socioeconomic or aesthetic. For some, the bill served the cause of equity simply by potentially creating more housing. Other liberals saw it differently. Advocates of social justice feared SB 50 would empower capitalist developers while displacing and disenfranchising vulnerable populations through eviction and demolition. Older liberal activists, especially in suburban areas, put their economic interests first, recoiling from the prospect that increased housing supply might depress their property values. Many of them protested SB 50’s potential to interfere with “neighborhood character.” (Wiener’s antagonist Portantino represents La Cañada Flintridge, a comfortable suburb north of downtown Los Angeles.) Institutionally, the League of California Cities and many city councils statewide condemned SB 50 for trampling on “local control,” asserting that land use decisions have always belonged to municipalities and municipalities alone. Many mayors, however, including those of Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose, praised SB 50 for giving cities a new opportunity to ease their housing crisis—and to do so equitably statewide, forcing housing-phobic cities to approve their fair share of housing rather than ignore demand and dodge their obligations in the name of municipal sovereignty. By some accounts, a full 97 percent of California cities failed to meet their state-mandated housing goals in 2018. The California chapter of the American Planning Association controversially opposed SB 50, citing concerns about technical aspects of the bill’s language, even though many of its more progressive members favored it. Chapters of the American Institute of Architects did not take a position on it. Design rarely factored into these discussions explicitly, but its influence cannot be overlooked. Fears about changes to “neighborhood character” often accompany prejudices about “undesirable” racial or socioeconomic groups. They also refer to lousy design. Many homeowners recoiled against SB 50 out of fear that modest cottages might be overshadowed by a new triplex next door or crowded by the addition of an accessory dwelling unit. Urban activists took aim at even bigger targets. Opponents of growth in Los Angeles in particular have long railed against what they consider oversized, ugly, and excessively capitalistic apartment buildings. Such enormities often occupy full city blocks and rise five or six stories, with wood framing above one-story concrete bases. They have been the mainstay of Hollywood’s decade-long growth spurt and have arisen in many other moderately dense neighborhoods around the state. Revulsion is, often, completely justified. Large but underwhelming, and expensive but unrefined, such developments have poor detailing, clunky dimensions, and, often, antagonistic relationships with the street. They have neither humor nor grace nor character, and they succeed at one thing and one thing only: housing many people. Typically, those people are well off—or at least are pretending to be. While California’s housing crisis has many causes, it’s not unreasonable to say that lousy design is one of them, and it’s not unreasonable for opponents of SB 50 to make apocalyptic predictions about aesthetics. This is the backdrop against which architects should contemplate the revival of SB 50. Wiener has pledged to bring it back next year, and the appetite for major housing legislation remains fierce—before long, some version of SB 50 will pass, and the opportunities for architects and architecture will be profound. The quality of design that follows the passage of the next version of SB 50 will, without exaggeration, determine the look, feel, and function of California cities for at least the next generation. Many opponents of SB 50 criticize it as a "giveaway" to capitalist developers. If architects are to support the next version of SB 50, they should want to be seen as stewards, not opportunists. Upzoning around transit stops will create entirely new transit-oriented neighborhoods. Places that currently consist of park-and-ride lots and single-family homes will rise to five and six stories, with less parking than most zoning codes currently mandate. That’s like taking a cookie cutter to San Francisco’s Mission District or Los Angeles’s Koreatown and depositing the result in bedroom communities and office parks. Of course, California has hundreds of major transit stops and jobs centers (over 200 light- and heavy-rail stations alone), and the whole point of SB 50 is to distribute development statewide so that neighborhoods grow gradually. Even so, some places will be transformed sooner rather than later. In a state where many residents are mortally afraid of density, the choices that architects make will determine whether the new urban California is a dream or a nightmare—they can stumble into the latest versions of capitalist postmodern, or they can reflect on everything we have learned about the benefits of density. Designs have to be thoughtful, attractive, and socially conscious. They have to celebrate density, enhance the public realm, and give California cities a sense of style and character that they have lacked for decades. (Likewise, cities’ design guidelines and review boards will have to get savvier.) If SB 50’s single-family home provision survives (which seems unlikely), it will create a bonanza for residential architects. They will get to re-learn the art of the duplex, triplex, and quadplex—typologies that used to be common in California but have been all but extinct since the Truman administration. But new homes must not realize neighbors’ worst nightmares. They must not loom over their predecessors. They must not be large for largeness’s sake. In short, they must treat neighbors as clients. Whatever lawmakers intend for SB 50, the public will render its final judgment according to how architects seize the moment. Whether they like it or not, architects bear the final responsibility to fulfill the public trust. Of course, the real beauty of SB 50—if it comes to pass and if it works as intended—will be invisible. That will be the opportunity to craft affordable and humane housing for hundreds of thousands Californians.
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House of AOC

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helps launch green affordable housing complex in Queens
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was on hand at the opening of a new 67-unit senior housing complex in Corona, Queens—the first affordable housing to be built in the neighborhood in 30 years. In close alignment with the representative's leadership on climate change initiatives like the Green New Deal, the $36 million affordable development is also one of the largest low-income senior housing projects in the country to meet Passive House standards for energy consumption, according to a statement by New York City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). The 8-story senior housing project at 54-17 101st Street was designed by New York–based THINK! Architecture and Design and developed in a partnership between HANAC—the Hellenic American Neighborhood Action Committee—a community organization, and affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners. All 67 units, a mix of 1-bedrooms and studios, are set aside for low-income seniors, with 21 units expressly dedicated to formerly homeless seniors. In addition, the project is a mixed-use development, with a preschool in the building that will serve 60 children and will be administered by the New York City School Construction Authority. Constructing the building 8 stories tall was needed to make the project financially feasible, and required rezoning. But because it is located in a largely low-rise neighborhood of two- to three-story buildings, the architects used a number of strategies to make the project seem less imposing. THINK! broke up the facade into "townhouse-like scales," using different planes and layering materials, window patterns, and colors to vary the surface, according to Jack Esterson, principal at THINK! and the lead architect of the project. The building was also designed so that an upper layer of floors is set back above the first four stories, with a transparent band of windows separating the two layers and making the upper level appear to float above the lower level. This level of windows also fronts an outdoor terrace for residents that connects to the lounge and laundry room. The Corona Senior Residence, as the complex is called, is one of the concrete outcomes of the Willets Point Community Benefits Agreement, a part of the negotiations over the controversial Willets Point Development Plan led by developers Related Companies and Sterling Equities. Funding for the project came from the city, including HPD, the City Council, city subsidies, the Queens borough president's office, Chase, and the low-income housing tax credit, among other sources. "Affordable housing is critical for our most vulnerable New Yorkers, especially our seniors. I am proud to support an organization that strives to provide community-centered, innovative, energy efficient housing," Representative Ocasio-Cortez said at the opening. "With a pre-K on the ground floor and additional programs and services, this is precisely the kind of development our borough needs. I am thrilled to join HANAC on this important occasion as we fight to keep Queens affordable for all." As the representative added on Twitter, "Today was a great example of what can be accomplished w/ a !"
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Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

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Decks (over) and Yards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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