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A Memorial Emerges
Main stairs into the museum beside the Survivor's Stairway (covered in wood planks).
Tom Stoelker / The Architect's Newspaper

Descending a monumental staircase, visitors will reach the bedrock level that houses permanent, rotating, and age-appropriate exhibits. This space, originally the twin towers’ six-story parking garage, is “a room about the size of Grand Central,” said Steven Davis, a partner at Davis Brody Bond Aedas (DBBA)—bigger than the Whitney or the Guggenheim. It took a single morning for the World Trade Center towers and superblock to become Ground Zero. A decade after the attack, the site has morphed from a projection screen for national dreads, factional controversies, and civic aspirations into a real, tangible place. When completed, it will be part public park, part private sanctuary, part cultural touchstone, part archaeological site, part tourist magnet, and part reinvented commercial center on a restored street grid. Still recognizable, through all its evolutionary stages, is Daniel Libeskind’s original master plan, or at least an iteration of it.

It is not a single vision, but “what survives, through a rather excoriating process,” said Memorial designer Michael Arad of Handel Architects. In interactions with Libeskind, Peter Walker, DBBA, Snøhetta, and others involved on or near the plaza, Arad reports, “the ball bounces back and forth from one to the other, and you pass it, and it changes...in the process it gets enriched with meaning and complexity.”

The first component emerges this fall, when the National September 11 Memorial opens on 9/11/11 for bereaved families, then on 9/12 for the general public. It will be followed a year later by the 9/11 Museum, occupying a seven-story, 98,000-square-foot underground space beneath the waterfalls flowing into the twin towers’ footprints. While the below-grade museum is designed by DBBA, its entry pavilion is by Snøhetta on the plaza. SOM’s Tower One is reaching its 60th floor at this writing, with completion estimated for 2013, followed by Fumihiko Maki’s Tower Four (2013), and the transportation hub (2014); Towers Two by Norman Foster and Three by Richard Rogers are on an indeterminate, market-dependent timetable.

World Trade Center   World Trade Center Memorial
Rendering of the underground Slurry Wall and the final column removed from the site, now wrapped and installed in the museum (left). Rendering showing aerial view of void pool, Snøhetta's museum building, and two vent structures (right).
Courtesy Squared Design Lab [+]
 

The original twin towers went from groundbreaking to completion in seven years (1966–1973). The Burj Khalifa arose in six years; the Empire State Building, in 410 days. According to data from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, over the past ten years (including partial data for 2011), China has completed 133 buildings over 200 meters tall.

Do apples-and-oranges comparisons put Lower Manhattan’s pace in context or muddy the waters further? Disputes delaying construction recur in local debates and headlines, but complaints about the timetable have it backward, says Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers. “I always feel that it went too quickly,” he said. “Very few people you’ll find saying that, but I strongly believe this. I think there was too much emphasis on speed,” Dykers said adding, “You cannot compare [the World Trade Center site to] the Empire State Building”—a single-owner project on clearly defined property. To Dykers and others who have come to understand the site’s complexity, the gravity of its demands, and the quality of the work done to date, what’s striking about the Museum/Memorial component is not that it’s taken so long, but that it is achieving so much so fast.

Having worked on Cairo’s Alexandria Library, another emotionally and culturally laden project (lasting 13 years), Dykers finds that Ground Zero’s difficult collaborations have harmonized aspects of the mission that might easily have been discordant. As a memorial, he says, the site looks back toward the Earth, history, the traumas of September 11, and the dead, as it reconnects with the living city. Its “skyscrapers are incised into the sky...pointing upward to the place that we often associate with the future,” he said, and embodying the inherent optimism of commerce. Snøhetta’s three-story Museum Pavilion, the only building on the 8-acre memorial block, draws light deep into the connected Museum atrium by DBBA and creates a transition zone between the city’s energy and the Museum’s solemnity. The low-slung pavilion, whose angled steel panels and mullions introduce a Libeskindian theme of purposeful dissonance, contrasting with what project manager Anne Lewison calls the “corporate signature” of the four towers, includes a private area reserved for the families and a public auditorium. Snøhetta’s original commission—the cultural building housing the Drawing Center and the politically sensitive Freedom Center—fell out of the planning in 2005, but Dykers insists that “there is still a cultural center on the Memorial... an edifice that responds both to the lives of those lost and to the future through culture.”

World Trade Center   World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from left: Construction of the interior wall of the south void pool; a rendering of the "ribbon ramp" and its observation platforms; the ramp under construction.
Rendering courtesy Davis Brody Bond Aedas
 

On its upper floors and roof, Snøhetta’s building also includes 13,559 square feet of mechanical space, cores, and shafts, out of a total of 59,136 gross interior square feet. Throughout a site that is tightly interwoven in three dimensions—Dykers and Lewison comment that it typifies New York’s tendency to delineate spaces both in plan and in section—such multi-functionality is to be expected. Lewison points out that bearing beams and steel webs both within and beneath the Pavilion strike non-orthogonal angles that are as functional amid the site’s tricky alignments and transfers as its panels and mullion grid are expressive. The Port Authority’s October 2008 report to Governor David Patterson identified a deck-over construction strategy—building the roof of the PATH mezzanine (which doubles as the floor of the Memorial Plaza) before the remainder of the hub—as an operational solution allowing completion of the Plaza in time for the first-decade anniversary. Structural engineer WSP Cantor Seinuk has provided a system of four-foot-thick concrete shear walls, blast walls, and steel-supported concrete slabs below this plaza roof, providing lateral seismic resistance and allowing construction vehicles to serve multiple projects while maintaining uninterrupted PATH service. “The structural gymnastics that went into making this situation work were beyond daunting,” said Davis pointing out a mere wall separating his firm’s space from the PATH mezzanine during a site tour.

The subterranean museum, Davis reports, developed in part through changes in Arad’s initial design, which called for an underground memorial gallery, four ramps per pool, and views through the waterfalls. He is succinct about this change, the subject of a much-publicized clash with Arad: “Because of security concerns, that became untenable.” Another factor, says museum director Alice Greenwald, was Libeskind’s recognition of the metaphoric power of the slurry wall holding back the Hudson, leading to its designation as an historic asset. “We are obligated by federal landmark preservation law to make the slurry wall available to the public to see, which is actually the reason the museum is located below ground,” Greenwald said. The 2006 decision to bring all memorial functions to grade, she says, was a critical milestone, not only halting cost escalation but also consolidating the components and articulating the Memorial/ Museum complex as “its own precinct.”

World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial
Left to right: Photographs of the victims will line this room in the memorial, where the floor of the original structure will be exposed; Rendering of the space beneath the pool with the stairway and "ribbon ramp" in the background; and a rendering of the memorial showing an original column in front of an observation platform (right).
Rendering Courtesy Squared Design Lab [+]
 

Visitors will follow a coherent path, a Dantesque sequence of descent, contemplation, and ascent (Greenwald calls it “a light-touch experience, not a forced march”). Descending from the Pavilion by stairs or escalator past an iconic pair of the original towers’ 70-foot trident columns, one follows the gently sloping “ribbon” ramp, which doubles back twice to offer broad views of the vast space at west and east overlook points before a break point at the Vesey Street Survivors’ Stairway (relocated and preserved under glass). “We made a very conscious decision for people to arrive at bedrock between the two towers, with no bias for one or another,” says Davis.

Descending the monumental staircase, they reach the bedrock level and the space as large as GrandCentral and bigger than the Whitney and Gugg, Davis said. The exhibition level, where the void pools hover above the original towers’ sheared-off box columns—precisely above them, Davis notes, not a few feet off as in early plans—are aligned with the illuminated square patterns of column stubs to create columns of light in airborne dust. “Everything about this experience,” he notes, “is scale and authenticity.”

The undersides of the pools, Davis adds, will be clad with a unique material, Cymat Alusion foamed aluminum, formed under high pressure with superheated gas and used for strong, light structural bracing in airplane wings. With a surface of myriad reflective facets, the aluminum will resemble a fog when under-lit, becoming “essentially buoyant,” Davis said. “It will dematerialize. It ceases being a solid material...and takes on an eerie, almost apparition-like glow.” Large artifacts already delivered to the Museum include the final column removed at the end of the nine-month recovery period, now preserved against construction-phase dust, debris, and other atmospheric conditions inside an air-conditioned chamber near the west overlook.

The ascent back to plaza level returns the visitor not immediately into urban clamor but to a meditative space defined by Arad’s now-familiar fountains and a grove of some 400 swamp white oak trees in an “abacus bead” alignment: orderly rows when viewed along an east-west axis but naturally randomized when seen from north to south. “There are some unbelievably advanced things going on in this landscape,” Davis says, saluting Walker for the system of pavers, cobblestones, precast concrete tables, soil troughs, and rainwater-capture irrigation. Like so many of the memorial’s abstract elements, the fountain technology is more complex than it looks: fluted weirs by Dan Euser Waterarchitecture guide water flow, and the voids’ massive scale (nearly an acre each, 192 feet on each side, with 176-foot-long waterfalls) makes precise leveling imperative. “If that weir were up an inch anywhere,” says Walker, “the water would run around that inch, and you wouldn’t have the continuous [flow].” Tested last November, it worked on the first try, Davis reports, and it will continue working thanks to a threaded adjustment system to allow for differential settlement over time.

World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from left: View underneath the north void pool whose surfaces will be covered in aluminum foam; exposed detail from the original World Trade Center; a row of shaved bases of columns that supported one of the towers; the slurry wall which was designated an historic asset; a detail of one of the original column bases in the subterranean museum and memorial.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 
  World Trade Center Memorial Detail
World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial
World Trade Center Memorial Detail
 

Walker credits forester Paul Cowie and transplant/transport specialist Tom Cox for helping resolve the “huge technical issues of trying to grow trees on top of a seven-story building of this size.” New York street trees are stressed enough by particulates, noise, radiation, and disease to live an average of only seven years, he says, but these oaks are expected to live for 80 to 100. After a year of forestry research, the species quercus bicolor was chosen, one of only six or seven deemed hardy enough for these conditions. The trees represent the five states where most 9/11 victims resided and have spent the past several years in a New Jersey nursery with a climate similar to Manhattan’s, fed and tended with a precision that makes them, in Walker’s words, “virtually identical, all straight leaders, all virtually the same tree.” He adds, “I’ve never had a chance to do this over time” in the U.S. This is his first American project as sophisticated as those of Swiss and German nurseries.

One component that may surprise visitors is a pair of concrete monoliths along the site’s West Street border, where original plans called for a one- or two-story museum entrance pavilion (removed in 2006 when public functions were brought up to grade and the museum and plaza entrances were consolidated on the east). Currently, the two structures are an unavoidable utilitarian eruption into the plan: vents. Among feasible airflow options for the site’s subgrade spaces—the museum, train stations, chiller plants, extensions of commercial spaces, and others—the West Street structures are far less intrusive, Walker explains, than what engineers initially saw as necessary: numerous smaller vents scattered around the memorial plaza. “I think there were 17 or 18 of them... frankly, I couldn’t see how you could build a memorial with all these vents. Because of the security, these vents had to be pretty tall, as much as 20 feet off the ground. So they were formidable. Our task in the Memorial was to produce this flat plane from which the voids fall down 30 feet....You just can’t do that with all this other stuff around. You have to produce a plane with which you can cut these voids if they’re going to be powerful. So we did a model, which we later called the Awful Model, where we had all the vents and colored them bright orange, and we took them to the Governor.” The reaction by Pataki’s chief of staff John Cahill was, “That looks awful.” He ordered the engineers to remove them all. The two West Street volumes and a few flat grates “essentially have collected all the vents that absolutely have to come up,” Walker notes. “It solved the security problems and also grouped all the vents together, which took a lot of engineering.”

World Trade Center Memorial

World Trade Center Memorial   World Trade Center Memorial
Clockwise from top: Two vent buildings flank the grove of oak trees above the underground museum; the southern pool under construction; the granite-paved plaza with museum entrance in the background.
[+ Click to enlarge.]
 

Few preliminary renderings emphasize the vents, and tree growth will make them less conspicuous over time, but they suggest how the site has evolved to keep its aesthetics and its emotional weight in counterpoise with its practicalities. It is developing within an atmosphere of relentless scrutiny, likely to re-intensify as each component opens, no matter how “Ground Zeroed out” some New Yorkers have grown over the long decade. “Part of the obligation of memory as human beings,” said Greenwald, “is that this is not somebody else’s tragedy; this is our tragedy. It belongs to all of us”—even someday to those who will have no personal memory of Sept. 11, those who may visit once in a lifetime in search of a history lesson, and those who drop by daily from a nearby office seeking a shady place to eat lunch.

If the site’s mission inspires awe, its execution evokes humility. “The awe wears off,” admitted Arad, and control is impossible on any level, from building placement on the site to the fine details of translating the two-dimensional Optima Nova font into the three-dimensional lettering of names on the fountain parapets. “It’s all about letting the site speak for itself,” he said, “not trying to come in here and impose a clear and reductive narrative,” his own included. “I don’t think you can force understanding or an epiphany on anyone, but you can create that space that allows people to have their own epiphanies.” After a decade of contention among parties trying to impose their stories on the Memorial, what the public will ultimately perceive and use is not time, political process, or even values, but the dialogues of expertise that generate a spatial performance.

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Lower Manhattan Shaping Up
Joe Woolhead

fumihiko Maki's tower 4.
joe woolhead
 
 

World Trade Center Rising

The heavy-construction hubbub that has consumed this 16-acre site for most of the last decade is finally showing results, with Tower 1's steel now 28 floors above grade and Tower 4 framed up to the sixth. Aaron Seward takes a bedrock-to-bird's-eye tour of Ground Zero and reports on what we can expect from the Port Authority and developer Larry Silverstein in the years to come.

 

 

 


 
lmcc swing space resident ari tabei at 120 broadway.
COURTESY lmcc
 
 

Downtown's Culture Scene

The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council was among the victims of 9/11, losing one of its resident artists and suffering further from the economic downturn that ground philanthropy to a halt. Matt Chaban talks with Sam Miller, the organization's new executive director, about the cultural assets poised for rebirth along with the rest of downtown.

 

 

 

 



frank gehry's beekman tower.
david sundberg/esto
 
 

Residential Revival

The live-in population of Lower Manhattan has more than doubled to 55,000 since 2001, and many buyers are now on the prowl for playgrounds rather than party pads. Jennifer K. Gorsche surveys the shifting real estate landscape, checking in with high-profile new projects like Beekman Tower and Riverhouse.

 

 

  

 

 


 
the alliance for downtown new york's water street plan.
COURTESY alliance for downtown new york
 
 

Greening the Granite Canyon

Along with a growing residential neighborhood comes a new need for parks and public open space. Alan G. Brake reports on the boom in pocket parks and playgrounds, as well as the evolving East River Esplanade and a major new streetscape proposal for Water Street.

 



the 1966 lower manhattan plan.
courtesy princeton architectural press
 

The Planning of Lower Manhattan

Few places in New York have been as intensively masterplanned as Lower Manhattan. William Menking reviews the rise of the superblock and explores the mixed legacy of David Rockefeller's Downtown Lower Manhattan Association.

 

 

 

 

 

 



downtown circa 2018.
courtesy lmccc
 
 

12.31.2018> Lower Manhattan in Development

AN takes a comprehensive snapshot of new residential projects, commercial buildings, parks, schools, and transportation improvements below Canal Street as projected in 2018, logging the developers, architects, and landscape architects at work shaping downtown's future.

 

 

 

 

 

 



the lmccc's "4-D" view of lower manhattan.
courtesy lmccc
 
 

Building a Better Map

In recent months, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center has transformed how New Yorkers understand the changes taking place in what is collectively the biggest construction site in the city. Katherine Lindstedt takes a peek behind the scenes of the agency's latest online mapping model and its powerful, publicly accessible database.

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Making it Big
Clockwise from top left: Inner Northern Busway, Australia; Mercy Medical Center, Baltimore; Cedar Creek Windfarm, Colorado; Barclays Center, Brooklyn.
Courtesy AECOM except top left: Christopher Fredrick Jones

Reconstruction work at the World Trade Center in New York has required a level of coordination and cooperation that would demoralize even the largest of integrated design firms. This is especially true of the transit hub, which reaches out to connect the various buildings on the site with multiple train lines traversing Lower Manhattan.

The way it is told in the halls of AECOM—the company in charge of the hub’s engineering, site preparation, PATH facilities, security, wayfinding systems, and more—getting a handle on Santiago Calatrava’s vision for the project proved to be a tall order for the transportation experts assigned to the job. The Spanish architect may be renowned for his clarity and eloquence, but his high-flown presentations proved to be Greek to these men and women who are more accustomed to planning circulation paths and calculating load patterns. Luckily, AECOM had a solution to this communication breakdown. It reached into the voluminous folds of its global network and pulled out a few architects—employees of a former DMJM office in Arlington, Virginia, to be specific—sending them north to act as emissaries and interpreters between the silver-tongued architect and his iron-eared collaborators. The result, reportedly, has been a smoother integration of the project’s sculptural and functional design elements.

 
National Guard, Arlington, Virginia
Arseni Varabyeu
 
207 Goode Office Building, Glendale
Eddie Karamali
 
Judicial Center, Rockville, Maryland
Arseni Varabyeu

Los Angeles Police Department, LA
Tim Griffith
 
 

The past decade has seen a proliferation of large and complex projects that draw upon global resources both intellectual and material. The World Trade Center is but a small example. Entire cities are being built from scratch in the wilderness of China. Luxury developments stocked with the finest in convenience and culture are rising from the deserts of the Middle East. As the projects have gotten bigger, more all- encompassing in their scope, and located in what were once far-flung corners of the world, the firms that design and build them have followed suit. No one company has taken this impulse further than AECOM. With 45,000 employees and offices on every continent, this megalith has assembled expertise in every area necessary to design, build, and fuel a modern city. Its reason for being— ”to make the world a better place”— is as magnanimous as it is grandiose; its purpose—”to enhance and sustain the world’s built, natural, and social environments”— is as singular as it is vague.

If you have never heard of AECOM, or if you have only just recently become aware of the name but aren’t certain what exactly it is or does, you are not alone. Up until last year, AECOM was little more than a holding company, a fairly abstract entity that held together a loose consortium of design, engineering, and project management firms operating in their own sectors and under their own names. Its genesis dates to the late 1980s, when Kentucky-based Ashland Oil, looking to diversify its business, purchased five large architecture and engineering companies, creating a design firm called Ashland. The oilmen, however, soon lost interest in this line and allowed the companies to buy themselves back. In 1990, those five firms, including architecture giants DMJM and Frederic R. Harris, established the AECOM name, which stands for architecture, engineering, construction, operations, and management. From that moment forth, the growth did not cease as more and more firms were acquired and more and more disciplines were incorporated. In 2007, AECOM became a publicly traded company, and today it is one of America’s biggest firms with more than $6 billion in annual revenue.

This mushrooming to such gargantuan proportions was not conducted randomly, of course. Rather, AECOM leadership singled out companies for acquisition that filled a market or geographical niche not yet represented in the portfolio. To use architecture as an example, shortly after 1990, Spillis Candela of Miami was acquired for its expertise in civic and courthouse design. Hays Seay Mattern & Mattern of Virginia were brought aboard for their cultural experience. Chinese firm CityMark was purchased because, well, they were in China. EDAW was sought out and wooed for its highly developed global planning and landscape design practice. Most recently, Ellerbe Becket was merged for its strength in the Midwest and expertise in sports and healthcare typologies. That last acquisition more or less rounded out AECOM’s portfolio, giving it influence everywhere on the planet and skill in everything imaginable, but that doesn’t mean that it will stop its search. The company is always looking for smoothly operating integrated design firms, and would particularly like to increase its competence in airport design.

Loyola Marymount University, LA
Courtesy AECOM
 
Giant Interactive, Shanghai
Courtesy AECOM

AECOM made its official debut in October 2009. “Two years ago it was decided to reorganize the company,” explained Tom Fridstein, an AECOM executive vice president and head of global architecture. “It had grown to such a size and there were so many companies we wanted to rebrand to one identity.” The company’s many disciplines were organized into five main business lines: Planning Design and Development, which includes architecture, engineering, landscape design, project management, and economics; Transportation, with everything from airports to bridges and tunnels; Energy, both generation and transmission; Environmental, from brownfield restorations to carbon footprint assessments; and Water, with wastewater treatment facilities, desalination plants, you name it. All of the business lines share a common financial structure, business development and marketing department, data systems, and, of course, human resources, as was shown in the example of the World Trade Center.

It is difficult to conceive of how such a many-limbed beast would even begin to function with one mind, but AECOM has devised a fairly simple matrix to help navigate its global business. On one axis of this matrix are geographical regions, and on the other are business lines. While local offices are largely in charge of developing and maintaining their own business—as with many firms, most of AECOM’s clientele are repeat customers, legacy clients of the legacy firms—the company’s top leadership, which is mostly made up of architects and engineers, is in charge of looking across geographical boundaries and market sectors to locate opportunities and assign resources as needed. This gives AECOM an edge over firms that may not have such a deep pool of talent to draw from, or a network of offices around the world. “If you’re going to be global, your expertise is not going to exist in every location. That’s where collaboration comes in,” said Jon Miller, an AECOM senior vice president in the Arlington, Virginia, office. “If you have a project in Kuwait, but not the right people for it on the spot, you can draw from other regions and establish the right talent in the right location. The global market is changing,” he added. “Today in Dubai they want people there on the ground. It used to be you could do it all from the U.S. and just send the drawings. Now clients want people who are committed to the region.”

Midtown Landscape Design, Tokyo
Courtesy AECOM
 
Yingze Streetscape, Taiyuan, China
Courtesy AECOM

This global reach is also beneficial for AECOM clients that want to expand their business overseas. Rick Lincicome, an AECOM senior vice president who has come in from Ellerbe Becket, said that one of his old clients, a hospital based in South Dakota, wanted to expand its business outside of the U.S. They were thinking they would have to find another architect to do the job, one with more global experience. “We had to educate them that we actually had global reach,” said Lincicome. “Joining AECOM is going to be great for that client.”

Though enormous, AECOM tries to balance its portfolio with both large and small projects. “The challenge today is being able to operate locally and globally, to work on a small level and be able to scale up,” said Fridstein. “We operate like any other firm. We have the benefit of having a huge amount of people, but we can put together a team of two people or 200 people depending on the size of the project.” And though of its 45,000 employees only 4,000 are in the Planning Design and Development division, of which about 1,500 are architects, it wishes to be seen as a design firm. “There’s a fear that these large firms put design as a subset to construction,” said Miller. “Not so here. We are very much about design. The upper management is made up of designers. When I look up I see architects above me, and that’s comforting.” If these desires sound a bit contradictory, that’s because they are. How can an entity be both large and small, both dedicated to design and composed mostly of management types? Scaling project teams down to meet the demands of a given project is one thing, but operating like a small business with all of the cultural trappings of a boutique design house, and perhaps the guiding force of a single genius, is something quite different.

2012 Olympic Masterplan, London
Courtesy AECOM
 
Heart of Doha Masterplan, Qatar
Courtesy AECOM

What this boils down to is a bit of a personality crisis—if having multiple personalities is a crisis. The public launch of AECOM fused a multitude of businesses under one name, but it didn’t create a single culture, at least not yet. For the time being, the firm seems happy to have those different voices all under the same roof. “When we merge with a company, it’s because we think they’re doing something very good,” said Fridstein. “We don’t want to lose what that is. I’ve seen other firms buy a company and dismantle it. Once they do that, they lose the value they’ve acquired.” The large size and investment in a wide range of markets helps make the company stable, as when one sector is down, those that are up can carry things along. And the fact that it is publicly owned, without one defining principal at the top handing down the gift of their brilliance, provides for smooth changes of leadership. “When you’re this large, you can’t have one personality. Our very purpose is to be beyond one defining feature,” said Lincicome. “We are AECOM, we can do anything.”

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Green Acres
Sage and Coombe redesigned a mural intended for the World Trade Center construction fence for a similar one further downtown at Peter Minuit Plaza.
Courtesy Sage and Coombe

Last August, the New York City Department of Transportation and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey launched a competition for a mural to adorn the construction fence around Ground Zero. The brief called for “bold, colorful imagery reflecting the vibrancy of the downtown commercial and residential neighborhood.”

The winning design, by New York–based Sage and Coombe Architects, was a chlorophyll wonderland of flora and fauna to be printed on vinyl mesh and installed on the fence's western side, along Church Street between Liberty and Vesey streets. “The design is in the spirit of embracing the cityscape with an eye toward greening it,” said principal Jennifer Sage. “The idea was to make a garden hedge that you could peel back and look into.”

But the original completion date in December came and went with no mural installed. In January, the competition sponsors announced that none of the entries (including the winner) were “extraordinary enough” for Ground Zero. Sage and Coombe’s work, it was decided, would meanwhile be installed at another Lower Manhattan construction site, Peter Minuit Plaza near the Whitehall Ferry Terminal, which is being overhauled as an intermodal transportation hub.

The mural’s design (super-sized, searchable version here) has been given some tweaks to reflect its new location, pays homage to the city’s heritage as well as its icons. Topiary windmills and a wooden shoe nod to New Amsterdam, Coney Island’s Parachute Jump and Wonder Wheel make an appearance, and the Brooklyn Bridge and Guggenheim Museum get the topiary treatment as well.

A cast of historical characters also inhabits the hedge: Henry Hudson winks through a keyhole, while the ghosts of Jane Jacobs and Frederick Law Olmsted float in the clouds. Civic leaders like Peter Stuyvesant and Mayor John Lindsay also get their due. “It’s a puzzle of disparate New York components, but all of the entities are the icons you think of when you think about New York,” Sage said.

The greening concept goes beyond the literal idea of the hedge to encompass other modes of sustainability. Sage and partner Peter Coombe have long pursued strategies that incorporate new technologies and green features, and the mural includes alternate means of transportation such as cyclists and skateboarders that navigate the hedge. City officials also intend to reuse the mural if possible.

As for the project’s new home, near UNStudio’s New Amsterdam Pavilion at the entrance to the Staten Island Ferry, Sage remains enthusiastic. “It’s a point of arrival, historically and today,” she said. “So many people trudging by every day are going to see it.” The firm has fine-tuned the mural for the site at Manhattan’s tip, embellishing the Dutch imagery and adjusting details like labels on subway cars to reflect the new surroundings.

While the Ground Zero construction fence will now remain as is—a Port Authority spokesman said the agency will periodically update individual panels with images that reflect new construction on the site—Sage and Coombe’s mural is expected to plant a splash of color in Peter Minuit Plaza by the middle of this month.

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Spielberg Wades Into The Pit
Steven Spielberg has captured some dicey events on film: World War II, Alien Invasions, and Dinosaurs gone wild. But none of that can prepare him for the mess that he's about to cover: the World Trade Center. Spielberg is producing a documentary for the Science Channel called Rebuilding Ground Zero, a six-part series set to run next year. The show is the brainchild of architect Danny Forster, who hosts and produces the Science Channel's Build It Bigger, and it will be directed by Jonathan Hock, who  shot Through the Fire, a documentary about Coney Island basketball star and NBA dud Sebastian Telfair. Each episode of Rebuilding will chronicle one aspect of the ultra-slow redevelopment, including the Freedom Tower, the memorials, the park, the museum, and the transportation hub. Perhaps Spielberg will conjure up some CGI magic to make the site look like more than a hole in the ground? We'll have to wait and see.

Gerson’s WTC Statement

The World Trade Center site is one of the most technically complicated modern construction projects ever undertaken: the building of five high rise towers, concomitantly, on a sixteen acre site over two train lines; issues of unprecedented toxicities and missing human remains; all in the middle of a bustling residential and business district.   The architects, engineers and workers on the ground deserve credit for the performance of a difficult task, and interruptions, unexpected technical problems and delays should have been anticipated from its inception. 

What remains inexcusable is needless political exacerbation of the difficulties rather than public sector facilitation of the complexities.  This process has been plagued by: false expectations generated by political grandstanding; delays in providing necessary funding to critical job components; the failure to create reasonable and responsible budgets for project components; the avoidance or postponement of difficult but necessary political decisions; and a lack of full transparency and accountability in all government agencies and activities.

Governor Paterson and the new Port Authority Executive Director, Christopher Ward deserve great credit for restoring governmental efficacy in the rebuilding process.  The Governor’s demand for a top-to-bottom reassessment, and the preliminary report issued by the Executive Director provide desperately needed doses of reality, transparency and accountability.  Mayor Bloomberg deserves credit for his partnership and involvement in this new expeditious and efficient approach.
      
The extraordinary economic conditions faced by Lower Manhattan, our city and the nation should accelerate work at Ground Zero. The history of recovery in past times of economic distress has involved large-scale public works projects.  Ground Zero is a great public works project, a statement of confidence and moral uplift.  It is also a desperately needed economic stimulus, more important now than ever since 9/11.
       
The Lower Manhattan Redevelopment projects on and off the World Trade Center site must also position Lower Manhattan to be ready with adequate transportation and infrastructure as well as sufficient  space to meet the future demands of the inevitable upturn in the economy as it occurs.  We owe it to the 2800 innocent people who lost their lives as they went about their work, sustaining and building our economy; to the heroes who risked or sacrificed their lives to save others; and to the community residents who rallied and remained to support each other and to rebuild their neighborhoods.  We must tell each of their stories and complete the rest of the job safely, efficiently, democratically and without delay.

Now is the time to demonstrate Lower Manhattan’s most visionary and effective public sector. I have set forth, below, seventeen specific next steps necessary to move the World Trade Center site and Lower Manhattan redevelopment projects forward.  These recommendations, which should be implemented immediately, follow from the series of hearings of the City Council’s Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment, which I chair, and from numerous conversations I have had with community members and leaders, including community board members, and the entities involved in the projects. I call on the Governor and the Mayor to provide the leadership necessary to implement these next steps. I call on Chris Ward of the Port Authority of NY/NJ  to incorporate these next steps into his plan of action, recognizing that even on those measures over which the Port does not exercise direct control, the Executive Director’s recommendations will carry great weight.

On October 6, 2008, the Lower Manhattan Redevelopment Committee will conduct its next oversight hearing. At that time we will expect the Port Authority, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and other relevant agencies to report on their response to these recommendations, as well as to the full report issued by Christopher Ward and the ensuing timetable for Ground Zero, Fiterman Hall, and the Fulton Street Station.

17 Steps for Getting the World Trade Center Site Project Back on Track

1.  APPOINT AN AUDITOR GENERAL TO MONITOR ALL LOWER MANHATTAN REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS.  We need one auditor general to monitor the World Trade Center site, 130 Liberty Street, Fiterman Hall and the Fulton Street Transit Hub.  All of these projects involve state agencies.  An auditor general will monitor progress and spending, keep an eye out for delays and cost overruns and present options for synergies and cost-saving measures, including cross-project efficiencies.  What has been missing from the governance of Lower Manhattan redevelopment has been one accountable official with access to all relevant information and monitoring and reporting responsibilities. 

Our governmental system is founded on checks and balances, which have been entirely missing from the Lower Manhattan redevelopment process. The independent authorities carrying out these projects are exempt from normal auditing by the State Comptroller or City Comptroller and from normal oversight by the State Legislature or City Council.  This was a mistake from the start.  It is too late to totally recreate the governance structure of the rebuilding efforts.  But the appointment of an auditor general will provide the needed check and balance moving forward.

The auditor general should serve at the governor’s pleasure, report directly to the governor and mayor, issue periodic public progress reports and appear regularly before the City Council and State Legislature. The Port Authority, the MTA, the LMDC, the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center (LMCCC) and all agencies involved in any projects must be required to open their books and plans to the auditor general. Christopher Ward, no matter how capable, serves the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and thus could not be in the position to audit it and the other authorities. Many of us thought that this was part of what the LMDC was supposed to do in the first place.  The LMDC should, however, now provide funds to support the auditor general. 

2.  REAFFIRM THE 9/11/11 DEADLINE FOR PERMANENTLY OPENING THE MEMORIAL PLAZA.  Past unrealistic timetables should not be taken as an excuse for establishing no timetable.  Deadlines serve an important purpose.  We would not have reached the moon when we did if President Kennedy had not set that ten-year deadline.  By all accounts, there exist no technical or physical reasons why the Memorial Plaza cannot be completed by the tenth anniversary.  The governor and mayor must direct all agencies to work together to make this happen.

3. MODIFY PATH TRAIN MEZZANINE TO ACHIEVE SIMPLE ELEGANCE WITH COLUMNS.  Utilizing columns to support the #1 train, rather than the more complex suspension system under consideration, would save money and time.  We estimate the savings in the millions of dollars.  The columns will also expedite utility work under Greenwich Street and thus assure timely progress.  This will save money and help assure progress on the memorial and other ground zero sectors.  It will also allow for the setting of a timetable for the rebuilding and remapping of Greenwich Street, which will be critical for access to the Memorial. Grandiosity has its place, including within this site, but the PATH station achieves sufficient grandiosity in the Eagle structure and the main hall.  What is essentially a passageway for commuters rushing to and from their trains and pedestrians rushing between the World Financial Center and Church Street can be built elegantly with columns and with less expense

4. WITHIN 90 DAYS THE MTA MUST RE-ISSUE BID SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE FULTON STREET TRANSIT HUB—WITH SPECIFICATION CHANGES AIMED AT LOWERING COSTS BY AT LEAST $200 MILLION.   At a hearing of the City Council’s committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment held in April, 2008, the MTA pledged to reissue bid specifications within 30 days.  This has not happened.  Further delay is inexcusable.  The MTA testified that it planned to divide the work and issue separate bid requests for each of the major discrete parts of the project in order to optimize efficiency and expertise and to minimize costs.  That still makes sense, as the best subterranean contractor is not necessarily the best aboveground structural contractor. 

The Fulton Street Transit Hub is a critical component of Lower Manhattan’s future.  Its transit connections are needed to optimize downtown’s accessibility.  Its retail and street level presence, including the promised replacement of the scores of retail cleared out for this project, will anchor the future of a thriving Fulton Street corridor. 

The longer we wait, the more expensive this project will get.  The basic contours of the project, including the design for the transit hub, should remain the same. It is clear however, that fewer internal flourishes and excesses, with the aim of simple elegance in method and outcome, could save the project millions of dollars. 

In addition, the Corbin building’s restoration can be deferred without detracting from the train station or the main entrance. Indeed, the Corbin building should not be part of the transit hub.  It should be sold, restored and turned into office space.  To integrate a historic building into a transit center is overly complex.  To remove the Corbin building from the site could save hundreds of millions of dollars.

5.  FULLY FUND FITERMAN HALL’S RECONSTRUCTION IMMEDIATELY.  Fiterman Hall provided critical classroom space for the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC).  Over 21,000 degree students from all over the City are enrolled at BMCC this semester, making it by far the largest community college in all of New York City.  The necessary funds must be allocated now in order to avoid another hole in the ground in Lower Manhattan and to mitigate spiraling costs.  New York’s Dormitory Authority will not allow City University of New York (CUNY) to contract for reconstruction until full funding is allocated. CUNY officials anticipate that the remediation process (the cleaning of Fiterman Hall) will be completed by the end of January 2009 and that demolition will be completed by summer 2009.  The contracting process is such that it needs to begin imminently, requiring full funding, in order for construction to begin immediately upon deconstruction. 

Delay in Fiterman Hall’s reconstruction will retard overall downtown development, including the ability of Silverstein Properties to rent office space at 7 World Trade Center, which is opposite Fiterman Hall.  Eventually, Fiterman Hall will have to be rebuilt.  The longer we wait, the more it will cost taxpayers.

With classes scheduled in the daytime, evening and weekends, and additional adult and continuing education programs in high demand from the community, we must do everything within our power to expedite the process of demolishing and building a new Fiterman Hall. 

6. REAFFIRM THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (PAC) AT THE PROPOSED LOCATION, WITH THE 1,000-SEAT THEATER IN A GEHRY DESIGNED BUILDING, WITH THE JOYCE THEATER AS THE ANCHOR TENANT. Specifically the LMDC must do the following: establish the 501(c)(3) entity that will raise funds for the project, along with a strong board of directors and dynamic leadership and allow fundraising to begin. The LMDC must reaffirm the previous commitment of $50 million to the site.  There must be a recommitment to building a Gehry-designed, 1000-seat theater.  There must also be a reaffirming of the Joyce Theater as the anchor tenant of the PAC.

The LMDC and Port Authority must jointly make it clear to the world that the Performing Arts Center will be built.  The 1,000-seat theater remains important to serve a gap of that theater size in our city’s cultural infrastructure. The Joyce remains the most viable and appropriate anchor tenant.  The center is important to the community’s future, as well as to the spirit of the site.  All governmental entities involved in reconstructing the World Trade Center site must remain faithful to the entire original concept for the site:  the Memorial, to commemorate the infinite worth and stories of the lives lost; the commercial to carry on the work of those lives; and the cultural, to celebrate life itself.

7. THE PORT AUTHORITY MUST ISSUE A TIMELINE FOR THE TURNOVER OF TOWER 2 TO SILVERSTEIN PROPERTIES IMMEDIATELY AND ISSUE A STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE, WITH BENCHMARKS FOR THE COMPLETION OF ANY OUTSTANDING INFRASTRUCTURE WORK ON THE SITES FOR TOWERS 2,  3 AND 4  The timetable must project when site 2 will be turned over to Silverstein Properties and when all infrastructure work on  sites 3 and 4 (which have already been turned over) will be completed.  Until then, the Port must issue periodic reports on the status of the timeline, with explanations of any extensions.  Obviously, unfolding economic events may impact the programming of the site, but the infrastructure will be required for any future development to take place.

8. IMMEDIATELY CONVENE A MEMORIAL ACCESS PLANNING GROUP.  This group should combine site designers, architects, the NYPD, and other security agencies on the site and community representatives, with the goal of achieving the most open and easy access that prudent security will allow.  The group should develop plans for interim access to the Memorial for the tenth anniversary and permanent access upon completion of the entire site.  Important security and design details need to be addressed now because of their relevance to infrastructure construction.  Delaying this process could delay or impede the Memorial’s opening.  It makes no sense to open the Memorial Plaza if it cannot be accessed.

9.  THE LMDC MUST RELEASE DESIGN SPECIFICATIONS. A number of years ago, the LMDC drafted design specifications for the World Trade Center site that were never released.  These site design specifications cover criteria for planting, pavement type, street and sidewalk furniture, lighting and light poles, curb cuts, and façade appearance and other material pertaining to the streetscape, grounds, and building fronts of the site.  These design specifications could affect infrastructure now under construction as well as security measures.  Finalizing the specifications forthwith could avoid needless costs and extra work.  The LMDC should release its draft specifications and then proceed swiftly to a public hearing and ultimate adoption of the specifications.

10.  NYPD AND FDNY MUST CONDUCT AND RELEASE A FULL SECURITY AND FIRE SAFETY AUDIT OF PLANS FOR THE UNDERGROUND MUSEUM.  A full, joint security review by NYPD and FDNY, based on all applicable New York City codes, as well as other governmental regulations and state-of-the-art measures, should be completed and certified by the agencies. We cannot once more complete plans only to have security agencies send them back to the drawing board.  Several family groups have raised questions about security measures, entrances, exits, ramps, and other aspects of security precautions planned for the underground museum. They may be right or wrong, in whole or in part, but these family groups and the public deserve to know definitively.

11. PRODUCE A LOWER MANHATTAN BUS PLAN WITHIN NINE MONTHS.  This could be done in-house or by retained experts in consultation with the community.  The Memorial tour buses are coming, but no one knows where they will lay over, where they will drop off and pick up passengers and what routes they will take. Lower Manhattan already faces a bus invasion, with more long-distance bus passengers than the midtown Port Authority bus terminal, according to police statistics.  Combine this with tour buses, commuter buses, casino buses and all manner of charter buses. We need a plan to protect the area’s quality of life and the ambience of the Memorial, which will be a major destination. The different buses share many of the same streets, routes, stops, and might most efficiently share the same parking facilities. The report must therefore lay out options for all bus categories for all of downtown from at least south of Ninth Street. Again, this needs to be worked out now because it could have an impact on the underground parking facility and related infrastructure presently under construction at the World Trade Center site. 

12.  THE LMDC MUST IMMEDIATELY ISSUE A DETAILED STATUS REPORT AND TIMETABLE ON 130 LIBERTY STREET AND PROVIDE REGULAR UPDATES.  The LMCCC should continue to play an active oversight role at 130 Liberty Street.  However, we are reluctant to recommend a governance overhaul for fear that this could only generate further delay.  This project’s delay stems from past mistakes, including ignoring sound practices demanded by community groups and elected officials.  However, the LMDC’s current administration has it right with the decoupling of decontamination and demolition, and ongoing safety measures.  In order to prevent further delay, the LMDC must provide a timetable and detailed monthly progress reports, including explanations for any failures to meet the timetable.  Much of this is now being done verbally at periodic task force meetings.  Given the past history of this project, these reports need to be formalized in writing, with as much detail as possible.

13.  CLOSE VESEY STREET BETWEEN CHURCH STREET AND WEST BROADWAY, BUT ONLY IF THE PORT AUTHORITY MEETS THE BURDEN OF DEMONSTRATING THAT TO DO SO WOULD MATERIALLY SAVE TIME OR PROVIDE FOR GREATER SAFETY The imperative to avoid delay at the World Trade Center site appears to far outweigh the inconvenience of the temporary street closure.  The Vesey Street block that would be closed does not have residences or businesses needing to access the street.  However, the Port Authority must put in place means to compensate for the closure, such as widened sidewalks on adjoining streets, additional signage, additional traffic enforcement agents, and shuttle buses, including a shuttle bus connection with Battery Park City.  Vesey Street should not be closed any longer than is absolutely necessary.  The Port Authority should regularly update the community as to the progress of the work performed and whether there is a continuing need to keep that section of Vesey Street closed. Local Law 24 must be followed in letter and spirit, to ensure proper community input and notification.

14.  CONTINUE THE STEERING COMMITTEE RECENTLY ESTABLISHED BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR WARD.  By all accounts, the steering committee established by Chris Ward has provided improved coordination among the public and private entities working on or regulating the World Trade Center site.  Representation by the Mayor’s office on the steering committee should include the NYPD in order to assure full interagency coordination and to avoid the delays due to lack of such coordination, which have occurred in the past.

15. CONTINUE THE PORT AUTHORITY  BRIEFINGS FOR FAMILY MEMBERS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN LOWER MANHATTAN.  By all accounts, the direct meetings between high-ranking Port Authority figures and representatives of family groups and local community representatives have not only reduced tensions but provided valuable input. These briefings should take place on a regular basis. They should be expanded to include the Memorial Museum and the MTA.  In addition, we urge the Port Authority to continue to hold monthly open meetings of its board of directors focused exclusively on the World Trade Center.  These board meetings must be held at a location in Lower Manhattan to maximize the number of community members who may wish to attend.  We suggest the Conference Center of the New York Academy of Sciences at 7 World Trade Center, overlooking the site, reminding us all of the progress that can be made.

16. INTEGRATE THE TRIBUTE CENTER PERMANENTLY INTO THE MUSEUM ENTRANCE BUILDING.  This building is supposed to provide orientation exhibitions as well as security and ticketing functions.  The Tribute Center has provided orientation admirably since it opened.  Lee Ielpi and his team stepped up to provide this critical service when no one else did.  They have done a remarkable job.  The Tribute Center they created has received approximately 715,000 visitors to date.  It exists in temporary leased space, but it deserves to become permanent in order to continue to enhance the education for site visitors.  The entrance building of the museum would be the logical place and would avoid redundancy and waste in resources. At the very least, a discussion between the Tribute Center and the Memorial Museum should take place, and take place now so that the entrance building’s layout and size could still be adjusted to accommodate the Center.  In the past we have questioned the need for a separate entrance building at all.  The Museum’s entrance could be created through the oversized Calatrava building.  However, if we are going to have an additional building, it should be as meaningful as possible.  We cannot imagine anything more meaningful than the Tribute Center.

17.  CREATE A MECHANISM TO STRENGTHEN CONSTRUCTION SITE SAFETY AND LOWER MANHATTAN’S LIVABILITY. Situations will undoubtedly increase as work at or above ground level accelerates and authorities charged with the work seek variances, or the equivalent, to meet or exceed schedules.  We cannot sacrifice the health, well-being or livability of area workers or residents to get the work done.  That would fly in the face of the value of upholding the importance and sanctity of every human being, which the site and downtown’s rebirth are supposed to reflect.  Next month, this office will release a follow-up report and series of recommendations to improve construction site safety and construction area livability for Lower Manhattan and the city at large.  We call on all levels and leaders of government to work together to achieve the goal of reconstruction within the timeframe, but not at the expense of safety and livability.

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Ground Zero Pavilion Unveiled
Squared Design Lab

On September 9, Governor David Paterson vowed that a memorial to the events of September 11, 2001 must open before other planned commercial development at the World Trade Center complex. Which left architect Craig Dykers of Snøhetta with a delicate task: create a beacon, located between three proposed towers and the memorial itself, that commemorates a tragedy while tying together an obstacle course of a site—all in a 47,500-square-foot, three-story building.

In that context, Dykers presented a brave face at a press conference later that day to unveil the most recent designs for a Ground Zero museum pavilion. His $80 million building, a gem-like, glass-and-steel volume composed of tilted planes, is to open in 2012 as the only above-grade portion of the memorial museum. And his remarks subtly referred to the jousting that made the pavilion so modest. “As important as any event in the past may be, people of the present and the future will connect with this place,” Dykers said. “Our design should speak to what this place will be. So the design tries to balance the initial Libeskind scheme and recent commercial planning.”

The original scheme for the site included a 220,000-square-foot cultural center fronting the sunken footprints of the World Trade Center towers. Former governor George Pataki rejected one of the site’s designated tenants, the International Freedom Center, and subsequent negotiations reworked the zone as part of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, honoring victims of all terrorist acts. It’s that museum, which one will enter underground, to which Dykers’ angled building opens through a stand of 50-foot-tall trees. The pavilion will also face three proposed office towers, each with double-height retail at street level, designed by international stars Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Fumihiko Maki. (The Freedom Tower, to the north, is still due to open in 2011.)


Squared Design Lab

Two columns from Minoru Yamasaki's original trade center towers will stand as the pavilion's centerpiece.
 

Searching for a connective language, Dykers and his team looked to the street-facing pediments of the lost World Trade Center. Since some had called the famous Y-shaped columns of the center’s lobby “tree trunks,” Snøhetta borrowed the metaphor to make a gesture with its roof. “We wanted the atrium to be a web structure, so that as much light as possible comes in,” Dykers said at the presentation. The roof, a trapezoid with carats on top, follows the vein-like pattern of a leaf. This motif relates the building to Santiago Calatrava’s birdlike PATH station, planned for Fulton Street on the east, and the trellises of Battery Park City on the west.

But as site leaseholder Larry Silverstein reiterated after Dykers’ talk, other projects are on hold until the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey “delivers infrastructure” to the entire, 16-acre site. And that process won’t begin in earnest until the agency releases a report on September 30 that presents a defensible construction schedule. Even after construction begins, it’s not clear that Silverstein can get financing or tenants for the other proposed towers.

Perhaps to preempt the Port Authority’s report, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called on September 10 for the city to take over site management. And if that were to happen, Dykers and his client could get fast-tracked. Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber emphasized after Dykers’ talk that the city’s chief priority remains opening the memorial by September 11, 2011. The memorial should be completed before infrastructure and office development, Lieber told AN, “because of what it is.”

Lieber’s view reflects sound economic logic. Unlike the office towers, the memorial has a committed occupant, and can draw tourists while making good on a civic promise to victims’ families. And while that logic places a heavy burden on a small building, Dykers welcomed the challenge.

“Being small in a place like this sets you apart,” he told AN. “In New York, smaller spaces, like pocket parks in the Village or a small club, can be more memorable.” Of course, other Ground Zero elements have been getting scaled back, notably among them Calatrava’s station. In that spirit, Dykers’ closing words to the press corps had a poignant ring. “Your memory of this place will be not a physical object,” he said, “but an experience.”

Alec Appelbaum

 
All images: Squared Design Lab
With its entry along Greenwich street, The pavilion connects the calatrava-designed transportation hub and planned commercial towers with the memorial and museum spaces.

 

The project's angular footprint of 15,000 square feet points visitors to an oak-tree grove at the center of the plaza, near both the north and south memorial pools. 

 
A large, glazed atrium allows views into the museum, where remnants from the twin towers will be displayed. 

 

The pavilion will provide general site orientation, ticketing services for museum exhibitions and programs, and security screening.
 
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Profile: Vishaan Chakrabarti

Yoko Inoue
 

Vishaan Chakrabarti
Executive Vice President of Design and Planning
The Related Companies

From his office on the 26th floor of the Hearst Building, Vishaan Chakrabarti points towards his floor-to-ceiling windows, intent that his guests look out on Clinton, the West Side neighborhood below. “Right out that window is the most protected neighborhood in all of America in terms of zoning and low-income housing standards.” Chakrabarti, who last week was named Executive Vice President of Design and Planning for Related Companies, has been thinking a lot about Clinton—and other neighborhoods that could be keys to preparing New York for tremendous growth in the coming years—as he tries to turn the long-talked-about Moynihan Station into reality. The most important question, he believes, is how to build necessary infrastructure. To stop thinking big “is a wild mistake… Are we going to build the infrastructure that keeps up with all that development? That’s where the challenge lies. We’ve got competitors who are doing that much better—and not just London. It’s Shanghai, it’s Hong Kong, it’s Mumbai.”

While much of the Moynihan Station project has focused on the use of the Farley Post Office as the new Beaux Arts home for Penn Station—a nod to the original torn down between 1962 and 1964—Chakrabarti said that anyone who has thought of the bigger picture realizes that more than the station needs to be rehabbed: “There are really interesting questions about why the area around Penn Station never grew the way the area around Grand Central did.” But whatever the causes, he believes the area needs office buildings, hotels, and residential space in addition to the new station. He hopes the Amtrak bill that recently passed in Congress will help people see the need for a vastly overhauled transportation hub on the West Side. Although trained as an architect, he said that design comes lower on the list of priorities when brokering a deal as huge and intricate as the Moynihan Station.

As head of the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning from 2002 to 2004, Chakrabarti, 42, advocated for the development of the Hudson Yards, a plan that’s still very much a part of his vision of the future city, with high-density housing close to transportation. But a project like that, he said, can only be accomplished through public-private partnerships: “The private sector built Grand Central terminal and the original Penn Station, right? So it always amazes me when I read some of this stuff [disparaging the involvement of the private sector]. I don’t understand people’s lack of historical understanding about how much of New York City is actually built that way.” There’s no reason why Moynihan Station and the Hudson Yards, he said, should be an exception.

The nattily dressed Chakrabarti, development’s answer to Gay Talese, talks and writes a lot about what he sees as misguided ideas about city planning, particularly the notion that big is automatically bad. Call it the Jane Jacobs effect, but a lot of people get nervous when developers arrive on the scene. Chakrabarti understands the instinct to protect a neighborhood’s scale, but he believes that in a world with gas prices heading towards $5 a gallon, we can’t afford to think low-rise anymore. “The idea that you would keep the largest transportation hub in the Western hemisphere— Penn Station, which is busier than all three airports combined —low density is environmentally irresponsible.”

The public is a lot more savvy about planning than even ten years ago, he contends, in part because the doings at the World Trade Center site became tabloid fodder. But he is still frustrated by the small vision of some of his fellow New Yorkers: He cites a woman at a planning meeting who asked him why he kept talking about the growth of New York. “Isn’t New York grown up?” she wondered. That kind of thinking astounds Chakrabarti, who argues that staying still is functionally the same as regressing. “I believe New York is fundamentally much more an Asian city than it is a European one—in its context, in its culture, in the way it builds things… A lot of people don’t want to hear that.”

Still, on recent trips to China, he has been horrified by the amount of demolition: “It is astonishing how much urban fabric has been torn down in inner city Shanghai and inner city Beijing.... They’ve lost their Sohos and Tribecas, while pieces of their West Village are hanging on for dear life.”

But New York, Chakrabarti worries, currently suffers the opposite tendency, with preservation being used as a tool to stop development. At the same time, the criteria for saving buildings have proven inconsistent: Why aren’t more modern buildings being saved, too? And if they are, where is the line drawn between what’s worth preserving and what isn’t? “I think preservation has a place. I think the bigger problem with preservation is that it’s fundamentally an asymptote.” He points to the Meatpacking District as a case in point: What started as an effort to keep the low-scale character of the neighborhood led to zoning that bred a local “Hotlanta.”

Chakrabarti feels that great cities depend upon a balance of infrastructure, density, and preservation. When one of these veers off kilter, its future is in danger. He sees the High Line—he’s on the board of Friends of the High Line—as a good model: “One of my favorite notions about the High Line is that it’s a structure that Robert Moses built and Jane Jacobs would love. I will argue to my death that it’s going to result in the most architecturally ambitious neighborhood in this city and it’s going to do everything she talked about.” Not all of Moses’ legacy is worthy of derision, he said. “It’s just balance.”

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Folly at Fulton St.
Grimshaw's original design for the Fulton Street transit hub is sure to be scaled back, and may not get built at all.
Courtesy Grimshaw

In the face of budget shortfalls and mounting construction costs, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) plans for the Fulton Street Transit Center have been all but discarded. The glassy, conical transit hub designed by Grimshaw and James Carpenter Design Associates was meant to be the MTA’s showpiece at the new World Trade Center, an elegant solution to a mess of subway lines, but cost overruns could leave the site vacant for some time to come.

The decision to rethink the transit center, announced on January 28, arose when the MTA received only one bid for the aboveground portion of the project, a $870 million offer that far exceeded the $390 million budgeted for the project. (The underground portion of the project, which streamlines connections between a tangle of subway lines and was designed by ARUP, will be unaffected by the cutbacks.) MTA executive director and CEO Lee Sander said the MTA has gone back to the drawing board to consider all its options. “I would not say it can’t be done, but clearly we have to find a way to redistribute the costs of the current project or come up with a new one,” he told AN.

Sander declined to say whether Grimshaw was still involved with the project, and an MTA spokesperson, Jeremy Soffin, said he was not sure. A source with knowledge of the MTA’s plans, or at least what remains of them, did tell AN that the British firm was still involved with the project, but did not know what that involvement would entail, or even if the MTA did. “I don’t think they really know what they’re doing right now,” the source said of the MTA’s intentions. Grimshaw declined to comment.

Across the street, there had been speculation that Santiago Calatrava’s PATH station at the World Trade Center site could be sapping funds from the Fulton Street project, especially as its price tag has skyrocketed from $2.2 billion to $3.4 billion. Soffin insisted this was not the case and, whatever gets built, a high level of design would be maintained.

Initial reports from the hearings claimed that only Carpenter’s towering oculus, which is meant to bring natural light down into the bowels of the project, would be lost, but now the MTA is considering every available option, even nothing at all. Carpenter said the MTA has kept him in the dark so far.

No matter what happens, MTA board chair H. Dale Hemmerdinger stressed that the site would not remain barren. “Rather than leave an empty lot, I thought we could put something there that would be useful to the community,” Hemmerdinger told the Daily News on January 31. His alternative, a public park or plaza, did not leave much hope for the sort of design the previous plans presented, but that may be the best the MTA has to offer. 

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Patchwork City


All renderings courtesy respective firms
The development of the Queens waterfront is modeled after that of Battery Park City. Now on the drawing boards are (from left to right) residential highrises by V Studio/Walkergroup, Arquitectonica, Perkins Eastman, and Handel Architects.

 

 

Patchwork City

The future skyline of Queens bears a superficial resemblance to Jersey City: More than a dozen tall buildings are planned to rise along the Queens Waterfront and, as a result of Special District zoning, many others are in the works in Long Island City and Hunters Point. As D. Grahame Shane reports, the Department of City Planning's surgical approach to zoning is stimulating strategic development throughout the borough, promising a series of dynamic urban patchess as well as some awkward seams.

While New Yorkers witnessed an epic battle for the top-down control of the World Trade Center site, replete with power players channeling Robert Moses, the New York Department of City Planning (DCP) has been quietly leading an urban planning revolution with a small-scale, bottom-up approach throughout the boroughs. The unveiling last month of Richard Rogers Partnership's design of a massive mixed-use project on the Queens waterfront for Silvercup Studios portends a dense, monumental future for the low-scale, still-industrial area. But various rezonings throughout Queenssincluding Long Island City, Hunters Point, and a dozen other neighborhoodssare in fact setting the framework for more incremental development in the borough, encouraging a unique fabric of mixed uses, spaces, scales, densities, and textures.

From its colonial beginning New York was part of an archipelago, a network of small patches of European settlements connected by boats, New Amsterdam, Brooklyn, Hoboken, and Harlem. The large open spaces of Queens have always attracted those unable to find accommodation in Manhattan, from the farmers and fishermen of the colonial period to the industrialists of the 19th and 20th centuries who deposited their ports, factories, warehouses, oil refineries, cement plants, and more in the marshy headland bound by the East River and Newtown Creek. With its evolving transportation linkssbridges, tunnels, ferries, and raillheavy industry thrived in the area. The huge spaces that were carved out by industrial uses have taken on new meaning today, with Manhattan's squeezed housing market and changed attitudes about commuting. Suddenly, the rust-belt patches around Long Island City are attractive real estate.

In 2001, the Museum of Modern Art's temporary move to LIC highlighted the area's nascence as a cultural district. The same year, the Group of 35, a panel created by Senator Charles Schumer representing public and private interests, issued a report calling for the creation of a new business district in LIC, suggesting 15 million square feet of office space and citing the benefits of a planneddthough sadly now defunctt?word-class intermodal transit stationn at Sunnyside Yards. (The yard has a small LIRR stop and a ferry terminal nearby; the plan for the hub would have folded in stops for Amtrak, NJ Transit, and the MTA, whose routes all cross there.)

The intensification of development in Queens has actually been in process for some time. In 1984, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PA) took over a large portion of the Queens docklands and, together with the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), created a 74-acre development patch under the auspices of the Queens West Development Corporation (QWDC). QWDC follows the Battery Park City model of development (also created by the ESDC), with phased parcels bid to separate developers. Two buildings have been completed (one by Cesar Pelli, 1998, and another by Perkins Eastman, 2001), and more than a dozen more are planned. Though far from complete, Queens West already appears to be isolated and out of scale with its surroundings, despite well-intentioned efforts to create open spaces and waterfront views.

By contrast, the DCP has adopted a more targeted approach to the rest of Queens, with timely responses to particular urban actors in particular locations. The DCP is actually building on an approach that was pioneered in the 1960s by Mayor John Lindsay's Urban Design Group (members included Jonathan Barnett, Alexander Cooper, Jaquelin Robertson, Richard Weinstein, and Richard Dattner), which abandoned masterplanning on a city-wide, regional scale and introduced Special District zoning. Based on a 1916 zoning ordinance addressing skyscrapers downtown, Special Districts under the Urban Design Group began as relatively simple mechanisms to protect small residential communities like Little Italy and Chinatown from large-scale development. Later, the concept was applied to create a Theater Special District, to protect Broadway theaters and allow the transfer of their valuable air rights to neighboring sites. This system of controlled zoning patches evolved into a complex, three-dimensional, multifunctional, incentive-based design methodology that paved the way for Cooper and Eckstut's 1978 masterplan of Battery Park City.

Under Amanda Burden, who has been planning commissioner and director of the DCP since 2002, Special Districts zoning has evolved further still, to encompass micro-patches of upzoning, downzoning, mixed-use, and historic and industrial preservation. Her LIC Mixed-Use Special District was in fact her first exercise, and presaged similar strategies in Greenpoint-Williamsburg, East Harlem, and Chelsea.

This finely calibrated approach to zoning can be seen in three of current hot patchess of development in Queens:

Queens Plaza Special Improvement District
Mayor Rudy Giuliani's Adult Entertainment Zoning of the late 1990s exiled some of Times Square's porn shops, strip clubs, and prostitution to this long-neglected industrial gateway. Few paid attention to the area, until 2000 when Michael Bailkin and Paul Travis of the Arete Group tried to buy two large sites, including a large city-owned garage, at the junction of Queens Plaza and Jackson Avenue. The same developers bought the air rights to part of Sunnyside Yards. Their moves prompted the DCP (then directed by Joseph Rose) to devise the Queens Plaza Special District (approved in 2001) that featured incentive bonuses and Urban Design Guidelines that called for broad setbacks, new parks, and ground-floor retail to enliven the street. The lots that Arete sought (which have since gone to Tishman Speyer) were upzoned to Floor Area Ratio (FAR) 12, signaling a dense future for LIC.

The city has also responded to pressure from public interest groups, like the Municipal Arts Society, the Regional Plan Association, and the Van Alen Institute. The latter organized the Queens Plaza competition in 200112002, which addressed the need to do something about the gloomy stretch of roadway beneath the noisy Queensborough Bridge. In 2002, the city selected Margie Ruddick as a lead consultant (on a team that initially included Michael Sorkin and Michael Singer) to develop a landscape design that would improve the public spaces, lighting, traffic flow, and general streetscape of Queens Plaza. Ruddick, who is now collaborating with Marpillero/Pollak, described her intention to make the left-over spaces legible as a landscape that helps you get from one place to another, making connections across the space under the bridge.. Her scheme emphasizes improved circulation; bicycle and pedestrian paths and crossings abound. Near the waterfront section, she has planned a cathedral-like space under the bridge, which will act as a seam between the planned Silvercup West project and the Queensbridge Houses, a massive housing project built by the New York City Housing Authority in 1941. The plan is currently under review by the Fine Arts Commission.

Long Island City Mixed-Use Special District (2004)
Compared to the crude zoning of Queens Plaza, the LIC Mixed-Use Special District is more finely textured and varied. The DCP divided the area into three sub-districts, which form a triangle around a gritty industrial core that will be preserved: The Long Island City Core Sub-District is a small enclave driven by developers and already contains Citigroup's skyscraper at Court Square, the borough's first tall building. This very compact, high-density patch (zoned at FAR 12) has many tax incentives and has already attracted a second Citigroup tower and United Nations Federal Credit Union building, both under construction. The 1989 Citigroup tower, with its interior cafeteria and attached car park, never sponsored street life. Under the revised Urban Design Guidelines, both the new buildings will have street level retail to foster pedestrian activity and new plantings, furniture, and parks. The neighboring Jackson Avenue Mixed-Use Sub-District (approved 2004) borders the Sunnyside Yards. Here, warehouses and factories, like the 254-unit Arris Building, are being converted to residential lofts and offices. The upzoning to FAR 7 and Urban Design Guidelines under study by the Volmer Group are aimed at remaking Jackson Avenue into a densely built commercial boulevard, containing 3 million square feet of offices stretching from Court Square to Queens Plaza's subway node. The aim is to create a vibrant street life, with cafes, restaurants, and stores,, said Burden. The plan calls for widened sidewalks, tree planting, kiosks, seating, and night lighting.

The density on Jackson Avenue decreases in the Hunters Point Mixed-Use Rezoning Sub-District (approved in 2004). Individual urban actors predominate in this area, with small-scale housing, auto-body shops, galleries, and artists' studios. Burden saw this area as containing the soull of LIC. Fearing the large scale of development on the nearby waterfront, residents have been organizing themselves into groups, like the 49th Street Block Association and the Hunters Point Community Organization. The city downzoned this patch within a general FAR 5 intended to protect the arts area around the P.S.1 cultural center.

Queens Waterfront (1980s to present)
The small-scale flexibility of LIC's new mixed-use subdistricts is nonexistent on the waterfront. As a state agency, the ESDC formulated Queens West with almost no community input, though pressure from Hunters Point residents did ensure that a continuous landscaped riverfront would be publicly accessible.

The completion of the 42-story City Lights tower by Cesar Pelli for Manhattan Overlook Associates (1998) and 32-floor tower by Perkins Eastman for Avalon Bay (2001) have skyscraper-shocked local residents into paying attention to what is happening to the rest of the waterfront. Local groups are starting to pressure the QWDC to break down Queens West's 1980s masterplan and work at a smaller scale. To deflect criticism, in 2004 the ESDC revised Phase II of the 1980s masterplan, which includes seven buildings by Rockrose, with designs by Arquitectonica and Handel Architects. Last year, State Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan was quoted in the Queens Chronicle as saying, I think it is appropriate and past due time for Governor Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg to review the plan for Queens West and begin a dialogue with the community as to the importance of affordable housing for the work soon to be scheduled on the southern portion of the site.. The southern portion, known as Queens West South (Phase III), was most recently publicized as the site of the proposed Olympic Village, with a winning masterplan by Morphosis. Though New York lost its Olympic bid, the exercise offered a vision of the area as a new vibrant neighborhood.

Burden is currently negotiating with Frances Huppert, the design director of the ESDC, to get the corporation to break down the scale of their development into more manageable patches, including mixed-income housing, which could link to the surrounding Hunters Point Special District. Burden also hopes that a pedestrian bridge across Newtown Creek can someday connect the Queens West esplanade to the waterfront planned for Greenpoint-Williamsburg.

North of Queens West lie two of the hottest patches in Long Island City. The first project is River East, a scenographic, set-piece street of mixed-use townhouses and lofts with two glass-skinned 30-story towers at the riverside, designed by Jay Valgora and developed by Vernon Realty. The buildings bracket a street that frames a view of the United Nations. Beyond River East lies an empty Con Edison site, and next to that is Silvercup West, the expansion of Stuart and Alan Suna's film and production studios. The Sunas took advantage of an extension of the upzoning of the Queensborough Bridge Plaza Special District to create a 2-million-square-foot, hyper-dense, mixed-use matrix of film studios, roof gardens, office and residential towers spread over 6 acres, unveiled by the Richard Rogers Partnership last month after the plan received its Uniform Land Use and Regional Planning Review (ULURP) letter of certification. The scheme offers a 40-foot-wide riverfront esplanade designed by the Laurie Olin Partnership that will link to Margie Ruddick's Queens Plaza landscape scheme (see sidebar).

Queens waterfront demonstrates the limits of the patchwork approach, where heterogeneous patches are connected by a weak link, the waterfront.

The advantage of a patch-by-patch approach is its specificity and its ability to capture the dynamic of relationships between various actors in various patches. The complex narratives of LIC actors and their efforts to shape their sites shows that there are multiple ways to develop a patch, ranging from top-down utopian masterplan that is fixed and inflexible to the bottom-up approach where every actor has a distinctive voice in the polyphonic dialogue. Long Island City shows this range, and it is to the DCP's credit that it has tried to deal with each situation individually. Eventually, an emergent system of urban design will be able to provide the means of balancing and managing the flows between the fragments. Until then we will have to rely on our intuition to sense the flows between the patches in the emergent ecology of the urban archipelagos that constitute our cities.

D. Grahame Shane is an adjunct professor of architecture at Columbia University GSAPP. He is the author of Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design, and City Theory (john Wiley, 2005).

Development Descends on Queens


Courtesty Department of City Planning

RESIDENTIAL

1 Silvercup West
Owned by Alan and Stuart Match Suna and designed by Richard Rogers Partnership, Silvercup West is a $1 billion mixed-use project spread over 6 acres, and includes residential, commercial, cultural, and civic spaces, in addition to 1 million square feet of film-production studios.

2 River East
44402 Vernon Blvd.
Developed by Vernon Realty and sited on 6 acres just south of Silvercup West, River East will contain 1.2 million square feet of residential and commercial space. Rows of townhouses will lead to two 30-story towers on the river and a newly landscaped esplanade. The WalkerGroup of New York and its in-house V Studio, led by architect Jay Valgora, are masterplanning the site and designing the buildings.

3 Queens West
The Queens West Development Corporation (QWDC), a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, has divided their large waterfront site into four development phases.

Phase II, contracted to Rockrose Development Corporation will contain seven buildings with 3,000 residential units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The first two buildings have been designed by Arquitectonica; one will be completed in May, and the other broke ground this month. Handel Architects have designed a third building, with construction to begin late 2006. Arquitectonica will design at least one more building, and the other two are as-yet uncommissioned.

Avalon Bay Communities is developing phase I, just south of Rockrose's. Its first residential tower was completed in 2001 and the second broke ground early this year, and will be completed by May of 2007. Both were designed by Perkins Eastman. A third lot on Avalon Bay's site will likely serve as either a public park or a branch of Queens' Public Library.

Phases III and IV, located partially on the Olympic Village site, have no developers attached, but will likely see the type of mixed-use projects as the first two phases. The QWDC is considering keeping parts of the Olympic site plans.

4 Power House
50009 Second St.
Cheskel Schwimmer and CGS developers will add 100,000 square feet to the former Pennsylvania Railroad Power House's existing 150,000, converting the structure into a residential complex. The new building, designed by Karl Fischer Architect, will contain 190 condominiums.

5, 6 The Gantry
5515 49th Ave. and 48821 5th St.
The Milestone Group, based in New York City, will develop an existing warehouse into 64 condos, designed by local firm Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects. The Gantry will be ready for occupancy early this summer.

7 50th Ave. and 5th St.

Developers Joseph Escarfullery and Joseph Palumbo are planning an 11-unit, high-end co-op on the site of a current parking lot.

8 5549 Borden Ave.
535 Borden LLC has been working with New York architect Juan Alayo to develop a 12-story, 132-unit residential building. The project's backers are presently closing on the sale of the lot to another developer. The sale includes the architectural plans, which, as of now, will remain unchanged.

9 East View Condos
10040 46th Rd.
The East View Condos are in development by owner Henry Khanali and the New York architecture firm Bricolage Designs. The ground-up construction will be five stories, with an as-yet undetermined number of units, and should be completed by the summer of 2007.

10 41143 47th Ave.
No information available.

11 Vantage Jackson
10050 Jackson Ave.
This 13-story building is being developed by the Lions Group with Emmy Homes, and will contain 35 to 40 units.

12 10063 Jackson Ave.
MKF Realty is planning a 40-unit building just west of the Polaski Bridge. Completion expected in early 2007.

13 Badge Building
10055 47th Ave.
Bricolage Designs is designing an eight-story ground-up building that will be attached to an exisiting and soon-to-be-refurbished four-story factory, which once manufactured medallions and badges. The building complex will contain 44 condos; interiors will be designed by Front Studio. Badge Building Development LLC is a group of independent investors led by the building's current owner, who has been sitting on the property for the last ten years.

14 12201 Jackson Ave.
Hentze-Dor Real Estate is developing a 35-unit rental on an irregularly shaped lot on Jackson Avenue.

15 Echaelon Condominiums

13311 Jackson Ave.
Ron Hershco of Jackson Realty LLC is planning a 52-unit condominium designed by Newman Design Group of Cold Spring Hill, New York. Occupancy is scheduled for late spring of 2006.

16 Venus Site
Queens Plaza North and 24th St.
Developer Moshe Feller is reportedly working on a condo building that will house 320 units.

17 24415 Queens Plaza North
Karl Fischer Architect is planning alterations to an existing 50,000-square-foot office building for an unnamed developer.

18 42237 Crescent St.
Owner Ruben Elberg of Royal One Real Estate and Karl Fischer Architect are planning a 16-unit condominium building with two ground-floor commercial spaces. Completion is expected mid-2007.

19 42259 Crescent St.
Adjacent to 42237 Crescent Street, the same developer-architect team will build another residential project with retail space. 42259 Crescent will be slightly bigger, at 24 units, and completed by early 2007.

20 45556 Pearson St.
Rosma Development of New York is set to build a 20-story project on a 30,000 square-foot site, creating 120 condos that should be ready by 2007.

21 Arris Condominiums
27728 Thompson Ave.
The Andalex Group is planning an $80 million conversion of a 1920s warehouse into a mix of 237 lofts and 17 studios. Costas Kondylis and Partners is completing the design, which will involve a total overhaul of the interiors as well as exterior restoration.

22 Vantage Purves
44427 Purves St.
Another development in the area by the Lions Group and Emma Homes Partnership, the Vantage Purves will have 57 units.

23 42251 Hunter St.

A small group of investors under the name 42251 Hunter Street LLC is developing a seven-story condo building with Manhattan firm Israel Peles Architects.

24 41123 Crescent Street
No information available.

25 The Queens Plaza
41126 27th St.
The Developers Group of New York is planning a 10-story, 66-unit condo building just north of the Queens Plaza Improvement Project.

26 27714 41st Ave.
41st Avenue Property LLC, with Queens-based architect Surja Widjaja of Maison Design, is planning a 24-unit, 8-story residential building.

27 Gaseteria Site
Northern Blvd. and Queens Blvd.
Oil company Gaseteria has partnered with Lowe Enterprises Real Estate to develop a site bordering Long Island City's Sunnyside Yards into a mixed-use complex with a projected 400 housing units, in addition to office and retail space.

COMMERCIAL

1 Silvercup West
(See above.)

2 United Nations Federal

Credit Union
24th St. and 45th Dr.
With a tentative completion date of this September, the $65 million United Nations Federal Credit Union building, designed by HLW international, will be the second all-commercial highrise in Long Island City, after the 1.4-million-square-foot Skidmore, Owings and Merrilll designed Citigroup tower, completed in 1989.

3 Citigroup, Phase II

Citigroup is several months into the construction of its second office buidling in the neighborhood, next door to its 48-floor tower, the tallest building in the boroughs. Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the second building will be significantly smaller, at 475,000 square feet and 14 floors. An estimated 1,800 Citibank employees will be housed in the new building, which will be completed in 2007.

4 Queens Plaza Municipal Garage
Tishman Speyer recently signed a 99-year lease for the city-owned parking lot, and plans to raze the lot to build an office building with underground parking. Recently upzoned to 12 FAR, the site could accept 1.5 million square feet of development.

5 QP Site
Tishman Speyer is razing several low-scale commercial buildings and a parking lot, the former site of the QP flea market, and likely building office space in addition to that across the street at the Queens Plaza Municipal Garage. The lot is owned by businessman Bill Modell.

6 Gaseteria Site
(See above.)

OPEN SPACE

Queens Plaza Improvement Project
In 2001 the Department of City Planning began implementing a plan to improve Queens Plaza, the boulevard that runs from Sunnyside Yards to the Queensborough Bridge. The plan includes extensive infrastructural improvements, including new roadways and subway station renovations, as well as an extensive landscape scheme by Philadelphia-based Margie Ruddick, which would extend a lush, pedestrian-friendly esplanade to the East River waterfront.

produced by Jaffer kolb, with research by jesse finkelstein, teresa herrmann, and stephen martin.Silvercup City


Courtesy Richard Rogers Partnership

Silvercup West by Richard Rogers Partnership. The north tower (closer to the bridge) will house offices while the two south towers will contain 1,000 residential units. On the north corner, Rogers plans a public, outside escalator. The towers' x-bracing echoes the structure of the Queensborough bridge. Sound stages fill the base of the complex, which will also have ground-level retail and restaurants.

The history of Silvercup Studios shows why the city is right to encourage small entrepreneurs and big businesses alike. It wasn't long agoojust over 25 yearsswhen Silvercup founders Stuart and Alan Suna, with their late father, Henry, bought Silver Cup Bakery for Henry's sheet metal business. The brothers, who both trained as architects, later stumbled on the idea of renting the former factory's vast spaces as sound studios, because such spaces were scarce in New York.

With Silvercup West, their new development down the street, the Sunas are building more than just sound stages; they're building a mini-city, a massive mixed-use complex designed by Richard Rogers Partnership. Stuart Suna explained that they chose Rogers because they felt his high-tech design aesthetic matched their program: high-tech production studios in an industrial context. He added, We read and admired his books on the ecology of cities, like Cities for a Small Planet.. As an infill, high-density, mixed-use project near a transit hub, Silvercup is already sustainable in a sense.

The complex is comprised of four big boxes, with double-stacked sound stages totaling 1 million square feet. Three towers rise from the studio volumessone commercial and two residentialland the studios will be topped with roof gardens. All told, Silvercup will bring 1 million square feet of studio space, 665,000 square feet of retail and office space, 100,000 square feet of cultural space, and nearly 300,000 square feet of residential space to the area. The project also includes the preservation of a historic terra cotta factory, which produced the cladding for the Woolworth Building.

The scheme offers several civic gestures, such as a publicly accessible waterfront esplanade designed by landscape architect Laurie Olin that will link to Margie Ruddick's Queens Plaza park underneath the bridge. Stuart Suna boasted of riverfront cafes and ground-floor retail that would animate the esplanade, as well as an outside escalator to a rooftop terrace or caff, echoing Rogers' original intention for the escalator at the Georges Pompidou Center.

Despite its tasteful and civic moves, the complex is not without design problems: the towers encroach on the bridge; the base volumes are essentially superblocks; there is an extreme scale shift between Rogers' blocks and the terra cotta factory; and the largest rooftop garden will be will be closed to the public. But the Sunas and Rogers seem to be responsive to criticism. Already, they acceded to Amanda Burden's request for the corners of the towers to meet the street rather than float above blank boxes, giving more identity to the street. A good sign.
DGS

 

 

Last Chance To Save Ground Zero

The eloquence of the void at Ground Zero will never be surpassed. Walking past the site almost every day, I am always moved by its immense formal authority and grandeur, its presence. Its scale and proportion are not unfamiliar: Times Square, the Zocalo in Mexico City, Red Square, the great plaza of Isfahan, are in the same family of spaces, profound settings for public assembly and crucial city symbols. I imagine Ground Zero transformed into such a space of gathering, something between a plaza and a park, a permanent memorial to an event that was so terribly public.

To build such a place requires both an excellent design for the square itself and careful attention to its perimeter, to the solid edges that enclose it. The basic envelope is fundamentally sound and includes many superb and historic structures, including the Barclay-Vesey building, St. Paul's Chapel, and the beautiful Post Office. Many opportunities to further shape this envelope also exist, particularly to the south where virtually the entire edge might be reconstructed. There are also sites both east and west that--rebuilt--could dramatically reinforce the sense of place. These peripheral sites would be logical for cultural institutions, commercial space, and housing.

Although there were many who immediately called for the dedication of this entire place to public use and public commemoration, this option was quickly removed from consideration as "impractical." The Lower Manhattan Development (not memorial) Corporation decided early on that the only "vision" they would support was one that replaced all of the commercial space lost on September 11 on the site itself. The LMDC has been remarkably adroit in stifling any other suggestion and has been equally canny in their use of architecture to obscure the fundamental exclusion of the public from a meaningful role in decision-making. When the public responded with outrage to the series of diagrammatic solutions to the site design offered two summers ago, the LMDC feigned responsiveness by staging a "competition"--whose winner was selected by administrative fiat--in which a number of architects proposed designs for exactly the same program. None had the courage to suggest that massive amounts of office and shopping space might not be the only possibility. With their fawning connivance, the public was distracted from a discussion of fundamentals and invited instead to debate the finer points of architectural style, which version of 12 million square feet of commercial space it preferred. Now, even the winner of the competition enjoys the indignity of seeing his ideas winnowed away by the growing committee of high-style designers hired by Larry Silverstein, who uncritically seek to bolster their reputations and bank accounts on the site.

Why build skyscrapers here? The main argument is commercial--pulling Silverstein's and the Port Authority's chestnuts out of the fire--but this flies in the face of both a lack of demand (vacancies are high all over town) and of many alternative sites for such buildings. There is, of course, also an argument that the restoration of what was there is the appropriate riposte to terror. This has unfortunately yielded the stupid machismo yet another "world's tallest building"-- a title the Trade Center held only briefly, an equally likely result for any successor. To me, this is simply too preening a response, without gravity, without respect. Finally, it's argued that skyscrapers are the preeminent symbol of New York. Certainly they are the highest architectural achievement of our commercial life. However, I believe that Central Park is the greatest symbol-and the greatest repository-of our public culture.

The last act of the LMDC's roughshod arrogation of downtown's future has been the memorial competition--its finalists just announced--which attracted over 5,000 entries, a clear indication of the pent-up desire for participation. This competition, however, can never substitute for what should have happened, an open competition for ideas at the beginning of the process, throwing it wide open for invention and debate and allowing the memorial to function as the driver. The LMDC has instead waited until the very end and offered competitors a site that is luridly constrained. Submerged below grade, hemmed by the glass-covered slurry-wall and a gigantic waterfall, over-hung by cantilevered cultural institutions, surrounded by Daniel Libeskind's elaborate and banal iconographic program, and lying beneath the looming bulk of the world's tallest building, the memorial--whatever it turns out to be--will suffer the consequences of being an afterthought, an appendage to the big plans of the LMDC, the Port Authority, and Larry Silverstein.

But this need not be. Let the winner of the memorial competition-the only open competition held so far-build his or her winning entry in a great space of public assembly, not in the midst of a clutch of slick office towers. Let those who are so eager to build do so on the perimeter of the site, or in Midtown South, or in Queens or Brooklyn or the Bronx. Let us have a wonderful hub of transportation-the means of bringing people together-under and near Ground Zero. Let cultural institutions gather around the site, as they do around Central Park. But, stop the demeaning arrogance of business-as-usual and the construction of an architectural zoo on this hallowed ground.

Can we pay for this? We must. It is time for the federal government to step in: No less than Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor, this is the site of a national trauma and, whatever its ownership, a place that "belongs" to us all. To be sure, the price tag would be several billion dollars but we are about to spend $18.3 billion reconstructing Iraq, to make that country whole after the devastations of tyranny and war. Surely, we can afford to make Ground Zero a place of peaceable assembly for everyone. Indeed, if terror demands a civic reply, what better than a solemn memorial to those lost and a space for the most fundamental exercise of democracy in space, the freedom to gather in a place that is our own.