Posts tagged with "Sunnyside Gardens":

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After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

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Landmark Aluminaire House Seeks a Home

The landmark Aluminaire House is homeless yet again. The situation is not so out of the ordinary, however, as preservationists and communities have recently been confronted with the futures of these pioneering modernist structures. In this particular battle, a team of architects is hoping to relocate the historic house, which has already been disassembled and rebuilt three times, to a vacant lot in Sunnyside Gardens, a landmarked district in Queens. The proposal to reassemble the house as part of a low-rise residential development at 39th Avenue and 50th Street is facing uncertainty from residents who would prefer the site be turned into a community park. Architects A. Lawrence Kocher and Albert Frey designed Aluminaire as a case study in 1931. Constructed of donated materials and built in ten days, the first all-metal, prefabricated house in the country debuted at the Allied Arts and Industry and Architectural League Exhibition. Subsequently, the house was sold to architect Wallace K. Harrison who disassembled and moved it to Long Island. New York Institute of Technology then reassembled the structure on its campus, which has since closed, leaving the structure to the Aluminaire House Foundation, which has disassembled and stored it. The Foundation now seeks a low-rise, high-density New York neighborhood to display the building as it was initially intended – as a low cost urban home prototype. Residents are concerned that the house’s design does not belong with the area’s traditional brick housing scheme. Still, Sunnyside Gardens and Aluminaire have a history together—they were both featured in a 1932 MoMA modern architecture exhibit. Reconstructing the house in Sunnyside would actually place Aluminaire within its planned context. The project embarked on its lengthy journey through the public approval process at Community Board 2’s Land Use Committee meeting last month. The foundation is scheduled to present to the commission in September. For now, the house is in storage.
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Wanted: Neighborhood for Aluminaire

  The Aluminaire House is homeless once again. Built in 1931 for the Allied Arts and Industry and Architectural League Exhibition, the house introduced prefabricated design methods espoused by Le Corbusier to an American audience. Corbu disciple Albert Frey designed the house with A. Lawrence Kocher, onetime editor at Architectural Record. After more than 100,000 visitors passed through, the architect Wallace Harrision snapped it up and placed it on his estate to be used as guest house. The building later was featured in Hitchcock and Johnson's 1932 MoMA exhibition and in their book The International Style. Eventually, the house came under the care of the New York Institute of Technology and onto their former Islip campus. Last month, the house was dismantled once again and handed over to the newly formed Aluminaire House Foundation, run by architects Frances Campani and Michael Schwarting of Campani and Schwarting Architects. It would seem that the repetitious reassembly and dismantling has inadvertently supported the modular mass production theories of the house’s designers. With that in mind, the foundation is looking for a low-rise high-density site on the outskirts of New York City where the house might not necessarily be an aesthetic fit, but a theoretical one. In a telephone interview Schwarting said that that a place like Forrest Hills Queens, where Kocher once lived, might be an interesting notion, in so much as this too was middle class housing for a planned community. The group has also identified a site in Sunnyside Gardens, which was arose in nearly same period of the Aluminaire, but was built in a stripped-down colonial revival style.  But Schwarting noted that, like Sunnyside's housing stock, the plan for the house was to be as repeatable as the multiblock redbrick abodes found there. “They were both looking at housing problems at the same time,” said Schwarting. “They’re visually very different, but they were addressing the same issues.” The group has looked into other locales and entities. They’ve been in touch with Barry Bergdoll at MoMA. “It’s fairly demanding in putting the house back together the way it was,” said Schwarting. “With a museum it becomes an art object and I don’t think we need to go that far.” Giving the house over to a public entity such as the Parks Department would involve all negotiating a caretaker situation with a department that is already stretched to the limit, as was demonstrated in the recent Poe Park Visitor Center debacle.  They even talked to Richard Meier as he did the layout for the Houses of Sagaponac development, but that deal fell through, which was probably a fortuitous. “We hope to return to the house to the agenda of the early modern movement,” said Schwarting. “If we can put it in a reasonable setting, where its original intentions for affordable housing are reflected, that would be ideal.”