New York

The Pleasures of West 28th Street


West 28th Street, between 7th and 6th Avenues (I always work eastward in my mental map, especially in Manhattan. Mad props to the West Side, yo.), between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., between april and october, transforms into a greened street where the potted trees, bushes, sedges, perennials, grasses, and annuals threaten to evict pedestrians and automobiles. It is not for quick passage, which is why I either intentionally take or avoid it. My office is only one block away, and so I have the luxury of seeing this particular block at all hours.

Early morning:

where are all the sidewalk plants? (the cut flower shops are almost all sold out by the time I'm up, and I get to the office by 8.30am)

Late morning:

huge unpacking job, tons of deliveries.

Middle afternoon:

shoppers collide with old people taking a stroll with me, trying to get to a meeting and typing a blackberry message.

Early evening:

all the annuals are inside again, but the trees and sedges and grasses are all outside still. Weirdly empty sidewalk around 6pm. It's like someone just decided to stack all these plants outside, the way we've stacked little buildings next to each other in this city, and that they somehow serve a purpose through their presence.


the sidewalk smells like flowers. There are no flowers anywhere. That's right, the garbage smells gorgeous.

Tropolism Means

Tropolism means taking the entire end of the week off from blogging when the city releases a watered-down design and they try to sell it as a feature, because you are pouty and just don't feel like it.

Tropolism means keeping out of the fray when there is nothing constructive to say.

Tropolism also means proposing new alternatives.

I propose the freedom tower design is changed to something that is reminiscent of nothing in this city. No vague design references to classic towers in New York or anywhere else, including the Twin Towers. No constructed meanings, symbols, or metaphors.

Tropolism means buildings have no meaning, they are just there, doing something or not doing something. The Twin Towers were the apotheosis of this, and their replacement should be nothing more.

Eulogy For Garbage Truck Parking Triangle Where Canal Park Used To Be (1920-2005)


Tropolism means occasionally not sitting at your desk and hoofing it for material.

On yesterday's flaneur-tour, the first stop was one I've been anticipating for a long time: the re-opening of Canal Park. It's going to reopen in the next week or two, I would imagine. There's only a little sand to put between a few of the paving stones, one man-day of work, which should take public authority contractors about seven business days to accomplish.

The park was forgotten in 1920, re-buried by Robert Moses in 1930, and rediscovered in 1999 by neighborhood residents. And you thought progress on WTC was slow. The neighborhood groups sued, and brought it back! And now, it's like it never left: the new park replicates the 1888 Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons Jr. design that first gave the public access to this ancient city square (the title was deeded to the city in 1686 by a king! I so totally didn't think we went back that far). Please, don't take my word for it. There are other people doing the real reporting while I go out to take pictures and soak up a little of la joie de vivre.

It's like the Bermuda Triangle of the NYC Parks department. After 85 years, Canal Triangle re-emerges exactly as it was in 1920. The railings, stone curbs, pathways, and plantings are as they were when the park disappeared from our radar, and it's suddenly popped back into being, waiting for people to pay attention to it again. The surreal effect is aided by the combination of absolutely new construction and its 19th century design.

Time to unforget: if you visit, you can make fun of the crawling traffic of Canal Street that surrounds it. The park has also grown a bit, preventing motorists on Washington Street from crossing Canal, and hopefully granting pedestrians this end of Canal Street less risk of motorcide.

PS: mad props to the star-supported Canal Park Conservancy for helping with park maintenance. Who says luxury condo owners don't care? The only way Parks can keep these little slivers open is with help with the maintenance, so in a way, the real reason this park re-exists is because of the new Conservancy.

Cartilage: Kowsky Plaza


No one really believes anymore that the city is like a human body, with every component represented. Particularly in New York, despite the fact that Central Park was created out of the idea that New York needed lungs.

Yet the metaphor may have some life left in it yet. I cannot believe I just wrote that.

Yesterday I toured two projects with Mark Yoes, designed by he and his partner Claire Weisz. Both projects are connective tissue in the city, in two very different ways.

First is Kowsky Plaza, a public space wedged between the walkway at the southern edge of Battery Park City's marina and Gateway Plaza, the one complex of concrete towers built before Polshek Partnership's multibrick decoration guidelines took over. The plaza is above what used to be the river water cooling pumps for the Twin Towers. The pumps are still operational, awaiting new buildings before possible reactivation.

Milliken And Springs Buildings: Not The Same!

Two of my favorite buildings are pictured here, at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 39th/40th Streets. For the longest time I thought they were both the Milliken Building. Yet I let the fact checker loose and they turn out to be not the same building.

At Least They Did Modernism-Style


A servicable but uninspired building: the new Alvin Ailey Dance Theater building in Hell's Kitchen. I used to live around the corner from this, and I watched the site slowly develop from an old theater to a pit to a building. The project took a long time to build, so it disappoints me that the project is so boring. It's an example of Modernism-styled buildings. Why can't they just make it modern? There seems to be a decorative game going on with the tricky mullions, the brick volumes vs glass volumes, and the wavy street awning (get it? it's like bodies in motion! and it's a DANCE THEATER!!). At least they didn't go all-decorative, like muted brick patterns and almost-cornices, mimicking the older buildings next to it.

But no, I'm tired of settling for this "at least it's Modern style" stuff. It's possible to do a budget building and still have the detailing, siting, and overall form be powerful, to have some kind of effect on the city.

For instance, why is there a dead glass corner on the corner of 55th and 9th? The corner is left to fend for itself, while the lobby is discreetly tucked farther down 55th street. If the wavy awning wasn't there, you wouldn't know the entry was there at all.

For instance, why brick at all?

For instance, why not a super-simple, super-taut glass screen, instead of this patterned wall?

For instance, what is up with the cylindrical columns, which only appear on the ground floor and as some featureless material (again, suspiciously decorative)?

For instance, why not complete the disjunctive nature of Modern buildings by making the glass a less almost-see-through color, and turning the glass box into a sculptural glass object, one that can be seen for blocks as something uncanny and perfect?

The End of Freedom Center As We Know It?

Just when you thought the WTC site could not get less interesting, more bloated by rhetoric, more misguided by people enthralled by arcane sentimentality and not memoriality (is that a word?), this happens:

Ms. Burlingame, who attended yesterday's board meeting, said both the Freedom Center and Drawing Center should be removed from the memorial area, though she endorsed the Snohetta building if it can be "redesigned to be filled with the story of 9/11."

"The magnitude of that story would fill several Snohetta buildings," she added

Tropolism cannot see how this means anything except a full Imax experience. Is this really the kind of memorial she's suggesting?

During the development of the master plan for this site, the relatives of victims of that day played an important political role: they were people who had lost people, and they were struggling against turning WTC into a huge office park, by claiming space for a memorial. Yet suddenly it's easy to feel as if they have become holy-people, and their ideas, which threaten to turn the entire WTC site into a staid memorial (the least urban of all public spaces), complete with controlled programming, are unopposable. As a New Yorker, I can safely say this, because it's the right time: give me a break, lady. You're not the only person who lost something that day. I lost a piece of my city. Stay away from free speech in the public realm.

Old Bookmarks: Mr. Beller's Neighborhood

Also from y2000: Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. When I bookmarked it, it was an idea. Now, it's a whole library of writing, a written version of NYC.

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.