Posts tagged with "The Economy":

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Utah House Becomes High Plains Drifter

As Kermit once declared, "It's not easy being an architect." From the 2-feet-too-tall M Cube to the near-destruction of old masters, there seem to be problems around every corner. The story of Clark Stevens is doubly tragic, which Architizer ran today. You see, like many a sad architectural story, Stevens was working on one of his many glorious prairie houses when the recession hit and the client canceled it, and not only that, but there was a considerable squabble over fees, which client did not realize would grow as the size of the project did. After months of struggle a settlement was reached, about the best Stevens could hope for. A little while later, Stevens, an avid outdoorsman, decides to check in on his old hole-in-the-ground during an upcoming trip, but he sought out Google Earth first, where to his surprise, he could see bits of his building taking shape. The architect called up an contractor friend who had been working on the project who confirmed it. But, like a true cowboy (at least according to Architizer), Stevens decided to let the project go rather than to kick a cactus.
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Zooming In on New New York

Yesterday, we told you the story of how the 100 strong New New York Photography Corps snapped some 4,500 photos of the city in stasis for a new show being put on by the Architectural League, The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001–2010. Here now are a bakers dozen of the best. To view a slideshow click here or the photo above.
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CityCenter: Hold The Fireworks

New Las Vegas megaresort City Center, which we reviewed in January (it features buildings by Daniel Libeskind, Cesar Pelli, Rafael Viñoly, Helmut Jahn, and others) just reported its first quarter results. They weren't good. The's $8.5 billion project, owned by MGM Mirage and  Dubai World (which has finally worked out a debt restructuring deal with its creditors), recorded an operating loss of $255 million, and has only been able to sell about 100 of its 2,400 luxury condominiums, according to the Wall Street Journal. MGM is also locked in a lawsuit with its contractor, Perini Building Co, for defective workmanship and overbilling. For what it's worth the company claims that it will soon begin to turn a profit on the project. Now that's a Vegas bet we're interested in following.
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Recovering Architects

Yesterday, we reported on the continued improvement of the AIA Billings Index, which has shown its best performance in two years. While things have not totally recovered yet, there is more to this story than just number. We've been hearing stories, too, of those so-called green shoots popping up here and there. Take for example a recent tweet by Gensler heralding the 63 spots that the firm is trying to fill across the globe. The simple missive—"Sign of the times: we're hiring for 63 positions!"—ricocheted around Twitter, a sign of hope and promise among those wired architects. Clearly, this is the kind of good news people are looking for, so we want to hear more. Please leave your stories in the comment section below or send them to editor[at]archpaper.com. We'll try and highlight them in a few days.
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Regional Rebound?

For the forth month straight, billings for firms in the Midwest are showing the strongest uptick of the four regions tracked by the AIA. And for the first time since the recession, in March billings in the Midwest have moved into positive territory, breaking the 50 mark, making it the first region to do so since the recession began. (Anything below means billings for work are falling, above rising.) In the graph above, the Midwest region is represented in red, the East in blue, the West in green, and the South in orange. According to the numbers, the recovery has arrived. In other positive economic news, home sales in the Chicago area were up 45% in March over the same period last year. Within the city of Chicago the gains were even greater, posting a 50% increase over the same period last year, according to Crain's Chicago Business. The glut of unsold condos has put a damper on many development projects, so it's encouraging to see the market moving again.
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SHoP Floats

One of the many flashy architecture projects believed to have been killed off by the recession was SHoP's highly impressionistic proposal for the waterfront portion of the South Street Seaport. The bankruptcy of mall owner and would-be developer General Growth Properties seemed to scuttle plans for the sail-and-net-inspired complex, but having emerged from court protection, GGP is evaluating what to do with its remaining properties and it appears SHoP may once again be in the mix. The company is being spun off into two pieces following its bankruptcy, with the one made up of mixed-use and development-worthy projects getting a $6.55 billion infusion from three outside investors. It remains up to this new person what to do with the Seaport, but a GGP spokesperson tells Downtown Express, “Presumably the new company would continue to pursue the highest, best use of that property, which we felt was the proposal we put out." Should the project return, there is still the issue of appeasing the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which saw it as more barnacle than beautiful.
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The Bright Side of Collapse

It may have been a jarring reminder of the two deadly crane accidents two springs before, but fortunately little more. A smaller mobile crane toppled onto 80 Maiden Lane in the Financial District on Saturday evening, but it caused little damage and no fatalities, unlike the collapse of two tower cranes in March and May 2008, which claimed seven and two lives, respectively. The exact cause of this latest accident remains unknown, but it was believed to be a combination of human error (the boom was not sufficiently lowered) and mechanical failure (bad hydraulics). In a twist of fate, the crane fell onto the building occupied by the city's Department of Inspections, which is charged with routing out the corrupt inspectors who let the prior accidents happen, though there appears to be no malfeasance in this incident. Two days later, two Brooklyn condos under construction collapsed, one injuring two four workers. This reminds us that last year there were but three construction fatalities in the city, down from 19 in 2008, partly because of stricter safety standards but also less work. While such construction accidents are unacceptable, they are also, as the mayor has said, the cost of doing business. The good news, then, appears to be that the city may finally be back in business.
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$1K per Square Inch

Who says starchitecture is dead? While most projects, high-profile or otherwise, are still on the rocks, the market for boldface design remains strong. How do we know? That rinky-dink model of Herzog & de Meuron's 56 Leonard Street that we mentioned last week, well, the eBay auction for it closed just past nine o'clock this morning. After 43 bids, the final price was an astonishing $1,166.11 (if you factor in the 30 bucks for shipping). Seeing as how that's more than some East Village apartments, we're going to take this as a leading indicator of better times ahead. Or maybe it's just further proof of the problems that got us here in the first place.
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Swallowed by the Green Monster

The Rose Kennedy Greenway was supposed to transform downtown Boston, and while the Big Dig has had some impact on traffic, its above ground success have been far fewer, at least in the three years since the project was completed. At least two major developments have been forestalled because of competing demands on the Greenway's open space, which itself has not been a smashing success, and now the Boston Globe reports the demise of yet another cultural institution that had been planned for the 1.5-mile park. The latest loss is the New Center for Arts and Culture, an $80 million project designed by Daniel Libeskind that was meant to foster diversity and dialogue between disparate groups. Other of the glassy, glitzy victims—blame falls largely on poor fundraising due to the economy—include a new YMCA, Garden Under Glass, and the Boston Museum, which has since relocated to a different site where it also struggles to get off the ground. After the jump, a graphic from the Globe breaks the blunders down.
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Spire Sputters Again

According to Crain's Chicago Business, major construction unions will not be loaning funds to restart the Chicago Spire, as many had speculated. The union pension funds are feeling cautious, much like other lenders, so the Spire, which was always an ambitious project, remains a high risk bet. Who will the developers turn to next?
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MTA: To Dig or Not to Dig?

Not since the collapse of Lehman Brothers last year has a major bastion in the city seemed to fall apart so quickly and readily as the MTA over the past few weeks. As the Times succinctly puts it, "state legislators cut $143 million out of the authority’s budget; state accountants then determined that a payroll tax dedicated to mass transit financing would produce $100 million less revenue than initially thought. Finally, late last week, a court ruled that the authority must pay significant raises to transit workers, adding tens of millions of dollars in expenses." The MTA is required to fill the $400 million budget hole this created because it must end the year with a balanced budget. And so a range of service cuts were ratified today by the agency's board, including the elimination of subway and bus lines, reduced off-peak service and para-transit, and no more free rides for half-a-million students. While all these cuts—which do not take affect until July 1—are a disgrace to riders, the latter two may seem particularly onerous for good reason: they are so politically charged (think Helen Lovejoy) they will almost certainly be reversed, and indeed Governor Patterson has already called for the reinstatement of student MetroCards. But that only restores about $170 million, so what about the rest? We've been here before with these proposed service cuts, and the consensus among transit advocates is it will never come to that or super fare hikes. But with the MTA bailed out once already this year, a return to bridge tolls or other new revenue streams seems equally unlikely. Another proposal that has been gaining steam is dipping into the authority's capital funds, temporarily syphoning funds off, say, the Second Avenue Subway, to temporarily cover the gap. The Straphanger's Campaign has been pushing this approach, as its long-held belief is general service over flashy megaprojects, and it has been taken up by the City Council as well, a number of whose members rallied at today's board meeting. But the mayor has long opposed such a move because these projects are considered a boon to economic development, an argument echoed by the venerable RPA and upheld by the MTA. "Diverting money from the capital program as a one-shot stop-gap fix for the operating budget is what led the system into the decline that characterized the system in the 1970s and early 1980s," MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said in an email. "It took decades to recover from that." Fortunately, this is only the beginning of the end, as we live to see another doomsday.
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Spire Revival

First reported in the Chicago Tribune, and today in the Wall Street Journal, officials at a group of union pension funds are vetting a plan to lend $170 million to restart construction on the stalled Chicago Spire. Designed by Santiago Calatrava, the 150 story residential tower would be the tallest building in the US. The Journal piece points out that with a drastic drop off in condo construction downtown predicted for 2010 and 2011, the completion of the Spire could actually come at a time when there is pent up demand for housing. Blair Kamin previously pointed out that unions have made similar loans in previous downturns, notably providing loans for the construction of Marina City. According to the Journal, Chicago's failure to win the 2016 Olympics may have been the key to giving the Spire new life. The pensions had previously been looking to lend funds for the construction of the planned Olympic Village.