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Sullivan-Thompson

Downtown Manhattan could be getting another historic district
The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) today voted to calendar and move forward on the creation of the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District, the third and final phase of a proposed South Village Historic District. The new district, which has been a goal of preservationists for a decade, would be bounded by Houston Street to the north, Watts Street to the south, 6th Avenue to the west, and Thompson Street to the east, abutting the Soho Cast Iron Historic District extension. 60 percent of the building stock in the neighborhood was built before 1840. The collection of rowhouses and tenements includes many early examples of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Beaux-Arts styles. It is not your everyday proposed historic district, however. It is connected to the controversy surrounding the proposed rezoning of the St. John’s Terminal site at 550 Washington St., which many in the neighborhood have been opposed to due to its scale and proximity to the South Village neighborhood. This is exacerbated by the New York State Legislature’s approval of 1.3 million square feet of air rights/FAR that could end up being bought and used for parcels in the nearby neighborhood that the new historic district would protect, and in fact, according to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), “in recent years developers like Donald Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner has [sic] bought properties in the neighborhood such as 156 Sullivan Street, formerly the home of beloved neighborhood institution Joe’s Dairy.” The St. John’s terminal project continues to be controversial, as it still needs approval from City Council, a process that could take a while. The project has raised concerns in the community and is still evolving. The GVSHP, with the support of CB2 and councilmember Corey Johnson, is using the creation of the Sullivan-Thompson Historic District as part of a list of demands that Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital Group, the developers of 550 Washington St., should meet if they want to develop the proposal at St. John’s Terminal. According to Johnson’s office, the list includes a call for real public open space, public community facilities, more financial support for the pier, significant pedestrian safety measures and traffic mitigation for Hudson Square, and limits on the size of retail at the new development, which has already been reduced when the City Planning Commission removed the “big box” stores from the plan. The St. John’s Terminal project is being considered in a public hearing today, where the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will weigh in on the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which is required for a rezoning of the Washington Street site in order to make it residential. Westfield wants to purchase air rights from Pier 40 for the site across the street and get a new zoning designation in order to build residential. The next step for the historic district will be an LPC public hearing which will be on November 29, and will likely be voted on in December.
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Manhattan Transfer

Hudson River Park/Pier 40 deal reveals the tangled web of calculated collusion that shapes NYC
“Follow the money” is the immortal, if apocryphal, phrase uttered by Deep Throat, offering the key to unlocking the mysteries of Watergate. Understanding cities requires similar forensics. Urban morphology maps the flow of cash with concrete precision and the New York skyline is a literal bar graph of investment and return. The manufacture of real estate (what some quaintly refer to as “architecture”) is our leading industry and the art of the deal the epicenter of our creativity. Money not only talks, it designs and “planning” in most American cities is almost entirely devoted to refining the process of spatial arbitrage. There’s a project underway on the Manhattan waterfront that spins this tangled web with a remarkable combination of clarity and opacity, exposing the freakish calculated collusion of intentions and outcomes that shapes the city. The story begins in September 1985, when the death knell was sounded for Westway, a lunatic land manufacturing scheme to shove the Manhattan shoreline four hundred feet into the Hudson all the way from 40th Street to the Battery. Beneath this massive fill was to have been embedded an Interstate—the most expensive per mile ever constructed—replacing the terminally rusted West Side Highway. Planners were looking for the most extravagant scheme possible and were strongly supported by public officials (including Rockefeller, Koch, Cuomo the Elder, and Moynihan), the development community, and the construction unions. Visionary rhetoric and seductive greensward images notwithstanding, it was all about the money: The Feds would have picked up 90% of the $2.1 billion ($10 billion in today’s dollars) price-tag and the resulting 220 acres of new real estate—100 for a park and the rest a free-fire development zone—and would have been the most spectacular piece of physical fiscalization in the city’s history. But if the magnitude was singularly impressive, the impetus was widely shared. Cities all over the country had been committing urban suicide—ramming highways through their yielding tissues (often of color)—to get their hands on that government cash and New York—cresting in the Robert Moses era—had been an absolute champ. Westway was opposed by a coalition of environmentalists, mass transit advocates, community activists, and progressive pols but was finally killed by a Federal court ruling that its sponsors had failed to consider the landfill’s potentially adverse impact on the Hudson’s striped bass population. This narrowly-decided opinion nevertheless proved a turning point in the urban highway wars: In its aftermath, Bella Abzug–sponsored legislation allowed a trade-in of highway money for mass transit (to the great benefit of our subways, busses, and pedestrians) and other cities—from San Francisco to Seattle—began tearing down the waterfront highways, a continuing trend. Today, instead of Westway, we have a surface “boulevard” that—if billions cheaper, tree-lined, and lit by ornamental luminaires—is still too much of a surrender of this precious edge to traffic. Along the road’s waterside, though, runs the lovely, if incomplete, Hudson River Park which—while far from big enough to meet demand— offers great pleasures as it struggles towards durability and completion. Instrumentally, the park both reproduces and inverts the Westway principle. Westway proposed to use public funds simultaneously for public benefit (a highway and a park) and to create opportunities for the accumulation of private wealth, which would, in theory, yield further public return in the form of income from land sales and real estate taxes. The current park, on the other hand, although built substantially with public funds for public use, is not exactly a public work, inasmuch as it is obliged to finance its own future by directly attracting private capital. This parlous paradigm of the “public-private partnership” has, in our Republican age, become the default strategy for “public” development and has deeply embedded the culture of the trade-off (literal pay to play in the case of the park) in our civic life. The genius of progressive taxation for “general revenue” is that, in theory, it embodies that equitable proposition, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” If the U.S. system is wildly distorted on both collection and distribution sides, ability and need are nominally meant to be determined democratically. Unfortunately, when democracy lurches towards plutocracy, the distortions on both ends grow to the inevitable detriment of public needs. As the system becomes more and more regressive, the question of public benefit is increasingly situated in the elective territory of philanthropy—optional altruism—rather than collective responsibility. A tax code designed to favor private fortunes (with the corollary commonweal reliant on trickle-down) begs the question of their public disposition: ceding this to individual interest, itself answerable to charity, guilt, avarice, deductibilty, and political power in varying degrees, depending on whether the fortune belongs to the Koch Brothers, Bill Gates, Andrew Carnegie, sundry Rockefellers and Fords, or the Clinton Foundation. The demonization of shared—“redistributed”—wealth is a trope as abiding as it is rank: one reason that Bernie was ultimately unsuccessful is our generalized hostility to high-tax. Scandinavian-style “welfare states” (every citizen a welfare king or queen!) and the sapping canard of the individual initiative-killing effects of “hand-outs” from big nanny. Even in “liberal” New York, we’ve long since internalized Trumpism as policy: Everything’s a deal. “Return” on public investment must not simply be quantifiable (gross municipal happiness anyone?) but literally monetized. This calculus undergirds the arcane systems of swaps and bonuses that radically territorialize and delimit our practices of urban planning and improvement, with the result that we now insist that virtually every public enterprise (save, of course, warfare—although Trump’s neo-imperialist, spoils-to-the-victor, proposals might bring this too under the umbrella of self-finance) demonstrably pay for itself. Thus, instead of public construction of housing we have inclusionary zoning, instead of public education we have charter schools and rising college tuition, and instead of public healthcare we have the confusions and insufficiencies of a rapacious marketplace. And, littering New York, we have those oxymoronic POPS—“privately owned public spaces”—a sad archipelago of plazas and lobbies (Trump Tower’s among them!), purchased in a currency of lost light, air, revenue, equity, and pride. Any trade begs the question of who gets the better of it. Are the view-blocking luxury apartments now built in its midst too high a price for the excellent Brooklyn Bridge Park? The conundrum lies less in the answer than the question, with its predicate in a fragmented, discontinuous, idea of public space. Its further, and all too legible, implication is that the location and quality of such spaces depend on their realization in places where they can graft values from already successful environments. Precisely because the investment is both self-serving and easily recouped in a rising gyre of adjoining real estate prices, private money pours into Central Park, those condos rise in Brooklyn, the High-Line flourishes, and Barry Diller wants to build a Fantasy Island on piles in the Hudson—just beyond the window his office—in the “undeveloped” waters between the piers of the park. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, Hudson River Park is administered by a trust, a legal arrangement in which someone’s property—in this case New York City’s and New York State’s—is managed by someone else. The Hudson River Park Trust was created by the State Legislature in 1998—during the Pataki administration—and is nominally controlled by a thirteen-member board of directors, five appointed by the Governor, five by the Mayor, and three by the Manhattan Borough President. The Trust’s board, however, is backed by another larger and perhaps more important one: the self-perpetuating “Friends of Hudson River Park,” charged with fund-raising for on-going construction and maintenance and largely comprised of investment bankers and real estate types (as well as—for cultural leavening—Martha Stewart and David Chang, of Momofuku fame). Both boards are dominated by Madelyn Wils, the Trust’s President and CEO since 2011, a shrewd and well-connected operative with long executive service on the city’s Economic Development Corporation, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, and—as Chairman—Community Board One, in lower Manhattan. It has fallen to Wils to deal with fact that the park, legally obliged by the terms of the trust to self-finance, is stone-broke. Her duties thus include not simply supervising the operation of the park but, most crucially, fulfilling the Trust’s mandate to “ensure the park’s future financial self-sufficiency by developing the remaining commercial nodes.” These “nodes” include both the actively commercial piers under its control (the Chelsea Piers sports complex, the New York Waterway ferry terminal, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, etc.) as well as the unrealized potential of other undeveloped piers (or deals for new ones like Diller’s island). Its largest such asset is the fifteen-acre Pier 40, former terminus of the Holland America line, which occupies a charismatic spot between Greenwich Village and Tribeca, west of burgeoning “Hudson Square,” an area recently rebranded and rezoned to incite development and supersede its industrial past by attracting “creative” and tech uses, luxury housing, and a froth of Portland-sur-Hudson amenities to go with. Pier 40 currently accounts for approximately 30% of the Trust’s revenue—mainly from parking nearly 2,000 cars (a truly idiotic use for one the city’s most wonderful sites)—but is crumbling and urgently needs extensive rehabilitation. It’s best known by locals for holding several large—and much beloved—playing fields in an area that is one of the most underserved with recreational space in the city. Cash must somehow be milked from this alpha cow. Thus, on her arrival, Wils and Board Chair Diana Taylor took control of the then moribund “friends,” loading it with wealthy donors. This move was not without turbulence, including the 2012 purge of uber-developer Douglas Durst (who did not go quietly), nominally over a fight about the Trust’s intention to build housing on Pier 40, which Durst thought might be more profitably exploited by something more commercial. Indeed, over the years, a variety of contentious schemes for the pier have been mooted, including construction of offices, housing, shopping malls, theme parks, a permanent home for Cirque du Soleil, more parking, the expansion of NYU, and other not-exactly-park-like uses. However, this being New York, the pier also offers possible monetization through the sale of its very lack of development: by cashing in on its air rights. The main impediment to this has been that New York’s air rights regulations restrict their transfer to another site within a single block or zoning lot, technically obliging the pier’s rights to be fully exploited on the pier itself. Re-enter the State Legislature. In 2013, the Hudson River Park Act was amended to permit the transfer of the park’s air rights (in toto around 1.5 million square feet) to “receiving sites” within a zone a block deep on the other side of West Street, the park’s landside boundary, running from 59th Street to Canal Street. This amendment was crucial both in establishing the park’s most potentially lucrative revenue stream and in enabling a particular deal already in the works between the Trust, the city, the state, and a consortium of developers (one of whom—Michael Novogratz—who subsequently and profitably sold his share—just happened to be the chair of the park’s “friends”): the transfer of 200,000 square feet of development rights to a site directly across West Street, now occupied by the ginormous, three-block-long, St. John’s Terminal Building, erstwhile end-point of the High Line (and, interestingly enough, with Bloomberg LC its major tenant). Throughout this multi-party negotiation, the key intermediary was the PR firm of James Capalino. Capalino is a long-time donor, fundraiser, bundler, and pal to Bill de Blasio who, in 2015, somehow made more money ($12.9 million) than any other lobbyist representing clients to the city. Capalino’s much in the news these days, implicated as the fixer in the lifting, by the city, of a deed restriction on the (now former) Rivington House AIDS Nursing Home on the Lower East Side, allowing it to be converted to upmarket condos. Capalino represented the building’s owner—VillageCare, a non-profit—which sold the building to the Allure Group, a for-profit nursing home company, which, with the restriction lifted, flipped the building to the Slate Property Group, realizing (per The Wall Street Journal), a profit of a cool $72 million. Capalino now works for the Chinese developer Dalian Wanda, itself a partner of China Vanke, part of the consortium that bought Rivington. At the end of August, de Blasio—although claiming to know nothing about the deed deal approved by his administration—cut his erstwhile fundraiser loose: “I have not been in touch with Mr. Capalino….I do not have contact with him anymore.” According to a timeline put together by the excellent Danielle Tcholakian of DNAinfo, Capalino e-mailed First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris in late January 2014 (just after the mayor’s inauguration) with a copy to Carl Weisbrod, who was himself appointed Commissioner of City Planning a week later! The e-mail: “Tony, for the past twelve months, my firm has been working with Madelyn Wils on a proposal to secure a $100 million contribution by our client, Atlas Capital, to the Hudson River Park Trust to fund the cost of rehabilitation/stabilizing Pier 40 for continued recreational use. We are in discussions to have the residential project over St. John’s Terminal become an ESD (Empire State Development) project through a State sponsored general project plan.” In fact, the Trust, the ESD, and the developer had already inked a secret Memorandum of Understanding in December of 2013 that fixed the scale of the project and the $100 million price for the enabling air rights. According to Crain’s, this had been signed-off on during the waning days of the Bloomberg administration by Robert Steel, the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development. Bloomberg (as well as Wils and Weisbrod) apparently also supported the use of the “general project plan” to be overseen by the ESD, a process which the developer was eagerly seeking (via copious lobbying by Capolino’s firm) as a means of circumventing the city’s more rigorous Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), an end-run the developer believed could save many years (and bucks) in obtaining approvals. Negotiations between the state, city, Trust, and developer—lubricated by the continuing ministrations of Capalino—were proceeding briskly in camera until May of 2015 when the secret MOU became public. Consternation from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (“Shocked is an understatement for how we all felt”), Assembly Member Deborah Glick (a leader in the fight against building housing on the pier itself but also an original sponsor of the Albany transfer legislation, believing it the only hope for saving the pier), the media, and the public, resulted in an about-face by the de Blasio administration—with the immediate agreement of the developer (who clearly knew who his friends were)—to renounce the MOU and the General Project Plan route and to go through ULURP. ULURP—now nearing its conclusion—runs a statutory 200 days from the submission of the developer’s plans and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). During ULURP, these are reviewed, successively, by the affected Community Board (CB2), the Borough President, the City Planning Commission (which is obliged to hold a public hearing and did so on August 26), by the City Council (which may hold a public hearing), and finally by the Mayor. The Community Board and the Borough President are authorized to make recommendations (including rejection) but these are entirely non-binding. The Planning Commission, the Council, and the Mayor have actual power but, in the case of this project, the Planning Commissioner, the ambitious local Council Member, Corey Johnson (who now has great power over the endgame), and the Mayor have long since come out in strong support of the deal and it’s unclear whether push-back from CB2, Borough President Brewer, a few members of the Planning Commission, and many in the community (including the energetic Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation which has been trying hard to use the deal to leverage its own struggle to preserve a large swathe of Greenwich Village just north of the site) will materially affect the final outcome. Indeed, their concerns had little impact on the Planning Commission which, on October 17, voted to approve the project without substantial modification. Since the proposed development departs radically from the site’s existing zoning, the Department of City Planning (a government agency that reports to the politically appointed City Planning Commission) prepared a revised zoning map to define a “Hudson River Park Special District” that could receive—and advantageously use—the transfer by greatly increasing allowable bulk, changing designated uses, permitting additional parking, and building in exceptions to the “contextual” strictures that govern the scale and character of construction nearby, including those revised to create the Hudson Square Special District a block away. The parameters of the new receiving site, to the administration’s credit, would also bring the project under the Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning regime, which obliges the developer to provide a meaningful percentage of affordable housing in the mix but which also further ups the site’s permissible bulk. The end-point of ULURP is approval, rejection, or modification of these zoning changes, which—if passed—will provide the legal space for the deal to be consummated. And the project? Its design is a particularly ripe variation on the “form follows finance” mentality at the core of the way New York City plans and is larded with bluff (a big box store, vast amounts of parking, extremely tall towers, and a truly grotesque “as of right” alternative scheme (a standard-issue developer threat that could be built without special approvals should this deal come a cropper). The plans have been skillfully reverse-engineered from the Trust’s primary imperative to realize the $100 million from the deal and are driven by its better-get-it-done-now recognition that public resistance to any further transfers into CB2 will be strenuously opposed, ditto possible transfers to other communities elsewhere along the waterfront. Indeed, recent push-back to the plan from CB2 and the Borough President has specifically demanded that transfers from the park to the adjacent neighborhood be strictly capped at 200,000 feet. Architecturally, the plan (albeit the work of good architects) is a bad one, both in its general outlines and in its particulars. Most strikingly wrong is the almost complete disconnection of the special district—on which would rise by far the largest project ever constructed in CB2—from its surroundings (including Pier 40 itself) and its total failure to anticipate and conduce to future changes, including the much-wished restoration of the street grid obliterated by the St. John’s Building and by the equally long, single-story, UPS facility running parallel in the blocks behind it. The vigorous development taking place on all sides (as well as future advances in logistics technology) will eventually create pressures on UPS (and nearby FEDEX) and provision should surely be made to restore the streets now erased, and to think about—to plan for—what will happen on these newly created blocks, including parks and schools. The plan placed on the table was clearly an opening gambit, stuffed with calculatedly negative capability in the form of too much stuff but also with a series of artful deficits that might open avenues for more positive demonstrations of cooperation. For example, the public space component is, by the developer’s own arithmetic, so sparse that the project will produce a net decrease in local public space per capita. The DEIS is also deeply suspect and blithely concludes that this humongous erection will have virtually no seriously adverse impacts on traffic, solar access, public services, and other critical infrastructure. Equally irresponsible is the developer’s long-standing resistance to including a school to serve the kids among the thousands of new residents. Finally, the plan is non-committal about its internal distribution of the mandatory affordable dwellings (as well as the actual degree of their affordability), although it appears they’re going to be primarily small units for seniors and concentrated in a single building, facing the UPS garage (the presentation package—full of street level perspectives rendered to obscure the mammoth bulk of the buildings looming out of frame—disingenuously depicts a rare apartment at the back of the building with a water view through a wee gap in the surrounding condos). All of these issues might be addressed in a revised proposal and both CB2 and Borough President Brewer have demanded a number of adjustments. But there’s a sad, deckchairs on the Titanic, quality to even the strongest of these, which, in the end, fall for the plan’s artful misdirection. The salient, undeniable, fact is that the project is vastly over-scaled. The tallest of its towers—at 420 feet—is three times the height of the surrounding built texture and certain to have a deeply deleterious and distorting impact on the neighborhood that it and its companions will overwhelm. The complex will also irrevocably alter the profile and rhythm of the Hudson riverfront as a whole, a contemptuous interruption in a continuous—and historic—low to mid-rise skyline that now stretches uninterrupted from Chelsea to Tribeca. An authentically “contextual” solution would simply extend the scale of the existing street wall, which tops out at around fifteen stories. Urbanistically speaking, this is clearly the right way to go. In the report issued by her office, Brewer tellingly—if somewhat wistfully—observes that, given the city’s reliance on private development for the direct financing of public facilities, “the developer has a private interest that is paramount to any public interest.” Yes, and? Alas, no public body or official seems willing to walk away from the specific public return on this expression of private interests: the $100 million for Pier 40 repairs, the “up to” 476 units of affordable housing, the now rejected curb on further bulk transfers into CB2’s backyard, and support for land-marking the nearby South Village, a decision that rests with another, nominally independent, agency. As the negotiations enter their end-game, a variety of predictable gambits are being played. Westbrook Partners, the majority stakeholder (Atlas still holds a minority share), has just let it be known that it’s “rethinking” the project because of a weakening in the residential market and might be forced to revert to a purely commercial, as-of-right, scheme. More, Crain’s reports that Westbrook is actively looking for an equity partner for the site, which both suggestively reinforces the threat to abandon residential use entirely and almost certainly reveals the real plan beneath the plan: to get approvals for the maximum project and then flip the whole thing and walk away with the cash. The public-private daisy chain keeps yielding moments of delirious, if nauseating, irony. The City Planning Commission (Chairman, Carl Weisbrod) held a hearing on September 19, during which a few minutes were devoted to listening to the responses of the City Planning Department (Director, Carl Weisbrod) to questions raised about the project at their August meeting. A visibly nervous planner from the Department was obliged to present her answers to a body presided over by her boss, the man who had been most instrumental in structuring the deal now under review! And, while we’re still in ironic mode, there’s another I find especially hard to overlook: The projected cost of Barry Diller’s little entertainment island has now reached $200 million. The design (by Thomas Heatherwick) is tasty enough but the money would surely be better spent (and the island’s entertainment program easily accommodated without displacing the ball fields) were it to be used on Pier 40—100 million for repairs, 100 for theaters and trees. And, Diller would have an irresistible counter to Doug Durst, who has been biliously bank-rolling lawsuits to thwart Barry’s plans, out of some truly pathetic billionaire pique. I make this suggestion seriously as one of a number of ways to manage and coordinate both direct investment in the park and the sale and use its air rights. Another would be to expand the Hudson River Park Special District to encompass Hudson Square (and the UPS site which will surely be transformed at some point) and to radically disaggregate the 200,000 square feet into much smaller increments that could be added as a series of bonuses to the on-going wave on construction in the area. Yet another would simply be to gerrymander a 1.5 million square foot skyscraper (or add just a few additional stories to several already proposed) into the thicket of towers under construction in Hudson Yards further uptown, an area already given over to large-scale building and one that has a huge underbuilt perimeter (including the Javits Center) into which even these enormous numbers could easily be made to disappear. Our representatives should steel themselves and fight for the big picture, for something much better than this too-many-eggs in one basket contrivance. The project is far, far, too big for the bearing capacity and character of its site and nibbling at the edges of the design—reducing parking, slightly shrinking a tower, 86-ing the big box that everyone knows is only there to disappear, redistributing bulk a bit, getting a few more affordable units, adding a wee plaza at grade—will make little real difference. If public money cannot be made available for maintaining the public park (or housing the poor), the question of the fungibility of air rights—if that is to be the Trust’s primary asset—must be regulated with much greater invention and subtlety: Having crossed the West Street Rubicon, there’s no reason this conjured property “right” cannot be more broadly and appropriately distributed. Indeed, the question of the creation and deployment of these rights lies at the very core of the way in which we define public space. It’s our air, after all! The complete failure of the DCP, the Trust, or any other public (or quasi-public) body to formulate a rigorous, sustainable, and beautiful plan for this part of town is simply dereliction. Not simply have they acquiesced in a completely barse-ackwards mode of defining and financing genuine and general public interests and slighted a truly collective—and expansive—vision of community needs, benefits, rights and desires, their “spot” planning mentality totally ignores a truly mammoth elephant the stalks the room: the inevitability of sea level rise that will almost certainly inundate this low-lying place, piers, special districts, underground parking, twee little shops, and all. While our public servants blithely order another cup of bouillon, an iceberg looms on the horizon. Time to change course! It’s not too late! While the City Planning Commission has voted to approve the plan almost entirely as originally presented, the Council (which tends to defer to the local member) and the Mayor can still intervene, although de Blasio in unlikely to oppose a creature he was so instrumental in stitching together. The Commission altered the scheme only in cosmetic or predictable ways: the Big Box is now gone as are the “public” bridges over Houston Street. The developer has also agreed to provide 10,000 square feet of subterranean recreational space that would be publicly “available” on unspecified terms. A little more open space is to be squeezed in at grade. However, no modification of the project footprint was demanded to reconnect the street grid, no guarantees were offered about a cap on transfers into CB2, no reduction was made in height, and nothing was said about the larger context of the project, including the form and use of Pier 40 or the character of the extended neighborhood. As part of the deal, however, the South Village Historic District has been placed on the Landmarks Commission’s agenda at its regular November 1 meeting for a vote to “calendar” it, launching a process of hearings, deliberations, and possible designation that can last as long as two years. It’s likely to be fewer as the professional staff at Landmarks is expected to offer a strongly favorable recommendation to the Commissioners. Although the precise manner by which the exquisite timing came about remains murky, the agreement to hear the case was surely the result of strong—and long—advocacy by the Greenwich Village Historic Society (GVSHP), CB2, Councilperson Johnson (who now holds a great many cards), and others, and Andrew Berman, the energetic Director of GVSHP (with Johnson’s apparent support) has threatened to fight to derail the project should the South Village landmarking fail to go forward. Courage to them both! And to those who are opposed to dumping any further FAR into CB2 and to all who advocate for more public space, affordable housing, and rational planning. Yet, whatever the outcome of the landmarking gambit, the fundamental contradiction at the heart of both project and process looms huge, both literally and conceptually. I’ve met virtually nobody with a non-financial stake in the new building who supports it as a piece of architecture or planning, simply as the formal resultant of a negotiation for something else. This is the heart of the deal, the inevitability that there will be winners and losers. The developer wants to build a gigantic project and has surely calculated its return with precision, using a knowable metric of profit. The city—in all its roots and branches—is obliged to a far more notional heuristic for determining the cost of our benefit. Would it be a good deal if it only produced the hundred million for the pier? The hundred million plus the affordable housing? Pile repair and housing plus the South Village Historic District? Should the developer be offered another 100,000 square feet to build a school? To decrease the building footprint by going higher still? That we have tipped so far to inducement rather than obligation as a planning strategy is a tragic, indeed Trumpian, marker of the decay of the commons. This collusive failure of imagination, responsibility, and democracy is staggering, if all too typical. Time to demand a vision that grows from our shared “right to the city”, planning that looks beyond a contracting, bottom-line, approach to the possible and sees our architecture not simply as an outcome but an aspiration. No deal!
Michael Sorkin is the President of Terreform, the Principal of the Michael Sorkin Studio, Distinguished Professor of Architecture and Director of the Graduate Program in Urban Design at CCNY. A planning and architectural study of this site has been prepared by Terreform and may be downloaded from its website. Comments are greatly welcome.
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The Ashland

New renderings revealed for FXFOWLE’s luxury Fort Greene apartments
Construction is wrapping up on the The Ashland, a 53-story mixed-use skyscraper in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In anticipation, the building's website has launched ahead of the July 19 opening of its leasing office. The tower has a total of 586 units, about half of which were opened to applications through the city’s affordable housing lottery. The tower was designed by FXFOWLE, with interiors by SPAN Architecture. According to 6sqft, the units will range in price from $2600 per month for a studio to $7500 per month for a 3-bedroom, which is on par with rents in the area. On the new website's availability page, however, only studios and one-bedroom apartments are listed. The page also offers a link for rental applications. The website showcases many of the building’s amenities, like a fitness studio, rooftop lounge, and barbecue area. It also features renderings of the Gotham Market at The Ashland, a dining hall located at the base of the tower. The market will host eight different dining options, with one rotating pop-up space. This is in addition to the rooms themselves, which offer central air conditioning, floor-to-ceiling windows, and dishwashers in each unit. The luxury apartment tower is located on the edge of Fort Greene, adjacent to the BAM Harvey Theater and the Brooklyn Cultural District. The district, anchored by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, has been a hotspot for development since its inception. Industry has also boomed in the area following the opening of the Barclays Center. Marketing for The Ashland capitalizes on the fact that Downtown Brooklyn is increasingly becoming a center for art and culture in the city, emphasizing the many destinations within walking distance.
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Maybe In My Back Yard
COOKFOX Architects

The planned redevelopment of the St. John’s Terminal site in Hudson Square, a Manhattan neighborhood known for its fervent opposition to new construction, could be the key to ensuring much-needed infrastructure improvements to nearby Pier 40 and Hudson River Park.

In an agreement outlined by the de Blasio administration this past October, the Hudson River Park Trust—a partnership between New York State and City that operates Pier 40—plans to sell 200,000 square feet of its unused air rights to the owner of St. John’s Terminal to allow for the construction of taller buildings. The estimated $100 million sale would provide funding to repair the decaying 15-acre pier, which is sinking into the Hudson River.

Although the salvation of Pier 40, home to a popular sports and recreational complex, is generally viewed as a victory, the pending deal has been criticized by community members for its lack of transparency.

“We want to examine how much the developer will be paying for these air rights, ” said David Gruber, chairman of the Air Rights Transfer Working Group of Community Board 2. Mr. Gruber, a real estate broker, is skeptical as to how the $100 million was calculated. “There is a sense that they’re getting an under-market deal,” he said. He hopes that the Hudson River Park Trust will get a greater amount.

Because rezoning will be required for the successful transfer of Pier 40’s unused development rights, the COOKFOX-designed proposal is now undergoing an extensive Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Throughout this process, public committees ranging from the community board to City Council evaluate the project’s land use and assess potential environmental impact.

If the ULURP application is approved, a five tower, mixed-use development could replace the existing St. John’s Terminal, a bulky warehouse spanning three blocks of West Houston Street from Charlton to Clarkson Streets.

According to Mark Ruzitsky, senior associate at COOKFOX, the terminal currently acts as a barrier to the waterfront and to Pier 40. “The first impulse is to really remove some of that barrier and create more access to the park, really opening it up,” he said.

The project could provide up to 1,586 much-needed residential units —a third of which would be designated as affordable and senior housing.

There are also plans to include 14,200 square feet of publicly accessible open space in the form of a High Line-style park, a proposal that Mr. Ruzitsky said is in line with the firm’s emphasis on biophilia “We’re looking to take obsolete infrastructure and create a diverse community,” said Mr. Ruzitsky. “It’s part of the way we look at projects—connecting people with nature.”

In the months to come, the community will be able to voice concerns about a number of factors, from the size of the proposed buildings to mandates for affordable housing. The public review process aims to be complete by October 2016.

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High in Brooklyn
Brooklyn skyline with new towers.
Courtesy KPF

For 80 years, buildings in Brooklyn followed a local rule: Rise no taller than the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower at 1 Hanson Place.

Then, a 2004 rezoning of downtown Brooklyn allowed for taller construction. In 2009, GKV Architects’ 51-story, 515-foot-tall Brooklyner broke the height barrier, besting the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower by three feet and 14 floors. In 2014, SLCE Architects’ 53-story 388 Bridge Street stole the high crown, rising 75 feet above the Brooklyner to become the borough’s tallest. SLCE’s newest Brooklyn building, the Ava DoBro, tops off at 575 feet to beat its sibling.

The slowly rising bar will be soon be shattered by a spate of tall—possibly supertall—new towers. It is rumored that SHoP will build a 90-story, 1,000-foot-tall residential tower at Fleet Street and Flatbush Avenue. It is confirmed that Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) will unleash a 600-foot-tall, approximately 40-story tower at 420 Albee Square. The 400,000-square-foot building will be the first nonresidential high-rise in downtown Brooklyn.

420 Albee Square, left, by KPF, and SHoP Architects planned 1,000-foot tower, the tallest in Brooklyn.
Courtesy KPF; SHoP Architects
 

The rezoning was supposed to create 4.5 million square feet of Class A office space in downtown Brooklyn. But, last year, the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (a local development corporation) reported that only 250,000 square feet of office space has been built.

Elie Gamburg, director at KPF and lead architect on 420 Albee Square, echoed the partnership’s findings, noting that, so far, the rezoning has produced only residential towers.

KPF, he said, capitalized on a “trophy” corner to create “something of great impact, to really accentuate the verticality” of the building. Though the structure will be bound on all sides by other buildings, the prow-like curve of the facade, visible to travellers coming over the Manhattan Bridge and down Flatbush Avenue, will make a “full gesture to mark the project from those vantage points.”

Usually, a tower this size sits on full or half block sites. In Manhattan, this building’s floor plate would be 30,000 to 40,000 square feet, though 420 Albee Square’s floor plate is 16,000 to 18,000 square feet. “We developed a small floor plate with an off-center core to provide a big floor plate feel,” firm principal James von Klemperer explained.

When asked if there was anything particularly Brooklyn about this tower, Gamburg mused on stereotypical Brooklyn design—exposed brick, Edison bulbs, and converted warehouses. He drew a thread between the borough’s penchant for the past, its industrial legacy, and the cultural logic of late capitalism. “[We have] moved from a nostalgic idea to what the model for the city will be in the future. The office building achieves a new warehouse typology as a ‘warehouse for work.’”

Gamburg sees a reciprocal relationship between the building’s success and the success of the street. The frontage on Albee Square (Gold Street), across from the (COOKFOX-designed) retail development City Point, would be a prominent place for the lobby. Yet the lobby is positioned away from Albee Square so it doesn’t kill a vital retail strip.

Though Gamburg predicts that KPF’s tower will be a centerpiece of the Brooklyn Tech Triangle, he concedes, “great skylines are really the contribution of many players. It’s not a load that one building can carry on its own.”

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Interviews
A SECTION THROUGH 300 LAFAYETTE, A NEW OFFICE BUILDING BY COOKFOX.
COURTESY COOKFOX

In 2015, our editors talked to some of the most influential academics, designers, developers, engineers, and architects in the world. Here are the top interviews you read from The Architect's Newspaper last year.

 

Pam Campbell

The COOKFOX architect discusses her firm's approach to Biophilic Design.

[Continue reading.]

 
 
 

Tadao Ando

The Pritzker prize winner talks about revisiting The Pulitzer Arts Foundation.

 

 

Bjarke Ingels

AN sits down with Bjarke Ingels to discuss the architect's design for Two World Trade Center.

 
 

Santiago Calatrava

Calatrava discusses his work on the World Trade Center Transit Hub and a nearby Greek Orthodox Church.

 
 
 

Zaha Hadid

AN talks with Zaha Hadid in Chicago about her first building in New York and her thoughts on the Biennial.

 
 
 

Junya Ishigami

The Tokyo-based architect weighs in on nature, experimentation, and the Zaha Hadid stadium controversy.

 
 

Ole Scheeren

Buro Ole Scheeren's first North American project reframes architecture's core values.

 
 
 

Michael Rotondi

Sam Lubell speaks with the Richard J. Neutra Medal winner.

 
 
 

Cameron Sinclair

The Architecture for Humanity co-founder on his for-profit venture, the Department of Small Works.

 

 

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In Conversation: Alternative Developers
Sumaida + Khurana's 152 Elizabeth St. in Nolita by Tadao Ando Associates + Gabellini Sheppard Associates.
Courtesy Noe & Associates and The Boundary

As part of the AN developers feature, Matt Shaw interviewed representatives from four developers who are innovating in New York and elsewhere using alternative models for development. These perspectives offer new ways forward as the architecture and business communities work together to find new design, housing, and community-oriented solutions to our 21st century urban issues.

Sumaida + Khurana

Up-and-coming developer Sumaida + Khurana is bringing high-profile international architects to do its first buildings in New York, including NoLita condos by Tadao Ando and a forthcoming 400-foot midtown tower by Alvaro Siza. Amit Khurana has more than two decades of experience in the real estate industry, while Saif Sumaida holds an architecture degree from the Cooper Union. Together, they are changing how New York development is designed.

Matt Shaw: How did you end up working together as developers?

Saif Sumaida: I graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in architecture, and the education was very rich in discourse and concepts. Just by accident, I actually ended up in construction, and over the last 23 years, I’ve been building in New York. I like working as a developer because you have control of authorship both from a construction and architecture perspective, but also as the developer when you put the vision together.

Amit Khurana: Saif is tremendously experienced and when we met it was an interesting fit just because I love architecture and design. I have to give Saif such credit for this but when we are in a room with an architect and we sit down, his knowledge is so fantastic, to not only think of just construction but to think of how architecture relates to construction. And I think that it was a unique situation because there was a shared vision and very complementary sets of skills.

Courtesy Sumaida + Khurana
 

What do you feel these projects bring to New York as a city, not just for the residents of the buildings?

AK: We see ourselves as developer/custodians of the built environment and ultimately we have a responsibility because we play a very important role that really changes the city. Small or large—it doesn’t matter. It’s about uplifting people, and fulfilling the dream of the city too, right? I think if you ask anyone, at the end of the day people appreciate excellence. It’s not about the asset type, it’s not necessarily about who is going to live there or rent there or work there. It has something to do with a kind of purity of design and the impact it has on people.

SS: I think the problem is a lot of developers are really looking at buildings as commodities to monetize. But I think there is a legacy to be made in selecting the architect and making something that has meaning and has a place in the fabric of the city and that is something that you’ll ultimately be proud of. We want to create places. We feel that we have some sort of a social responsibility to do that.

Why bring in these architects?

AK: New York is a melting pot with a lot of influence from outside. We also came from different countries although we spent so much time here. We wanted to just focus on, in a very pure fashion, this idea of bringing master architects to New York to design their very first buildings here. Especially in New York where as-of-right sites are such a tremendous opportunity to work in a specific way and to push the envelope a little bit. looking at it and finding a site, we’re actually looking for a site for Ando or for Siza. This inverted process allows us to think about things a little bit differently.

SS: A lot of developers rely on marketing people to tell them what has worked. They’re following formulas because they believe that these are the formulas that will get them the profit. People find a proof of concept and just follow it. You don’t have to think too much. When you bring somebody else from abroad or somebody who hasn’t built anything in New York, they actually bring a certain amount of freshness. What’s amazing about New York is that it allows for this diversity. You can still be visionary and make it successful.

Courtesy Noe & Associates and The Boundary
 

Do you think that your experience as an architect lets you work with these architects in a different way rather than other developers?

SS: I think the one thing is, I’m very respectful of the process. I’m always able to talk to architects in their language. Instead of looking at it, again, as a commodity, I can engage them in their concepts and be able to enter that dialogue and be able to discuss it with them as opposed to always looking for an end product. I can enter the process and into a discourse with them so that once I understand what they’re trying to do we can then figure how best to get there.

You mentioned affordable housing a little bit. Do you see that as a project that could be interesting to take on?

SS: Very much so. I think there’s a responsibility for developers to be able to bring to the city various projects. It can’t just be building for the wealthy, you have to be able to do it for all. Otherwise, you’re not really making an impact in the city as you think you are. To make an impact on the city you have to touch on the various fabrics.

AK: Well I think that it’s also responding to the realities of where you are in a market cycle. Currently we’re in a market where land is insanely expensive. So we have to respond to that. It’s always allowing yourself to be flexible with different opportunities. I mean, imagine bringing in a famous Spanish architect to New York to build a wonderful, affordable housing project or something like that. It isn’t about how many dollars per foot you spend on a construction; it’s about thoughtfulness. We have the ability and skillset that allows us to also control costs and control some of these variables that can get out of control.


 

Proposal for a pool at the Shore Club in Miami by Isay Weinfeld.
Courtesy HFZ Capital Group
 

Thorsten Kiefer, HFZ

Thorsten Kiefer is Director of Design and Development for HFZ Capital Group. In this role, he has helped initiate collaborations with architects such as David Chipperfield, BIG, Moshe Safdie, and Isay Weinfeld on projects at various scales in New York and Miami. He talked with AN about his background at OMA, SOM, and SHoP, and what someone in his position can bring to the firm and ultimately the city.

As an architect at OMA in Rotterdam, his job included working in collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro on a master plan for Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2001. This experience at OMA also led to HFZ bringing in OMA to develop an entire empty city block in New York between Tenth and Washington streets along the High Line. However, OMA wasn’t able to continue because of previous contractual commitments, so HFZ turned to another OMA alumni, Bjarke Ingels of BIG, who had worked with Thorsten 15 years ago.

 
Thorsten Kiefer.
Courtesy HFZ
 

Matt Shaw: You have an interesting background. How did you end up in this role as an experienced architect working directly for a developer?

Thorsten Kiefer:  My time at SHoP was truly formative. At SHoP I worked on competitions in London and New York as well as the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport, initially with General Growth and then followed by Howard Hughes. I formed a number of connections with the development side of the business and after a couple of years at SHoP I began looking for the next career challenge. This opportunity seemed interesting for myself.

What is your role at HFZ?

As Director of Design and Development, I work closely with the marketing team and our executives on the overall conceptual and programmatic framework. The team establishes a list of architects, which we believe would be a great fit for the project. In high-end residential development, the branding aspect of an interior designer or design architect can make a difference in sales.

The global desire for design is higher now than it was 20 years ago. There is money from many countries. Different cultures have different attitudes toward design, and the global market is reacting to that. A lot of global people invest in the city. HFZ tries to offer a high quality product. We do high-end residential, and without design, we wouldn’t get the margins. The value added from the architecture is necessary to get the numbers. 432 Park Avenue by Viñoly has a tremendous location, so people would buy there anyway. But 432 is getting astronomical numbers. Would you get the same price per square foot without the good design? Would the Russians, Chinese, Europeans, and South Americans still choose it?

This position is more common than maybe known in the architectural community. Large developers like Related or Extell have in house design teams. I do believe that this role is valuable. There are very different mindsets in design, construction, and development. The architect is best suited to mediate in between all of them. I also work with zoning lawyers to see if our massing is possible, and also with the construction team to make sure quality is good.

20 West 40th Street.
 

How do you see your role impacting the designs and ultimately the city?

Ziel Feldman, founder and chairman of HFZ as well as Nir Meir, Principal partner at HFZ are very keen on design and quality. Good design simply distinguishes our product within a very competitive market, and we understand this well. I’m also really interested in finding smart solutions to making the city a nice, vibrant place to be.

We are working with David Chipperfield on the last empty lot at Bryant Park and those units will come on the market in the next couple of months. I truly believe that it will not just be a beautiful piece of architecture completing an important urban space in New York, but also a very successful development.

What can this position bring to a company?

I believe an architect is best suited to communicate between all the different groups involved within the development process. We all know that the motivations of construction, marketing, development, or design are not always necessarily aligned, so the role we have with the position is to bring the different mindsets a little closer and hope that the end result is good design.

Do you ever push for different types of projects, like affordable housing?

I certainly have my personal opinion on “affordability” in New York and I do think that affordable housing will be a challenging component in any future residential development in this city.


Common Ground’s Schermerhorn supportive housing in Downtown Brooklyn by Susan Rodriguez/Ennead Architects.
David Sundberg/Etso
 

Brenda Rosen, Common Ground

Common Ground is the largest supportive housing developer and operator in New York. The organization offers formerly homeless people quality environments and services to recover, and also works to develop more traditional affordable housing. Its non-profit status makes its work different from many other developers in the city. Brenda Rosen is the president and CEO, and she gave us some insight on how Common Ground supports its tenants and navigates the non-profit development process.

 
Brenda Rosen.
Courtesy Common Ground
 

Matt Shaw: What is the mission of Common Ground?

Brenda Rosen: Supportive housing is affordable housing with onsite services so that’s what is different from your cookie-cutter affordable or market rate operation. There is a percentage of the tenants that come through the lottery process like any other affordable low-income tenant. And the other part of the building is filled with formerly homeless people who oftentimes are suffering from mental illness or substance abuse issues or medical issues and often times all of the above.

So there’s 50 percent or 60 percent of the building that is set aside for people coming from those circumstances and that is why we have onsite support to make sure that all of our tenants—low-income, regular working people, and those who are formerly homeless and who are coming with a lot of challenges and a lot of issues—have the support that they need to do that and to be as successful in housing as anybody else. With the exception of a few projects, one in Rochester and two in Connecticut, we are the property managers for all of our projects so we never leave the project.

We are about to break ground on our first stand-alone conventional affordable project which will be 248 units of affordable housing and that will not have a supportive housing component at all. Because our buildings are tax-credit buildings, your income has to be at 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income. We do the same marketing, advertising, and lottery like any other developer in the city for the affordable housing.

Webster Avenue by COOKFOX.
Courtesy COOKFOX
 

What are some of the challenges of being a non-profit? What does it mean to be a non-profit developer?

What it means is that the financing of the projects can be incredibly complicated compared to for-profits. When we finance a project we have multiple streams of support coming in for capital and for operating. We’ll use bonds, we’ll use tax credits, we’ll use state and city subsidies. And sometimes borough presidents or city council funds will fill a gap that we might have on the capital side. We also have government contracts that are providing operating support so we have regulatory agreements and government contracts, which means we are under intense scrutiny at all times regarding the services that we’re providing and the quality of the housing.

Can you talk more about what it means to be non-profit and specifically do affordable housing?

Fortunately or unfortunately we are not in this business to make a ton of money as we develop. Any non-profit developer that builds housing—for whatever population—will be collecting a developer fee. I think that the thing that really sets a non-profit apart from a for-profit developer is that all of the development fees that we collect, all of the net proceeds of whatever we’re doing, goes right back into the services and the housing that we’re providing. At the end of the day, again, we’re here to have a sound investment for investors that will buy our tax credits and finance a building. But we aren’t here to come out with this monstrous surplus in our budget. I think that because we are a mission-driven organization, our goal is ultimately to develop and operate housing for vulnerable people in New York.

2010 Brook by Gorlin Architects.
Courtesy Common Ground
 

What role does design play in your mission and in your projects?

Design in all of our projects is a top priority for us. We believe that a pride in home and surroundings helps recovering people to gain stability and to really end up succeeding. Ennead [Architects] did Schermerhorn in downtown Brooklyn for us. It has a ton of green elements, is cantilevered over a subway, and it’s incredibly beautiful. We have worked with COOKFOX who designed a building for us in Brownsville and is designing our next two buildings up on Webster Avenue in the Bronx—both a supportive building and an affordable building. The apartments and hallways are really flooded with natural light.

COOKFOX and Robert A.M. Stern are normally known for high-end buildings and yet they come back and work with us again and again, and bring those same design elements into an affordable project. Not many non-profits get to say that Robert A.M. Stern is going to be doing their next project and build in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn. We also develop mini studios, where the average apartment is between 225 to 300 square feet. We have to be really thoughtful about the design of the interior of each apartment. I’ve joked that we were doing micro units long before micro units were popular.

What are some of the challenges that you face when choosing sites?

Years ago when we were looking for land, we would site projects in Manhattan and in Brooklyn and in other places. Over the last several years we’ve done new construction in downtown Brooklyn, Brownsville, the South Bronx, and the Lower East Side, in addition to our older Manhattan sites in Midtown. But now primarily the only affordable land for us at this point is in the Bronx.

Common Ground tends to build large. Our smallest building has 72 units and our largest has 640. We prefer to have a building with 200 or more units. So you need a lot of buildable square feet for that, because in addition to the apartments we have a lot of community space in our buildings for our tenants—so we can have computer labs, a multi-purpose room, a gym, outdoor spaces, and offices for the onsite support staff.


Tom Fruin, kolonihavehus, in Brooklyn Bridge Park.
Matthew Williams
 

Lisa Kim, Two Trees

Two Trees Management Company was founded in 1968 and has developed over 3 billion dollars in real estate. It is most famous for its redevelopment of the industrial neighborhood of Dumbo, Brooklyn. The company has remained committed to fostering artistic and cultural activity in the area through subsidized spaces for arts community tenants, and more broadly, supporting art as an urban issue. Lisa Kim is the Cultural Affairs Director for Two Trees. She formerly served as Private Collection Manager and Director of Exhibitions and Operations at Gagosian Gallery.

 
Lisa Kim.
Courtesy Two Trees
 

Matt Shaw: What initiatives does Two Trees have to support arts and culture?

Lisa Kim: Just having someone in my position is different. I am not a real estate person. My entire background comes from the art world. And so they brought me in to be the liaison to the art community and to think about this notion of organizing the company’s efforts of cultural philanthropy and making space for arts and artists in the neighborhood and how that integrates into our development. For Two Trees in Dumbo, it was really organic from the beginning. They own the majority of this neighborhood, and have seen it change.

It has become expensive for artists to work in Dumbo. The reason for the cultural space subsidy program is to find an organized way to create a level of support for the art community and open up space in our buildings for artists and non-profit groups. We thought an application process was the best way to do it. The space subsidy is rather dramatic. If you are granted a space subsidy here you’re given a lease of up to three years at basically a dollar a foot per month.

It’s tricky because there are a lot of people that certainly do want to bring artists in just to kind of spruce stuff up and then leave them when they don’t need them, but that’s not our case. We have 17 tenants—11 artists and six non-profit groups. With the cultural space subsidy tenants who’ve come in, we want to make sure that they’re also an active part of the community over there.

We want them to know who else is in the neighborhood. We had a little happy hour event last month where we brought in, not just the cultural space subsidy tenants, but our other artists and arts organizations tenants.

A mural in DUMBO.
Daniel Greenfeld
 

Who are some of the tenants?

We have New York’s first feminist cooperative gallery that was founded in 1972 and has been in Dumbo for eight years. On the 2nd floor of 20 Jay Street is a young theater group that goes to empower young women, to teach them how to write, direct, and perform plays about women’s issues. So here you have an A.I.R. gallery, a 40-year-old institution meeting Girl Be Heard, a six-year-institution with very-like minded initiatives talking about what they do.

We’ve been the go-to for arts groups that need a space once they’ve been booted from Tribeca, or Chelsea, or Soho. So we have arts support groups such as the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Faith Program. We also have the sculpture studio for the NY Studio School. Brooklyn Arts Council has their offices here. Arcadia is another arts funding organization that has its office here. We’ve been very supportive, for decades, to St. Ann’s Warehouse and to Smack Mellon. These are all tenants who had free to low rent. So it creates a very serious art community and a cluster in this neighborhood.

Do these cultural initiatives translate to added value for the developers? Or is this sort of a cultural, philanthropic project?

I think it’s cultural and philanthropic. A lot of people want to quantify what happens when you bring culture, but you can’t say when you put in X amount of dollars into arts support that you’re going to affect your bottom line by another number because you can raise property values or rents are higher or various other things. I mean I think it’s really anecdotal. I wish I could give you a metric. If you have cool shit for people to see they’re going to come see it. So who’s doing the cool shit, it’s the arts groups, right?
So how are these initiatives structured financially? Are they part of a separate non-profit? How does it relate to Two Trees?

Well, we’re a two-person part of the staff of Two Trees. The cultural space subsidy program is straight out of Two Trees. You get the same commercial space you would get if you were a market rate tenant. In Dumbo we have three commercial buildings—45 Main, 54 Washington, and 20 Jay Street—and our subsidy tenants are spread throughout all three buildings.

Then, separately, there is the non-profit Walentas Family Foundation with two programs as part of it. One is a neighborhood school program where grants are given for innovative school programs. The other half is the Sharpe-Walentas Studio Program that offers 17 selected artists free studio space for one year in New York.
What does someone in your role bring to the development firm?

Because I’m naive to the world of development I can really be fresh about my approach in thinking about the art first. I go create it first and then there’s the reality check of is it possible to do this? On this site? Is it possible to do it in this budget? Does it make sense for this project or development?” And that’s when you start to put things together.

One of the buildings is a rather significant renovation and that’s the old Galapagos Art Space building at Water and Main streets. Four galleries will occupy that space. We spent the winter and spring months renovating that building from a cavernous, theater event space/bar to four beautiful sixteen-foot-ceiling white box gallery spaces.

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Naturally Indoors
Ken Hayden / Courtesy Selldorf

Humankind has come a long way from its primitive origins in terms of constructing shelters to isolate itself from the insalubrious harassments of the outdoors only to find that hermetic environments come with their own costs and consequences.

In this feature, AN looks at four commercial and four hospitality interiors that, from a comfortable remove, reconnect inhabitants with nature. Plus, we talk to COOKFOX Senior Associate Pam Campbell about the biophilic design principals that guide much of her firm’s work.


Wadi Rum Desert Resort
Chad Oppenheim conceives a remote desert resort carved into the sandstone cliffs of the Jordanian desert.
 
Nasty Gal
Bestor Architecture deftly navigates a historic building's past for fashion retailer Nasty Gal.
 
 
The Mesa at Amangiri
Selldorf Architects designs a private luxury retreat in the rugged desert landscape of Southern Utah.
 
 

The French Laundry
Inspired by the movements of the dining experience, Snohetta, Envelope A+D, and Harrison & Koellner revamp the kitchen and courtyard of the renowned Napa Valley restaurant, French Laundry.
 
Droga5
A Rogers Partners-designed headquarters in New York City fosters a fluid startup culture within a traditional Wall Street office building.
 
 

Biotopological Escalator
Reversible Destiny Foundation's experiential passageway in Dover Market seeks to inspire shoppers to reflect on the aging process.
 
 
GensleR DENVER
A focus on workplace ergonomics and indoor-outdoor connections define Gensler's Denver office, creating a lively, interactive environment.
 
 
Coopers Hall
A former quonset hut and car dealership in Portland is transformed into a light-filled winery and taproom by local architect Lorraine Gutherie.
 
 
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Thomas Balsley unveils design for 8-acre green space at Pacific Park Brooklyn
After countless delays, plenty of controversy, and a few lawsuits, Brooklyn's Pacific Park mega-development (formerly Atlantic Yards) is starting to take shape. The Barclays Center's green roof is showing progress, SHoP's long-delayed modular tower is rising again next door, and a pair of COOKFOX-designed residential buildings are underway at the development's eastern edge. And now, the project's new namesake, the 8-acre Pacific Park, has finally been unveiled. The New York Daily News has posted the first renderings, and a master plan, of the Thomas Balsley-designed green space which replaces a street-level parking lot and will stretch through the development's crop of new towers. Besides the requisite grassy lawns and planted areas, Pacific Park is packed with cruise-ship-like amenities including a bocce court, basketball court, maisonette court, water garden, and play areas for kids and toddlers. There is also cafe seating, lanterns, and a "gateway portal" with graphic signage. The green space is a major amenity for the development's new tenants, but will also be open to the public. The first piece of Pacific Park will run between COOKFOX's two under-construction buildings and be completed next summer. The full eight acres will be built out over the next 10 years, along with the rest of the development.    
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Bernheimer and Dattner start work on BAM building as construction in Brooklyn’s art district kicks up a notch
As Downtown Brooklyn's skyline grows taller, denser, and a bit more interesting, construction is whirring along in the BAM Cultural District just across Flatbush Avenue. The latest project to break ground within the area is bringing the borough new cultural institutions, affordable housing, and well, architecture. It's the Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments. The 115,000-square-foot structure was designed by Bernheimer Architecture and Dattner Architects with some landscaping accoutrement by SCAPE. The mixed-use building includes a restaurant along with the Center for Fiction and space for the Mark Morris Dance Group. Above the building's cultural podium are 109 apartments, 40 percent of which are below market-rate. "Extensive glazing at the lower floors highlights the cultural components and activates the pedestrian experience," Dattner explained on its website. "In-set balconies and double-height terraces articulate the upper base and tower." The Brooklyn Cultural District Apartments is intended to flow into the collection of high-design buildings and public spaces that are appearing one after the other on numerous sites around it. The building's restaurant, for instance, flows into Ken Smith's Arts Plaza which itself flows into the slightly cantilevering Theatre For a New Audience by Hugh Hardy of H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture. Between the new apartment building and the existing theater and plaza is yet another planned building—a 200-room hotel with a jagged facade by Leeser Architecture. There's one more big project to mention on the block: FXFOWLE's 52-story mixed-income residential tower that is quickly ascending into Brooklyn's skyline. On the other side of Fulton Street from the tower is the BRIC Arts Media House, another Leeser project. Adjacent to all of this is the site of Francis Cauffman's very artsy and wavy medical center that is currently under-construction. And across Lafayette Avenue is TEN Arquitectos' 32-story, mixed-use residential tower that is beginning to make its ascent.
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Pam Campbell
A section through 300 Lafayette, a new office building by COOKFOX.
Courtesy COOKFOX

In recent years, sustainability has become one of the most prominent motivators of architectural design. Rarely is a project unveiled without a corresponding press release touting a green roof, photovoltaic array, or an expected LEED ranking. While such headline-grabbing green building features are important, New York City–based architecture practice COOKFOX believes that sustainability should go beyond reducing the energy footprint. The firm has been incorporating principles of biophilic design into its projects in order to produce buildings that treat human beings as an integral part of a natural ecosystem.
AN’s Henry Melcher recently spoke with COOKFOX Senior Associate Pam Campbell about what biophilic design is and how her firm is incorporating it into its architecture.

Henry Melcher: So what is Biophilic Design?

Pam Campbell: The term was initially coined by a social psychologist back in the 1960s called Erich Fromm, but it is generally attributed to E.O. Wilson, who wrote the Biophilia Hypothesis in the 80s, which was a body of research that has developed ever since and really explains that we as human beings have this connection to nature, and that because we developed in a natural setting we have these psychological and physical reactions to natural landscapes and materials.

 
Pam Campbell.
Courtesy COOKFOX
 

There has been a lot of research showing how different natural phenomenon within the interior environment contribute to the performance of children in schools and people in the workplace—how healthy they are, how attentive they are, how much they can focus on a certain task.

The thinking is that because of the nature of human beings, we feel at home in natural landscapes so we really need to reestablish that connection—and that is where architecture comes into it. We have this ability as designers to create spaces that can work to reengage people with the natural landscape and the health benefits that go along with that.

Whether it’s views out to a natural landscape or bringing plantings into an interior, we call that “nature in the space.” And then there is something called “nature of the space” and that might not have anything to do with looking at vegetation, but creating spaces that mimic natural settings in which humans thrived and felt most comfortable in the way we developed over time.

There is also something called “prospect and refuge theory.” If you think about humans in the natural landscape way back when, when they could see into the distance to a predator or some danger coming, they would be in a place of prospect, but also in a place where they have some refuge. When you have this combination of prospect and refuge, it has this visceral reaction of how we feel within that space.

And there is “risk and peril.” Our bodies react pretty well to short-term stresses—they keep us more alert, raise our heart rate and hormone levels—and as long as that is not a permanent state, that has some physical benefits to us. So places where you can see over a balustrade, or be in a place where some sort of risk is involved, it can be a good thing as long as there is a safe place within the space.

The other category is “natural analogues”—when you actually have a tree or something in your space. There are other patterns and materials that we can bring into the design that can start to have the same beneficial responses: the grain of a natural wood as opposed to a piece of plastic.

Live Work Home, Syracuse, New York, COOKFOX.

Richard Barnes / OTTO

 

What are the challenges of using biophilic design in New York City where so many buildings are sealed and climate-controlled?

It is definitely a challenge. When we get the rare opportunity to design a building in an actual landscape, it can do so much for you in terms of general sustainability. But when you are in the city, you have to do so much more because we are in an environment that is 90 percent buildings, as opposed to 90 percent natural.

There is always that delicate balance between daylight and energy savings. Obviously the glazing technologies are getting better and better; we can now afford to have windows that have a significant amount of glazing without killing the energy budget in terms of cooling and heating costs.

Window sizing is really kind of an art form. Some spaces are great to have floor-to-ceiling glazing, but there are a lot of environments where that is not appropriate—it is too much peril, it doesn’t make people feel relaxed and enclosed. So getting the right balance of opaque, solid exterior walls to glazing is probably one of the major things we can do to create a comfortable environment on the interior.

Biophilic design really comes into play when we are talking about the shape of the space, the materials we use, and the views outside. In terms of trying to create natural environments in the city, it is a challenge and what we’ve tried to do with our projects is to create many terrace spaces and outdoor spaces so people can still view, at least in the foreground, some natural landscapes.

And then obviously creating spaces that aren’t so hermetically sealed where people can view the sky, the changing weather, and different light patterns coming into the space. Not just having good daylighting, but having that pattern change how it impacts the space during the day—it can keep people more alert.

At Live Work Home up in Syracuse we had a particular challenge because Syracuse gets half the amount of natural daylight as the rest of the country. It is a particularly gray place. So we created this screen around the house that was perforated and had a pattern that we digitized from a photograph of daylight coming through a tree canopy. With that randomized pattern we were trying to mimic how you might feel if you were walking through a forest.

That screen allows daylight to filter into the building in different ways. On the north side, we painted the interior face of the screen with a reflective white coating so the sun from the south would reflect off that in a pattern and bounce back onto the porch area as well.

Is biophilic design a selling point? Do developers and prospective buyers want these strategies incorporated into buildings?

I think from the developers’ standpoint, for residential, certainly; everyone is interested in outdoor terraces and we are trying to explain why it is a good thing beyond just a marketing tool. Even if people don’t understand the science behind [biophilic design], they get the fact that, yes, looking out of your living room onto an area of plantings and trees that is changing with the seasons is better than looking across the street at another building. People naturally understand that even if they can’t put it into words.

In terms of biophilic design, people do feel healthier when they are looking at a natural landscape, so I think that is pretty well understood and has been for a long time.

Architects always talk about blending the indoor and the outside. How many times have you heard that? It is something that we have all understood, and I think we are in a better position now because there’s actually some real hard data behind it. That body of knowledge lets us control it more instead of just randomly putting some planting outside on a terrace. We can really enhance the design of that by understanding that it should be changing, it should be moving, there should be taller parts and smaller parts, there should be areas where you feel protected and areas where you see over.

There are a lot of biophilic and sustainable design practices incorporated into One Bryant Park, which is LEED Platinum, but then a [New York City benchmarking] report comes out and says the building is using twice the amount of energy as the Empire State Building. So what are the tangible benefits of using these types of designs?

For Bryant Park there is a difference between energy that is generated on-site versus energy that is generated remotely. The thing is it is a bank of trading floors at the end of the day, so it has one of the most intense energy usages of any building type that can exist in the city; but a lot of that energy is produced on-site.

About 75 percent of the power that is produced by power plants actually gets lost through the transmission of that power to a building. When you’re producing that on-site, that loss doesn’t exist anymore. So in terms of the overall energy use and pollution, those things have to be factored in and rarely are. It’s normally just some numbers that are coming up in a meter and it is not taking into consideration the building type and also where that power is coming from.

Where we really caught the interest of the bank and the developer—this was a joint venture between Bank of America and The Durst Organization—was when we started talking about employee retention.

When you employ somebody there is a certain amount of startup time where they are being pretty inefficient, and when you lose somebody and somebody new starts, there is obviously a huge financial cost there. So creating spaces that people want to be in, where they do have access to daylight and they do feel better, it helps with employee retention and also reduces sick days.

In terms of the air that is getting delivered to the space, it is at a higher filtration. The outdoor air in the city obviously isn’t that great, so if we can filter that air to high levels we can reduce the amount of respiratory problems and other reasons why people may end up taking sick days.

Employee retention and creating healthy workspaces is a huge tool that we have in our toolbox.

Where do you think these technologies and tools will take things in the future?

I think biophilic design is something that people are going to start employing more. We are never going to tear down a city and build a forest again so we have to start employing more educated techniques of bringing back the actual environment in such way that we can cohabit with it. That is something that has to get pushed forward.

There are more and more children being brought up in the city and they have less and less ability to really understand what nature is; they tend to come across it in a very condensed, small environment.

How do we expect future generations to care about the environment if they don’t even understand what it is?

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The View for a Few
Courtesy Dirtworks

150 Charles Street

Designed by Dirtworks Landscape Architecture atop a new building by COOKFOX Architects, 150 Charles includes 30,000 square feet of landscaped and outdoor space, including rooftops, public and private terraces, and courtyards.

 
 

“We thought of it as a vertical landscape that helps to give the building its identity,” said Dirtworks principal David Kamp. Plantings change from lush, wooded courtyards up to meadow-like roof landscapes.

Architect: COOKFOX Architects
Landscape architect: Dirtworks Landscape Architecture


 
Courtesy Shigeo Kawasaki, Thomas Balsley Associates
 

Gotham West

This three level project, designed by Thomas Balsley Associates, includes an at grade garden with a reflecting pool and specimen tree, a mid level lounge area overlooking the garden below, and a rooftop lawn and lounge with a projection wall and bar. “I’ve been around the city for a while,” said Balsley. “There’s a newer, younger buyer for these condos, who have a very active and very social lifestyle.”
Architect: SLCE Architects
Landscape architect: Thomas Balsley Associates


 
Courtesy Workshop/APD and Gunn Landscape architecture
 

Printing House Mews

Workshop/apd and Gunn Landscape Architecture are transforming this disused private alleyway on the south end of the West Village into an intimate courtyard for two townhouses and three maisonettes, as well as a viewing garden for the condominiums above. “The space is well crafted, and the paths, planters, and seating reinterpret the architecture of the townhouses,” said Workshop/apd principal Andrew Kotchen. “There’s also a carefully calibrated balance of privacy and open views that makes the small space work.”

Architect: Workshop/apd
Landscape architect: Gunn Landscape Architecture


 
Courtesy Future Green Studio
 

345 Meatpacking

The young Brooklyn-based firm Future Green Studio is known for incorporating vegetation into architecture in innovative and surprising ways.  For this building, designed and developed by DDG, Future Green drew on the informal vegetation of the High Line, integrating plantings into the building’s parapet, cantilevered marquee, and on the 8,000-square-foot shared and private roof. “Landscape can help situate a building in its context,” said David Seiter, principal at Future Green. “People are drawn to the wildness and style of the Highline.”

Architect: DDG
Landscape architect: Future Green Studio