Visitors to Chicago's John Hancock Tower this weekend were, of course, treated to the skyscraper’s stunning views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago, but the thrill-seekers among them also had another option. On the 94th floor, up to eight people at a time can stand in a glass box that tilts out 20 degrees, dangling them 1,000 feet above the street. Named “Tilt!,” the attraction opened Saturday morning, hydraulically lifting its first eight members of the public out into the void beyond the building’s iconic steel beams. The Hancock Center, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partner Bruce Graham, has been the second tallest building in Chicago since the 1973 opening of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, also an SOM building. Willis’ “Ledge” attraction, a stationary glass box cantilevered out about four feet from the tower, has attracted more than a million visitors each year since it opened in 2009.
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For 1475 years, the colossal dome and four minarets of the Hagia Sofia have remained the focus of Istanbul’s historic silhouette. That is, until three hulking towers known as the OnaltiDokuz Residences interrupted the scene last summer, sparking another battle over development in the Turkish capital. In late May, the Hurriyet Daily News reported that the city’s 4th Administrative Court ordered the demolition of the skyscrapers, claiming that their construction was illegal because it "negatively affected the world heritage site that the Turkish government was obliged to protect." To guard against future infractions, this Wednesday the Turkish Parliament passed legislation calling for additional safeguards nationwide to protect historic areas from rapid urbanization. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his distaste for high-rise development within the city in the past, and urged the towers’ owner, Mesut Toprak, to shorten his skyscrapers. The three towers, coming in at 37, 32, and 27 stories, are located in the Zeytinburnu district on the European side of Istanbul, and represent a recent surge in unplanned building and urbanization that is going on throughout the historic city. While the city’s economic upswing is welcomed, the non-contextual form it has taken is not. The public has reacted positively to the demolition ruling, but many worry that there is little hope in curbing the buildup at this point. “I side with a form of architecture that accords with our culture,” said Erdogan in an address to local lawmakers last month. “In Istanbul and Ankara, there are structures that have gone against the characters of both cities. I don’t approve of vertical structures; rather I favor horizontal ones. Four stories should be above the ground, while the other four should be built underground.” This comes in stark contrast to other cities like London and Washington, D.C. that are grappling with potentially raising height limits to allow for greater density and new development. Meanwhile, the towers’ owners plan to seek an appeal, claiming that they complied with zoning regulations and that their project is in no way illegal.
[ Quick Clicks: A regular guided tour of interesting links from around the web. ] What a view. Curbed uncovered a few renderings of the planned restaurant at Brooklyn Bridge Park including the view from its rooftop terrace (Hey, where'd the Beekman 8 Spruce Tower run off to?). There's currently an RFP out until January 25 for a restaurant operator to fill the already partially-built concrete and wood structure. Fix don't nix. There are a couple days left to get in on the conversation going on at The Glass House led by New York Magazine architecture critic Justin Davidson. This week's question asks how architects and designers can fix our pervasive car culture without outlawing cars outright. There's already quite a discussion going on. Crashing. A public safety campaign in Melbourne hopes to catch the eye of a few Aussie drivers. PSFK shows how a normal car has been wrapped with decals portraying the wreckage of a car after a high-speed collision to raise awareness of the dangers of speeding. Hopefully drivers will remember to keep their eyes on the road as they slow down to take in the view. Not crashing. Naysayers have been questioning the merits of a dedicated bike lane along Brooklyn's Prospect Park West ever since it was installed last year, but now a report released by the NYC DOT confirms the road diet has increased safety without major impact on drivers. StreetsBlog has full details, but crashes have been reduced 16% and injury crashes are down by 62.5%. Several new improvements are suggested to increase pedestrian safety even further, but no word if the Third Street boulders will get funding.
UPDATE: Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in whose district the project is located, gave her strong support for it at a press conference before today's meeting of the City Council. More below. The battle for the soul of New York—or at least for its skyline—was over before it even really began. The City Council Land Use Committee just voted in favor of Vornado's roughly 1,200-foot, Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed 15 Penn Plaza, apparently unswayed by complaints from the owner of the Empire State Building, Anthony Malkin, that it would ruin views of his iconic tower, and thus the city as a whole. In fact, the issue of the skyline barely even came up, and when it did, the council members, who voted 19-1 for the tower, essentially said New York must build to remain great. "I think it's a project the city needs," said Councilman Daniel Holleran, a Staten Island Republican. The bigger issue, by far, than the dueling towers was that of who would build 15 Penn Plaza, namely MWBEs. That's the policy shorthand for women- and minority-owned business enterprises. The council, like the city, is majority minority, and so ensuring employment for minorities, particularly in the notoriously cosseted construction industry is often a high priority. When Vornado showed up at Monday's hearings without a specific plan for how it would ensure a portion of the contractors on the project would be MWBEs, the committee members were displeased. Council
woman Letitia James Albert Vann asked if the company even had any sort of minority hiring practices, to which the head of the New York Office, David Greenbaum, joked that he was not sure but had had a party recently at which there were many women, and his wife asked which were employs and which were spouses and he said, with a chuckle, that it was more of the former. James was not amused.
Vornado proffered a last minute MWBE plan before today's vote, calling for at least 15 percent of all construction work to be done by MWBEs. Whether the project would have been torpedoed without it is hard to say, but it did little to assuage council members complaints at the same time they overwhelmingly voted for the project. James Saunders, one of the council's lions on MWBE issues, made his frustration known. "This is a tepid response to a need, a very tepid response," he said of the new MWBE plan. "We can't go on like this. That we even have to have this discussion shows that there needs to be some real dialogue here." Holleran expressed disappointment that the council does not use its limited leverage over such projects to extract more concessions early on than at the very end, when development projects have essentially reached the stage of fait accompli.
Not that it would have mattered if there was any real opposition, as the mayor cast his considerable weight behind the project yesterday, according to the Wall Street Journal [sub. req.].
"I don't understand that. You know, anybody that builds a building in New York City changes its skyline. We don't have to run around to every other owner and apologize," he said. "This is something that's great for this city." "Competition's a wonderful thing. One guy owns a building. He'd like to have it be the only tall building," he added. "I'm sorry that's not the real world, nor should it be."Malkin was not at today's vote. And perhaps its was with good reason that the council did not take up his position. As our colleague Eliot Brown points out over at the Observer, the skyline fight is not that disimilar to the one over the Ground Zero "Mosque," in that it's a supremely local issue that has been given over to if not irrational than at least emotional pleas for something locals could care less about. After all, we're only ruining the view from Jersey. Yet again, the debate surrounding this project was only nominally about the project at hand. UPDATE: When we asked Speaker Quinn about the merits of such a large, even overbuilt project—it's 42 percent larger than current zoning allows, going from a 12 FAR to an 18 (though mind you the Empire State Building is a whopping 35, so who's dwarfing whom exactly?)—she said she was fine with it. "I think given that this is 34th Street, 33rd Street, and 7th Avenue, one of the most commercial areas in the city of New York, this is an appropriate place for dense development." (The project is actually located between 33rd Street and 32nd Street.) Quinn even went so far as to compare the unbuilt 15 Penn Plaza to many of the city's other iconic office towers, calling it a modern day Rockefeller Center, something the city needs more of. "Our position is about Midtown business district expanding into the 21st Century," Quinn said. "As it is, we're not on par with some of our competitors, say London or Hong Kong. In the middle of this recession, what this say is New York is coming out of this, and coming out on top." Quinn said that she was happy with the MWBE agreement that had been reached with Vornado while also stressing that such matters were not technically under the purvey of the city's land-use review process. When we asked if they should be, Quinn demurred. On a less demure note, Curbed is reporting that the real reason Malkin is so opposed to 15 Penn Plaza is because it's potentially throwing off the feng shui of his tower, killing the "life force" of the Empire State Building and thus a deal with a business from Hong Kong to lease space in the tower. And now we've heard everything.