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
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.
1 Silvercup West
2 United Nations Federal
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
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
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