Posts tagged with "Astor Place":

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The Astor Cube is back, along with plaza and streetscape improvements by WXY

After two years in storage, New York’s Astor Place Cube is back for a few more spins, along with a reconfigured plaza and streetscape that are designed to make high-density urban living more bearable. New York City officials held a ribbon-cutting and sculpture-spinning ceremony today to mark the completion of repairs to the rotating Cube sculpture by Bernard “Tony” Rosenthal and the larger $21 million Astor Place/Cooper Square reconstruction project that provides an improved setting for it. Officially known as The Alamo, Rosenthal’s Cube was removed for safe keeping and cleaning on November 25, 2014, so it would be out of the way during plaza reconstruction. It was returned this month, signaling completion of public improvements designed by Claire Weisz of New York-based WXY, in conjunction with the city’s departments of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation. "The redesign of Astor Place brings us yet another beautiful public space that New York City has wrestled back from the automobile,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “We have now made the plaza space more welcoming for pedestrians and we have brought back distinctive elements—like the iconic Cube—that have long made this such a special gathering place and gateway to the East Village." Trottenberg wistfully recalled her own involvement at Astor Place. After graduating from Barnard in 1986, she said, she worked in publishing near the Wanamaker Annex back when that's what liberal arts graduates did. “This space means a lot to me,” she said. “I once sold used books under the Astor Place Cube, back when you could still make money selling books.” “The reconstruction of Astor Place—and the reinstallation of the East Village’s beloved Alamo—provides a terrific example of how well-designed public space can create a more unified,  better functioning public sphere,” said Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. “Fluid, attractive and walkable spaces like Alamo Plaza are crucial as we work together to create a greener, healthier New York City.” “I am thrilled the Cube is back at Alamo Square and that we are celebrating upgrades to another pedestrian plaza in our city,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Marking the heart of the East Village, Astor Plaza, and this iconic artwork stand as a crossroads for thousands of New Yorkers.” The 15-foot Cube is one of the best-known sculptures in the city, popular for the way it spins on its axis. First installed in 1967, the Cube is made of jet-black Cor-Ten steel, weighs 1,800 pounds and spins easily when touched, making it a favorite late night toy for neighboring college students and others. Rosenthal (1914 to 2009) created the Cube as part of Doris C. Freedman's Sculpture in Environment installation, sponsored by the New York City Administration of Recreation and Cultural Affairs when the East Village neighborhood was a Bohemian haven. Symbolizing the constant swirl of urban life, it is as contextually emblematic as the Financial District’s 1987 Charging Bull by Arturo Di Modica. It was the first permanent contemporary outdoor sculpture installed in the city of New York. The reconstruction of Astor Place and Cooper Square were completed as part of an effort to upgrade infrastructure throughout New York City, to give residents and visitors public spaces that provide a relief as the city becomes more densely developed. The city has a goal of ensuring that all New Yorkers live within a 10-minute walk of quality open space. The Department of Design and Construction managed the project for Transportation and Parks. The community enhancement project created two new pedestrian plazas and expanded and renovated two others, bringing 42,000 square feet of new pedestrian space to the neighborhood. The redesign incorporated an existing subway station and created a safer configuration for vehicular and pedestrian traffic. It introduced larger sidewalks; 16,000 square feet of planting areas with new trees and automated, in-ground irrigation systems; 6,700 square feet of permeable pavement; 2,100 square feet of curbside rain gardens for improved drainage; and racks for more than 100 bikes. The Cube was renovated at a cost of $180,000. According to a statement from the Department of Design and Construction: “Astor Place is one of Manhattan’s busiest hubs. With nearby institutions like New York University, Cooper Union, and Parsons School of Design, thousands of cars and pedestrians flow through the area every day. Activity in this plaza space has only intensified in recent years with new buildings rising and businesses moving in to accommodate Manhattan’s population growth.” In addition, the DDC statement notes, “Astor Place is the site of a tricky intersection. Three avenues meet one another, where they form two adjacent triangles. Because of this, the area has been notoriously difficult for pedestrians to navigate. You could very easily find yourself standing in the middle of a traffic median with no access to a protected crosswalk. For years, the surrounding community and city planners saw an opportunity to transform Astor Place into a calmer, safer space.” To reimagine Astor Place, the city agencies turned to WXY, an architecture and urban design firm with a track record for working in complicated parts of the public realm. “We tend to get projects that have gone a long time without being solved, like undersides of bridges or areas surrounding viaducts,” said principal-in-charge Claire Weisz, in a statement issued by DDC. “It’s really about bringing design thinking to unusual problems, or problems that people put off solving.” The redesign was intended to reduce stress for everyone in the area. It creates sidewalks and roadways that are more clearly delineated to calm and guide drivers, and it provides more space for pedestrians, especially in Astor Place’s Alamo Plaza. Custom-designed tables, chairs, and umbrellas encourage pedestrians to stop and take in the view. There are also more trees and benches in Astor Place. At the southern tip of the Astor Place area is Cooper Triangle and Village Plaza. Cooper Triangle got new street fixtures, including steps that provide seating and meeting areas for pedestrians. More pedestrian space was added by narrowing the width of the adjacent road. Reconstruction of Astor Place began in 2013 after the local Community Board approved the plan. Besides moving public art, work included relocating underground utilities and installing new features such as lighting, bicycle racks, and plantings. Planners say in-depth traffic studies were a key step in redesigning and rebuilding roadways to calm the flow of cars. Weisz said she used the unusual geometry of the area to reimagine pockets of under-used public space.  “How do we reconnect people to their environment, not just by views, but by interacting with it?” she said. “The more options we have and the more developed our infrastructure is, the more possibilities we have for continuing our density in the city.” While Astor Place is a high profile project, planners say, areas throughout New York City are receiving similar treatment on a smaller scale. The DDC launched its Plaza Program in 2008, inviting New Yorkers to nominate their own neighborhoods for a plaza redesign. Earlier this year, the DDC and DOT also completed Fordham Plaza in the Bronx and La Plaza de las Americas in Manhattan. Others in the works include George B. Post Plaza, Lowery and Bliss Plazas, Putnam Plaza, Roosevelt Island Plaza, and Times Plaza. Although the Cube was immortalized as a mosaic landmark at the nearby 8th Street-NYU Subway Station by artist Timothy Snell in his Broadway Diary mosaics (2002, for the MTA Arts & Design program), residents have long had concerns that the frequently and roughly used sculpture may change with the area. An Alexander Calder sculpture was planned in 2011 to take the place of the Film Academy Café during 51 Astor’s development but never arrived. The lobby of that building itself now features Jeff Koons’s whimsical 16-foot-tall Balloon Rabbit (Red), 2005-2010, ironically greeting all visitors to Big Blue. During the same plaza redevelopment in 2014 that prompted the Cube’s temporary disappearance, the Department of Transportation removed around 6 light posts encased with episodes of Mosaic Trail, a classic, yet illegally installed hallmark of the East Village begun around 1984 by local street artist Jim Power.
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Snarkitecture’s NYCxDESIGN pavilion activates Manhattan’s Astor Place

NYCxDESIGN is back this week for its third year. On Saturday, May 7th, an immersive interactive installation designed by Brooklyn–based Snarkitecture activated the East Village's Astor Place Plaza. The developers of luxury 125 Greenwich Street commissioned the firm to create an installation in the plaza that dialogues with the emerging World Trade Center neighborhood, featuring, of course, the Viñoly–designed 88-story, 898-foot-tall 125 Greenwich Street. Remember pin screens? Snarkitecture extrudes the cityscape into white fiberglass rods that reference the metal toys, with the World Trade Center buildings and Viñoly's structure rendered in white satin lacquer. Snarkitecture's installation will be complemented by design-focused talks led by the field's top practitioners. The Design Pavilion opened Saturday, May 7, and remains on view 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily through tomorrow, May 11. NYC Design Talks will feature speakers Paul GoldbergerRafael Viñoly, Michael Shvo, and representatives from IBM, the Design Trust for Public Space, NYC DDC, AIGA, among others, with talks held at The Cooper Union, Parsons The New School For Design, and Fashion Institute of Technology. All talks are free and open to the public; see the full schedule here. NYCxDESIGN is organized by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and New York City's marketing, partnership, and tourism organization, NYC & Company.
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Revamping Astor Place-Cooper Square for pedestrians and public space

Exemplifying the eternal Robert Moses-Jane Jacobs dialectic, New York’s Astor Place-Cooper Square area has long reflected too much Bob and not enough Jane. Excessive vehicular space has bred human-car conflict points, with pedestrians facing “a super-wide roadway . . . unclear at various traffic lights which way you are supposed to cross,” as noted by Claire Weisz of WXY (formerly Weisz & Yoes). The neighborhood around Cooper Union has become a midrise mélange, ill-serving its role as a campus and gateway between NoHo and the East Village. The chief open space is the under-lit, fenced-off Cooper Triangle, habitable mainly by rodents: A wasted opportunity in the park-starved area between Washington and Tompkins Squares.

Change hasn’t come quickly, but it’s coming. WXY has partnered with the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Transportation (DOT), and Parks and Recreation (DPR), as well as with landscape architect Quennell Rothschild & Partners, lighting designer Linnaea Tillett, plantsman Piet Oudolf, and contractor Triumph Construction, to remap streets and upgrade the plazas. Adhering closely to the 2011 iteration of a plan vetted in community meetings since 2008, the team is creating an environment that blends landscaping and infrastructure: high-efficiency lighting, granite benches, stepped seating, bicycle racks, a new water main, catch basins, center medians, bioswales, and a dignified allée framing the Foundation Building. Construction began in 2013, and DDC projects opening this summer.

Anticipating Vision Zero by several years, Weisz said, “The plan tried to rationalize the desire lines with the actual street layout,” correcting dangerous conditions. At Fifth and Sixth Streets, “you would find yourself in the middle of Third Avenue without being able to cross the street at a normal crosswalk,” and the subway-entrance island between Eighth and Ninth was “really narrow for the amount of people on it.” With vehicles banned from eastern Astor Place and from Cooper Square below Sixth Street, “you’ll be able to walk pretty easily from Fifth Street all the way  to the subway without having to cross traffic.” A tree-lined Alamo Plaza will replace two lanes of Astor Place, and an 8,000-square-foot Village Plaza will emerge from Cooper Square’s west sidewalk, replacing disorienting lanes and dead zones of striped-off asphalt.

“Essentially, the goal is to continue to encourage the street ballet of the neighborhood,” Weisz said.

“We believe this particular design takes the approach of Jane Jacobs to create spaces that favor the community,” said DDC spokesperson Shavone Williams, stressing community outreach from design through construction.

The DDC “was very much a co-designer on this rather than a client working with consultants,” Weisz said. “[The collaboration was] amazing—we have three agencies, almost with equal billing here, and two community boards.” Maintenance partners include Village Alliance for the Alamo and subway plazas, DPR for Cooper Triangle, and Grace Church School for the Village Plaza.

WXY’s design signature includes zipper benches and environmentally friendly cast-iron drinking fountains developed for DPR (shaped to accommodate water bottles and to vent wastewater into planters and gravel, not hard pipes). Distinctive black cobra-head davit poles will support energy-efficient LED fixtures above Village Plaza. Swales will enhance storm drainage, reducing combined sewer overflows. Tony Rosenthal’s rotating cube Alamo, currently off-site for restoration, will return to its original position.

Village Alliance, City Lore, and other cultural activists have worked with DOT to reinstall components of Jim Power’s Mosaic Trail—“a treasure map” revealing local history, said Bowery Poetry Club proprietor Bob Holman, a City Lore board member. “That the city, which has so long ignored this treasure, is helping to renovate the poles displaced by the renovation and will install them as a piece of public art,” Holman said, “is New York City at its best.” With varied color temperatures distinguishing pedestrian spaces, streets, and buildings, the team expected that “Power’s ceramics would really pop.”

Weisz foresees a return of informal vibrancy as the plazas draw lunchers, seniors, performers, students, and others (Though not nocturnal revelers: The Triangle will be locked at night). By inviting people to linger, these plazas may help energize local businesses assaulted by chain stores and rocketing commercial rents.

Interruptions in Manhattan’s street grid represent the revenge of the organic and historic against the hyper-rational. Sites that syncopate the 1811 plan’s marching rhythm are both robust and sensitive: They are activity magnets, yet they create welcome eddies in urban flows. 

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Astor Place’s Current Residents A Slight Impediment for Ongoing Redesign

Drastic architectural overhauls often require the eviction or removal of those living in the area that has been designated for revamping. The ongoing redesign of Manhattan's Astor Place and Cooper Square is no exception, though in this case, authorities are looking beyond mere eviction in favor of extermination. The rodent residents of the area have proven a recent set-back for a project that was first revealed over three years ago. Following its 2011 debut, the plan for the block by WXY architecture + urban design has undergone slight revisions. The goals of creating extra public space, improving storm drainage, and making the area more pedestrian-friendly remain in place. Towards this end Cooper Square Park will be expanded and the surrounding street-grid will be altered. Quennell-Rothschild & Partners will adorn the newly formed plazas and walkways with trees and other vegetation. Updated renderings released at the end of 2013 show additional seating added to the area immediately surrounding the Astor Place Subway station and the creation of a new Alamo plaza, formed by an expansion of the sidewalk that currently houses the rotating public sculpture. Construction began in the fall of 2013 on new drainage systems at East 4th Street and is slated to progress northward over the two years that are said to be required for its completion. In December, however, the steadily growing rat population living underneath Cooper Square became problematic enough that the park needed to be shut down for three weeks to allow for a large-scale poisoning operation. New York Department of Design and Construction spokesman Craig Chin sees the WXY design itself as a more long-term means of addressing the infestation: "The actual reconstruction of the park helps address the issue at the root...with construction removing the burrows and subterranean rodent habitats that formed in the vaulted spaces underground."
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Quick Clicks> Cooper, Dharavi, Evolution, Charts

Keeping Cooper. There's a fight brewing over the demolition of the 186-year-old 35 Cooper Square. A demolition permit had been issued and subsequent stop work orders and candlelight vigils. The small federal style structure was once home to descendants of Peter Stuyvesant and beatnik Diane DiPrima. Keep tabs on the little building at EV Grieve and the Bowery Alliance (And in other Cooper Square preservation news, what's going to happen to the Astor Place mosaics under the planned pedestrian plaza upgrades?) Slum for Sale. In the heart of Mumbai, India, the Dharavi settlement is under pressure to redevlop. Polis has a review of a new documentary on the struggles of a "city tearing at the seams" trying to balance capital growth and the needs of its inhabitants. Urban Evolution. Cities are constantly changing, but we rarely take the big step back and look at how an area has evolved over, say, the past 500 years. Aid Watch put together a visual history of one block in New York's Soho neighborhood, from wilderness, to brothel central, to home of high-end retail. (Via Economix.) Infographic. Gothamist uncovers an interesting chart comparing Chicago and New York by the statistics. Categories include miles of transit track, cost of living, and even who has better pizza.