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Building a Just Future

Over 80 architect-activists join Women’s March on NYC
Last Saturday, over 80 architects, engineers, and construction professionals gathered to raise awareness on women's contributions to the AEC industry at the Women’s March on NYC. Sporting neon pink hard hats and bright orange signs that read, Women BUILD, the group’s message was loud and clear. Over a dozen organizations were represented; teams came from Thornton Tomasetti, Perkins Eastman, Marvel Architects, FXCollaborative, Silman Engineering, ArchiteXX, BuroHappold, and CannonDesign, among others. The leadership from FXWomen said seeing everyone march in solidarity, from young engineers to managing principals, men and women alike, was encouraging.  "The group that represented our industry at the Women’s March showed that gender equity isn’t a 'women’s issue,'" they told AN in an email. "It affects everyone and is supported by a diverse group that reflects the communities we design for." The day’s event was organized by Dattner Women’s Group. The team began reaching out to design-related companies across New York in November to get the conversation started about last weekend's march. At a community meetup last month, the firms came up with the #WomenBUILD2019 campaign and created matching posters that would boost their presence among the crowd. “Women Architects Here” some signs read, and others encouraged youth to “Join Us, Think Big.”  Carisima Koenig of the Women's Forum at CannonDesign said throughout the morning her team met other architects not directly affiliated with the Women BUILD cohort who ended up joining alongside them. "We had extra signs, so we distributed them along the march route," she said. "As a group, it made an impact to have a cohesive message and for the city to see we are here." Not only did the city take notice, but children—who marched alongside the Women BUILD group—did too. “At one point during the march, a mother and daughter were pointing to our signs and discussing what kinds of jobs the different icons represented," said Dattner's Rebecca McCarthy. "That was a really special moment. I hope that young people who saw our group will feel they can grow up to be whatever they want to be, and that we demonstrated that’s really possible.” Employees from other firms at the march issued similar sentiments about the group's influence and what the future of the industry could look like if people continue to take a stand against the problems that have long plagued architecture. They believed their shared presence together, not as competitors but as proponents of an equal society, only amplified some of the recent discussions that have come online as a result of the #MeToo movement. "We want everyone considering a career in architecture, engineering, and construction to know that the industry has a place for them," said FXWomen. "We're waiting for them and transforming this profession into one that is worthy of their talents."
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Go Big or Go Home

The western hemisphere’s second tallest tower may soon rise in New York
Move over 432 Park Avenue. In conversation with the New York Times, prolific developer Harry Macklowe revealed that he had filed a preliminary application with the NYC Department of City Planning for a supertall skyscraper in East Midtown that would reach 1,551 feet. That would make it the second-tallest in the city and the hemisphere after One World Trade, which reaches 1,776 feet. Tower Fifth, set to rise directly across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue between East 51st and 52nd Streets, is, as the Times notes, likely to be Macklowe’s last great building. He has plenty of projects under his belt. The 82-year-old developer was behind the rise of 432 Park Avenue—the city’s current second tallest building at 1,396-feet-tall—the glassy Apple Store cube on 5th Avenue, and the renovation of the General Motors Building directly behind it, but Tower Fifth will require a slew of special permits, zoning permissions, and permission from the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The tower, if built as proposed, would be 66 percent larger than the zoning for the neighborhood would permit. The 96-story office tower, a joint effort between Gensler and local firm Adamson Associates Architects, is facing complicated siting conditions and is currently planned to cantilever over two separate landmarked buildings. According to the Times, Tower Fifth would hang 100 feet above the modernist Look Building at the corner of Madison Avenue, and 300 feet above the John Pierce House. An 85-foot-tall, marble-clad glass lobby would frame views of St. Patrick’s, while the tower proper would step back from the base and only begin to rise 400 feet above the ground. The Times notes that the tower will rise on two shafts or stilts. The massing of the tower seems similar to that of the rectangular 432 Park Ave., until reaching the top, where Tower Fifth will displace and cantilever its floor slabs, a move similar to Herzog & de Meuron’s 56 Leonard downtown. Macklowe also revealed a slew of amenities and promised that the tower's perforated facade would be extremely energy efficient. The city’s tallest observation deck (Tower Fifth’s roof would rise above that of the 1,776-foot-tall Freedom Tower), a 60-foot-long corkscrew slide, multi-floor running track, and a glass-faced public auditorium that would sit above the lobby and look out over St. Patrick’s Cathedral have all been proposed. If Macklowe is serious about assembling the development rights necessary for Tower Fifth to reach 1,551 feet, the Times notes that he still needs to buy 580,000 square feet of air rights. While St. Patrick’s Cathedral has been looking to sell its unused development rights to fundraise for its maintenance, it remains to be seen if the owners of the Look Building and John Pierce House will be amenable.
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No Towers, No Comprise

Architecture collective joins activists to protest luxury towers on New York’s Lower East Side
One Manhattan Square, an 800-foot-tall glass tower in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, is at the center of a grassroots battle against displacement. Designed by Adamson Associates, the Extell Developmentbacked skyscraper threatens to push out throngs of immigrants and longtime local residents who call the area home. It’s a common story found in the ever-evolving city, but this particular narrative possesses one distinct difference: It’s location. Since much of New York’s luxury residential building boom has focused on expanding Hudson Yards, buffing up Billionaires’ Row, and readying Long Island City for Amazon’s HQ2, the Lower East Side has been somewhat unaffected by such large-scale development. Until now. A series of sky-high apartment buildings, starting with the nearly-complete One Manhattan Square (also called Extell Tower), is slated to dot the Lower East Side waterfront enclave known as Two Bridges. Four planned towers are in the works, although One Manhattan square is the only one currently under construction. The surrounding community is predominantly composed of Chinese immigrants and working-class people, a major reason why the city designated the neighborhood a Large-Scale Residential Development (LSRD) area in 1972, which protects and promotes affordable and mixed-income housing for residents. According to Zishun Ning, leader of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the proposed high-end projects violate the LSRD, which requires that all new developments secure approval from the City Planning Commission or receive special permits through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process. Ning argued the city's decision to move forward with the Two Bridges development is therefore illegal, and indicative of discrimination from the mayoral administration. Not only is it politically fraught, according to Ning, it's socially irresponsible. The towers are situated within a three-block radius of each other and will sit near NYCHA housing. One will cantilever over an existing senior center and another, One Manhattan Square, will feature a “poor door,” as the coalition calls it, for the building’s affordable housing residents.   Yesterday a slew of protestors gathered at the 80-story tower and marched to City Hall in opposition to the plan. Ning said the day’s event, officially titled the March to Reclaim the City, was the coalition’s latest attempt to get Mayor de Blasio’s attention. “We’re not against development,” Ning said, “we just want some regulation and future development that fits our community.” Last fall the group submitted an alternative proposal to the commission in which the neighborhood could be rezoned for more appropriate use. They integrated height restrictions on new construction and called for 100 percent affordable housing on public land. Ning said their efforts were ignored, and in early December, the commission approved a special building permit submitted by the developers. The commission said the projects only presented a “minor modification” to Two Bridges’ zoning law and that a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process would not be required. “It’s evident that racism plays into the city’s zoning policies,” said Ning. “They rezone communities of colors for the interests of developers. We call out the city’s illegal approval, along with Mayor de Blasio’s collusion with developers to approve these towers and deny our plan that came out of a democratic process. We want to reclaim our democracy and control as a community.” History has seen many local working groups stand up against giant developers and influential politicians, but, according to Ning, there needs to be more support from area architects to help such groups envision a bigger, more inclusive picture for their neighborhoods. A new collective of aspiring architects and non-architects interested in the field, citygroup, wants to do just that. The organization aims to become a young social and political voice for the architecture industry. Members gather periodically for informal debates on serious topics like the need for affordable housing in New York, the nature of architectural expertise, and architects’ tricky relationship with real estate developers. The group's inaugural exhibition, set up inside its new space on the Lower East Side, details various visions of One Manhattan Square that imagine a more useful development for the local community. “We wanted to rethink the Extell Tower as something that isn’t as foreign to this neighborhood as it is now,” said Michael Robinson Cohen of citygroup. “It’s built on a plinth and houses mostly luxury apartments. We asked ourselves, How could we recreate the tower for different uses or for a diverse group of inhabitants?”   The exhibition centers on a series of 21 drawings done by different citygroup members. These individual visions, expressed within the confines of the building’s plan, feature different ways to reuse the tower’s 1.2 million square feet of space. Some pictured it as pure parkland, others cut it up into a grid of 3-meter-by-3-meter apartments. One strips away the idea that a housing complex must cater to the traditional single-family home by creating personally-designed apartments outfitted for everyone from single moms to yoga teachers, a Russian oligarch, a cat lady, and even a family of five. Thinking critically about megaprojects like One Manhattan Square, according to Robinson Cohen, allows architects to investigate the best ways for new developments to improve a community, instead of displacing residents and stripping away the character of a neighborhood. “Much like the coalition, we’re for challenging the tower, but are not against development in general,” he said. “Obviously, as architects, we want to build and it’s clear the city needs more housing, but to us it’s important to think about the people these developments serve.” To Ning, the architect’s mission isn’t far from that of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. He says the two parties can work together to imagine developments that engage with local residents rather than taking away access to light and air. “We actually encourage architects to put their creativity into building things that benefit the community,” Ning said. “But in order for that to happen, we first need to fight the city.” A new lawsuit against the City was just brought on by the Lower East Side Organized Neighbors in opposition to the development. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) is slated to support with future litigation efforts. Until then, the City is still contending with another lawsuit calling for the towers to go through the ULURP process, initiated by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson last month. “These towers are just one piece of a bigger picture,” noted Ning. “If 3,000 units are added to the neighborhood, the demographics will change and the land value will rise. Harassment and eviction will escalate. This is happening all over New York City. It’s segregation, and it’s very visual.” Walk-throughs of citygroup’s exhibition are available upon request through early February at 104b Forsyth Street. Email group@citygroup.nyc for hours.
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Lower Manhattan Landfill

New York City releases surprise plan to bury and rebuild East River Park
Manhattan’s East River Park, home to sprawling fields, winding bike paths, and a landscaped promenade, was badly damaged when Hurricane Sandy tore through the city in 2012 and the Lower East Side flooded. Since then, New York City officials have been brainstorming ideas to protect the park, along with the remainder of Lower Manhattan, from rising seas. The city’s latest proposal calls for burying the existing East River Park under 10 feet of landfill, before building a new one from scratch, according to The New York Times. This differs from the original plan, which aimed to push back the flood walls from FDR Drive toward the East River along the water’s edge, shielding the highway and large swaths of the LES from rising floodwaters. The meticulously-thought-out design, which took over four years to assemble, was only the first link in a series of barriers around Lower Manhattan known as the “Big U.” In September 2018, with no community input and to the dismay of inner-city residents, the city announced that the entire plan was being rejected in favor of the new project. The new, $1.5 billion proposal is not only significantly more expensive than its $760 million predecessor, but it will also destroy all trees, plant life, and infrastructure that currently exists within East River Park. Both the park’s field house and running track, which was recently revamped at a cost of nearly $3 million, will be buried beneath the soil, while the fate of the site’s historic amphitheater remains unknown. The latest plans will preserve one thing in the area: traffic. To construct the Big U, the city would have had to shut down one lane of FDR Drive every night for five consecutive years. By burying the park with landfill and soil that is delivered by barge, the new plan will cause little to no traffic disruptions. According to the Times, while local residents feel as though they are not receiving a fair trade, Parks Department commissioner Mitchell J. Silver claimed that, with the East River expected to rise over two feet within the next 30 years, burying the existing park to build a more elevated one is the only way to save the land. The new plan is scheduled to launch in March 2020, with flood protection barriers implemented as soon as 2022, though local residents are still doubtful as to whether or not the city will complete the project on time due to its history of construction delays.
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Tragedy on the Job Site

Construction is N.Y.C.’s deadliest industry, according to annual reports
Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations, especially in New York City, home to some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers. While construction accidents are commonplace, statistics collected over the past ten years demonstrate that construction tops the charts as New York City’s most lethal industry, with more injuries reported last year than any other year following the post-recession building boom, as reported in the Commercial Observer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of construction-related deaths in New York City has remained steadily high over the past few years, with a slight decrease from 21 to 20 annual deaths in 2017. The most recent construction fatality, according to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), occurred in November 2018, when a worker was crushed by a forklift on the site of a six-story residential condo in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. One month prior, a worker repairing the facade of a 20-story co-op in Kips Bay, Manhattan, died after a fragment of the building collapsed on top of him. Despite these gruesome accounts, there are still incidents that have yet to be reported, as the DOB only tracks deaths related to a violation of the city’s construction code, rather than tracking all work-related injuries on the job site. There are at least a half-dozen more fatalities that occurred in 2018 than the 12 cases reported by the DOB, bringing the actual number closer to 20. Although the annual death toll has remained constant in recent years, construction accidents surged significantly in 2018. According to the DOB, 761 construction workers were injured last year, which is a 13 percent increase from the 671 incidents that were reported in 2017. Due to the elevated injury rates, the City Council has implemented a number of measures aimed at protecting construction workers and reduce accidents and deaths on job sites. Among them was a law passed in September 2017 mandating construction workers to attend at least 40 hours of safety training by September 2020. The rise in construction-related accidents since then may indicate that employers are not taking these safety precautions seriously, and that the city is not doing enough to protect construction workers from deadly mishaps.
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Interiors with Great Acoustics

A grandiose tour of Mexican architecture is coming to New York
Opulent interiors, delicate dances of light and shadow, and 600 years of Mexican history will soon go on display at Manhattan’s Sean Kelly Gallery. Candida Höfer—In Mexico will run from February 2 through March 16 and present large-format architectural photographs from German artist Candida Höfer. Höfer traveled to Mexico in 2015 as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, a cultural and scientific exchange program between the two countries that showcased the partnership’s fruits in Mexico throughout 2016 and 2017. Höfer’s photographs, which took her across Mexico, are meticulously composed, ornate shots of grand halls, museums, palaces, and auditoriums, places of convergence that, in her series, are entirely empty. In a press release for the upcoming show, Höfer wrote that: “I realized that what people do in those places—and what the spaces do to them—is more obvious when nobody is present, just as an absent guest can often become the topic of conversation.” More than just large-scale photos of sweeping spaces, Candida Höfer—In Mexico will also put intimate aspects of each building on display as well. Light falling across a doorway, or hidden nooks, were captured by Höfer’s handheld camera and the fleeting instances stand in stark contrast to the much larger staged photographs. The photos are truly massive, each being at least 70 inches wide; by comparison, the more intimate photos will be presented as 16-and-9/16-inch-by-12-and-7/8-inch prints. While this is the first time Höfer’s Mexico series will be shown in New York, the show was previously on display in Mexico and the North Carolina Museum of Art.
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Living in the Cloud

Microsoft to invest $500 million in affordable housing around Seattle
After vociferous opposition from Starbucks, Amazon, and other large Seattle-based corporations last summer, the Seattle City Council voted to roll back a tax that would have raised $47 million towards building 591 units of affordable housing. Now, Microsoft has announced that it will invest $500 million for affordable housing over the next three years across King County, Washington. Seattle has been plagued by rising rents and homelessness rates as the area has grappled with a housing shortage, caused in part by inflated demand and stagnant wages. Amazon and other so-called “mega-corporations” in the city had successfully talked the government down from imposing a $500-per-employee head tax that would have funded 1,700 new units of affordable housing in May of 2018 before the watered down version of the tax was ultimately killed in June. Affordable housing and homelessness advocates, who felt that the large companies headquartered in Seattle are partially responsible for its tight housing market, saw the move as adding insult to injury. Microsoft, which is headquartered in neighboring Redmond, wouldn’t have been hit with the head tax, but the initiative sparked a dialogue between Microsoft and the business-led group Challenge Seattle. The plan, which is still being finalized, sprung out of their conversations last summer on how to close the gap in affordability in housing across the region. The $500 million will be doled out as a series of grants that Microsoft is calling “targeted investments," across three stratified tiers. The company will load $225 million at a lower-than-market rate to spur the construction of middle-income housing across six cities to the east of Seattle: Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Issaquah, Renton, and Sammamish. Microsoft will be lending an additional $250 million at market rate to support the construction of low-income housing across King County. The remaining $25 million will be distributed as grants to combat homelessness in and around Seattle. As part of its announcement, Microsoft revealed that $5 million of its grant will be going towards Home Base, a program that provides legal aid to families facing eviction, and another $5 million will be used to support a new joint agency being formed between Seattle and King County to tackle homelessness. Rather than using that money to solely build housing, which Microsoft expects would only generate about 1,000 new affordable units, the tech company claims that its targeted investments have the potential to spark development of “tens of thousands” of new units. While the company doesn’t expect to make much of a return, it plans to repeat the process and reinvest the money after being repaid. While this is Microsoft’s largest philanthropic gift to date, the company’s motives likely aren’t entirely altruistic. As the New York Times noted, the company is currently riding high with nearly $136 billion in cash on hand and is in the process of renovating its 500-acre Redmond campus. Supporting the region’s housing stock is a boon to lower-income residents, but will also provide a long-term solution for potential employees the company continues to woo as it expands.
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Chiseled Physique

Snøhetta’s Upper West Side skyscraper may have its permits revoked
New York City’s Department of Buildings (DOB) has fired a shot across the bow of developer Extell Development over 50 West 66th Street, a Snøhetta-designed 775-foot-tall tower first revealed at the end of 2017. The 127-unit residential tower, which was first announced as a 262-foot-tall building in 2015, has used a contentious zoning tactic to boost the building’s height, and accordingly, the prices it can command. The middle of the tower includes a 160-foot-tall mechanical void that does not completely count towards the maximum floor area ratio (FAR) defined by the zoning code. While the Department of City Planning had claimed that it would close the loophole in the zoning code responsible for these so-called "towers on stilts" by the end of 2018, that deadline has come and gone. The city now expects to finalize their fix by the summer of 2019. Although the DOB had already greenlit construction at 50 West 66th Street, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer announced today that Extell has 15 days to go back the drawing board and remove the unnecessary height. If Extell doesn't, its construction permit would be revoked. “This is a victory not only for the Upper West Side, but for communities all over the city that find themselves outgunned by developers who try to bend or break zoning rules for massive private profit,” wrote Brewer in a statement. A number of Upper West Side residents and City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal have been outspoken opponents of the project, which, if built, would become the tallest building in the neighborhood. It remains to be seen if Brewer’s decision will carry a precedent for similar projects that have gained extra height by stacking their mechanical rooms—a tactic also employed by the piston-like Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed tower at 249 East 62nd Street.
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Women BUILD

Dattner Architects organizes campaign for Saturday’s Women’s March on NYC
A throng of local architects, both men and women, will gather wearing pink hard hats and caution tape sashes at this Saturday’s Women’s March on NYC in an effort to raise awareness on the various roles women lead in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Organized by Dattner Architects’ Women’s Group, firms across the city are slated to show up in support for what’s dubbed as the “Women BUILD” campaign. Emily Kotsaftis, an associate architect at Dattner, is helping spearhead the event alongside her colleagues Heather McKinstry, a studio resource leader, and Rebecca McCarthy, an architectural designer. When Kotsaftis started the in-house, grassroots group at the end of 2017, she felt a pressing need to begin a conversation on the different ways women were represented within her own office in light of the then-budding media coverage surrounding gender bias and women in the workplace. “We’ve mostly been a discussion group up until now with our first meeting held in February,” she said. “As a large firm, we have a strong representation of women at every level. We’ve been focused on establishing our group within the office, but we’re now looking to mobilize a larger community. The effort around the Women’s March has been really eye-opening because we’re connecting the community of women citywide.” The Dattner Women’s Group, led by Kotsaftis and Mary Beth Lardaro, the studio's human resources director, also includes men within the firm. Theirs is just one of several similar organizations found at AEC companies in New York. Kostaftis said other more-established groups at FXCollaborative, Thornton Tomasetti, and Arup, for example, have helped provide inspiration to her and her colleagues. Last year, Dattner organized a coalition of architects for the Women’s March NYC 2018, which attracted over 70 people from studios such as Handel Architects and BuroHappold Engineering, as well as representatives from the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation. “Since late 2017, we’ve been thinking about Dattner and how our women’s group operates here,” said Kotsaftis. “Of course, I wanted to communicate with other women’s groups in order to learn about what they were doing, but now we want to become even more far-reaching to include men and women who share this interest across the city. I’m trying not to limit my thinking to my office alone." This year’s “Women BUILD” theme was birthed through a December meeting of women’s group's leaders from CannonDesign, SOM, Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, Marvel Architects, and Perkins Eastman, among others. According to McKinstry, issues such as pay equity, sexual harassment, respect on job sites, and work/life balance led the group to choose a message that communicated the types of responsibilities women take on with their jobs, family, and daily lives as citizens of the world.  “Women BUILD is a unifying theme both in that it can stand as a sentence on its own,” she said, “or be the start of something else like ‘Women Build Communities,’ or ‘Women Build Skyscrapers.” Designers across various firms have created “Women BUILD” signs to be printed for Saturday’s march and used to extoll their mission. For McCarthy and the women at Dattner, that mission goes beyond the march. She foresees Dattner helping enact real change across New York firms by developing initiatives in tandem with other women’s groups that will address the issues women face at work every day. “The last few years we’ve seen a large focus on awareness,” she said. “We’ve focused on reminding the world and those in the design, engineering, and construction fields that we care about these issues and are here to voice those issues. Now we’re ready and want to do more.” The Women’s March on NYC 2019 is organized by the Women’s March Alliance. To learn more details about Saturday’s meetup with Dattner Architects, visit the Women BUILD Facebook Group.
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(Again)

Snøhetta brings revised AT&T Building plan before the Landmarks Preservation Commission
Following the release of an updated scheme for 550 Madison in December of last year, Snøhetta once again went in front of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), this time for a Certificate of Appropriateness. The changes to the postmodern, Philip Johnson and John Burgee–designed skyscraper (now a New York landmark) are much more modest than the Snøhetta design that sparked the ire of preservationists back in 2017. Under the revised plan presented to the LPC on January 15, only six percent of the 1984 AT&T Building’s original facade would be changed. That includes a new row of windows on the western side (the rear) of the tower’s base and infilling the two large arches to accommodate the new elevator shaft locations in the lobby and the relocated doors to the rear passage. At the LPC meeting, Snøhetta, along with representatives of 550 Madison’s owners, Chelsfield America, Olayan America, and minority partner RXR Realty, described their design philosophy for the scheme: “Preserve and revitalize the landmarked tower, restore the original site design intent, improve on multiple alterations at the base, increase and enliven the public space." The glass-enclosure added to the building’s rear plaza in the 1994 renovation by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman would be stripped and replaced with a lightweight and open-ended Y-shaped steel-and-glass canopy. The quarter-circle glass canopy and attached annex were original to Johnson and Burgee’s design, but enclosing the open-air walkway meant that catwalks and a ductwork system had to be installed to ventilate the space. Snøhetta claimed that by removing the annex building and extending the canopy to the tower’s neighbor, along with opening the rear row of enclosed colonnades, the firm could increase the amount of available outdoor public space to 21,300 square feet from the current 4,500 square feet. That’s up from the original open-air breezeway scheme from 1984 as well, which only included 20,500 square feet—and that’s including the unenclosed colonnades that served as the building’s privately-owned public space (POPS). The new garden would be arranged according to a program that heavily invokes circles, a motif that, as Snøhetta noted, Johnson returned to again and again throughout his career. At the building’s Madison Avenue–facing front entrance to the east, the design team elaborated on their plan to replace the heavily-mullioned windows added to enclose the flat arches by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman. At the direction of Sony, which was headquartered in the building from 1992 to 2013, the columns were enclosed to create street-level retail spaces—something that AT&T fought against vehemently during the tower’s design process. While 550 Madison’s ownership team won’t be opening up the colonnade POPS and transforming it into a public space again, they’ve instead proposed replacing the windows in the flat arches with much larger panes. The new windows, which would only be divided into a three-by-four grid with two-inch-thick bronzed mullions, would be set back five feet from the front of the arches, unlike the current windows, which sit flush with the sidewalk. Public testimony presented before the commissioners was mixed but trended favorably. Representatives speaking on behalf of Robert A.M. Stern, Barry Bergdoll, Richard Rodgers, Signe Nielsen, Alan Ritchie (who worked on the original project with Philip Johnson in the 1970s), Claire Weisz and Mark Yoes, Elizabeth Diller, and others presented letters of support for the new proposal. Johnson Burgee wasn’t available to speak, but he contributed a letter of support for the plan as well. Many of the speakers addressed that upon its opening in 1984, the AT&T Building’s arched public space was dark and underutilized, and that Johnson was a proponent of adaptive reuse. Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, who had previously testified his support for the 550 Madison team’s changes to the building (and its landmarking), also spoke, but this time disclosed that he had been working as an outside consultant on the project. Goldberger had drawn criticism after an article in The Real Deal revealed his role, and that he subsequently had not revealed his ties to the tower’s management team prior to testifying. Speaking to AN, Goldberger admitted that he had made a mistake in not disclosing his involvement sooner but stood by his criticism of the building’s underutilized public space as having remained consistent throughout his career. His role in the project, he said, is that of a historian and someone who has intimate knowledge of the building. The praise wasn’t unanimous. Liz Waytkus, executive director of Docomomo’s U.S. chapter, criticized the new windows on Madison Avenue as they would allegedly stray even further from the tower’s original design intent and create a false sense of openness for an enclosed area. Concerns were also raised over the replacement of Johnson’s original articulated paving in favor of a simplified circular plan. Preservationist Theodore Grunewald spoke to the need to preserve 550 Madison’s “forest of columns” design and the relationship of void-to-solid between the cavernous underside and upper mass of the tower. Ultimately, the commission adjourned without making a decision. They needed time to consider the new scheme and accompanying testimony, and more importantly, lacked the number of commissioners required for a quorum. The LPC will reconvene and discuss the matter again at a future date. The entire presentation shown at the January 15 meeting is available here.
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Goodbye to You

Yet another design nonprofit leaves the street

In April 2015 we heard that the AIGA in New York City was giving up its 5th Avenue storefront headquarters to move into an upper floor of the Woolworth Building. In response, we published an editorial, “Design Orgs Need to Meet the Street,” that argued it was a mistake, at least in New York, for design organizations to give up street frontage, and more importantly, that as architects and designers, “they should also realize the value and need for public space in New York.” AIGA’s 5th Avenue storefront held ambitious, scholarly exhibitions with cutting edge graphics that were visible to the street. This gave them a powerful street presence and the city’s news outlets covered the organization’s projects.

The idea that design nonprofits needed a public presence was a hangover from the 2003 loss of the Urban Center in the Villard Houses on Madison Avenue that housed the Architectural League of New York, the Municipal Art Society, the Parks Council, the local AIA, and a constantly programmed gallery and bookstore. The Center did not have a direct street presence but was open and easily accessible off Madison Avenue, and it quickly became a meeting place for the city’s design community.

The AIA eventually opened in the Center for Architecture, a public-facing storefront on LaGuardia Place, which quickly became a success in a way that was unimaginable before the AIA had a street presence. Sadly for New York, design organizations have not learned from these examples and, caught up in the rapidly gentrifying and expensive real estate environment of Manhattan, seem willing to give up their “public” spaces and move into the background.

The 2015 editorial mentioned that the Van Alen Institute had recently given up its large upper-floor office, which contained a gallery and meeting space, along with its short-lived ground floor bookstore, in exchange for a small storefront that did not allow dynamic public programming. When it did this, the Van Alen gained an office off the street that held a dysfunctional, inconvenient space that was hardly fit to host public events. But its ground floor space had access to the basement, and there was hope that the lower level would be opened up for the office so that the ground floor could be converted into a public event or gallery space. This never happened.

Now we have word that the Van Alen has sold its 14-story headquarters at 30 West 22nd Street as a way of substantially increasing its endowment.

The Van Alen staff, according to the organization's statement, is now “spending an increasing portion of their workday dealing with property management issues.” Furthermore, it argued Van Alen is no longer a New York City–centric organization as it sponsors programs and initiatives across the globe. With the rise in real estate values in New York and the rent they are bringing in from the building, it made sense to the organization to sell the building to support its international programming.

We are not in a position to decide what is best for the Van Alen, which claims it was “uncommonly diligent and methodical in its decision to turn a real estate asset into a resource that gives the organization broad geographic and programmatic flexibility.” But still, one can feel sad for New York City that organizations like the Van Alen are giving up the possibilities of ground floor public space, with little assurance that they can one day get another space with that kind of presence in the city.

When AIGA left its 5th Avenue headquarters, it disappeared from public view, and though its new office is two blocks from the AN office, we have heard virtually nothing from the organization. Let’s hope that the Van Alen Institute stays engaged with the New York public and doesn’t disappear like AIGA did.

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Bayfront to Bayback

Perkins Eastman tapped for 100-acre mega development in Jersey City
Development in New Jersey doesn’t look like it will be slowing down any time soon, and Jersey City seems to be next in line to receive a massive, ground-up neighborhood. As first reported by Jersey Digs, New York's Perkins Eastman has been selected by the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) to design a residential community on a vacant, 100-acre waterfront plot. Plans for the new Bayfront community have been kicking around for at least three years, as private developer Honeywell International, Inc. and the city government hashed out their vision for the development. The remediation for chromium contamination, a relic of the plot’s industrial past, has slowed the progress on the site—leading to a $170 million buyout of Honeywell by the city government in October 2018. Jersey City has partnered with the JCRA and will act as a “master developer,” according to Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. After infrastructure is lain at the site by the city, development rights will then be parceled off and sold. According to a November 28, 2018, JRCA resolution that announced Perkins Eastman’s selection, the development plan will be split into two phases. Following a site tour and scope analysis, Perkins Eastman will be responsible for creating a set of design and development principles that fit within the master plan proposed by Anton Nelessen Associates. The First Phase Conceptual Plan will allow the city to create a comprehensive request for proposals (RFP) for prospective private developers. Design guidelines, renderings, “conceptual design for the public realm,” and a site plan will all be included. The second phase will be focused on refining the conceptual plan using feedback from the community and developers and will “get the word out” about plans for the site. According to the JRCA resolution, the city expects to issue developer RFPs in the first quarter of 2019. Once fully built out, Bayside could hold as many as 8,000 residential units. Perkins Eastman’s selection hasn’t been without hiccups; Councilman Rolando Lavarro, who sits on the JCRA advisory board, slammed Mayor Fulop in a Facebook post for the no-bid decision. Perkins Eastman will receive $218,000 for its Bayside work.