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Living in the Cloud
Microsoft to invest $500 million in affordable housing around Seattle
Snøhetta's Upper West Side skyscraper may have its permits revoked
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.
Bayfront to Bayback
Perkins Eastman tapped for 100-acre mega development in Jersey City
The U.S. mass timber industry is maturing while it branches out
This article originally appeared as part of our January 2019 print issue in the timber feature.
President Donald Trump’s tariffs, enacted in November 2017, have not yet made a significant impact on the U.S. mass timber industry. But if Trump chooses to take more aggressive action in the next two years of his administration, this could dramatically change. This urgency, coupled with the recent global obsession with building tall wood structures, newly motivates American wood manufacturers to become independent of foreign suppliers. This would entail American manufacturers catching up in machine technology and production capacity to bolster domestic trade and support innovative architecture sourced from home.
What’s clear is that U.S. demand for wood buildings is there. The country’s largest producer of cross-laminated timber (CLT), SmartLam, has experienced such rapid growth since opening six years ago that it is building a new headquarters in Columbia Falls, Montana, and planning a second facility in Maine to supply what the industry thinks will be an influx of midrise construction in New York and other cities along the Eastern seaboard.
“The expansion here is simply driven by need,” said SmartLam CEO Casey Malmquist. “There’s always been a grassroots support for CLT in the U.S. and a recently increased interest in research and testing. But now we’re no longer speculating about whether it will work—it’s going mainstream.”
While similar Pacific Northwest companies like DR Johnson and Katerra, as well as firms such as LEVER Architecture and Michael Green Architecture, have long led the field, production is growing in uncharted territories. South Carolina–based LignaTerra is adding another plant in Maine, while Canadian leaders like Nordic Structures in Montreal and Structure Fusion in Québec City, which already supplied CLT to projects across the country, are now focusing more attention on supplying the eastern U.S. market. Production is even swelling in the South with Texas CLT LLC, which is reopening a mill in southwest Arkansas.
But pioneering European companies, which have historically dominated the market and supplied American developers, are now putting down roots in the U.S. Austrian giant KLH is partnering with International Beams’ new factory in Dothan, Alabama, by supplying it with glulam blanks. Having opened this past September, it is the first plant east of the Rocky Mountains to produce CLT in the country and will primarily utilize the unique Southern Yellow Pine native to the region.
These investments show that the race to build such production facilities is vital to the U.S. market becoming competitive with other countries. But many experts say we need to increase cultural acceptance of mass timber as well as get investors on board before the industry starts churning up a sizable profit.
“The real strategy is that the big manufacturers in Europe are focused on making franchises here,” said Alan Organschi, principal of Gray Organschi Architecture in New Haven, Connecticut. “They can produce higher quality products cheaper, even with overseas shipping, than manufacturers can in the U.S. and Canada.”
Organschi’s firm has been at the forefront of timber innovation for 20 years. He is confident the market is growing and will prove that by designing 6- to 14-story buildings, the sweet spot for mass timber construction. Dominique Briand, general manager of Canadian structural engineering firm Structure Fusion, is also optimistic about North America’s future, but feels certain that product-specific issues still need to be addressed before wood can match the quality of other structural materials like steel and concrete.
“The problem is the tools are not there,” Briand said. “There’s not enough manpower or knowledge to make or sell mass timber in the United States. Plus it’s a disorganized market, which creates a big gap between the product and the project.”
Briand believes that as long as timber is trendy, it will take young U.S.-based companies about five to ten more years to be competitive with Europe. In the meantime, architects, engineers, and educators are working to imagine groundbreaking designs at modest scales to ramp up domestic interest and encourage policy changes.
Many U.S. states are using financial incentives to entice manufacturers to locate to their respective regions. In Maine, both the state and federal governments have provided funding for the University of Maine’s extensive research to advance timber assemblies. Russell Edgar of the university’s Advanced Structures & Composites Center says the ultimate goal of this work is to organize the state’s supply chain in order to make Maine viable for these companies.
“People are talking a lot about South Carolina and Georgia since they grow trees like corn at such rapid rates,” he said. “But in Maine, we have proximity to these huge markets in New York and Boston, so we’re busy trying to find ways to get these companies here now.”
Sourcing timber products within 250 miles of a project is a huge advantage to practicing sustainability and boosting regional economies—not to mention a reason for rarely crossing borders for building materials. But a little competition is healthy, especially for lumber producers who want to bid in a fair marketplace.
“The more people there are, the better it will be,” said Briand. “I only worry that because we’re such a fast-evolving industry, a lot of companies will build huge facilities and focus solely on making and selling products. It’s not just about the products; it’s about creating strong business plans so the investment pays off.”
Design by Community
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At the ForeFRONT
FRONT International names artistic directors for its 2021 triennial
Krishnamurthy and Kukielski’s appointment comes on the heels of last summer’s highly successful first edition of FRONT. Themed An American City, the inaugural triennial was directed by artist and curator Michelle Grabner and presented the work of over 120 global artists. The showcase, which was held in 28 different institutions and spaces across Northeast Ohio, brought in over 90,000 visitors and $31 million for the region. The next edition of FRONT will run from July 17 through October 2, 2021.
Cleveland’s inaugural @FrontTriennial generated an estimated $31 million for the region, a study finds.The organizers hope the study will provide a benchmark for the economic impact of regional biennials. https://t.co/cB4OWRzaaL pic.twitter.com/znWiZhgyL5 — artnet (@artnet) December 17, 2018
Governor Cuomo presents plan to prevent L train tunnel closure
If the L train repair plan proceeds as scheduled, one track at a time will be shut down on nights and weekends for up to 20 months. To offset the decrease in service, the MTA plans on increasing service on several other train lines, including the 7 and G.
MTA Acting Chairman Ferrer: "Why wasn't this approach considered earlier?" Because the process had never been applied to a rehabilitation project. In other words, the MTA is extremely unimaginative? Such a rehab project has never been needed afaik, period pic.twitter.com/XctpO6tLW9— Market Urbanism (@MarketUrbanism) January 3, 2019