For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv. Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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Where There's a Willis
Hank Willis Thomas creates 25-foot-tall Afro pick for 5th Avenue
A new 25-foot-tall statue of an Afro pick now stands outside The Africa Center in East Harlem, New York. All Power to All People, created by conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas, was erected last Friday in its temporary location on 5th Avenue. Designed in collaboration with the Kindred Arts cultural equity initiative, the steel sculpture is intended to honor and celebrate cultural identities of the African diaspora. Thomas worked with fabricator Jeff Schomberg to imagine the larger-than-life Afro pick, which sits at an angle on a black podium and features a handle in the outline of a clenched fist. The design is an iteration of Thomas's 2017 sculpture made with Monument Lab in Philadelphia for Thomas Paine Plaza. In connection with the Afro pick’s distinct cultural and political identity, the piece symbolizes the strength, comradery, and perseverance of the African-American community, as well as the ongoing pursuit for equal rights, justice, and belonging. Marsha Reid, executive director of Kindred Arts and producer of the project, noted the important location of the installation. “Representation matters,” she said, “and this monumental art is placed here at The Africa Center in the heart of the community, with the purpose of inspiring conversation and facilitating a space where communities might affirm cultural citizenship and freely express identity.” All Power to All People will be on display through July 7, 2019, in the public plaza outside The Africa Center at 1280 Fifth Avenue in New York City. A slew of public programs will coincide with the monumental installation. For more information, visit The Africa Center’s website.
Go Fund Yourself
San Francisco homeless shelter inspires online fundraising battles
A homeless shelter proposed for San Francisco’s Embarcadero has resulted in dueling GoFundMe campaigns; one from residents who want to keep the Navigation Center out, and one to support the shelter. On March 4, San Francisco mayor London Breed allowed a plan to move forward that would transform a 2.3-acre parking lot in the eastern waterfront neighborhood into the city’s largest Navigation Center. Centers allow residents to stay 24 hours, provide health and wellness services, and allow pets—they’re also designed to be temporary. It’s expected that the center at Seawall Lot 330, if allowed to open by the end of this summer as anticipated, would only operate for four years while the city wrangles with its homelessness crisis. Some Embarcadero residents aren’t happy. On March 20, a group calling themselves Safe Embarcadero for All launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise $100,000 for a legal defense fund to help them oppose the shelter. Complete with its own website, Twitter feed, and well-heeled backers, Safe Embarcadero successfully hit its goal in 25 days. The group cited the large number of families and tourists the neighborhood draws, and the site’s potential proximity to landmarks such as Oracle Park as reasons for trying to push the shelter elsewhere. “The rushed process the Mayor is following to build the homeless shelter by the end of the summer is concerning to the community,” reads the Safe Embarcadero for All GoFundMe page. “We are worried that the rushed process puts the political goal of building a large Navigation Center ahead of legitimate concerns about public safety, drug use, and other problems that a large shelter may bring to the community. According to the city’s own data, a third of the homeless are drug users and some are sex offenders. “The Navigation Center will not allow drug use inside, meaning that about 75 drug users will be forced into the surrounding family neighborhood to use drugs. The community is also concerned about the environmental effects of building on a site that is known to have toxic materials beneath.”
Perhaps recognizing that concerted opposition by “not in my backyard” organizers has killed or segregated low income and homeless housing elsewhere, a counter fundraiser was created in support of the Navigation Center. SAFER Embarcadero for ALL, citing the potential legal costs and community challenges that the shelter is facing, sought to raise $175,000 in support of the Coalition on Homelessness. With 1,900 donations, in comparison to the original group’s 360, that goal was reached in 17 days. The GoFundMe in support of the Navigation Center also drew big donations from Salesforce, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, and GoFundMe itself, which contributed $5,000. The fight over the Embarcadero center is playing out in real-world meetings and protests that are just as charged as their online counterparts. On April 3, Mayor Breed was shouted down at a town hall meeting as she tried to stump for the scheme. While the mayor has proposed opening another 1,000 beds worth of shelters by 2020, so far only 212 have actually come online. The final battle over Seawall Lot 330 will culminate in a vote by the Port Commission on April 23, as the body (whose five members were selected by the mayor) votes on whether it will lease the site to the city.
A white woman to our right just screamed over presenters saying instead of building a Navigation Center we should “lock [the homeless] up”! #SafeSleep— internet princess 👸🏻 (@sashaperigo) April 4, 2019
Neighbors and preservationists sue N.Y.C. Parks Department to save a rare brutalist landscape
After a year and a half of radio silence, a contentious plan to transform the northwest entrance of Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park is back in the spotlight. Friends of Fort Greene Park, a collection of neighborhood residents and preservationists, and the Sierra Club have brought a lawsuit against the N.Y.C. Parks Department in the New York State Supreme Court over plans to modernize the park and remove a rare landscape intervention from Arthur Edwin (A.E.) Bye, Jr. Jump back to 2017, when the proposal to build a new grand entrance at the northwestern corner of the park first came before the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The 30-acre Fort Greene Park was Brooklyn’s first and originally grew out of the military fort from which the neighborhood took its name. The city brought Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on in 1868 to turn the green space into an official park, and the duo cut tight, winding pathways that offered wide views of the planted landscape, similar to their work in Prospect Park and Central Park decades later. The park has been updated three times since then, but the basic layouts and deference to the Olmsted and Vaux plan have remained consistent throughout. In the early 1900s, McKim, Mead & White cut across the meadow in the park’s northwest corner to improve access to the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument, a 150-foot-tall column dedicated to the over-11,500 American prisoners who died on British ships during the Revolutionary War. The monument is reached by climbing a 100-foot-wide granite staircase cut into the side of a hill. In 1971, landscape architect A.E. Bye was commissioned to accentuate the path from the park’s entrance to the sweeping monument steps using cobblestones and native plants. Bye, who rarely took on public projects, proposed a series of subtle, multipurpose brutalist mounds reminiscent of graves—a reference to the prisoners interred in the crypts below the monument. Bye worked largely through sculpture and drawings to realize his designs, and a pre-Diller Scofidio + Renfro-era Ricardo Scofidio was enlisted to help create a drawing set that the city could build from. A $10.5 million renovation and a “grand new entrance” to the park would scrap that. The improvements are part of the Parks Department’s Parks Without Borders initiative, which seeks to break down barriers between city parks and the street to create a more inviting landscape. The new scheme would move the park’s entrance to the corner and create a direct route to the monument through the existing circular garden…and Bye’s mounds. Those would be leveled to create a tree-lined “boulevard,” while 58 trees would be removed. The Parks Department claims that the mounds impede ADA accessibility, although the new flattened concrete plaza would terminate at the steps of the monument. Those changes were unanimously approved by the LPC in November of 2017. Then, on April 1 of this year, Friends of Fort Greene Park, the Sierra Club, and Michael Gruen, president of The City Club of New York and the attorney for Friends, filed a petition (here) with the State Supreme Court over the decision. The Parks Department claims that of the 52 mature trees it would be removing, 38 are for design purposes and 14 are in failing health. Twenty-eight of those trees are Norway maple, a species that the department classifies as an invasive species with a typical lifespan of 60 years in City parks, and many are at least 50 years old at the time of writing. Additionally, another 31 trees would be removed for a drainage project near the park—13 for design reasons and 18 for their condition. The department states that in keeping with their tree restitution plan, 80 trees would be planted in and around Fort Greene Park. Additionally, the department states that these improvements, as well as adding a basketball court and expanding the barbecue area, were all researched with input from elected officials, the community board, and the surrounding neighborhood. Friends of Fort Greene Park disagrees with that assessment, claiming that the department was able to avoid conducting a full environmental review. When the group had previously filed a Freedom of Information Act request over the environmental impact statement, it received a heavily redacted version. Over one-quarter of the 150-page report was blacked out. “Despite community outcry, the Parks Department is proceeding with plans to cut 58 park trees, and to bulldoze popular landscape features in the historic park,” reads a statement from Friends of Fort Greene Park. “Neighbors had no alternative but to sue the Parks Department, to compel the city to do the required environmental review assessing the impact of the proposed project. Neighbors had earlier brought a successful court action against Parks to release secret documents about the decision to remove mature park trees. “Despite a court order, Parks has refused to fully comply with the release of documents. Neighbors believe that documents will reveal that Parks had misled city officials about the health of the park trees, creating a false impression that the trees were in poor health when the opposite is true. Fort Greene neighbors commissioned an independent arborist's report that proved the trees were in excellent health. “In addition to removing scores of trees, the Parks Department plan would also demolish a picnic area and rolling landscape mounds that are popular with neighborhood families. In what neighbors see as a scandalous act of social engineering, the Parks plan would relocate the leafy picnic grounds to a new, and more exposed site across the street from an existing NYCHA building, and away from the planned luxury high-rise.” While the lawsuit is still pending (the first filed at the state level to protect a brutalist structure), Friends has pledged that it will continue to raise awareness of the issue. When reached for a statement, the Parks Department wrote that it doesn't comment on pending litigation. AN will follow this story closely as it develops.
UCLA hosts symposium for Mark Mack's retirement
What a night. Dark room. Flat floor. Packed with shadows of people. Giant screens. Two long tables. On two diagonals. Forming a “V” with a hole in the middle. Four on one side. Four on the other. Plastic bottles of water. Big name cards. One hand-held microphone. And it starts. We are invited to talk for ten minutes on the assigned topic and also to give a roast on Mark Mack in honor of his retirement from teaching. Two lines—at the same time. Mark Lee, the MC, started with a friendly welcome and praise for Mark Mack as an inspiring teacher. Mark Mack then showed his history from Judenburg to his studies at the Technical High School in Graz and the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna on to working with Hans Hollein then to Haus-Rucker-Co in New York, which led him to work in the basement of MoMA for Emilio Ambasz before going to San Francisco to practice and teach at Berkeley, in turn taking him down south to teach at UCLA and practice and live on the canals in Venice, Los Angeles, with his wife and son. The story was punctuated by activities of Western Addition and publication of the San Francisco magazine Archetype–a dead serious and also upbeat, even cheerful, magazine about art as architecture and architecture as art. Then Kurt Forster read a thorough disposition about the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS) and the publication of its polemical Oppositions journal weaving threads between Peter Eisenman, Palladio and the rise of a “new” critical (i.e. missing) discourse in America via the wedge of Oppositions. Naturally, I was next. I was asked by Mark to show and discuss Haus-Rucker-Co, where we met in the summer of 1973, as well as the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies with some comparison of Oppositions journal to Skyline tabloid of which I was a founding director. I did that with a fatter narrative from Haus-Rucker-Co, where we did the first Rooftop Study of New York to an early magazine I did with Christine Rae of Knoll and Lorraine Wild of Vignelli Design. On to the start of Skyline at IAUS, to my founding of Metropolis, to Express, then on to Zapp Urbanism and recently Oysters: East Hampton Architecture Review. It ended with a comparative chart comparing the “physics” of Skyline to Oppositions in a physical, factual, matter-of-fact way. Then the sequence hit the gap between the V of the two tables. Four down, four to go. Getting hotter, darker, and later. In that gap was a video made by Steven Holl in his office looking through his collection of Pamphlet Architecture and Archetypes. He was most enthused about the second Pamphlet by Mark Mack on “10 California Houses” where we saw and heard something apparently normal yet also very interesting—layers of media—2D to 3D to 4D: Steven reading (voice)—from printing (ink on paper)—from writing and drawing (pencil and ink on paper)—via film (recorded)—and then projected up onto flat screen. Writing-drawing-printing-reading-recording-filming-projected = Cinema. Hollywood? On the left, Peter Noever showed his MTV-like musical video of a linear history celebrating the creative muses of Mark Mack from his early days at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, working with Hans Hollein’s office on to his current life as an architect, teacher, husband, father, and wild DJ jumping up and down at parties. After Peter, way down at the end of the tables, the final presentations were shown by Kyong Park and then Micheal Bell as visual biographic histories. Both gave extensive, personal reviews of their long, ongoing relationships with Mark over many years in New York and California interweaving with their own developmental stories as growing, testosteronal architects evolving—still—from boys to men. Homage as both/and appreciation and hustle. All in all, a great time was had by all.
Make Way for Ducklings?
Slow streets proposed for New York's Financial District
Now that the New York State government has decided that the busiest areas of Manhattan will have congestion pricing to discourage auto traffic (scheduled to take effect in 2021 for areas below 60th street), there are efforts to provide even more incentives to leave the island to bikers, mass transit, and pedestrians. One prominent example is a study commissioned by the Financial District Neighborhood Association (FDNA) titled “Make Way for Lower Manhattan.” This historic Dutch area of the city has long needed a sensible plan to control traffic on its narrow streets and lanes, but the city’s previous efforts (in 1966, 2010, and 2018) did not come to fruition. FDNA President Patrick Kennell hopes that this time things will be different. His study notes that the area has grown in population, owing mainly to the conversion of office towers to residential uses after 9/11. There are now 75,000 residents of the downtown area and over 300,000 daily office workers who regularly commute to and from the financial district. In addition, tourism has exploded, with more than 14 million visitors per year filling the small streets and waterfront. The new plan proposes a “Slow Street District” extending east-west from Broadway to Water Street and north-south from the Brooklyn Bridge to Battery Park. Using bridge-traffic diversion, wider sidewalks, lighting, and other measures successfully implemented in cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Barcelona, the planners believe that vehicular traffic can be significantly reduced and pedestrian traffic increased. The plan’s before-and-after illustrations portray cobblestone streets full of tourists enjoying cafes and shops while people watching. Will such measures, along with less on-street parking and increased late night garbage collection, finally make lower Manhattan safe for pedestrians and the occasional feathered flock? Stone Street and Maiden Lane have seen many changes, and they can wait for a few more.
On the blacked-out front door of Ludlow 38, the Goethe Institute’s downtown outpost, is a plaque. In simple, sans serif, white letters it says: "THIS GALLERY CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGERY. PARENT/ADULT DISCRETION IS ADVISED." Open the door and even before you cross the threshold you’ll hear moaning. Or at least I did. I suppose timing matters—not every moment of what turns out to be Shu Lea Cheang’s 2001 video I.K.U. - I robosex has moaning. Inside, with the windows blacked out and the overhead lamps turned off, purple LED strips hidden behind walls provide the only light in the gallery, and it’s hard to make things out clearly. It hardly feels like an art exhibition but there is still a gallery attendant at the front desk, which reminds you that you do have to behave. This is Cruising Pavilion, New York, the second of three iterations of the architectural exploration of gay sex and cruising originally presented to coincide with the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale and created and curated by Pierre-Alexandre Mateos, Rasmus Myrup, Octave Perrault, and Charles Teyssou, and produced along with the Ludlow 38 curator, Franziska Sophie Wildförster. The third, and perhaps final, Cruising Pavilion will go up in Stockholm this fall. A friend and I often remark that there are no real gay bars on the east side below Delancey—or even below Houston, really—where we actually live and spend most of our time. The area is not and has never really been known as an epicenter of gay culture, the way the Village, Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, and, as unbelievable as it may be now, Times Square have been. As far as I know, there are no regularly operating backrooms, like those you can still find in the East Village, though I’m sure there are some private spaces where people have their share of fun. Even still, those rooms-behind-the-curtain have diminished—along with the theaters, the bathhouses, and certainly the piers—all things well before my time, my time being mostly post-Grindr and long after the first rounds of the mass sanitation of New York City. The powerwashing of our streets with money and moralism continues, as if there were anything less pornographic than New York’s extravagantly boring displays of wealth. There are few things more obscene and less stimulating than the recently opened Hudson Yards. Financial hedonism rarely breeds originality, and if cash is what gets you off, it’s probably because you’re bad in bed. At the opening, the exhibition did remind me a bit of moving about backrooms—bodies bouncing like so many pinballs, everything homogenizing into a swarm—but here I was less drunk and more clothed, and, of course, there was the fear, my fear, of damaging the art (some were less cautious—outside the show someone told me a bit of plexiglass had fallen victim to an errant elbow). Inside, I saw friends, former lovers, and former one night stands. Somebody told me there were poppers in the fog machine. I’m not sure if that’s true, nor if that’s safe, but either way the impression that there could’ve been some speaks to a sense of sensuality, danger, and seediness rarely seen in architecture exhibition. Like museums and galleries, sex and chemicals promise a trip to somewhere else. Perhaps the fog should remind us of the steam of the Continental Baths, long gone, which the curators cite in their release. The Cruising Pavilion highlights the historical entanglements of what the curators call "conflictual architectures." It mines the ineluctably intertwined histories of policing, neoliberalization, right-wing moralism, homonormalization, gentrification, the AIDS crisis, and so on, to map the real past and the gaps of the present, acting as a cartography of possibilities for the queer (mis)use of space. The exhibition is a blueprint towards performances of sexual dissidence, exposing the erotic potentials lurking in hidden dark corners, or maybe even out in the open, should you only try to catch someone—or be caught—in the act. A radical reframing of the notion of "architecture," Cruising Pavilion and the artists and architects it features interrogate sex and sexuality as a way of re- and dis-figuring buildings and cities the world over. Cruising, beyond being a sexual practice, is a spatial one—a phenomenological perversion that uses vision and touch to establish a set of relationships not just between individuals, but between individuals and the spaces they move through. Queer space is produced by its users as much if not more so than by its owners and architects. Sexuality is not just decoration, though it is that too, but, as Cruising Pavilion proposes, sex is a constitutive act of architecture. Museums and galleries make themselves by making rules. They regulate where bodies go, how close and how far from objects you can get, what you can and can’t touch (in general, you can’t touch much of anything). At the Cruising Pavilion it still probably isn’t advisable to touch (it is, after all, an art show) and I doubt getting it on is officially condoned. But for those compelled by the at-once exhibitionist and elusive acts of public sex or furtive hookups, isn’t breaking the rules part of the fun? But the fog and the psychedelic lush of lights evoke another space: The club. Of course, the club, too, can be sanitized and the curators point out the “de-sexualization of disco and house music and their mutations into the official anthem of ‘happy globalization.’” The neoliberal city, like Epcot, sounds better with a soundtrack. The point of the club was and is being together, increasingly important in the AirPod era. It’s hard not to think of the recent closing of the Dreamhouse, itself a veritable ad hoc architectural carnival, home to artist studios and to Spectrum, the favorite after-hours haunt of New York City’s artists, designers, DJs—weirdos and queerdos who came together to dance and talk and screw well past sunrise. One could presumably go to the gallery on drugs, but you’d still have to watch how you acted, lest you be kicked out. Perhaps the biggest queering of space is the simultaneous sensory overload and denial, the ocular S&M that plays out, at once enticing you and denying you. You can’t touch and you can’t see, but boy do you want to. This exhibition’s a tease, which is to say, it—like all art—is about desire and discipline. Cruising Pavilion Ludlow 38 New York, New York Through April 7
Early this year, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) announced a three-firm shortlist to design a new “Center for the Arts” for the College of Architecture, Design and the Arts (CADA). Chosen from an international pool of 36 teams that responded to a request for qualifications, the shortlist includes OMA (New York) with KOO Architects (Chicago), Johnston Marklee (Los Angeles) with UrbanWorks Architects (Chicago), and Morphosis Architects (Culver City) with STL Architects (Chicago). UIC is both the largest university and the only public research university in the Chicago area with a student body among the five most diverse in the country, 40 percent of whom are first-generation college students. Initiated in 2017, the new Center for the Arts is part of UIC’s 10-year master plan, which calls for major physical development of the campus. The Center for the Arts will be the new public face of UIC’s East Campus. The project aims to provide “radically accessible spaces for all users.” At approximately 88,000 square feet it will be the new home of the School of Theatre and Music (STM) with two primary performance spaces, including a vineyard style concert hall for 500 people and a flexible main stage theater for 270 people. Additional program includes a large lobby, box office, donor lounge, shop, and café. Morphosis and STL Architects have proposed a project shaped by site conditions. Cues from the site inform the form of the building’s facets made of terra-cotta, concrete, and glass, a signal to the existing materiality of UIC’s campus. The building has a clear front and back as service entries sit tightly along the highway at the north edge of the site, leaving the south and corner edges to reveal the belly of the building and main points of public entry. A generous drop-off zone leads into the interior lobby featuring Netsch-like cascading stairs with views toward the nearby West Loop neighborhood and downtown. In the theater, a continuous surface ramp runs the perimeter of the room to provide radical accessibility to students learning stage technology. OMA and KOO Architects have proposed a stackable program with a central concert hall flanked by two towers (one for students, one for the public) with neighboring performance spaces. The towers imitate the many Chicago bridges that link the city while the performance spaces act like bookends to anchor the project. A second-floor plinth accommodates dual entries, each with a continuous surface monumental ramp considered “radically accessible” with physical openness and flexibility. The theater has a rooftop terrace and a large mechanical facade that opens onto the existing Harrison Field, bringing performances outside with the city as a backdrop. The entire design is blanketed by a doubly-curved, semi-translucent roof that resembles the swinging of a conductor’s baton. Johnston Marklee and UrbanWorks have proposed two ziggurat-shaped buildings, which Mark Lee of Johnston Marklee described as both archaic and modern. Framed by a greenbelt that reflects attention back towards the campus, two brightly-colored volumes are housed within a glass and perforated metal veil. The formal strategy is a nod to Chicago architect Walter Netsch’s ideas of “stacking” while the material aims to visually open the campus, ostensibly creating a new approach to density. Connecting the two large volumes is a central core featuring an airy winter garden that expands programmatic possibilities for adjacent rehearsal rooms, café, store, and gallery. The University and CADA officials are currently in the process of securing the expected $94.5 million construction budget through private and public funds. It is unknown when the winner will be announced. The public may view and provide feedback on the proposals.
A New Millennium
A leaning Manhattan tower draws blame from both sides
The 670-foot-tall 161 Maiden Lane, a luxury condo tower on the shore of the East River near the South Street Seaport, is leaning. The question of whether contractor Pizzarotti or developer Fortis Property Group is to blame for the 58-story building’s 3-inch lean to the north, however, will be settled by a lawsuit filed with New York State Supreme Court. As first reported by Commercial Observer, Pizzarotti is suing Fortis over their alleged cost-cutting decision to drain and compact the wet soil below the site instead of driving piles before laying the foundation. As a result, the suit alleges that this “soil improvement” decision, made before Fortis was hired for the project in 2015, made completing the project difficult-to-impossible and cost Pizzarotti millions. Apart from the structural issues, Pizzarotti alleges that the two-inch drift in the superstructure from the 11th floor to the 21st prevented the installation of the curtain wall and that Fortis never provided an adequate replacement. Although the tower has topped out and work is still ongoing, Pizzarotti claims that the site is unsafe and that 161 Maiden Lane will continue to settle and shift. If that happens, the facade panels, plumbing, insulation, and elevators may all be risk of failing. Pizzarotti says that they were thus unable to finish working, and submitted their resignation from the project on March 1. Fortis shot back, claiming the leaning problem was the result of Pizzarotti’s concrete subcontractor improperly pouring the slab and failing to take the settling of the soil into account. A Fortis spokesperson also claims that Pizzarotti never terminated their contract and continued working up through this month, casting doubt on their claims that the site was unsafe. The developer went on to say that their new general contractor, Ray Builders, was already at work installing a redesigned version of the curtain wall. Fortis also claims that it has already paid out $25 million to Pizzarotti for cost overruns and that the contractor had caused 260 days of stop-work order-related delays. “This lawsuit is patently false from start to finish and nothing more than simple defamation and a desperate attempt by a failing general contractor to divert attention from the fact it defaulted on yet another New York City project,” said a Fortis spokesman in a statement. “As a number of prominent New York City developers have learned the hard way over the past few years, Pizzarotti is simply incapable of buying out, managing and completing a construction project within contractually promised timelines.” AN will continue to follow this story as it develops.
Will We All Float on Alright?
OCEANIX and BIG unveil a floating city of the future at the United Nations
The UN has just unveiled a floating city. Or, at least a framework for how floating cities will be built. Throughout the 2010s, a certain set of statistics found their way into every article about urbanism. You know them. They said that a certain percent of people would live in cities by a certain year; “68% of the world's population projected to live in urban areas by 2050,” according to a recent UN statistic. However, it’s barely the 2010s anymore! The new hot stat for the 2020s was used today by the UN to switch gears and justify exploring the possibility of building floating cities:
By 2030, approximately 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities that are exposed to grave economic, social, and environmental pressures. Further, approximately 90 percent of the largest global cities are vulnerable to rising sea levels. Out of the world’s 22 megacities with a population of more than 10 million, 15 are located along the ocean’s coasts.Serious stuff, all discussed at today’s high-level round table in New York hosted by UN-Habitat, the UN’s coalition on affordable and sustainable housing, along with the MIT Center for Ocean Engineering, the Explorers Club, and OCEANIX, a group investing in floating cities on this new marine frontier. Bjarke Ingels of BIG—architects of the "Dryline" around lower Manhattan—unveiled his design for a prototypical floating city today, which would be made out of mass timber and bamboo. This proposal would be “flood proof, earthquake-proof, and tsunami-proof,” according to Marc Collins Chen, co-Founder and CEO of OCEANIX. The renderings show a series of modular hexagonal islands with a productive landscape, where bamboo grown on the “islands” could be used to make glulam beams. BIG envisions the cities as zero-waste, energy-positive and self-sustaining. The necessary food to feed the population would be grown on the islands. BIG has put toether a kit of parts for each part of the man-made ecosystem: a food kit of parts, a waste kit of parts. Each island would be prefabricated onshore and towed to its location in the archipelago. What would living on one of these islands be like? "All of the aspects of human life would be accommodated," according to Ingels. They would dedicate seven islands to public life, including a spiritual center, a cultural center, and a recreation center. "It won't be like Waterworld. Its another form of human habitat that can grow with its success." Oceanix City, as it is called, features mid-rise housing around a shared, green public space where agriculture and recreation co-exist. Underground greenhouses are embedded in the “hull” of the floating city, while in the sky, drones would buzz by with abandon. The systems on each city would be connected, where waste, food, water, and mobility are connected. Because the cities are towable, they can be moved in the event of a weather event. Land reclamation (creating new land by pouring sand in the ocean) is no longer seen as sustainable, as it uses precious sand resources and causes coastal areas to lose protective wetlands and mangroves. Could floating cities be the way forward for expanding our cities as we deal with the consequences of climate change and sea-level rise? According to the coalition, “Sustainable Floating Cities offer a clean slate to rethink how we build, live, work, and play…They are about building a thriving community of people who care about the planet and every life form on it.” Doesn't this sound a lot like the Seasteading Institute, the infamous group of libertarian utopianists who want to break away from land and society altogether? For Collins, his floating infrastructure is less ideological, and more about infrastructure technology. These floating cities would be positioned near protected coastal areas, less ocean-faring pirate states and more extensions of areas threatened by rising sea levels. "These cities have to be accessible to everyone. We can't build broad support for this without populist thinking," said Richard Wiese, the president of the Explorers Club. The first prototypes will start small, even though they are thinking big. The 4.5-acre pods will house 300 people, while the goal is to scale the system by repeating the unit until the city can hold 10,000 people. Can floating cities be more sustainable and affordable than building on land? Would they only be for the rich? Would they be self-sufficient? Would they prevent climate gentrification and curb climate migration? Or, as has been the case in the past, will the idea prove too expensive to actually build?
Going Up, Way Up
Western Europe's tallest tower could have sheep grazing at its base
A 1050-foot-tall tower reminiscent of New York’s 432 Park could be Western Europe’s next tallest (occupiable) building—and it could be dropped into a rural Danish village of 7,000 people. The decision to build Bestseller Tower in Brande, where the building would be visible from 37 miles away in every direction, may seem counterintuitive at first—but Brande is also where the international fast-fashion company Bestseller is headquartered. To boot, it’s also the hometown of Bestseller’s founder and Denmark’s richest man, Anders Holch Povlsen. Danish firm Dorte Mandrup, no stranger to landmark projects throughout Europe, is the designer behind Bestseller Tower and has chosen a strong grid facade, as opposed to a more delicate glass curtain wall that could have disappeared into the surrounding countryside. The building will contain offices for the fashion company, a hotel, and conference spaces, while a “village” of glassy, greenery-topped retail pavilions at the tower’s base are expected to display Bestseller’s numerous clothing brands. Although Bestseller Tower will top out at over 1,000 feet, rivaling the Eiffel Tower, as planned it will only be 45 stories. Assuming the building won’t be using construction tricks such as including height-boosting mechanical voids, that means each floor will reach a whopping 23-feet-tall on average. Surprisingly, the tower isn’t facing much opposition in Brande, at least on the surface. The town council voted to approve the project last month and construction will begin this year, putting the tower on track to meet a 2023 opening. “The project has not raised any concerns or resistance from any of our municipal council board members,” said mayor of Ikast-Brande, Ib Lauritsen, when speaking to Danish broadcaster DR. “It will undoubtedly be of the greatest significance for the city of Brande, but I do not doubt it will affect the whole of Central Jutland.” That approval is likely why the project is back in the news cycle, as plans were originally unveiled back in 2017.
NOMA President Kim Dowdell on the politics of Detroit and the architecture profession
Detroit is an entrepreneurial city. In its heyday, it was full of forward-thinkers who were breaking boundaries by building big business dedicated to innovation and manufacturing. That same spirit still exists in the Motor City today, though some have written off the gritty, Michigan enclave as a place of the past. Many dedicated Detroit natives are working hard to rebuild its legacy as a capital of American economic and cultural development. Kimberly Dowdell, in particular, is using her experience as an architect and a real estate developer, as well as her innate entrepreneurial drive, to change the face of urban housing in Detroit. Along with her team at Century Partners, an emerging firm in the city, she’s tackling long-standing social injustices through the lens of home ownership. She’s doing the same in her new role as president of the National Organization for Minority Architects (NOMA) by advancing representation in the architecture industry and fighting for professional equity. AN spoke with Dowdell about her unique career path, what drives her to rebuild Detroit, and why addressing architecture’s internal issues can help build stronger cities. The Architect's Newspaper: You spent time on the East Coast working as an architect and developer, and then studied public administration as a graduate student at Harvard University. What drew you back to Detroit? Kimberly Dowdell: I grew up in Detroit in the early '90s when the city was in pretty bad shape. The buildings were ghosts of their former selves, which fascinated me, but economically, Detroit was devastated. Instead of moving back after graduating from Cornell with my bachelor’s in architecture, I decided to sample cities on the East Coast (Washington, D.C., and New York), rounding it all off in Cambridge for the Harvard program. Many people ask me why I studied government since I came from a design background, but I firmly believe buildings are intrinsically part of the public realm, so it’s our responsibility to learn everything we can about how policies can work to better the built environment. In 2015, I was recruited by the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department, where I worked closely with the Planning and Development Department, collaborating with a long-time mentor, Maurice Cox, Detroit’s Planning Director. That unique opportunity to contribute to Detroit’s resurgence ended my 14-year East Coast tour. AN: Since you’ve been in Detroit, you’ve transitioned into a more entrepreneurial role as a professional and within your current firm, Century Partners. How does your background in public service and design serve you in thinking about housing in Detroit? When I was younger, I didn’t like that Detroit looked bad, so I decided I was going to become an architect. I didn’t really see many people trying to solve the city’s big problems growing up, so I aimed to do it myself. A lot of what I’ve chosen to do in my career has been in response to things that I think are not ideal. As a kid, I actually wanted to be a doctor, which is funny now because I consider myself kind of like a doctor at the macro level. I get to help heal neighborhoods. Architects have to be knowledgeable of all the issues at hand in order to get a project done successfully. To be a developer, you also have to understand the bigger politics at play. With Century Partners, I’m able to use my design eye as I try to maintain the historic fabric of Detroit as much as possible through our projects. AN: What’s the biggest thing you’re working on at Century Partners? Detroit is well-known for its expanse of single-family homes. We’re currently looking at building out neighborhoods that are positioned to contribute to the multi-family housing fabric of the city. We’re currently fundraising to purchase commercial and multi-family buildings in Detroit’s core that will spur economic development, increase density, and create a 24/7 neighborhood. The other major project that we're working on right now is called the Fitz Forward Neighborhood Revitalization project, a city-backed, public-private partnership that will eventually revitalize over 300 parcels of land, including existing homes, open lots, and parkland, across the Fitzgerald neighborhood in central Detroit. AN: You spend a lot of time thinking about Detroit’s future and how to solve these big-picture problems. How is this mindset helpful as you start your new position leading NOMA? I’m three months into my presidency and the biggest thing I want to be really mindful of is fundraising for the organization. As a woman, I think there’s a general consensus that we don’t directly ask for money—as if fundraising is a taboo thing to do. But as president, I want to commit to doing that, which coincidently ties into my fundraising efforts with Century Partners for the commercial property and multi-family housing fund I mentioned. Money is always part of the bigger picture in architecture, but it’s a new challenge for me to think about it so directly. AN: How could more money for your organization have an impact on architecture? I was recently possessed to say out loud in a podcast interview that if someone gave NOMA a million dollars, it could change the face of the profession. We’d have money to fuel our access-related programs like exposing K-5 students to architecture through classes and products, while middle and high school students could more deeply engage with our NOMA Project Pipeline summer camps. College students, especially aspiring architects of color, need help with studio supplies, technology, housing, transportation, and scholarships. As the first millennial president of NOMA, I’ve also begun considering how the architecture profession can alleviate the student debt crisis. Many of my colleagues have really high levels of student debt coupled with comparatively low professional salaries (consider lawyers and doctors) and limited flexibility and financial freedom. How can we as an organization motivate or incentivize people to pursue architecture knowing that compensation is a challenge and the student loan debt is higher than ever? We will miss out on some really talented people if things don’t change. This is also a diversity issue. Minorities in particular struggle with this given the wealth gap. NOMA is about getting people to believe in the power of diversity and the success of companies and organizations who support that vision. I want to make the case that investing in NOMA is investing in the future of a more diverse and equitable profession, which can help build more diverse and equitable cities. AN: So you think addressing the architecture’s internal inequalities would have a trickle-down effect on not only the way firms are set up, but how projects and cities get built? I absolutely think that there is a correlation between who is empowered to author the built environment and how that environment shapes the well-being of the community that it serves. In the words of Winston Churchill, "we shape our buildings and thereafter our buildings shape us." I believe that this statement holds true and I would add that the heightened diversity of our built environment stewards (developers, architects, builders, real estate brokers, etc.) will contribute to a more thoughtful and responsive set of buildings, spaces, and places that will equate to more sustainable cities. I believe in quadruple bottom line sustainability—incorporating financial, ecological, social and cultural priorities. While everyone in the development process has a particular purpose and role, I think that the more we see greater cohesion between those quadruple bottom line priorities, the better off our cities will be moving forward.