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The Return of Cousin St. Vinny
Back in March, Protect the Village Historic District sued the Landmarks Preservation Commission over its granting of a hardship to St. Vincent's Hospital, so that it might demolish Albert C. Ledner's National Maritime Union Headquarters, now known as the O'Toole building, and replace it with a new hospital tower designed by Pei Cobb and Freed. The focus of PVHD's suit is that the hospital did not explore suitable alternatives, nor did the commission require them, but now, the state Supreme Court appears to be questioning the very nature of the hardship finding—that retaining the O'Toole buildings prevented the hospital from carrying out its charitable mission—or at least that is the finding of a brief filed today by the Municipal Art Society and half-a-dozen preservation groups that directly challenges the LPC on the matter. Filed on behalf of neither the petitioners nor the defendants but at the behest of the court, which is trying to better understand the mechanics of the hardship finding, the MAS' attorneys argue that the LPC erred in finding that a hardship was created by the O'Toole building when in fact it was the neighboring buildings that created the problems for the hospital. The LPC then falsely created a campus that included both the historic buildings east of Seventh Avenue and the Ledner building west of it, and with this campus, extended the hardship from the buildings responsible for it to the one that was not. MAS and company—Historic Districts Council, Greenwich Village Society, the National Trust, the Preservation League, Brooklyn Heights Association, and Friends of the UESHD—argue that in part because the Ledner building remains quite usable, and is not directly infringing on the functioning of the neighboring hospital, it can not be held accountable. And this does not even get into the issues of whether sufficient off-site alternatives were explored and the fact that St. Vincent's knowingly bought a landmark it could not alter, which are at the heart of the original suit. MAS does note that the standards for determining hardship are complex, and it should also be pointed out that, while ostensibly neutral, all seven amici have lobbied on behalf of preserving the Ledner buildings and indeed hold quite a vested interest in the LPC's defeat. Simply consider the conclusion of the brief [PDF], which states, in part, that the commission "has created a dangerous precedent that may have a devastating effect on the preservation of landmark buildings and historic districts throughout New York City." This is personal. We're still waiting to hear back from some real estate attorneys as to the exact role this brief might play in the case, whether or not it will actually sway the judges, but as soon as we know, you'll know.
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Thrown from the Bus
If you've been frustrated by the recent flood of delays on the Subway, don't complain to Howard Roberts. The president of New York City Transit, which operates the R142s and the various city buses, Roberts submitted his resignation today, effective the end of the month. The move did not come as a surprise to the Times, which noted that the move had actually been expected by many within the MTA because of failings over a recently renegotiated transit workers contract and, more simply, "a changing of the guard [...] is often accompanied by staff shake-ups." (Jay Walder, the new head of the MTA who accepted Robertson's resignation, took over roughly a month ago.) Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, lauded Roberts, however, for working under tight budgetary strictures and for implementing line "czars" for each subway. Still, it appeared to be too little, too late, as service remained relatively spotty, for which the former head of Philly's public transit often took the blame, as well as for enforcing an MTA rule requiring Sikh's to affix an agency logo to their turbans. Reading each others minds as usual, both the News and the Post point out in their ledes that Robertson will be awarded a $300,000 severance.
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Adventure Central
Richard Dattner's Ancient Playground was one of two adventure playgrounds recently refurbished by the Central Park Conservancy
Courtesy Central Park Conservancy

Being a kid—or at least a playground designer—was a lot more fun in the 1970s, before the advent of telephone-book-thick ASTM standards, not to mention things like critical fall heights, head-entrapment guidelines, and the virtual outlawing of sand. “It’s almost like a police state, what you can and cannot do in a playground,” said Paul Friedberg, the landscape architect who created some of New York’s most innovative play spaces. “The freedom that we once had is just completely gone.”


A child plays in a water feature at the Ancient Playground.
 

But vestiges of that freewheeling age can be found in Central Park, where the spirit of adventure thrives thanks to restorations this summer of two pioneering playgrounds. In overhauling these spaces to meet modern safety and accessibility needs, the Central Park Conservancy has shown that safety and rambunctiousness can still coexist.

Designed by Richard Dattner in 1972, Ancient Playground was one of 21 Robert Moses–era playgrounds installed around the park’s perimeter. In the late 1960s, these spaces began to be remade in the style of postwar Europe’s adventure playgrounds, where children molded their environments out of bricks, timber, and tires. Dattner themed his space on the Egyptian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, just across a transverse road at West 84th Street. “I thought it would be wonderful to teach kids something of ancient construction—the pyramids, obelisks, mastabas, and so forth—and relate in a kids’ scale to what was across the street,” Dattner said.

The central challenge of the renovation—the fourth of Dattner’s playgrounds to be reconstructed in the park—was to create a required clear space around the main playground elements. Among other changes, the conservancy’s designers created a regulation tire swing that mimics the original design, while increasing the size of Dattner’s tunnels for better visibility. Since sand is not considered an accessible surface material, designers used safety surfacing that matched the spirit of the original.

The West 100th Street playground, designed by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects, has also been restored by the conservancy.

The second playground, at West 100th Street, took its adventure-style form in 1972 to designs by Ross, Ryan, Jacquette Architects. The curving bridge, climbing cone, and water-spray feature have been restored, with the addition of complementary new equipment and resilient carpeting. A tree house was built around several mature trees, which were sadly removed after suffering damage during the August 18 storm. (The tree house remains.)

These respectful restorations are the latest sign that, 40 years later, adventure play is back. “In the 1970s, adventure playgrounds pushed the limits of demanding, physical play,” said Christopher Nolan, the conservancy’s vice president for capital projects. “We’ve been able to preserve the innovations that those playgrounds represented.” The two spaces join other playgrounds of this style, like the Rockwell Group’s Imagination Playground in Lower Manhattan, due to open next year, with a kit of loose parts that kids can use under the supervision of “play associates.”

Dattner, who consulted pro bono on his playground’s redesign, regards this latest generation of play spaces with a certain bemusement. “Much of my knowledge of the value of play has really been from the observation of kids playing with junk in the gutter,” he said. “The two major materials are sand and water. The rest is extra.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.

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JUNK! [Save Me]
Peter Hyatt

The city’s waterfront once bristled with docks serving the commercial traffic that plied the Hudson and East Rivers. Today, mooring in Manhattan is harder to find—but that may be about to change.

Pentagram Architects and architect James Sanders & Associates have teamed up to produce Riverways, a practical and cost-effective design for a string of riverside boat landings to bring people and watercraft back to the city’s rivers. The scheme, still in its early stages, is in support of a new docks initiative from the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, a nonprofit group sponsoring a series of programs to commemorate Henry Hudson’s voyage of discovery 400 years ago.

“This has been going on ten or 15 years—this idea that the river could again become an integrated transportation system,” said Sanders, who besides being a designer is also a noted author and filmmaker. He had in mind the increase in ferries around New York City over the last decade, including commuter lines and Water Taxis, as well as facilities like the Water Taxi Beaches in Long Island City and the South Street Seaport.

The ferry pavilions function in both rural (top) and urban (above) settings.

All these developments are viewed with pleasure by the Quadricentennial Commission. Its solution is so-called “Quad Landings”: the initial design, from Huntley Gill of Guardia Architects, calls for simple, stationary barges secured to the riverbed by twin poles and connected to the shore by narrow gangways.

Placed at intervals from Manhattan to Albany, the Quad Landings would give pleasure boats and ferries a new way to connect to riverfront communities along the Hudson. The commission has received an initial $750,000 from the state to pursue the project, and is committed to footing 75 percent of the cost of constructing the landings (estimated at $250,000 each) for qualified municipalities that agree to pay the remainder.

Sanders’ and Pentagram’s proposal dresses this concept up for a sophisticated urban audience. Riverways adds programming and a sense of event to the transmodal moment when the landlubber leaves shore, with an elevated plank that could play host to elements like cafes and newsstands, while barge poles become standards for canvas panels that block out the elements. James Biber, who headed up Riverways for Pentagram, claims the project fulfills a need for active public space where water meets the land. “We were looking around for this kind of urban amenity, and it just doesn’t exist,” said Biber.

The pavillions are designed to sit lightly on the water and the wallet, costing no more than $1 million a pop.

Sanders sets the cost of a single Riverways pavilion at slightly less than $1 million, with a single “kit of parts” approach that could facilitate a variety of uses for each landing, from outdoor movie theater to floating swimming pool.

Neither group of designers will discuss efforts that may be afoot with ferry operators to make the landings a functional piece of infrastructure. President and CEO Tom Fox of Harbor Experience Companies, which owns the Circle Line Downtown and Water Taxi operations, had reservations about the concept, saying, “You can’t have the dock be the attraction—it has to provide access to the attraction.”

For his part, Arthur Imperatore, president of New York Waterways, indicated in a statement that a project like Riverways could increase commuter traffic on the river: “Waterfront development provides the customers for successful ferry service,” he said. For now, however, the project remains, as Gill called it, “basically a labor of love.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.

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Soft Landing
Pentagram Architects and James Sanders & Associates have created designs for a new ferry dock that could be cheaply deployed along the Hudson River.
James Biber/Pentagram Architects and James Sanders

The city’s waterfront once bristled with docks serving the commercial traffic that plied the Hudson and East Rivers. Today, mooring in Manhattan is harder to find—but that may be about to change.

Pentagram Architects and architect James Sanders & Associates have teamed up to produce Riverways, a practical and cost-effective design for a string of riverside boat landings to bring people and watercraft back to the city’s rivers. The scheme, still in its early stages, is in support of a new docks initiative from the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, a nonprofit group sponsoring a series of programs to commemorate Henry Hudson’s voyage of discovery 400 years ago.

“This has been going on ten or 15 years—this idea that the river could again become an integrated transportation system,” said Sanders, who besides being a designer is also a noted author and filmmaker. He had in mind the increase in ferries around New York City over the last decade, including commuter lines and Water Taxis, as well as facilities like the Water Taxi Beaches in Long Island City and the South Street Seaport.

The ferry pavilions function in both rural (top) and urban (above) settings.

All these developments are viewed with pleasure by the Quadricentennial Commission. Its solution is so-called “Quad Landings”: the initial design, from Huntley Gill of Guardia Architects, calls for simple, stationary barges secured to the riverbed by twin poles and connected to the shore by narrow gangways.

Placed at intervals from Manhattan to Albany, the Quad Landings would give pleasure boats and ferries a new way to connect to riverfront communities along the Hudson. The commission has received an initial $750,000 from the state to pursue the project, and is committed to footing 75 percent of the cost of constructing the landings (estimated at $250,000 each) for qualified municipalities that agree to pay the remainder.

Sanders’ and Pentagram’s proposal dresses this concept up for a sophisticated urban audience. Riverways adds programming and a sense of event to the transmodal moment when the landlubber leaves shore, with an elevated plank that could play host to elements like cafes and newsstands, while barge poles become standards for canvas panels that block out the elements. James Biber, who headed up Riverways for Pentagram, claims the project fulfills a need for active public space where water meets the land. “We were looking around for this kind of urban amenity, and it just doesn’t exist,” said Biber.

The pavilions are designed to sit lightly on the water and the wallet, costing no more than $1 million a pop.

Sanders sets the cost of a single Riverways pavilion at slightly less than $1 million, with a single “kit of parts” approach that could facilitate a variety of uses for each landing, from outdoor movie theater to floating swimming pool.

Neither group of designers will discuss efforts that may be afoot with ferry operators to make the landings a functional piece of infrastructure. President and CEO Tom Fox of Harbor Experience Companies, which owns the Circle Line Downtown and Water Taxi operations, had reservations about the concept, saying, “You can’t have the dock be the attraction—it has to provide access to the attraction.”

For his part, Arthur Imperatore, president of New York Waterways, indicated in a statement that a project like Riverways could increase commuter traffic on the river: “Waterfront development provides the customers for successful ferry service,” he said. For now, however, the project remains, as Gill called it, “basically a labor of love.”

A version of this article appeared in AN 18_11.04.2009.

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Design Surge
In a study by Guy Nordenson, Catherine Seavitt, and Adam Yarinsky, proposals were made to address rising seas in New York Harbor, including an artificial reef made of subway cars.
Courtesy Guy Nordenson Associates, Catherine Seavitt Studio, and ARO

A new MoMA/P.S. 1 program called Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront pairs four teams of designers with four sites in New York and New Jersey’s Upper Bay. The teams will develop designs for “soft infrastructure” to mitigate high storm surges, which are projected to intensify due to climate change-induced rising waters, leaving New York vulnerable to Katrina-style flooding.


nordenson's team imagines slips carved out of existing streets in sunset Park.
 
Lewis.Tsuramaki.Lewis Will work on site 1, , Matthew Baird Architects on site 2, narchitects on site 3, and SCAPE Studio on site 4.
 
 

The teams, which will be announced later today, are led by principals from Lewis.Tsurumaki. Lewis, nArchitects, Matthew Baird Architects, and SCAPE Studio. Each will be given a stipend and residency at P.S.1, and the designs will be exhibited at MoMA in late March 2010.

The teams will join ARO, who, with engineer Guy Nordenson, landscape designer Catherine Seavitt, initiated the project as independent research before joining forces with MoMA. Their soft infrastructure concept is meant to enhance the environmental health of the region while providing a buffer against storm waters. They estimate that water levels will rise by a foot in the next 50 years and two feet over the next century. “The experience of Katrina taught us the value of wetlands,” Nordenson said. “We need to start thinking positively about what we can do to address these scenarios.”

The research intrigued Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s chief curator of architecture and design, who believed it would make a good subject for an exhibition. Simultaneously, P.S.1 was developing a new residency program, which Bergdoll suggested could be used to support a handful of New York architecture offices in the downturn, in addition to fostering public debate about responding to climate change. “It’s a rare time where we’re commissioning something that hasn’t yet been designed,” Bergdoll told AN.

MoMA selected the four additional teams out of approximately 40 candidates nominated by a group of deans, journalists, curators, and professionals. In order to qualify, offices had to be in existence for ten years or less.The jury included architect David Adjaye, City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, Nordenson, and Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of Geoscience at Princeton University.

Bergdoll expects each team to focus on an individual site, but a coordinated strategy between sites may emerge through the shared residency. “There should be cross-pollination, but each site should bear the stamp of the individual design teams,” he said.

Solutions as simple as the reintroduction of wetlands, rendered here on the shores of Staten Island, have been proposed in the intial study.

Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis will focus on the Northwest Palisade Bay and Hudson River area of New Jersey, including Liberty Park/Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and surrounding waters. nArchitects will work on a zone including Eastern Staten Island, Bay Ridge, and Sunset Park. Mattew Baird Architects was given the Southwest Palisade Bay and Kill van Kull area, including Bayonne, Bayonne Piers, and northern Staten Island. SCAPE Studio was assigned the Northeast Palisade Bay and Buttermilk Channel, along with the Gowanus Canal area, including Governors Island and Red Hook.

Meanwhile, ARO will focus on Lower Manhattan.

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Greenpoint Rising
Jonathan Bernstein has proposed a new condo project for the far reaches of Greenpoint designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.
Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects.

When the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint were rezoned in 2005, a parade of luxury condominium towers were expected to replace moribund factories and warehouses along the North Brooklyn waterfront. Few of those towers materialized before the collapse of the real estate market, though, and with thousands of apartments already under construction in the area—and many sitting empty—it could be years before developers renew their march to the water.

The towers seen from the water. Click to view a slideshow of the project.
 

But this is New York City, where developers never cease to dream. And so, up in the far reaches of Greenpoint, first-time developer Jonathan Bernstein is plotting what would be the tallest tower on the waterfront—nearly 20 percent taller than current zoning allows—making it among the most audacious projects in the borough to date.

Located two blocks from the last G-train stop before Queens, the project is being designed by marquee firm Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. Adjacent streets would be transformed into parkland. Piers would be built to accommodate historic ships, ferries, and Water Taxi service. A new beach would offer sorely needed waterfront access. And all of these perks would help blunt community concerns about the project’s blockbuster proportions.

So far, the plan seems to be working.

“It’s a beautiful project with a hard sell,” Ward Dennis, chair of local Community Board 1’s land-use committee, said in an interview. “What the community needs to decide is where that balance is between density and open space and affordable housing. And really, that’s what all of these projects come down to.”

For a 100,000-square-foot lot on India Street currently occupied by a warehouse, Bernstein—who was once Donald Trump’s personal attorney—is proposing two muscular glass towers, one rising to 470 feet, the other to 200 feet. As with all new projects on the North Brooklyn waterfront, the towers are surrounded by a base of more contextual row buildings that rise no higher than 65 feet. And the project is not only taller than zoning allows but also bigger, containing roughly 890,000 square feet, as opposed to the 660,000 square feet potentially allowed as of right.

“We are asking for radical changes to the zoning, but we do think it’s way different than anything that’s been proposed on the waterfront,” Bernstein said during an informal presentation to the community board’s land-use committee last week. “We think it will be a gateway to Manhattan and Greenpoint.”

Bernstein has employed some clever zoning tactics to make his radical moves. Under the 2005 rezoning, the most a developer could expect to build would be two towers, one at 400 feet, the other at 300 feet. More typically, buildings top out in the range of 300 feet and 150 feet, as is the case at the Edge condominiums further to the south. So far, no building has even reached 400 feet, though a third tower at Northside Piers is planned for that height.

Even more unorthodox is Bernstein’s proposal to demap all of neighboring India Street and part of Java Street. Bernstein wants to turn these streets into parkland that connects with a larger-than-required park on the waterfront, replete with an amphitheater, sand dunes, and wetlands designed by W Architecture and Landscape Architecture. By incorporating thousands of square feet from the roadbeds into his project, Bernstein would significantly increase the project’s density, and hence the tower’s permitted height.

Bernstein said he must build big in order to afford his project, citing the expense of creating required public amenities, even arguing that zoning restrictions are one of the main reasons the waterfront remains under-developed. “We have to pay for these things,” Bernstein said. “We’re trying to create something that is good for the community and yet financially feasible.”

While the tower would be an eye-popper for such a lowrise neighborhood, it would not be the first in the area to exceed zoning restrictions. This spring, 155 West Street, an Ishmael Leyva–designed project proposed for a site directly north of Bernstein’s, won approval to rise to 400 feet, instead of a permitted 300 feet.

On that site, however, a sewer easement prevented the developer from building out the entire lot. Instead of a 300-foot tower and a 150-foot tower as of right, the two were combined into a single, 400-foot tower, plus a $2 million waterfront park. Moreover, in this case the developer was simply shifting density, unlike Bernstein, who is seeking to increase it.

Bernstein has yet to seek the numerous city approvals it would take to realize the project, including permission from the city planning, transportation, and parks departments, and one of his associates emphasized that specifics could still change ahead of public review. Bernstein said he has spoken with these agencies, though, and that they’ve expressed enthusiasm for the project. (He has even signed a contract with the city’s Economic Development Corporation to serve as the Greenpoint stop in an East River ferry service program.) Representatives of the agencies did confirm such meetings to AN, but said it was premature to make any judgments before a formal public review.

Elected officials, including local Assemblyman Joseph Lentol and Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez, have expressed reservations. A Lopez spokesperson said that he is particularly uncomfortable with the project’s height: “He’s against anything that’s not contextual with the neighborhood, especially a 45-story tower.”

Some in the community believe this opposition is why Bernstein has come to them first, seeking their support ahead of a formal public review expected in the next few months. And despite reservations about the project, locals have been keeping an open mind, such as Christine Holowacz, co-chair of the Greenpoint Waterfront Association for Parks and Planning. “I love the open space on the project,” Holowacz told AN. “I’m not so sure about the tall towers.”

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The City of Benchly Love
It would seem Philadelphia has a bit of a seating fixation going on with this year's Design Philadelphia event. First there was the new Veyko subway chairs, and now—as you've noticed if you've been out wandering the streets of town during October—more than a dozen seats/sculptures scattered about, all cut from DuPont Corian, all created by prominent local designers. Reading-based C.H. Briggs, the interiors supplier, decided it wanted to celebrate Philly's top designers and the city's popular public spaces by commissioning them to create site-specific seating from that most ubiquitous of building materials. The results will only officially be up through the end of the month, though Briggs is currently negotiating with the city and certain institutions to donate the pieces so that they might find a permanent home—not unlike those damn cow parades that were so popular earlier in the decade, though at least these seats have a far greater purpose. You can see a slideshow of all 14 here.
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Where the Wild Things Are
What lives along the No. 7 line? Much more than just people.
Courtesy Columbia Studio-X

Earlier this month at the opening the Safari 7 Reading Room at Columbia University’s Studio X, a cross section of the city’s architecture, landscape, design, and urbanist ecosystem sipped from red plastic cups and milled around an oversized table map listening to podcasts. Meanwhile, from Midtown, Manhattan to Flushing, Queens other animal habitats were teeming with life: snakefish, squirrels, and worms twitching and writhing within the urban environment. Launched over the summer, Safari 7 is a self-guided podcast tour that narrates the wildlife and habitats along the No. 7 subway line.

The project brings together infrastructure, communications, ecology, and participatory design. Produced as a collaboration between Janette Kim and Kate Orff of The Urban Landscape Lab research group at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and Glen Cummings of graphic design studio MTWTF, the reading room is not a library in the traditional sense, but a spot where you can take the time to read the nature around the 7 line, listen to a narrative, pick up a map, and plan your own eco-commute. AN spoke with Orff, Kim, and Cummings about Safari 7.

How did you first conceive of the project?

Janette Kim: Safari 7 started when the three of us—Kate, Glen, and I—started collecting our research on the National Parks Service. The parks provide rangers, maps, and even self-guided cell phone tours that provide access and interpretation of parklands. We began to discuss what would happen if we could provide ranger tours of New York City as a layered urban ecosystem, and started to imagine that this tour could be more hands-on, more exploratory, and follow the notion of a citizen scientist—someone who doesn't just take in information from an authoritative source, but produces it through the process of exploration.

Was the 7 subway line a natural fit? Does Queens County lend itself to ecological study more than the other Boroughs?

Glen Cummings: The 7 line wasn't just a good fit, it was the inspiration. The 30-minute ride from Times Square to Flushing or visa versa is the perfect time to connect to the micro events that are happening right outside the train windows.

JK: We've received suggestions already to do the G and 6 lines, but the 7 train is especially fascinating. We like the fact that it traverses so many different types of neighborhoods and people, and runs through neighborhoods that offer a fascinating history of combined natural and social influences.

Bryant Park is a product of varying interpretations of public investment, from its stint as the Croton Reservoir to the home of the New York Public Library. Jackson Heights is one of our nation's only examples of the Garden City movement and Sunnyside Gardens is one of the nation's first planned communities after World War I. Flushing Meadows is famously the result mass dumping of tons of ash from the city's garbage incineration, the transformation by Robert Moses into a major transportation corridor and the site of two world's fairs, and the ever-encroaching return of a neglected wetlands.

GC: Diversity is a defining characteristic of the borough of Queens: More types of people from more countries, living in more types of places, with an eclectic grouping of creatures and plants around them, than anywhere else in the U.S. The 7 line helped us narrow down this discussion by acting as a natural transect, that is, a line along which you can examine differences.

In addition to urban explorations, what more about our built environment can Safari 7 participants take away from the project?

GC: We are definitely interested in connecting a wide range of people with the urban nature in their own backyards by using mass transportation the means of travel, and by offering up a model for how people can connect to the environment in an active rather than passive way.

Our hope is that viewers and participants become interested and therefore more attuned to the world around them. Most city infrastructure is constructed in a brutal way because government didn't really understand how interconnected environment, health, and commerce were and are. It is the overlaps and intersections between these infrastructures, housing fabrics, human animal and plant habitats that tell the story.

One example is U Thant Island, just south of Roosevelt Island. The construction of the Steinway Tunnel produced a pile of soil that was dumped at the closest high point in the East River floor. The pile emerged from the river as an impromptu island and now has a flock of cormorants nesting there.

We see the 7 line, as well as the whole MTA system, as a tool for urban exploration and a tool to connect with the built natural environment. Robert Moses’s view of connecting the city to nature is to connect the city with the parks and beach as recreation destinations, but we're interested in the inter-connections and micro-environments all the way along the line, and how they are experienced in peoples daily life, not just at the end points.

Above ground trains offer you a spectrum of less-spectacular environments, whose range and impact are even more interesting, because these are the environments we live in. Understanding what lives there, what grows there, how they relate, is what it is all about.

Does a growing awareness of habitats and biodiversity dovetail with trends in sustainability and green building design?

Kate Orff: Sustainable development is inseparable from robust habitats and global biodiversity. Who could imagine living in a world of smooth, glassy, high-tech, supposedly “green” skyscrapers in a world with no bees or bats—surrounded by silent forests and empty seas? How would our crops be pollinated? What would we eat?

Growing awareness of habitats probably reflects a growing understanding of the less superficially technical and more emotional and compassionate side of the sustainability question. We've modified the globe to create human (and as the exhibit shows, deer and geese) habitat all over the world and people are beginning to expand the view and see that in some cases human habitat excludes animal life. In some cases, like we've pointed out in the exhibit, along the 7 line—they co-exist in surprising and unexpected ways.

What is your favorite stop?

KO: I like Bryant Park—the maze of tunnels from different periods of time disorients even the most jaded New Yorker—and I like thinking that just a couple of feet above me someone is reading the newspaper and sunning on this thin lawn carpet. Second choice would have to be Willets Point and the experience of riding through the treetops on my way to US Open tennis match.

GC: Downtown Flushing. My family is from Flushing and I've always loved the bustle of the train station area. The noise, the food, people come from every direction and going in every direction all at once. What a beautiful mess!

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The Iron Trapezoid
The city is moving forward with its redevelopment plan for Willets Point, albeit in a phased approach.
Courtesy NYC EDC

Despite the stagnant real estate market in New York City, the Bloomberg administration has decided to go ahead with plans for one of its landmark redevelopment projects, the transformation of Willets Point from a down-and-out mechanics row to a gleaming new community complete with a mid-size convention center. At the same time, because of the stagnant real estate market, the city is taking a different approach with its plans, having released on Monday a request for qualifications for the project that focuses on redeveloping an 18-acre swath of the 62-acre area that was rezoned almost a year ago.

The RFQ is seeking developers to build a retail and commercial hub along the western edge of Willets Point, known as “Area A.” This staged approach presents a number of potential advantages beyond its lesser cost compared to a wholesale redevelopment. Area A is on parcels bordering the new Mets Stadium as well as being the densest part of the development because it is outside the LaGuardia flight path, both of which make it more appealing for investment. Also, the city controls the most property out of the three areas, as it has been working to buy out the scrap yards, auto body shops, and factories that have dominated Willets Point for decades.

A rendering showing the proposed phases of the project.

“Area A is envisioned to become an urban residential community with fantastic views and a dynamic skyline,” according to the RFQ. “Residential and commercial uses are stacked above retail to create an integrated (24/7) neighborhood.” The area would include 980,000 square feet of retail space, 500,000 square feet of office space, 430 hotel rooms, 2,100 residential units, and possibly a school. Building heights are planned to rise as high as 215 feet, providing quite the views over Citifield’s right field wall.

And while the convention center, seen as a linchpin to the project’s success, will not likely be built in the first phase, its location has been determined as part of the RFQ. The city had been considering both the eastern and northern edges of the site, though the latter, now known as “Area C” won out. The eastern parcels of “Area B” will be dedicated to residential uses—roughly 3,000 units—and local retail.(Oddly enough, the alternative proposal is the one shown on the cover of the RFQ.)

A rendering showing the land-use ideas undergirding the project. (Click to enlarge.)

The entire development is one of a handful being put forward by the city as pilot for the U.S. Green Building’s new LEED for Neighborhood Development program. As part of this effort, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, which is developing the project, is creating a special set of design guidelines with Beyer Blinder Belle. “Willets Point Design Guidelines are being developed to supplement the Special Zoning District and convey additional goals for urban design, pedestrian experience, streetscape, open space and architectural character,” according to the RFQ. The city expects to release those guidelines, which are being developed by Beyer Blinder Belle, next year along with a more formal request for proposals, assuming the RFQ generates enough interest.

“The release of this Request for Qualifications once again moves the Willets Point project, one of the largest in our borough’s history, another step forward and closer to reality,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, a long-standing proponent of the project. “Each step forward gives us a clearer vision of a plan that will redevelop Willets Point in way that will capitalize on the resources surrounding it, including recreational uses and a network of highways, while strengthening the entire region.

The city sees its plan as a more economically vigorous use for Willets Point, though the auto and industrial businesses that populate the 62-acre Iron Triangle see themselves as victims of neglect.

The city is proceeding cautiously with its plan, but it makes clear in the RFQ that the project could change at any point, getting bigger or smaller as the market dictates. A big factor in its progress is the businesses that remain in Area A. As opposition to the rezoning of the area reached a groundswell last year, with local business contending the only blight in the area was caused by longstanding neglect from the city, the Economic Development Corporation began negotiating with landlords in the area in order to avoid eminent domain at the site.

The agency has paraded out announcements every few months or so, and ownership in Area A now stands at 70 percent. “We are in active discussions with several additional land owners within the first development stage and would like to acquire all the privately-held property by negotiated acquisition,” Janel Patterson, and EDC spokesperson, said in an email. She noted that the city also controls roughly 60 percent within the entire 62-acre district. Representatives for two local business groups did not return requests for comment.

One thing is clear, however. Despite the changing economy, the city has not drastically reconsidered its plans. While the RFQ notes that a 4-acre buffer zone would be created between Area A and the remaining businesses, Patterson said there was little chance those businesses might be allowed to stay for good. “Industrial users in the eastern portion will eventually have to be moved,” she said.

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Headed for Extinction
Maya Lin's new installation What is Missing? outside the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
Bruce Damonte

Last month’s unveiling of Maya Lin’s What is Missing?—a tribute to extinct animal species, and the second of the artist’s two permanent works commissioned for the Renzo Piano–designed California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco—raised a nagging question. Is this really Lin’s last memorial?


Lin's installation seen from inside the academy of sciences.
Bruce Damonte
 

Although reports that Lin had designed her last memorial have circulated since 1982 when she completed her first, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lin’s office claims that What is Missing?, funded by the city’s Arts Commission, is her last, as Lin herself has been saying in presentations. In her 2000 book Boundaries, Lin described plans for her fifth memorial as focused on the environment, and dispersed in different locations. Completed nearly a decade later, What is Missing?, her first multimedia work, has arrived.

Set on the academy’s east terrace, the piece’s physical component is the “Listening Cone,” a quietly imposing cast-bronze form lined with reclaimed redwood. It draws visitors in with the sounds of 50 extinct or endangered species and landscapes, sourced from research archives worldwide. Within the cone, compelling quotes, statistics, and images emerge on an eye-shaped video screen.

Lin, an active environmentalist, described the cone as a portal focusing attention on the slow yet catastrophic loss of species and the habitats that support them. As Lin sees it, awareness is the first step toward action: “How can we protect them if we don’t even know they’re endangered?” she said.

“The Empty Room,” a traveling component of the memorial, also opened last month in the Beijing Center for the Arts and at the Storm King Art Center in New York. A billboard installation in Times Square and the launch of the What is Missing? website are scheduled for 2010.

A version of this article appeared in AN 08_10.28.2009_CA.

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Reflections on Metal
A close-up of the Markel Building.
Patrick Ciccone

On September 30, The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University held its third annual materials conference on metals in architecture and engineering. Much was debated concerning the sustainability and viability of steel as expensive or artistic resource, and the fragility of architecture (or was it architects?) versus the pragmatism of engineering (or perhaps engineers). AN asked a scholar, an architect, and an engineer to describe the metal project that most impressed them with metal’s continuing capacity to surprise.

Patrick Ciccone

The Markel Building, 1962
Haig Jamgochian
Richmond, Virginia

“While I am generally suspicious of invoking the vernacular sideshow as a way of deflating the ambitions of academic conferences—not the way the Markel Building was used in this case but still a well-known and over-used gambit—I am a great fan of the novelty item. I had never seen the Markel Building before and was amused by the miscegenating notion of baking Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim in Andy Warhol's tinfoil. More pertinent to the conference, however, was the way the crumpled aluminum surface suggested an experiment in the behavior of a particular metal, which struck me at the time as a radical departure from the tendency in the conference to focus on the engineering of steel to a thinness bordering on the immaterial. In this sense, the Markel Building served for me as a surprising intellectual opening in the conversation.”

Sylvia Lavin, director, Critical Studies Program,
Department of Architecture, UCLA

Courtesy Ilek

Maelstrom, 2009
Roxy Paine
The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
New York

“Roxy Paine’s new sculpture on the roof terrace of the Met, Maelstrom, is an inspiring and very ambitious work of structure in stainless steel. Form and structure are united to shape space without any additional elements. And the enthusiasm and movement of the visitors around and through it seem to present an emotional link: Sculpture to Architecture.”

Steven Holl,
Steven Holl Architects

Teresa Christiansen

The Apolinarska Project, 2008
Aleksandra Anna Apolinarska
Institute for Lightbuilding and Construction
Stuttgart, Germany

“Basically, this is just an endless piece of hammered aluminum. It can be a huge metal sponge, very thin and laser-welded at the edges. The prototype shown here is very light at 40 feet long and ten feet high. It could be used as a facade element that provides shading and directed light, or slow down the wind to allow windows behind to be opened. Or it can be loadbearing for whatever. The big trick is that the modified honeycomb shapes focus on certain exposures, so when you look through, you only see certain things. There are at least 2,000 different shapes and I think this is some very interesting research for potential structures.”

Werner Sobek,
Werner Sobek Engineering & Design

A version of this article appeared in AN 17_10.21.2009.