New York

Old Bookmarks: Wisdom of the World


I'm a sucker for projects like this one. The New York Times sponsored this, and sometime in '99-00 I bookmarked it.

I know it's incredibly sappy, and that there are a zillion other projects like this. I like all zillion, the same way I like all the zillion of stories people have all around town. Tropolism means no sentimentality, but Tropolism also means finding interest in subtle variations of people's details.

New York, Las Vegas, Nevada

It's always a joy to read Curbed's reporting of news with interest to us architects. Today they point us to the utterly freaky rendition of Lower Manhattan's perpetually exciting neighborhoods: The East Village, The Meatpacking District, and Greenwich Village. Done as an outdoor mall, of course, with parking for a trillion automobiles at the perimeter.

Tropolism means largely ignoring the simulacra as anything approaching urbanism. We see it as simply a more refined form of decoration, therby avoiding years of internal architectural debate.

Sorkin Does Stadiums

Michael Sorkin has done some great work here, but we are a little concerned by his conclusions at the bottom of the page.

West Side Stadium is most certainly subway-positive (even if they don't extend the #7, you can just walk from Times Square/34th Street, you know?), not-too-far to Amtrak (like, walk from the station already), highway access can be achieved (like traffic on the BQE is going to be any worse with the addition of a stadium), and it may be a positive addition to the neighborhood (depending on who's talking). So it goes from Mr. Sorkin's score of 3 to a 5 or 6 right off the bat.

HOK did an urban design study for a new Yankee stadium in the early 90s. I read it about 10 years ago. Lots of hard data about traffic, effect on neighborhoods, environmental impact, etc. Three sites were studied, one in industrial Queens, one in the Bronx, and one on the West Side highway. Replacing the existing Yankee Stadium was the first choice, followed closely by West Side Highway. Industrial site in Queens was the last choice, by a long shot. Great highways, but awful neighborhood effect.

We here at Tropolism don't know everything, and are certainly not experts at urban design, but we do request that architects are clear about what they want and what they are studying. It's exciting to hear what Mr. Sorkin would propose, if he were in charge. It's dreadful to read through a proposal masquerading as a study. We're not yet sure where this article falls.

Trapezoids and the WTC


Greg Allen's roving architectural eye catches a few threads while ruminating over Phillip Noble's book. He captures a bit of the WTC misery I've been feeling the last few days. Check it out.

Take the FG to the BKLYN

Even though N.O. is weirdly enthralled by this plan, Tropolism can't see what all the fuss is about. Looks like they dropped a megaproject on a sleepy several blocks in Brooklyn. The pictures we've been able to find show no sense of neighborhood connection (the Borough President said it would knit two neighborhoods together on the telly last night), and the garish signage seems more like a commercial district than something you'd like to live above.

But Tropolism means getting your facts straight before you pee all over it.

FT 3.0


Safe. Sorry.

I Told You So: PS1 Warmup Edition


Look, I'm happy you all don't have to sit on cheese graters.

But I think this is crap. Not materially interesting or even well-resolved. The form is not interesting, just some random wave shit flowing around. No new social connections are created. All of this visible from the first rendering, so I have absolutely no pity on the PS1 jury. Particularly after last year's stunning canopy. Or even SHoP's version, that big teak dune.

Ken Smith's Takeover Foiled By Nicholai Ouroussoff!

Clearly, there is no reason to describe, in depth, the landscape architect's contribution to this project. N.O. to Ken Smith: you shall not pass!

N.O. describes the landscape, but not in terms of who did it. Frankly, this is the way we'd like to see things described: Tropolism means worrying less about authorship, and more about results. Yet SHoPP (two Ps for big Gregg, who is the only one mentioned by name) and Richard Rogers are described as authors of specific pieces of the project, and the landscape is just accent, a necessary furnishing for occupation. I could care less about the landscape/architect divide, because it's a false distinction, but I do find it interesting that this article describes some of the project as just designed, and some of it as the genius from the masters at work.

How To Build A Better Skyscraper

I was in the elevator. It was as the first tower was falling. I stepped off and saw what appeared to be a perfectly vertical column of smoke, as if the first tower was engulfed in flames, and you couldn't see it. I had to ask a friend, who was in the room when it fell, what had happened, because I didn't realize the building wasn't there anymore. He looked at me and just put his hand out. A few seconds later the smoke cleared enough for me to see no-building.

I trawled the internet for the next week trying to verify whether the Port Authority's assertion that the Twin Towers could withstand the impact of a 707. I could find none.

Now, we know:

The trade center was built by the Port Authority, which is not subject to any building codes. Despite promises by the Port Authority to "meet or exceed" the New York City code, the federal investigation found that the trade center had fewer exit staircases than required and that the Port Authority never tested the fire resistance of the floors. It also found no evidence that a rigorous engineering study supported the authority's repeated public assertion that the towers could stand up to the impact of a fully loaded commercial airliner.

Another event from September 11, 2001: some undereducated newscaster asked a professional structural engineer, on camera, "is there any way to build a building like this so it can repel an airplane?". The answer, of course, is a simple NO. You can build a pile of concrete that a nuclear bomb, or a space-based particle weapon, cannot penetrate, but I'd hardly call it a building. The structural engineer was painfully not ready for the camera's spotlight, because he gave a long geeky answer about how it was "possible" but that it would be too expensive. Technically true, but not the kind of confidence-building comment people were looking for. The reporter was looking for an opening to blame the architect, and the structural engineer, for the collapse.

Now, we know:

That research found no flaw in the design of the towers that was a critical factor in the collapse, Dr. Sunder said.

High Line Progress


While I'm sure that our friends observing New York development will find something to complain about here, or at least downplay the significance, I'm relaxing. Amanda Burden is on the job. She will get the job done. Park will be created. New Yorkers will use it.

"This is one of the most unique open spaces in the world," said Amanda M. Burden, chairwoman of the New York City Planning Commission and an outspoken advocate of the High Line project. "You will be able to walk 22 blocks in the city of New York without ever coming in contact with a vehicle. People will see the city from a completely unique perspective."

Friday New York Links


It's Friday, which means after you've creeped out to your Hamptons/Fire Island time share, you can enjoy the tall buildings of New York (all the ones you don't have a second to look at during your lunch break at Pax) from the beach. Or Brooklyn.

New York Skyscrapers!

Daniel's Manhattan Architecture Page

NYC Architecture

(I'm a sucker for home-made pages about buildings, because it's an easy and gratifying example of the intersection of being online and being incity)

Building Big In New York City

"New York was always singular for the dynamism with which the Brooklyn Bridge went up and skyscrapers went up and roads were built," he said. "Then, in the 1970's, civic reputation began to be acquired by people who prevented things from happening. There are some things you shouldn't do, but many things now get stopped for no reason."

A little reminder from our dear departed good-force ghost, Patrick Moynihan.

I propose a new possibility: that criticism must be backed up with a proposal. The ground rule is no complaints without ways of moving forward. In short, nothing stops. This is, after all, New York.

The Highs And Lows of PS1


I'd rather not put my ass on an expanded aluminum cheese grater while I'm sweating and waiting for a beer. Can we have our lovely bamboo canopy back, please?


(I thought nArchitects' construction last year was a brilliant way of combining computer-generated forms with a cheap, gorgeous, and natural material.)

East River Waterfront Is Latest Part Of Ken Smith Takeover Plan


When the LMDC announced the plan it commissioned for the East River Waterfront, the images looked very familiar. They are almost identical in shape and character to the images I developped at Rogers Marvel Architects for the 55 Water Street Park (which we won, yo, and is being built, double YO, which is a yo-yo).

I also led the RMA charge to get the East River project. We didn't get it, needless to say (so no yo, yo), but we were happy to see that really good architects had beat us out.

The plan is safe, yet good. It provides a basic infrastructure for public life on this portion of the East River, without any pandering to historicism. And what plants!

Ken Smith's landscape will flow from the new elevated park at 55 Water Street up the East River, and down to the Battery. You gotta give this guy credit: his first full-on profile in the New York Times (House and Home, or whatever they're calling it these days) was about how he had one table and plastic flowers in his apartment, and no public projects with living plants built. But he is as tireless in his pursuit of good public space as he is for good press. Which is a compliment, silly reader.

New York's Secret Maps

I present for your inspection NY Songlines. The title is rarified, and there are no graphics. It feels like the site should be on an Apple G4 Cube, which is running system 9, for an exhibition called "Websites Before Flash Messed It All Up". But this is no museum piece. This is hard data on the City, and it is growing.

Think of it as SuperFuture for New York. Except without any graphics. Or color sense. I adore everything about it.

I have long propounded that New York City is the best place in the world to use the internet. (I have since amended this to include any City). The information, ideas, content, and schlock that one finds online forms a powerful parallel to urban life. It's often mapped by the turn of a corner, a sequence of smells, or a particular sign, rather than an orthogonal geometry. And when the two connect, the possibilities for Knowing more than you know create new connections, both IRL and with URLs. This is city living, and the essence of public space.

My favorite part: I found it by googling the street I live on.

High Line at MoMA


MoMA has an exhibition on 3 of Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro's winning entry for the High Line competition of last year. Please note that I led the competition entry for one of the seven firms invited to compete for this commission.

When we found out that we didn't win, I was immensely disappointed. Now, I am very happy that the project is in good hands.

The design has gone from a strange cartoon to a lush vision of a possible future for the High Line. It is irresistable, even for this critic of images. I looked at the illustrations and model the way I approached my first Star Wars film: with wonder.

The illustrations were dense with information, combining real data about the city, about how people occupy parks, about the technical requirements of the project (10" of concrete), with intutive moves and observations about city life. The project accomodates all of this information with ease, without ever feeling like it's a lame resultant of all the information thrown into the hopper. The project is a sythensis of a lot of information, yet never feels overwrought or overgestured. The project requires a lot of technical information, and I'm sure the amount of problems they will uncover during construction will cause years of headaches, but the view from above is of effortless flow and blending.


I am a particular fan of the linear planking system, the grain of which reminds me of the repetition of the long, parallel heavy steel girders below. The planks melt into areas for trees and grasses.

High Line Project Gets Boost From Dia

The Times reports that the Dia Center is going to move into The High Line. It solves the problem of one end of the High Line: it gives the tracks an end, and a reason to go to that end.

You'll note that your editor's own contribution to this design process was also concerned about the ends. Either hyper-programmed (as in Dia) or hyper-landscape (like an artificial hill) were my thoughts. It's always a pleasure being right. Or Theoretically Right. Or Whatever.

Of course, there's a stadium dragging down the other end. So art addicts and West Villagers get on at Gansvoort, and by the time they're up to 33rd street, they're outraged. Not sure how this is supposed to look.

Surprise On The Drive Back From Fire Island


One of the pleasures of the drive to and from Fire Island is the piece of the Hecksher Parkway the Richard Meier's United States Courthouse and Federal Building is on, in Islip, New York. At the almost-end of a long journey from the city comes a bend in the parkway which reveals the white building, orange from the evening sun, set above a hedge of budding trees. The approach from the opposite direction is much the same, as if the building were sited to have this surprise be symmetrical for travelers like me.

Another surprise is that GSA let Meier design such a completely uncompromising building. It's a pleasant surprise.

The building is also visible from The Great South Bay. Meier's whiteness is the perfect color for this part of Long Island: it appears bleached, like the shingled houses on my little resort sandbar. On a clear day, from the ferry, it appears less like a building, and more as a magnificent white mountain. Few contemporary federal buildings can be described as magnificent, but I submit this one for consideration.