Posts tagged with "Development":

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Arizona activists oppose new 12,000-acre Benson development

The town of Benson in southeastern Arizona is set to acquire another Tuscan-style housing development, golf courses and all, made possible in the wake of the Trump administration's repeal of the 2015 “Waters of the U.S” act. The new development would be within arm’s reach of the San Pedro River, a body of water vital to the state’s desert ecosystem, and currently threatened by rising temperatures and a lowering water table.  Mike Reinbold is the man behind this master plan, a lead developer at El Dorado Benson LLC. While he insists that the 12,000-acre, 28,000-home development will have no effect on the region’s water supply, environmental groups are poised to sue. Benson currently has a population of about 5,000 people, sprinkled around a landscape of open, rolling hills and brush on the banks of the San Pedro. The proposed development, called Villages at Vigneto, promises to “dredge-and-fill” the site to reach a population target of 70,000.  Yet the most potentially effective piece of legislation to block construction is set to be obsolete as early as January 2020. Reinbold is optimistic about the repeal, telling The Arizona Republic that, “If there's no 'Waters of the U.S.,' by default, you don't need a permit. Thereby, the permit is no longer needed and is no longer valid. It gets put on a shelf.” El Dorado Benson has amassed a coalition to fight for his interests, a politically connected group that includes Vice Mayor Joe Konrad, who spoke at a news conference for the newly organized Southwestern Communities Coalition. “We’re here to join together as a united force, to push back against the outsiders, who will pretty much stop at nothing to impose their agenda upon us. We will stand against the evil that masquerades as environmental activism.”  However, local environmentalists are ready for a fight, as they have been working to block development in this particular community since 2006 when a permit was first acquired by a previous developer. Robin Silver, cofounder of Tucson’s Center for Biological Diversity, commented on the loosening of the Clean Water Act, saying, “Under the guise of private property rights, they think that they can go ahead and destroy public treasure. We’re losing the San Pedro, and there’s no federal advocacy to help us.” Called ‘The Center’ for short, it is just one group involved in the battle. Other organizations including the Lower San Pedro Watershed Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Tucson and Maricopa Audubon Society, and the Cascabel Conservation Association have pledged their support to conserve the public lands and groundwater supply. While these organizations have been labeled “fearmonger activists” by Konrad, the resounding voice is simply summed up by Silver: “When you’ve got a gigantic development, you have to look at all of the effects.” 
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Fate of Tokyo’s Nakagin Capsule Tower still up in the air

After years of back and forth, Tokyo’s iconic Nakagin Capsule Tower may face demolition after all, according to Citylab. The 13-story building, which has stood in the Shinbashi neighborhood since 1972, is a distinct relic of the Metabolist movement that dominated architectural discourse in post-World War II Japan. Maintenance issues have plagued the site for over a decade, with certain stakeholders now reiterating that demolition might be the most economical option.

Many architectural historians consider the Nakagin Capsule Tower to be one of the best surviving examples of Metabolism, a movement that explored methods of large-scale reconstruction for Japan’s war-ravaged cities. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Metabolists like Pritzker Prize winners Fumihiko Maki and Kenzo Tange emphasized the need for Japanese architects to emulate organic systems in their designs for urban megastructures, highlighting how metabolisms in complex organisms work to maintain living cells.

Kishō Kurokawa, a prominent voice in Japan’s post-war cultural resurgence and the author of the 1977 book Metabolism in Architecture, designed the Nakagin Capsule Tower at the request of the Nakagin real-estate company’s president, Torizo Watanabe. The structure is an agglomeration of 140 prefabricated “capsules” affixed in varying orientations to two concrete cores. Each unit is one hundred square feet in area and has a single porthole window. The highly formulaic design enabled construction crews to assemble the entire structure in only 30 days, resulting in a tower that hosted both commercial offices and private residential space. Kurokawa also intended for the capsules to be removed and replaced as needed. Ironically, the ability of capsule occupants to refurbish or replace their individual units was supposed to preclude any sort of large-scale demolition of the building. Perhaps the current state of affairs in Shinbashi is a reflection of the model’s shortfalls.

Over the years, not a single one of the 140 capsules have been removed or replaced. Many are still in use as apartments or offices, but some have been repurposed as storage compartments or outright abandoned. Certain owners have made an effort to preserve or restore their capsules, but many have fallen into visible disrepair. In 2007, the tower’s management company announced that asbestos had been found in many of the units and cleared the entire building for demolition. Financial difficulties at the construction company that was tapped to lead the lot’s redevelopment stalled the project, and the debate over whether to tear down the Nakagin Capsule Tower has remained at a standstill ever since.

By 2018, Nakagin Integration, Inc. had become frustrated with high maintenance costs and sold the land under the building, which currently operates as a condominium, to a real-estate company. In a move permitted under Japanese law, the new land-owner then prohibited any new sales in the tower and considered the site’s potential for redevelopment. As Jiji Press reported last month, though, an unnamed foreign buyer has expressed interest in purchasing the land and preserving the tower.

While maintaining the Nakagin Capsule Tower has grown into too great a burden for some managers and unit owners, the movement to preserve the building has also amassed support. Activists and organizers formed the Nakagin Capsule Tower Building Conservation and Regeneration Project to protect the building from developers in bustling Shinbashi. One member, Tatsuyuki Maeda, now owns 15 units in the building and hopes his investment in the property will help tip the scales in favor of preservationists.

Regardless of one’s standpoint on the importance of architectural preservation, the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s status as a rare built example of Metabolist architecture is indisputable. Investors will ultimately decide whether this legacy is worth defending, but preservationists are slowly accruing more of a stake in the building.

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Why the developer’s vision matters in the experience economy

This is the second article of AN's July/August 2019 print edition feature focused on development. The first, "A new breed of skyscraper threatens to devastate the fabric of New York," can be read here. As our economy moves from one of consumerism to one of experience, the real estate industry needs to change. It’s time to shift focus from the hardware of buildings to the software of place. Developers are great at spotting the potential of land and what mix of uses and development will make land viable—what they’re less good at is what happens next. When they hand over that mix and program to an architect and ask them to squeeze it all into the site, developers may be doing all they’ve ever done historically, but they are neglecting the most critical of steps: agreeing on a vision for the place. “Vision” here means a strongly defined collective destination, the north star that guides and aligns all decision-making and allows teams to answer that most valuable question, “What should we do?” rather than that far more expensive question, “What could we do?” This process begins by asking, “Who is this place for? Why will they come? What will they do here?” When a place lacks vision, the end result is often at worst a commercial or critical failure and at best a bunch of people asking themselves, “What might this site have been if we’d only known then what we know now?” Architects often say that a project is only ever as good as the client. One of the challenges faced by developers is that many of them outsource the visioning process to architects rather than cocreating it with them. The best projects, and the best places, are always those that have a strong and shared vision delivered with unerring confidence. The absence of a place vision, and the reliance solely on a technical brief, can easily lead to cost overruns, design team disputes, ineffective communication, community objections, and ultimately simply soulless places. As we move from a consumer economy to an experience economy, we are reaching “peak stuff.” Millennials are far less interested in acquiring things and more interested in seeking experiences. Whereas their parents measured success by working hard to afford a luxury automobile, today’s youth measure their status by the stories they can tell about the latest hip restaurant, a pop-up retail experience, or an amazing vacation cabin in the woods. Instagram is full of the experiences people sought as opposed to the stuff they bought. This is putting ever more pressure on developers to provide a level of experience traditionally only provided by historic or organically emerging postindustrial neighborhoods. It’s time for real estate to step up. Office developments are no longer about grand statements that appease the corporation. Organizations have shifted their focus to the individual and the attraction and retention of talent over the cathedral to capitalism that has typified so many office buildings of old. In parallel, online retail is winning over homogenous retail streets and shopping centers; places like this will die unless they can shift to provide nontransactional experiences. Online shopping means consumers won’t bother to go to a shopping center or high street filled with chain stores to get things that they can simply buy with one click. There’s more choice online and goods can be delivered, and even returned, on the same day. People will only venture to physical shops if the basic act of consumption is complemented by outstanding service or experience. So the long-term viability of retail environments is predicated on their ability to provide some form of experience that provides enjoyment to the consumer. Architecture alone is no longer the answer. There is good news. Developers that are willing to take the “missing step” and really focus in on vision, purpose, and establishing a place brief will do well. They are not just stemming the tide of failure but actually achieving premium values across all real estate sectors. Kings Cross and Battersea Power Station in London have both proved that considered thought—rather than additional capital—can result in increased demand and value; Google and Apple both moved their operations to the respective projects—proof, if ever it were needed, that a strong vision leads to solid capital results. Closer to home, a strong vision and early communication for SOM’s The 78 development in Chicago allowed Related Midwest to secure stakeholder support for its ambition even before finalizing the massing, which paved the way for faster approvals. We need to embrace the synergy between great places and their consequent value appreciation. This is how we create a culture of self-perpetuating success, which will enable change where planning policy has failed. A small number of progressive developers have recognized that the market is changing. They can see that customers are increasingly seeking out experiential places that are engaging to live in, work at, or visit. Successful development is increasingly about the software of experience rather than the hardware of buildings. How you invest in creating place can vary whether you are investing millions into a sculpture at Hudson Yards or into a tech incubator to seed market momentum in Tampa. In contrast, traditional developers that are failing to develop or repurpose projects with such a sense of purpose and life are seeing their investment values stagnate. The scale of postindustrial sites that are now coming forward means we are no longer developing infill buildings that work off the historic character of established neighborhoods. Developers are working across entire districts, and it is essential that an overarching vision and purpose is established at the earliest opportunity. Failure to do so will result in incoherent and unsuccessful new districts; cookie-cutter, big brand monoculture; and disappointing, unpopular places. We are all familiar with places that have failed; they are globally prevalent, and the reason the real estate development industry is treated with such contempt and skepticism by the general public. But as new case studies emerge, such as King’s Cross in London, they act as a showcase for the synergy between the creation of great and thoughtful places and a more viable business practice. David Twohig is a founding partner of Wordsearch Place.

Architect as Developer

Jared Della Valle will present his design and business philosophy, and Michiko Ashida will join him in a conversation on integrating architecture and development—and the opportunities it affords. Jared Della Valle is the CEO and Founder of Alloy. He has been a real estate professional and architect for more than 20 years and has managed the acquisition and predevelopment of more than 2 million square feet in New York City along the Highline, in the Hudson Yards, in DUMBO and in Downtown Brooklyn. Jared is the chair of the Board of Trustees at the Van Alen Institute, and sits on the Board of Directors at the Architecture League of New York and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. He has taught at Columbia University, Syracuse University, Washington University, Parsons School of Constructed Environments and Lehigh University. He holds a B.A. from Lehigh University and Master’s degrees in both Architecture and Construction Management from Washington University, St. Louis, MO. Michiko Ashida is Vice President of Design at Silverstein Properties. She has worked closely with partners and consultants to design, plan and coordinate over 3 million square feet of office and retail space at the World Trade Center. Prior to joining Silverstein Properties, Michiko was a Senior Technical Coordinator at Skidmore Owings & Merrill and worked on a range of award-winning, large-scale projects. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University School of Architecture. RSVP by noon on Tuesday, June 18 if you plan on attending.
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UCLA launches the country's first intensive affordable housing development course

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Ziman Center for Real Estate has launched a unique affordable housing development program geared toward sharing some of the most innovative approaches in the field with housing professionals. The executive course, a partnership between school administration and private donors, consists of an intensive three-week program that brings together professors in urban planning and real estate, UCLA M.Arch I graduates, and interested students to develop conceptual proposals for affordable housing projects in Los Angeles. The program—developed by Ziman Center professor of finance Stuart Gabriel, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs lecturer in urban planning Joan Ling, CityLAB UCLA director Dana Cuff, and others—takes students through the exercise of designing, permitting, and funding their projects with the goal of instilling a “curriculum-based” approach to affordable housing development, according to Ziman Center founding executive director Tim Kawahara. Most of the students in the program are working professionals who are already engaged with the world of affordable housing development in some form, Kawahara explained, but are looking to expand and enrich their current knowledge. Kawahara said that because many of the professionals working in affordable housing have fallen into the field unexpectedly or work for self-taught non-profit housing developers, there is something of a gap in terms of shared, industry-wide knowledge. That’s where the university's deep bench of housing policy- and development-focused professors is stepping in to create a formalized approach to help affordable projects come to life. “The affordable housing crisis in California has reached an untenable level,” Kawahara said. “We have been doing a lot of teaching in the affordable housing space and wanted to find a way to help address the crisis, so we said, ‘Lets do a university-based executive program that will help deliver as many affordable housing and middle income and units as possible.’” The program’s inaugural class has been a smash success. After planning for an introductory cohort of roughly two dozen students, the Ziman Center received over 140 applications for the program. The university is now looking at ways of expanding the reach of the program, either by raising additional funding to hold the course more often throughout the year or by transforming the curriculum into a syndicated learning package that can be taken up by other universities. Word of the program even reached the California State Legislature, which has asked Ziman Center to give a version of the class to interested lawmakers. Organizers hope that more projects like the Little Berkeley development by CityLAB-affiliated Kevin Daly Architects come to life as a result of the program. The award-winning eight-unit project organizes residences in a staggered arrangement on a tight urban lot in Santa Monica and uses oddly-shaped interstitual spaces to provide outdoor access for residents. With California working to allocate tens of billions of dollars in new funding for affordable, supportive, and transitional housing projects, timing for the course and its much-needed curriculum is on the organizers’ side. Across the state, efforts are being made at all levels of governance to bring new funding sources and other incentives to affordable housing developments, while many California cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have instituted so-called linkage fees that require market-rate developers to include subsidized units in their developments. California’s new governor is working to enact a robust pro-housing agenda that aims to deliver up to 3.5 million units in less than a decade. Perhaps not unexpectedly given this momentum, Kawahara, sees affordable housing as a “growth industry” that might even have the potential to fare better than others if the economy takes a much-predicted downturn. With increasing levels of funding for these projects and political interest in the housing crisis only growing, it’s possible that a sizable percentage of the state’s new housing could come from affordable development initiatives. There’s even room to grow, because despite the prodigious growth in housing incentives and funding for certain targeted groups, “We still have a low- and middle-income housing affordability problem,” Kawahara said. 
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Preservationists fight to block East Harlem tower with parkland label

A 68-story, mixed-use tower set to rise in East Harlem between 96th and 97th Streets on Second Avenue is facing renewed pushback from community groups, even as the New York City government seem to be in unanimous agreement over its development. While the massive, 1.3 million-square foot complex would replace the existing Marx Brothers Playground, developer AvalonBay has promised to rebuild it “piece by piece” nearby; a compromise that preservationists have found unacceptable. As the New York Times reports, the battle over 321 East 96th Street hinges on whether the Marx Brothers Playground is, as the name suggests, a playground or a park. While the distinction might seem small, developing on parkland requires approval from governor and State Legislature. Despite the name, the playground has been maintained by the city parks department since 1947 and bears a plaque on the gates stating the same. Once completed, the new development at the site would yield 1,100 residential units, with 330 of them affordable, 20,000 square feet of retail space, and 270,000 square feet for three schools. One space will be for the School of Cooperative Technical Education, a vocational school, and the other two will be extension spaces for the nearby Heritage School and Park East High School. The educational component is integral to the project, as the New York City Educational Construction Fund (ECF) is a development partner. Pushing back on what they see as the city ceding public land for a private tower, the Municipal Arts Society, along with several preservation groups and the backing of the Trust for Public Land, have filed a lawsuit on December 22nd meant to block the development. Replacing the 1.5-acre playground has the backing of the local community board, City Council, Parks Department, borough president, and former City Council speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, all of whom have argued that the additional housing and education facilities are sorely needed. “That is not your typical set of approvals,” said Alyssa Cobb Konon, one assistant commissioner at the parks department. “And I think it speaks to broader support for the project.” Still, Governor Andrew Cuomo has agreed to look into whether the Marx Brothers project would be replacing parkland, and will appoint the commissioner of the state parks department, Rose Harvey, to determine the legal status of the playground. However, as the Times notes, Governor Cuomo has preemptively given his go-ahead to the development, having signed a bill granting AvalonBay the right to begin construction if the site’s legal challenges are found to be without merit. The lawsuit comes at a contentious time for East Harlem, as the recently passed rezoning has already begun changing the neighborhood and creating more parkland.
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Now's your chance to live in a Jimmy Buffett–themed retirement community

Attention, Parrotheads: The furnished model homes of the first Jimmy Buffett–inspired retirement community are nearing completion. The nearly $1 billion development, called Latitude Margaritaville in homage to the famous Buffett ballad, is located in sunny Daytona Beach, Florida. Sited west of the city center between I-95 and LGPA Boulevard, the community is marketed as the perfect retirement enclave for those who crave resort-style living, replete with on-site restaurants, live entertainment, and general tropical vibes. In total, the development promises to build 6,900 beach-bash bungalows for seniors who aren’t quite ready to retire from the raucous yacht rock life. For quieter residents, the on-site private beach club will be a place to “kick off your flip-flops, frolic in the surf and chill in the shade of the cool cabana.” Minto Communities and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Holdings are developing the project. Houses available are marketed in three categories: the Caribbean, Beach and Island collections, with prices ranging from $235,990 to $358,990. While the square-footage of the homes differ, the nine model homes all feature similar design traits like prominent driveways and garages, sunken entryways topped with Italianate towers, hipped roofs with exposed eaves, multiple gables, and drop-side wooden paneling. If the senior housing search in Daytona Beach proves too competitive, check out the Latitude Margaritaville in Hilton Head, South Carolina, which will encompass over 2,700 acres as well as a 72-acre, 290,000-square-foot “festive retail center.”
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Los Angeles wants to make developers pay for affordable housing

The Los Angeles City Council is set to consider the Affordable Housing Linkage Fee (AHLF), a new ordinance that would tax certain types of new residential and commercial construction across the city in order to fund a generation of new, deed-restricted affordable housing units as well as refurbish existing affordable housing stock. The plan—approved Thursday with a few tweaks by the City Planning Commission and now headed toward consideration of the full City Council—proposes to levy a linkage fee of $5.00 per square foot of new office, hotel, retail, and warehouse projects as well as a $12.00 per square foot fee on new residential construction. The fee would be administered by the City of Los Angeles and is expected to generate between $75 million to $92 million in funds each year earmarked toward the construction of new affordable housing units. The new levy represents the culmination of years of planning study aimed at alleviating the region's crippling housing crisis. It is thought that the Los Angeles region is deficient by nearly 500,000 housing units, a situation that has resulted in staggering rent increases over the last few years. To boot, the city has been gradually down-zoned to the detriment of housing production and has, for the last several decades, produced far fewer market-rate units than necessary to meet population growth. The result? Tightened supply and higher rents for everyone. A recent study by Adobo lists Los Angeles as having the fourth highest percentage of renters in the country; Los Angeles is also the largest city by far among the lists' top ten. Furthermore, a 2016 study by New York University’s Furman Center and CapitalOne found that nearly 60 percent of renting Angelenos pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent. Additionally, a whopping 33 percent of the overall total pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.   The dearth in new market-rate units has put pressure on low-income and working class communities across the region. As high earners have been locked out of traditionally upscale and professional class areas, they have begun to scour working class neighborhoods for rental and ownership opportunities. And though few would argue that the city needs to produce fewer affordable housing units, there is fierce debate regarding whether taxing housing production is the right step to take considering the facts above. In a strongly-worded letter presented to the City Planning Commission, a group of academics and activists decried the linkage fee’s potentially depressing effects on market-rate housing production, saying, “The Nexus Study’s highly optimistic analysis projects enough revenues to create approximately 450 affordable units, though if L.A.’s analysis mirrors Oakland’s, there will be a greater number of market‐rate units lost—potentially 1.5‐2X the low‐income production. If these affordable production numbers are correct—and we question their accuracy, noting that no other city’s program has produced nearly this many units (San Francisco’s, for example, has produced only 89 per year)—then for every 450 low‐income units produced, up to 900 low‐income families will ultimately be displaced. How can public policy support such an outcome?” According to the authors of the letter, economically disadvantaged individuals and families across Los Angeles disproportionately live in market-rate housing. The authors argue that while the linkage fee would indeed facilitate the creation of new affordable units, the number of potential market-rate units it would preclude from being built—a figure that will not be tracked by the city and would be very difficult to discern in the first place—outweighs the benefit of the relatively few affordable units due to be created by the fee. The proposed fee is headed to the City Council and, if approved, would be implemented in later this year.
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A casino and mixed-used development will fill one of Toronto's last, large undeveloped sites

A group of U.S. firms have  been selected to help design one of Toronto's major undeveloped sites, a 683-acre property where a mixed-use urban neighborhood will be built. These include the Laguna Beach, California-based office of SWA Group, San Francisco-based BCV Architects, and New York-based Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates. The site—about 1.5 miles north of Toronto's Pearson International Airport—is currently owned by Woodbine Entertainment Group; the development will be built around the existing Woodbine Racetrack, which hosts live horse races four days a week. The group's gaming offerings will be the focus of the development, and a new casino will join the racetrack on the site. Woodbinem, who's working with development consultant Live Work Learn Play, will also add biking and walking trails, retail and restaurants, and housing. The project will also experiment with growing feed on the premises for its resident thoroughbred horses. Planning will take place over the next six months, while construction might be a decades-long process.
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How Donald Trump transformed New York without any regard for design quality

There is something about the towering, architectural designs of Donald Trump that brings out the best in New York’s architectural wordsmiths and critics: The Trump International Hotel & Tower at 1 Central Park West was a perfect foil for Herbert Muschamp in The New York Times. Philip Johnson and Costas Kondylis re-skinned the old Gulf and Western Building in bronze-tinted glass. (Trump had wanted the glass to be gold.) Johnson, according to the book New York 2000, promised Trump, his client, “a fin de siècle version of the Seagram” building. Muschamp called the facade “a 1950s International Style glass skyscraper in a 1980s gold lamé party dress,” a change he considered an “undeniable improvement.…” “This is not a major work by Mr. Johnson,” Muschamp wrote later in the article. “Still, he has introduced considerable refinement to an essentially crass idea. In fact, the design’s chief merit is the contrast between the commercial vulgarity of the gold skin and the relative subtlety with which it is detailed.”

The building, he said, stands as a “triumph of private enterprise in such a publicly conspicuous place.” Now, he concluded, “a new Trump flagship sails into these troubled civic waters, carrying with it more than a faint air of a floating casino, or perhaps the winnings from one.” But elsewhere he wrote that it could have been worse. True, the design could have sported dollar-sign finials, a one-armed-bandit handle sticking out the side, window shades painted with cherries, oranges, and lemons, and a pile of giant Claes Oldenburg coins at the base instead of the scaled-down version of the Unisphere. Or maybe that would have been an improvement. Refinement was never this building’s point anyway.

Critics like Muschamp, Ada Louise Huxtable, and Paul Goldberger could hardly depend on Trump for an informed comment on his designs or buildings. He called his own Trump Tower triplex,  an Angelo Donghia–designed, marble-and-onyx-covered ode to Versailles, “comfortable modernism.” The New York critics had varying opinions about the tower and its six-story indoor mall, which Trump claimed had been designed by his wife, Ivana. The mall’s interior of polished brass and 240 tons of Breccia Pernice marble in shades of rose, peach, pink, and orange was called a “pleasant surprise” by Goldberger, who saw it as “warm, luxurious, and even exhilarating—in every way more welcoming than the public arcades and atriums that preceded it on 5th Avenue.” Huxtable took a more critical view of the space, which she called a “pink marble maelstrom and pricey super glitz…unredeemed by [its] posh ladies’ powder-room decor.” (There may be hope for future buildings, however; Trump’s current wife, Melania, apparently studied architecture and design in school.)

The 725 5th Avenue Trump Tower exterior, with 28 sides, was designed by Der Scutt, of New York’s Poor, Swanke, Hayden & Connell, and was equally criticized by Muschamp, who concluded, “everything [about it] is calculated to make money.” This, of course, was seen as a positive design value by Trump, who argued that the faceted facade gave every room two views and therefore made them more valuable. In fact, the designs of Trump’s buildings are driven solely by profit. Is this unusual for commercial construction in New York? Of course not—but Trump’s buildings are such obvious, in-your-face examples of this reality of how the city is being built in the 21st century.

Beyond the large, expensive brass “Trump” lettering that adorns his buildings, Trump has made a career of taking advantage of public subsidies and then putting up the cheapest-looking project possible. His re-skinning of the Penn Central Transportation Company’s 2,000-room, Warren and Wetmore–designed Commodore Hotel is an example of one such project. Here, he took a perfectly decent—even handsome—1919 brick-and-limestone building, next door to Grand Central Terminal, and clad it with a reflective glass that has not weathered well. The project, rebranded by Trump as the Grand Hyatt Hotel, was done by one of his favorite architectural firms, New York’s Gruzen & Partners, with Der Scutt. The architects did not remove the old facade but instead overlaid a bronze-colored glass set in a grid of dark anodized aluminum. Trump spoke about that facade in The Art of the Deal; he was “convinced that half the reason the Commodore was dying [was] because it looked so gloomy and dated and dingy.…[He] wanted a sleek, contemporary look. Something with sparkle and excitement that would make people stop and take notice.” It’s not that the business barons of yore, such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, the developer of Grand Central Station, were not concerned with profit, but Vanderbilt and his architects, Reed and Stem, as well as Warren and Wetmore, designed a handsome public work of architecture, whose striking stone gateway’s presence makes Trump’s glass skin seem cheap and dated. The building has one of the worst 1980s-era facades in New York.

Given his background, it’s not surprising that Trump, who wallows in his New Yorkness, has no idea of the difference between architecture and building. He was raised in Jamaica Estates, Queens, hard up against the Grand Central Parkway, in what today would be called a Federalist Georgian McMansion, with tall Corinthian columns. He went to New York Military Academy for high school, attended Fordham University, and graduated from the Wharton School, where he studied real estate. While at Wharton, he worked at his father’s building company, which made a fortune developing small buildings in Queens and Brooklyn after World War II, when the government (via the Federal Housing Administration) subsidized affordable housing. Woody Guthrie lived in one in of these buildings, Beach Haven, in Coney Island, and wrote a song about its racially discriminatory rental policies:

I suppose Old Man Trump knows Just how much Racial Hate He stirred up In the bloodpot of human hearts When he drawed That color line Here at his Eighteen hundred family project

Beach Haven, like so many other federally financed affordable projects, was forbidden by the National Housing Act of 1934 from including any extra architectural details or embellishments, something the national real estate industry worked to have included in the law. Though it has directness to its design and some sort of dignity missing from Fred Trump’s Manhattan buildings, Beach Haven is nevertheless a standard New York City complex of stripped down, bland six-story brick boxes, spread across a city grid. It—like his son Donald’s later projects—was a profit-seeking opportunity. The FHA later discovered that Fred Trump had pocketed over $4 million in illicit profits from the construction.

Donald would later put up (or at least put his name on) a similar sort of development, along Riverside Drive just north of 57th Street. Like Beach Haven, Riverside South is a series of bland rectangular boxes spread across a series of city blocks. Though here, rather than looking out over Coney Island, the development looks toward the river. The detailing of these riverside buildings is faintly art deco, recalling their Upper West Side neighborhood in their massing and repetitive walls.

This was also the site for Trump’s proposed Television City, which could have been even worse, or at least more massive. In 1974 to 1975, Trump proposed to develop Television City—with 4,850 apartments, 500,000 square feet of retail space, one million square feet of office space, a 50-room hotel, television studios, parking for 3,700 cars, and 28 acres of open space—in a largely abandoned old train yard. The original scheme, which proposed a large superblock of high-rise towers, with a three-armed telescoping tower, was designed by Murphy/Jahn Architects, of Chicago, and would have been the tallest tower in the world, at 1,670 feet and 150 stories. It was a massive development, with several towers over 70 stories, all built on a podium over the old rail yards and a park. The West Side Highway would have been relocated under the towers to create a road not unlike the one under the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Needless to say, there was opposition to this new complex. The world’s tallest building, many thought, was never meant to be built, but was a ploy, a wedge to get more square footage in the plan approved by the city.

In some ways, Television City came closer to real architecture than any other project from the Trump family (albeit as a forerunner of the contemporary glass boxes that have risen all over the city since the late 1990s). Though Goldberger claimed the tower was “hardly a real building for real people in a real city,” Michael Sorkin was more pointed. In the Village Voice column “Dump the Trump,” Sorkin wrote, “Looking at the boneheaded proposal, one wonders whether the architect even visited the site. Indeed, there is evidence that he did not. The rank of glyphs bespeaks lakeside Chicago, and the centerpiece of the scheme, the 150-story erection, Trump’s third go at the world’s tallest building…was there ever a man more preoccupied with getting it up in public?”

Trump, on the other hand, was his typical ebullient, promotional self and called the plan, in a press release, “the master planner’s grandest plan yet.” Because Trump, more than any builder in New York in the late 20th century, has transformed the city with barely the slightest architecturally-worthy design or public service.

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Pier 40 proposes selling air rights to nearby development to fund repairs

Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) CEO Madelyn Wils has indicated that the Trust’s board of directors would like to use some of the 400,000 square feet of Pier 40’s development rights to repair the pier and generate revenue, according to a DNAinfo article. HRPT is the organization that controls Pier 40, a park complex of athletic fields, a commercial parking garage, and the administrative offices for the Trust. The pier is one of the properties that comprises the Hudson River Park, a series of parks along the waterfront of the Hudson River in New York City. Pier 40 is required to be financially self-sufficient. The Trust intends to sell 200,000 square feet of the pier's 400,000 square feet of air rights to developers Westbrook Partners and Atlas Capital Group to redevelop St. John's Terminal, located across the street from the pier. This $100 million deal must still complete the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), after which the Trust will hold a vote on the sale of the air rights. The deal is likely to be approved since it "was announced with the blessing of local Councilman Corey Johnson, and the chair of the City Planning Commission, Carl Weisbrod," the article states. DNAinfo was able to compile records of meetings and correspondence that also seemed to indicate support from the city. If the deal is approved, West Village residents fear the potential for several other large-scale projects in the area, but they have been assured that the $100 million of the deal will be used to repair and restore the Pier 40 across the West Side Highway, particularly its rotting piles. According to the DNAinfo article, Wils expressed that the HRPT board believes "office space could be the best use for the development rights [also known as air rights] remaining after 200,000 square feet are sold to the owners of the St. John's Terminal." This action would generate revenue and “help the Trust’s finances."
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California developers sidestep environmental laws, hasten project approval with ballot initiatives

California’s ballot initiative system allows residents to propose laws as well as approve them by popular vote. In the past, this has resulted in drastically reducing property taxes and the approval of the country’s first law for medical marijuana. Recently, controversy has arisen due to the use of the system by developers to disregard state environmental laws and consequently hasten the pace of major developments, reports The New York Times. Using this popular vote system, plans were approved for several major development projects in Moreno Valley including “a stadium in Carson, a shopping center north of San Diego and a vast warehouse complex,” the article lists. This process of approval circumvents the California Environmental Quality Act whose rules would otherwise present obstacles for the developers. Another concern, addressed by The Times article, is that residents do not even have the opportunity to vote on the designs in question. In order for a project to be considered for special election or approval, a petition with the signatures of 15 percent of eligible voters is required. Local officials can then proceed to approve the project without a ballot to avoid the financial burden a special election would present. While the California Environmental Quality Act requires that developers “to identify and mitigate the environmental effects of their projects,” the law is not enforced by any government agency, only by lawsuits. Claims to sue “can range from destroying animal habitats to blocking a view,” The Times states. As a result, projects can be delayed and their costs exacerbated. Out of nine plans for new Walmart stores in California, eight were approved without a ballot. A California Supreme Court decision in 2014 addressed Walmart’s actions determining that elected officials can indeed approve projects without a ballot and therefore avoiding “environmental review.” Other developers have followed suit and projects across the state have attracted scrutiny and opposition for this reason, including a shopping center in Carlsbad and a proposed World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.