Public Effect

Save Highline, And Eat Cookies


We've always been concerned that the High Line had made a deal with the devil regarding the Rail Yards portion of the tracks. That's the portion above 30th Street. While the hoopla about a West Side Stadium was in full fur mode (way back in 2005), the Friends of the High Line were busy planning and rail banking the rest of the High Line. Of course, anyone who has worked on a design for the High Line knows that the upper 30%, which curls around the West Side Rail Yards, is what gives the High Line the ability to connect, at both ends, to the Hudson River Park, and the water. It is also the end where you can walk from street level smoothly up to High Line level. So why was FTHL giving it up?

The answer, apparently, is that they were simply biding their time. Let the big dogs tear each other to bits. Now, without a plan, direction, or powerful sponsor (or Olympic bid, for that matter) to interfere, the Rail Yards seems ripe for another fresh-faced entrant, and FTHL appears to be eager to garner political and popular support for this important piece of (potential) public space.

FTHL is holding a public gathering, where they will present possibilities for this portion of the High Line, as well as gather comments from the public. Oh, and serve their famous High Line cookies and cider. Chelsea Market Community Space, 75 Ninth Avenue, 6.30pm Thursday December 7. RSVP required, contact [email protected] or 212.206.9922.

Sculpture For Living: The Dumb Never Sets


The Sculpture For Living is a gift that keeps on giving. Not to be upstaged by the questionable architectural value of the building, the open space next to the building (between Carl Fischer and It) decided to one-up the building is crapassness. We didn't think it possible, but Manhattan Offender gives us the photographic evidence (pictured). We quote:

If you are going to restrict access from the public, then you need to have access in the first place. The 'garden in question is not accessible to the residents; there is no pathway through it. Therefore you are restricting access to the public to something that doesn't have access in the first place."
Via the fellow Sculpture For Living hatahs Curbed.

OMA Fun Palace In Beijing


The New York Times is nothing if not consistent. Another article on OMA/Rem Koolhaas? Send in Robin Pogrebin for more softball pitches. The article on the MoMA show about OMA's new buildings in Beijing does give us a sense of what to expect with the show, but as usual provides little illumination on the building beyond what the architects practiced to say about it. Apparently, when an architect says they are building a fun palace, you just put it in quotes and hope someone else gets the reference. If it's a reference.

Saarinen's TWA: Looking For Life


Preservationists have been holding their breath about Saarinen's TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, dormant since 2001, ever since JetBlue announced they were building their own terminal really, really close to it. Without doing anything to it.

The New York Times reports that the Port Authority is soliciting development proposals for the building. The high notes: Saarinen's original design and details will be restored and preserved, and you can still walk through the space ship tubes to get to the Jet Blue terminal. The low notes: what, really, does one do at an empty terminal building in the middle of an airport forever clogged with traffic? And, as Frank Sanches of the Municipal Arts Society aptly points out, how will such a huge restoration project make this an attractive development? Questions abound.

Preservationists (and Saarinen lovers, like myself) can breath out, and breath in. And hold the breath a little longer.

Highline Vacuum To Be Filled By Rush Of Upper East Side Cultural Institutions


Tropolism is making connections.

Today's relationships in news. First, the Dia Art Foundation--caretaker of rockin' artworks like the Earth Room and Broken Kilometer, in addition to an empty building on 22nd Street, and a huge factory-become-museum in Beacon, New York (it's north of the Bronx, which is north of Manhattan)--is not going to anchor the southern end of the Highline (as shown in the rendering above). One half second later, the New York Times reports that the Whitney is looking at expanding in this location. Interesting, you say, but so what?

Second news: Norman Foster's creative expansion of a building on the Upper East Side is argued over (and mostly opposed by) at a Landmark Preservation Hearing. The New York Sun captures some of the stupidest and nonsensical opposition preservation quotes ever, proving yet again that preservationists have no logical argument, only outrage, to support their positions. Speaking in support of his design, Lord Norman cited the Guggenheim and Whitney Museums, which are totally not masonry or rectangular, and which are totally in the Upper East Side.

Which leads us back to the first article. The case for the Whitney is an example of some pretty good speculation, in that the incentives for the institution to expand elsewhere are enormous. High cost of construction on the UES, lack of community support for anything you'd want to build next to a brutal Marcel Breuer masterpiece, and an aging and not hip population for neighbors would make any cutting-edge institution look for new digs. What institution will be next to consider an expansion downtown?

Preservation: winning the battle for the neigborhood, at the expense of a culturally interesting neighborhood. West Chelsea residents of the year 2046, mulling over expansion plans for the High Line, take heed.

Public Designing Public: Gansvoort Plaza


Streetsblog has an in-depth post about a proposal to create better streets and public spaces in the area of Gansvoort Street, Manhattan. The proposal began its life in 2005 from the Project for Public Spaces, and has grown into a full-blown presentation, including artfully rendered observations about traffic flow. What is truly wonderful is that the process is being guided by the community, who are in turn getting elected officials into the action. We are anxiously awaiting what the proposed public spaces will actually look like, and hope they use the model of the High Line for their approach. Community input is great for planning public spaces, awful at designing them.

Via Curbed.

Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village: SOLD


Tishman Speyer Properties and BlackRock investment bank submitted a winning bid for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village: $5.4 Billion. Some quotes from the New York Times article:

Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, called the sale a “dark day for affordable housing.” Translation: the sky is falling. First, Starbucks spread all over town, and now this. New York was so great when everyone was poor and apartments everywhere were cheap.

His son, Rob Speyer, a senior managing director at Tishman Speyer, also tried to reassure tenants, emphasizing, “There will be no sudden or dramatic shifts in the community’s makeup, character or charm.” Translation: we can't kick rent-controlled tenants out fast enough to cause a sudden or dramatic shift in the community's makeup, so relax. You'll either move or die of old age.

Tribeca: Contextual Architecture Hell


As regular readers of Tropolism know, we have a low regard for contextualistical architecture regulations, public design review boards, and unnecessarily stringent historic preservation guidelines. We're champions of good architecture; sometimes it "fits in", sometimes it doesn't. Mostly it doesn't. And that's what makes New York so wonderful. Can anyone imagine the High Line design if it had to be "contextual"? Ouch.

So it with a happy heart that we read a letter by Carole Ashle to the Tribeca Trib expressing similar views. On the subject of the North Moore Hotel, contextual-styled par excellance:

"Most of these creations stand out as clumsy interlopers because their concept is a fakery, and has nothing to do with architecture as an art. Nothing to do with function, either. The North Moore hotel evokes anything but Tribeca, parts of an Edward Luytens’ country house perhaps, minus the quality. A contemporary building on Hudson Street near Franklin fits better with the surrounding buildings. The “contextual” has been discredited in other countries such as Britain where it’s now rightly seen as a disaster for architecture.

We can vouch for the building she refers to on Hudson Street: it's all glass, yet somehow manages to turn the entire block of staid brick warehouses into a setting for its elegant, delicately patterened facade. Sometimes it fits in by doing not-fitting-in at the appropriate scale.

Via Curbed. Photo by Will Femia.

Governor's Island: Back To Planning


Polis has the news on the development of Governor's Island: all the development plans have been trashed. They were awful anyway, but since no one ever goes to Governor's Island anyway, it didn't seem important to mention it (except tangentially). I bring it up now because Lisa has some particularly good insight into the process:

"’s actually a good thing that the bids were scrapped because they were all terrible and too expensive. The problem, much like the even more disastrous WTC site, is that a master plan was never completed before the bids were solicited, allowing developers, like the WTC site, to throw designs and ideas at the wall like spaghetti to see what sticks. Fortunately, in the case of Gov’s Island, nothing stuck, and now a master plan is actually going to be completed."

WTC Tower Review


Nicolai Ouroussoff writes a balanced critique of the three building designs announced for the World Trade Center site in today's New York Times. He makes an important point about the Maki/Rogers corridor on Cortlandt Street as being an important approach to the Memorial (if it is going to be lined with a vertical mall). And he slams Foster's building too:

"A vertical notch cut into each of its facades creates deep, brooding shadows; the top is sliced at a sharp diagonal that tilts toward the memorial pools below. One assumes that this is intended to imbue the structure with a quasi-mystical significance, but it’s a cheap gesture."

Daily Dose Double, Part 2: Holy Rosary Church Complex


Daily Dose points out the Holy Rosary Church Complex by Trahan Architects. More astounding that such a gorgeous example of religious modern architecture is found outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is that the complex is almost entirely out of concrete and glass. More on brywhit's Flickr stream., who is also the author of the picture to the left.

Uchronia, So Totally Not At PS1


Greg Allen calls it out: Uchronia, a Burning Man structure designed by Jan Kriekels and Arne Quinze, of Belgium, and built by a bunch of volunteers in the desert, is so totally not like anything at PS1 in the last few years. Hippies.

Via Archinect.

Stuy Town and Peter Cooper Village: FOR SALE


Metropolitan Life dropped this bombshell right before the Labor Day news cycle (Curbed is on vacation this week, nuff said right there): Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village are up for sale. All 80 acres of prime Manhattan real estate, all 110 apartment buildings, all 11,000 apartments: yours for $5 billion. While we're sure the bulldozers won't be coming in anytime soon (the lawsuits alone are going to keep the neighborhood as is for years), we are counting on approximately 2 architectural competitions, 135 developer-requested housing schemes, 1 tasteful exhibition at the AIA Center For Architecture, several dozen symposia at New York University, one tasteful symposium at Columbia University, 580 posts on Curbed, and 23,820 comments on said posts.

And don't forget: there will be one large new shiny development, probably with no restored street grid (easier to keep in the 'luxury' ethos), definitely with some new buildings, and definitely priced as cutting edge-luxury. In short, New York will never be the same.

The housing complexes were the brainchild of Robert Moses, built in 1947 for returning WWII veterans, and served as a model of public housing throughout the city. The idea: get the insurance companies and banks involved in slum clearance! The project is also entered into architectural history books as an example of housing projects that "worked".

One question we pose to our readers: will the developper make a quick return on this? The New York luxe housing market has cooled in the last year, and with all the new luxury apartments still coming to market, I wonder if this is the kind of investment that looks good in 2006, but looks like a colossal mistake in 2007. We'll keep an eye on it.

High Line Construction Progress: Phase 1 Section 1 Completed


We usually don't like reposting press releases, but this one from the High Line is unusually detailed.

The first phase of construction, removal of debris and nonstructural concrete, has been completed for Section 1, from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street. This phase included removal and storage of all the original rail tracks, which were tagged and mapped so that some can be integrated into the design of the new High Line landscape.

The contract for the next phase of construction has been awarded, through a public bidding process, and work is set to begin in September. The scope of work for this phase will include lead paint abatement, repainting of the structure, concrete and steel repair, and the installation of drainage systems and pigeon deterrents on the underside of the High Line. During the lead paint abatement process, the construction team will use a mobile containment structure to protect surrounding areas while sandblasting.

This phase of construction is expected to continue into summer 2007, after which the next phase, construction of access points and the public landscape atop the structure, will begin. The first section of the High Line is scheduled to open in 2008.

LMDC Closing Its Doors


It's not every day we see a public agency declare its mission accomplished. Of course, in this day and age, we declare mission accomplished after the first bombs have been dropped, but no sooner, and so it should probably come as no suprise that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation has declared they have done what they said they would do.

By some measures, they have many accomplishments. The organization spearheaded the WTC Memorial competition, the WTC "Master Plan", the Fulton Street Corridor Master Plan (a great idea, connecting Lower Manhattan's coasts with a revitalized Fulton Street), several other parks, and allocation of a couple of billion of dollars in grants.

There are many pieces of unfinished business, and while we could list them, we also recognize that the LMDC has been toothless for a long time; and from the beginning unable to powerfully influence the actual building of anything downtown. We're still looking for that leadership; this announcement simply makes it painfully clear that there's still a vacuum at Ground Zero.