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In the mid-1990s, Cooper Robertson, in close collaboration with Robert A.M. Stern, developed the master plan for Celebration, a nearly 11-square-mile New Urbanist community founded by the Walt Disney Company that's located in close proximity—and directly connected—to Walt Disney World Park. (Although it served as developer, Disney divested most of its control of the town after it opened although it continues to oversee some aspects of it.) While the new town design is strictly the creation of Robertson and Stern, numerous friends and contemporaries were enlisted to design signature buildings within the community including Michael Graves, Charles Moore, César Pelli, Philip Johnson, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown. Wrote Michael Pollan for the New York Times in 1997:
Sad to hear of the passing of Jaque Robertson; a wonderful man. Past dean of Architecture at the University of Virginia. For us at #Disney, he developed the master plan for Euro Disney, Celebration in Orlando, and many more buildings. A true gentleman. @Disney @DisneyParks @UVA pic.twitter.com/JsAqDQdRWg— Michael Eisner (@Michael_Eisner) May 11, 2020
The town of Celebration represents the Disney Company's ambitious answer to the perceived lack of community in American life, but it is an answer that raises a couple of difficult questions. To what extent can redesigning the physical world we inhabit -- the streets, public spaces and buildings -- foster a greater sense of community? And what exactly does ''a sense of'' mean here? -- for the word community hardly ever goes abroad in Celebration without that dubious prefix.In addition to Celebration, Cooper Robertson also designed the master plan for Val d’Europe, a similar New Urbanist community built in conjunction with Disneyland Paris. WaterColor, on the Florida Panhandle, is another notable master-planned enclave (sans Disney associations) executed by the firm as is the golf course-centered community of New Albany, Ohio. In addition to receiving the Driehaus Prize in 2007, an award bestowed to champions of and contributors to New Classical architecture, Robertson was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Medal in Architecture by the University of Virginia in 1998. He retired from Cooper Robertson in 2014. “Jaque mentored, and instilled certain values in, dozens of young architects over his career – many of whom are still with Cooper, Robertson, and many others who are practicing elsewhere across the globe,” concluded Cooper Robertson in its announcement. “That is, perhaps, his greatest gift to the profession and the culture; perhaps his greatest legacy. We will miss him. He will be roundly missed, and never forgotten.” Robertson is survived by his wife, Anya Sohn Robertson, and a sister, Catherine “Kitty” Robertson Claiborne, of Virginia.
A Note From the Editor
Missing the mix
Remotely, Of Course
AN checks in with Johnston Marklee
Acclaim in the Time of COVID
Six emerging firms take home the 2020 Architectural League Prize
Quayside on the Wayside
Sidewalk Labs pulls the plug on its Toronto waterfront smart city
“For the last two-and-a-half years, we have been passionate about making Quayside happen—indeed, we have invested time, people, and resources in Toronto, including opening a 30-person office on the waterfront. But as unprecedented economic uncertainty has set in around the world and in the Toronto real estate market, it has become too difficult to make the 12-acre project financially viable without sacrificing core parts of the plan we had developed together with Waterfront Toronto to build a truly inclusive, sustainable community. And so, after a great deal of deliberation, we concluded that it no longer made sense to proceed with the Quayside project, and let Waterfront Toronto know yesterday.” “While we won’t be pursuing this particular project, the current health emergency makes us feel even more strongly about the importance of reimagining cities for the future. I believe that the ideas we have developed over the last two-and-a-half years will represent a meaningful contribution to the work of tackling big urban problems, particularly in the areas of affordability and sustainability. This is a vital societal endeavor, and Sidewalk Labs will continue our work to contribute to it.”The project, which would have transformed a 12-acre stretch of disused former dockland on Lake Ontario just east of Toronto’s downtown core, was first initiated by Waterfront Toronto in 2017. Sidewalk Labs, an organization headed by Bloomberg alum Doctoroff and funded by Google parent company Alphabet, won the bid to take on the waterfront-revitalizing mixed-use project.
While the Quayside development boasted all the hallmarks of an ambitious, forward-thinking urban redevelopment project— an agreeable amount of affordable housing, ample open public space, an overriding emphasis on green construction methods and micro-mobility, attractive design renderings furnished by firms including Heatherwick Studio and Snøhetta, and more—it was also poised to function, to significant controversy, as a living laboratory (or a Big Tech petri dish, perhaps) for a wide array of cutting-edge city tech solutions developed by Google. Sidewalk Labs itself referred to the planned neighborhood as “a testbed for emerging technologies, materials, and processes.” Despite insistence by Sidewalk Labs that it had consulted with “thousands of Torontonians” in fine-tuning the scheme, pushback against the Quayside development master plan has been sharp. A September 2019 document published by Waterfront Toronto’s independent Digital Strategy Advisory Panel (DSAP), bemoaned that the futuristic and “frustratingly abstract” project relied too heavily on showcasing “tech for tech’s sake” while sidelining the basic needs and wants of users. The DSAP “felt that the plan did not appear to put the citizen at the centre of the design process for digital innovations, as was promised in the beginning and is necessary for legitimacy.” Concerns over privacy had also been brought up time and time again although Sidewalk Labs had promised not to use facial recognition technology or harness personal information for advertising within the development. In a statement shared by CBC News, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association referred to the withdrawal of Sidewalks Labs “as a victory for privacy and democracy, clearing the way for that reset to take place.” Others opposed to the project have expressed similar elation. Another point of controversy was an attempt to widen the scope of the lakefront development from 12 acres, the size first envisioned when Sidewalk Labs was tapped by Waterfront Toronto to spearhead the project, to 190 acres. Just a couple of months after Sidewalk Labs announced the super-sizing of the high-tech utopia to 16 times larger its original planned acreage, the company agreed to scale it back down. “They had to work with us and not be adversarial if they were going to be successful,” said Stephen Diamond, chair of Waterfront Toronto, at the time. “They basically ceded to the most important threshold issues that we needed to get resolved to move forward.” The project, which Sidewalk Labs had invested $980 million in as project developer, was still a good while out from securing a full governmental go-ahead before being scrapped by the company. Waterfront Toronto was also still in the process of mulling the latest iteration of the redevelopment proposal. That decision was to come in March but then pushed back to May due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. statement that he was not given advance notice of Sidewalk Labs’ decision to walk away from the project, and just found out this morning. “Over the past two years, Waterfront Toronto has invested a considerable amount of work in the development of Quayside,” he said. “Legitimate concerns were raised regarding Sidewalk Labs' proposals, including concerns over data collection and digital governance.” “While this does mean that Waterfront Toronto will start again to reimagine Quayside, none of this work will go to waste," Cressy added. "The engagement and feedback we have received from residents and community organizations has given us a solid framework that will shape our work going forward.”
With great sadness and disappointment we announce that @sidewalklabs will no longer pursue the Quayside project in Toronto. We’re grateful to @WaterfrontTO and all Torontonians who contributed to this effort these past 2.5 years. CEO @DanDoctoroff has more https://t.co/VrNI4cSCzM— Sidewalk Toronto (@SidewalkToronto) May 7, 2020
Diamond echos Cressy’s sentiments, emphasizing that the down-and-out swath of Toronto waterfront in question will still be home to a progressive new development in the future.
“Quayside remains an excellent opportunity to explore innovative solutions for affordable housing, improved mobility, climate change, and several other pressing urban challenges that Toronto—and cities around the world—must address in order to continue to grow and succeed,” Diamond said in a news release. “Today is not the end of Quayside, but the first day of its future. Waterfront Toronto will continue to seek public and expert input as we make a next generation community at Quayside a reality.”
A similar sense of optimism has also been expressed by some of those tapped by Sidewalk Labs to contribute to its vision for Quayside. Michael Green, principal of the eponymous Vancouver-headquartered architecture firm famed for its record-setting mass timber buildings, provided a statement to AN that puts a positive spin on today’s development:
“COVID has given us personally and professionally time to reflect. The economics of all of our businesses are changing. Sidewalk’s decision should also create a time for reflection. Are we a country of Process or a country of Progress? Sidewalk was buried in process that perhaps impacted their decision. Is that ok? Maybe not. Maybe we should reflect. Progress is exactly what COVID is challenging us to think about. Are we going to address climate and affordability or are we going to bog down in talking about it and not innovating and taking action. As policy changed to close roads for bikes and pedestrians or open outdoor seating for restaurants to help with social distance we are seeing cities transform before our eyes. The opportunity is to not let these temporary policy changes go backwards.”
Movies to Mammoths
Hancock Park may become Los Angeles’s first true urban microcosm
Charm City Transformation
Demolition work kicks off at Baltimore’s Lexington Market
Funding for the project comes from a mix of bank loans, city and state grants, New Markets Tax Credit incentives, and the market itself. Along with the vendor application process being delayed, the deadline for redevelopment proposals for the East Market building has been pushed back due to the pandemic. The fate of a second, largely vacant existing structure, the West Market building, also remains up in the air. Despite these uncertainties, construction work at Lexington Market, which is the flagship operation of the city-owned nonprofit Baltimore Public Markets Corp., will continue as planned during the coronavirus crisis with additional safeguards in place per the Sun. “The redevelopment construction schedule hasn’t changed at this point,” elaborated Jon Constable, a principal at Seawall Development who previously referred to the project as “the ultimate positive opportunity for Baltimore.” Such opportunities, of course, come equipped with sunny hopes that the redevelopment will spur further investment in the surrounding area. This has raised concerns about gentrification, and if a new and shiny Lexington Market will serve as the catalyst for that. Some, however, are skeptical that the desired investment in the area is even possible. “I’m not optimistic about this project producing a turnaround,” Stephen J.K Walters of the Maryland Public Policy Institute told the Sun, noting that concerns about public safety serve as a formidable hurdle. “If it doesn’t make sense to invest, proximity to a subsidized project doesn’t change that fundamental and unfortunate fact.” As for the market itself, Seawall Development undertook an extensive public engagement process including town halls and listening tours in order to glean input from the community on how the new market should look and feel, and most important, what types of vendors should be greeting customers on opening day (Faidley’s is one vendor that will be enthusiastically returning). Seawall, which has said that priority will be given to new vendors accepting SNAP benefits, also stressed that Lexington Market is not at risk of emerging from construction as a trendy food hall similar to R. House, a venue in the north Baltimore neighborhood of Remington that was also developed by the company:
It's going to be renovated but I feel like that's also a Big Weird Thing https://t.co/LtDXcdxIpE— Amy Plitt (@plitter) April 30, 2020
“Lexington Market has always been a public market that meets the needs of any and all Baltimorean, and it will remain that way even after the transformation project is complete. The Market is publicly owned and will continue to prioritize accessible food and retail options that can meet the needs of all types of customer. When selecting any new vendors for the market, implementing community programming, and designing gathering spaces within the market, every effort will be made to seek the input and advice of Market customers who will help ensure it remains a welcoming place for all.”Whatever the impact of the new Lexington Market on surrounding real estate might be and whatever toll the coronavirus could take on vendors, that market’s status as an enduring and distinctly Baltimorean institution will—unlike the product behind the city’s famous clock tower—never fizzle away.
Can You Hear Me Now?
A schoolyard fence proposal for Greenwich Village raises questions about creeping privatization
To screen or not to screen?
That was the question before New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on April 28, when panel members reviewed a seemingly innocuous proposal to permanently alter a chain-link fence surrounding a schoolyard in Greenwich Village.
Their review turned into a larger, Jane Jacobsean-discussion about urban playgrounds in general and how a property owner’s push for privacy could end up taking life and vitality off city streets. It raised important questions about the creeping privatization of open spaces in the public realm while also, perhaps ironically, pointing out the difficulty of holding public hearings on Zoom.
The panel was asked to allow the property owner, the Church of St. Luke in the Fields and St. Luke’s School at 487 Hudson Street in the West Village, to cover an existing chain link fence with a faux-ivy vinyl screen that would block views of children playing in a schoolyard.
The commission last year gave St. Luke’s a temporary permit to put up the screen, and now the church and school want to make it permanent. Besides blocking views into the schoolyard, the screen blocks views toward the campus of St. Luke’s, which includes a church dating back to 1821, a rowhouse dating from 1825, and a school built in 1955. Preservation commission approval is required because the property is in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
The request to “alter a fence,” though it appeared to be a minor item on the commissions’ agenda, triggered a lengthy debate over the need for and wisdom of screening playgrounds that traditionally have been open to view, and if so, how best to do so. The commissioners said they were troubled both by the ivy-themed graphic and the very idea of screening the schoolyard.
“I was not aware of this situation and I’m finding myself to be kind of appalled by it,” said vice chairman Frederick Bland, whose remarks set the tone for the discussion. “Not the design per se, although I’m not a fan of the ivy necessarily. But the whole idea of visual privacy of playgrounds. Is this something that’s occurring all over the city?“
Bland, the managing partner of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners, said his office used to be near the schoolyard of Grace Church on Broadway, “which was lovely and open, and it was wonderful at noontime to see all the kids out playing. I just don’t understand why we’re doing this and, if so, is this a precedent that then everybody’s going to hide and protect their kids playing in playgrounds? I can’t imagine a city like this.”
“My heart is just leaping forward and saying this is a terrible precedent,” he concluded.
Chain link fencing is a very common material for New York City school playgrounds, but “it’s always open and it always allows people to see” in, said commissioner Michael Goldblum. “That’s part of the street life of New York City. It’s part of the street life of Greenwich Village…Seeing that activity is part of the life of the street. So I would not think that any kind of material that blocked that would be appropriate.”
Other commissioners objected to the ivy pattern on the screen.
“The graphic is so dominant. It’s so powerful,” said commissioner Everardo Jefferson. “Maybe there’s a graphic pattern that’s softer, not so dominant.”
“They should just grow English ivy on it and have the real thing,” suggested commissioner John Gustafsson. “This is just awful.”
St. Luke’s operates a coed Episcopal day school for grades JK (Junior Kindergarten) to 8, divided into a lower school and an upper school. The chain-link fence in question is roughly nine feet high and stretches for a block along Christopher Street, between Hudson and Greenwich streets. On the school’s side of the fence is a playground with a half-basketball court in the middle.
Commissioners were told the chain link fence has been in place for years and is “grandfathered in,” meaning it’s allowed to stay and not up for discussion. Last year, commission staffers say. St. Luke’s sought and received a temporary permit to make one 40-foot-long section of the fence three feet higher, with the expectation that a higher fence would help prevent errant basketballs from ending up in the street.
Besides asking to increase the fence’s height in the section corresponding to the basketball court, St. Luke’s last year asked for and received temporary permission to cover the entire length of the fence with a vinyl screen that would block views into the schoolyard from Christopher Street. By the fall of 2019, the faux ivy screen was in place. At this meeting, the property owners were seeking a “certificate of appropriateness” that would make permanent modifications that started out being temporary.
No one from St. Luke’s spoke at the hearing. Instead, St. Luke’s was represented by its design consultant, Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects. No one from the general public asked to testify about the St. Luke’s item but Manhattan Community Board 2, an advisory group that had reviewed the proposal, sent a resolution recommending denial of the application.
To complicate matters, the April 28 meeting was a virtual hearing held via Zoom. It was just the second time the commission has had a virtual public hearing while its offices and hearing room at 1 Centre Street have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nielsen had already submitted the drawings and photos required to support her application. But when it came time for her to begin her presentation to the commissioners, she had trouble with her computer connection and was unable to communicate with them in any intelligible way.
After many Hellos, Director of Preservation Cory Herrala asked staff preservationist James Russiello to start outlining the proposal to the panel. Eventually, with the help of the staff, Nielsen resolved her audio problems and was able to “join” the meeting and address the commission.
At the start of the presentation, commissioner Jefferson asked why St. Luke’s wanted a screen on the fence. “Why not see the playground?”
He was told the owner wanted the screen for privacy reasons. “The purpose of the covering is so that you can’t see into the playground from the street. It’s solid,” Russiello said.
“This is a fence that’s fronting a playground with children of different ages,” Herrala said. “I think there’s been an attempt to provide privacy from people walking by for some time.”
In recent years communities around the country have seen students killed in school shootings, and they’ve taken various steps to increase both security and privacy. Sarah Carroll, the commission chair, told the panel this isn’t the first time administrators of a school in New York City have sought to screen a playground. “I think that many schools do try to create some security and privacy for children playing. It’s not unusual and not the first time we’ve seen a request for privacy for areas that children will be.”
Commissioners also asked why the designers went with the fake ivy pattern.
Nielsen, able to respond at that point, said the ivy was considered more palatable than other options under consideration.
“We had picked ivy because it was neutral, cheerful and far preferable” to alternate choices, she said. “There was some suggestion for whether this vinyl print should be a replication of a brick wall. We did not respond to that, but that was one of the suggestions that had been made by the community board.”
Carroll, who previously served as the commission’s executive director, said she thought the ivy pattern was intended to evoke the “garden nature” of the space between buildings on the St. Luke’s campus.
During the discussion phase of the hearing, a few of the commissioners said they could accept the proposal to keep one section of the fence higher if it would prevent $50 basketballs from going into the street. But no one liked the ivy screen. Some said they would be open to the idea of a more translucent, mesh-like material, like many tennis courts have. Others said they didn’t want a screen at all, or at least a lower screen.
Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron stressed that there is a difference between a fence and a wall.
“What I object to is that this is no longer a fence at all. Nothing about it is screen-like or fence-like. It’s an opaque, solid wall,” she said. “So the point is that we would be approving a solid wall and the proposal here is for it to be made even taller.”
Shamir-Baron said she would be willing to consider a screen that’s translucent or perforated in some way. “It needs to have transparency,” she said. “It’s not the image that I find problematic but its opacity.”
Commissioner Diana Chapin expressed doubt that the material would age well. “I don’t think it’s going to hold up and look good even if we wanted to have this wall-like effect,” she said.
“If they need some kind of semi-privacy,” said panelist Michael Devonshire, “they could get a neutral mesh and mount it on the inside of the chain-link fence.”
At the end of its discussion period, the panel typically votes to determine whether an application gets approved. In this case, Carroll didn’t let it come to that. She told the panel she thought that because Nielsen had so much technical difficulty at the start of the meeting and wasn’t able to participate fully, the panel ought to take no action and give Nielsen and her clients time to digest their comments and schedule another meeting. It was a polite way of suggesting that they go back to the drawing board.