In a city as old as Philadelphia, it says a lot when a neighborhood is deemed of particular historical significance by the city's citizens. One such stretch in the City of Brotherly Love is Jewelers Row, a block-long concentration of retailers known for being the nation's oldest (and second-largest) diamond district. So when Philly 'burb–based developer Toll Brothers proposed a 29-story residential tower that would require demolishing a handful of Sansom Street buildings, it's no surprise that some in the city fought back. Now, after the latest version of the proposed project was unveiled by SLCE Architects for Toll Brothers, Pulitzer Prize–winning Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron is weighing in on the tower's latest iteration, deriding the building as an "architectural zombie." But that's not the only target of her criticism; Saffron also places some of the blame for its blandness on the city's Civic Design Board. The most recent renderings show an anodyne 24-story glass tower with a series of simple setbacks rising above the brick-lined street. Beyond the incongruity of the design, Saffron calls out the project as a missed opportunity for architectural expression. She places the blame not only on SLCE and Toll Brothers, but also on the city's Civic Design Board, which was founded in 2011 ostensibly to raise the city's level of architectural design by vetting all large projects. The problem, she suggests, is that the board can't outright veto a poor building, leaving developers the ability to apply again and again with simple concessions rather than innovative reimagining. In the case of the Jewelers Row project, earlier versions of the plan included the use of brick to reference the surrounding buildings, an idea that was scrapped after community feedback that the design overwhelmed the neighborhood. A subsequent plan showed an all-glass face with a pleated crown, but a row of third-floor verandas proved too controversial, leading to their removal a month later in the most recent iteration. "That’s how public relations works," Saffron says of the process, "not architectural design." And that, she argues, is the problem.
Posts tagged with "Toll Brothers":
Keith Krumwiede’s Freedomland, an exhibition of architectural misfits, suburban follies, and developer nightmares, that just closed at the Princeton University School of Architecture Gallery, defies easy categorization. The pulse of the work is strong, its intention clear: to satirize the cringe-worthy packaging and wholesaling of a particular strain of the American dream of mass-produced, individualized suburban living by Toll Brothers and others through a series of reconfigured catalogue house plans. Producing their own kind of suburban fantasy, these new, recombinant figures populate an expandable Jeffersonian grid, complete with estate names like “Neo-Palladian Acres” and “The Villas at Broad Acres.” Several scenes of Freedomland are rendered as oil paintings after well-known American pastoral tableaux (in the show, the images are projected, but they were actually “painted” in China, of course). Others are shown as meticulously drafted arrangements of estates into neighborhoods and townships, each following—in their imaginary histories—a strict narrative of “cyclical regeneration” aimed at ensuring the vision of Freedomland as the most superior settlement plan in the history of American town planning (so claims the “literature”). A third part of the project, called A Game of Homes, pushes the representational qualities of the work toward absurd ends in a series of compound plans and elevations derived from the banal graphics of the catalogue drawings. At the center of any satirical project, whether political or social in nature, is a question of the target and the audience. If there is no correlation between the intended subject of the criticism and those meant to understand the attack, little friction exists, and little progress can be made. In other words, when one preaches to the choir, he rarely faces resistance. In the case of Freedomland, it is doubtful that any of the presumed targets—Toll Brothers, David Weekley Homes, etc.—have much to do with the world comprising the audience, that is, a certain subset of students and academically-minded architects interested in testing the discursive limits of architecture and urbanism. If not in its satirical function, the value of Freedomland as a pedagogic exercise may be in its extensions out into the discipline, both its recent past and current provocations. The Stirlingesque aggregations of A Game of Homes (thus far only in its infancy as an experimental planning mechanism), for example, suggest preliminarily a different model of housing that is much more radical about its programmatic and spatial ambitions than most proposals today. Likewise, the gesturing of Freedomland toward the difficult typological and graphic expressions of firms like Dogma and KGDVS, in which the idea of absence is often more powerfully represented than presence, brings the work into poignant dialogue with contemporary architecture, narrative, and social function. Ultimately, perhaps the greatest value of Freedomland is that it forces us, however timidly, to reconsider not only the current state of housing and its political, economic, and social structures, but also the nature of planning proposals in general, ranging from the polemical to the possible.
While Hurricane Sandy hasn’t slowed development in some parts of Brooklyn, it has delayed the groundbreaking of the Roger Marvel Architects-designed hotel and residential complex at Pier 1 in Brooklyn Bridge Park called the Pierhouse. The New York Post reported that the project was originally slated to begin construction this month, but Toll Brothers, the developer, said they will hold off until the redesign of the 159-apartment and 200-room hotel complex is updated with measures meant to protect against future storm surges. Changes include elevating the building three feet, adding steps and ramps to the lobby, and placing the mechanical systems on the roof. This development is paying for a considerable portion—about $3.3 million—of the park’s $16 million annual maintenance budget. Nearby, plans for a velodrome proposed for the park were scrapped in part due to potential flooding of the site.
Last week, as New York was blindly transfixed on its impending Thanksgiving feast, the Brooklyn Bridge Park (BBP) released renderings of a proposed mixed-use development that has been floated to help fund the waterfront park. Seven proposals stacked, folded, and otherwise covered in plants a program calling for several hundred hotel rooms and residences on two park-side sites on Furman Street. The developer/architect breakdown was full of the regular big names and heavy hitters: Brooklyn's Two Trees selected WASA/Studio A; Toll Brothers worked with Rogers Marvel; SDS worked with Leeser; Extell went with Beyer Blinder Belle; Dermot with FX Fowle; RAL with CDA; and Starwood teamed with Alloy Development, Bernheimer Architects, and n Architects. Building any new buildings along the park has been a contentious issue, but the tax revenue the new development would generate would go a long way toward BBP's financial sustainability. While architects whipped up some flashy renderings, one aspect seems certain to rouse fans of Brooklyn Heights' elevated promenade. In several of the renderings, views of the Brooklyn Bridge appear slightly interrupted despite guidelines that limit the height of new construction. BBP spokesperson Ellen Ryan told AN that all of the proposals adhere to the Special Scenic View Corridor regulations set forth by City Planning, which are actually lower in height than the old cold storage warehouses that once stood on the site until the 1950s. The building height limits range from 55 feet on the south parcel and 100 feet on the north. That's not the only thing driving neighborhood angst. The Brooklyn Eagle pointed out that the public only has about four weeks to review and comment on the proposals—until December 22—and at the height of the holiday season rush no less. There's a lot to like about the proposals as well. WASA/Studio A clad their curvilinear buildings with giant green walls with windows poking through while Rogers Marvel and others planted every available rooftop space with green roofing. FXFOWLE's stacked metal-mesh-covered volumes connect to the planned Squibb Park pedestrian bridge, providing direct access to its rooftops in what looks to be a gesture to the High Line. Leeser Architects' futuristic proposal called for a massive atrium filled with a gym and a floating pool, while Starwood's team of Bernheimer and n Architects lifted their proposal to provide views of the park along the sidewalk. Take a look at all of the proposals below and share your thoughts in the comments. All images courtesy respective firms / Brooklyn Bridge Park.
The Environmental Protection Agency balked at the Bloomberg administration's controversial proposal to clean up the Gowanus Canal, favoring its own Superfund program in an announcement today, as had been expected. In a statement, regional administrator Judith Enck said that, after much consultation with concerned parties, the EPA "determined that a Superfund designation is the best path to a cleanup of this heavily contaminated and long neglected urban waterway." The Bloomberg administration opposed the designation for fear it would stigmatize the waterway and drive off developers who were planning projects on the polluted canal's shores. Lo-and-behold, Toll Brothers, which had been planning a 2,000-unit mixed-use complex designed by GreenbergFarrow, has already nixed its plans. We also hear from a source that the Gowanus Green project by Rogers Marvel on a city-owned site is also on hold until it can shore up lending, assuming it can. As for the proposed rezoning, no word yet from the Department of City Planning, which had also been awaiting the Superfund decision before it proceeded. Marc LaVorgna, an administration spokesperson, called the EPA's decision "disappointing," though he did say that the city would still aid in the clean-up efforts. "We are going to work closely with the EPA because we share the same goal—a clean canal," he said. It appears the mayor was right about the threat Superfund designation posed to development on the canal, though the question of whether such projects should have taken place anyway, given even the possibility of Superfund levels of contamination, also has been answered. UPDATE: Looks like City Planning will be holding off for the time being, as we suspected. Here's the explanation we just received from spokesperson Rachaele Raynoff:
We’ve just gotten the news and we’re continuing to work on understanding the impacts of the designation on the potential for moving forward with a rezoning to facilitate appropriate development and remediation. Clearly, the Superfund designation adds a layer of additional complexity (and uncertainty) to an already very complex process.UPDATE 2: Curbed has word from the folks at Gowanus Green that they have yet to give up on their project, though they do acknowledge that it will be more challenging.
UPDATE:The mayor called. See more below. It should come as no surprise that a local government supported the Superfund designation of one of its most polluted waterways. Unless that government happens to be the Bloomberg administration, which has vehemently opposed "blighting" the Gowanus Canal and environs by naming the polluted Brooklyn waterway a Superfund site. That opposition remains firmly in place. What is surprising, though, as the Brooklyn Paper reported Friday, is that the administration, in testimony submitted to the EPA on December 23, came out in favor of designating Newtown Creek, a place in constant competition with the Gowanus for most reviled in the borough. The big difference, it would appear, is that the Gowanus' northerly sibling has but award-winning poop processors lining its banks, and not the prospect of condos. Though that prospect could be fading fast. Curbed informs us that Toll Brothers may be trying to back down from its plans to build a 450-unit mixed-use, mixed-income project on the canal, as the developer owes money for the purchase of its three-acre property. The $21.5 million deal was contingent on Toll getting the area rezoned from industrial to commercial, which they did back in the spring. But because of the pending Superfund decision—likely to come down this spring—the developer has been dragging its feet, resulting in a series of suits between them and the former owners of the land. Which brings us back to the mayor's office. Mark LaVorgna, a Bloomberg spokesperson, defends the city's seemingly contradictory positions to the Paper thusly: “They are different situations and we evaluate each one independently. Each situation is not the same.” But if the process is too slow and litigious for Gowanus, shouldn't that be the same case for Newtown Creek as well, condos or no condos? This could have as much to do with repeated fears that the city is attempting to avoid a Superfund suit of its own from the EPA for various violations, from stormwater overflow to a DOT cement plant, as there are no known problems of the sort on the creek. The (open) question remains whether the city can get the job done. It reminds us of another piece of pre-Christmas news, the cleaning of the "Bronx Swamp," where the city pumped 625,000 gallons—five times the amount of water originally expected therein—out of a mile-long, below grade railroad passage. At first, it appears the city is more than capable of undertaking such work, given that the administration got the job done. But at the same time, the amount of work was grossly underestimated—fivefold, even—and what's worse, the city's been left holding the bag, having been unable to find responsible parties to charge the $350,000 cleanup cost. And yet this is exactly what city officials claim to be able to do on the Gowanus, which is expected to cost, at a minimum, $1 billion. UPDATE 1/14: LaVorgna phoned us late yesterday to to take issue with our supposition of the Paper's innuendo that the administration was being sneaky in submitting its testimony on December 23. Initially, we wrote that "the administration ever so quietly—on the eve of Christmas Eve, to be exact, December 23—submitted testimony." LaVorgna pointed out that that is simply when the public comment period ended. "We didn't set that date, the EPA did," he told us by phone. As for the assertion that there was something to the city's differing positions on Newtown and Gowanus, LaVorgna reiterated what he told the Paper, that the city cannot, at Newtown, utilize the expertise of the Army Corps for the cleanup nor are there willing parties to pay for it. "If we could, we would, but they're totally different situations," he said. Meanwhile, the Daily News looked into the Toll suit today, the Brooklyn Paper wrote a scathing editorial on the city's bifurcated position, and it looks like the Creek will need a serious clean after all, as a local company has been accused of illegal dumping into the waterway.
When developers began proposing sizable developments for the shores of the Gowanus Canal a few years ago, at best it was viewed as yet another gonzo deal conceived of those frothy boom years. At worst, it was a bad joke. After all, this is the same body of water known to carry STDs. And so, when the federal EPA agreed to consider the contaminated body of water for Superfund status, that could only be a good thing, right? Not if you're one of those developers, as the Observer reports today. Or, believe it or not, the Bloomberg administration. Writes Eliot Brown:
The controversy centers around the nature of the Superfund program. The Bloomberg administration and developers contend it would drag out the cleanup for years, potentially stymieing both economic development and, ironically, environmental cleanup in the process. [...] For developers, this approach is frustrating. The city is rezoning the lots around the northern sections of the canal, and developers had hoped to build a new residential neighborhood, bordering what was to be a quaint stream lined by parkland and bike paths. But given the way the Superfund program assigns blame, developers worry that they could be designated as potentially responsible, and would therefore be unable to get financing to build. Further, the stigma of a Superfund designation, they worry, would drive away potential buyers, pushing down the value of the area. [Emphasis added.]Yeah, no kidding. The Times followed up, passing along the city's official argument's against the move:
Daniel Walsh, director of the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Remediation, said a Superfund cleanup would likely take more than two decades, putting at risk more than $400 million of private investment already committed to the area for housing and other development. Speaking at an informational forum on Tuesday night held by Representatives Nydía M. Velázquez and Yvette D. Clarke, both Democrats from Brooklyn, he said that cleanup projects like the city’s planned dredging of 1,000 feet of contaminated sediment at the bottom of the canal, at a cost of $15 million, could also be at stake. “These investments are part of the a plan that the city has developed to remediate the canal that is collaborative and efficient, rather than embarking on a Superfund process that is, at its core, an adversarial process focused on finding responsible parties for past contamination,” Mr. Walsh said. But a designation could steer hundreds of millions of federal dollars toward a comprehensive cleanup, and neighbors at the meeting were split on their support for the Superfund designation. Mr. Walsh was both booed and applauded during his remarks.That developers like Toll Brothers would write letters opposing such a cleanup is not surprising, morals be damned. That they're still scrambling to even build in these outlying areas of the outerboroughs shows just how stuck these developers are in pre-recession wonderland. It's exactly the sort of questionable thinking the city should be protecting us from, not promoting. After all, which is worse? Living in a Superfund site knowingly or unknowingly. Granted, yes, we do have full faith in the appropriate remediation of these sites, but wouldn't their wholesale recovery--and with the polluters instead of the public and the developers themselves footing the bill--be the desired outcome? After all, Greenpoint has complained for years of heightened cancer rates and other health problems from a similarly polluted waterway. Sure, the ground under your apartment might be clean, but what about the site next door? No amount of letters or flashy marketing can change that fact. Now where's Seth Myers when you need him...