Public Effect

Stupid Preservation Tricks, coda

And when I got home Friday afternoon, my building had distributed a letter-writing campaign to fight the development I referred to in Friday's entry. Brought to you by the guy on the 19th floor, who also owns the 20th floor and the 21st floor. To fight the 20 story building on the next block. From our 22 story building built in 1989, under huge protest from the entire West Village. Irony never rests, ever.

Stupid Preservation Tricks

One of the preservactivists leading this effort, the one who contacted me about a letter-writing campaign, lives on the 19th floor of the tallest building in the West Village. He is trying to stop the new 17-story residential tower from being built on the next block, which would involve knocking over the oldene timey historick Whitehall Mini-Storage Building.

Our building was constructed in 1989. No one liked it when it was built. The lack of recognition of the irony (and hypocrisy, how the two are twinned in our culture these days!) of this situation is appalling.

The stupidest trick: including parking garages built in the 1950s in a historic district plan to prevent new residential buildings from being built. It's the same prevarication as allowing the gays who got married in Massachusetts to stay married, but banning all future gays from getting married.

I submit that Meier's buildings, which stand in stark contrast to the historic character of the West Village, are prime examples of exactly what to do with fringe sites like this: get inventive. A little contrast is what makes our cities interesting. This is more in the spirit of Jane Jacobs than any reactionary don't-change-a-single-blade-of-grass-in-my-backyard preservation. I propose that the design get vetted by someone like Amanda Burden, someone with design taste. Pass on the cost of celebrity design to the developpers, who will pass it on to wealthy people buying apartments. Invest in the neighborhood.

Please note that none of this defense of creative neighborhood architecture applies to any Charles Gwathmey work since 1979.

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."

Highline Passes Federal Milestone


From the press release I e-got a second ago:

On Monday, June 13, the Surface Transportation Board, the federal regulator with oversight of all rail lines, approved the City of New York's request for a Certificate of Interim Trail Use, or CITU, for the High Line.

Thank the stars they didn't have to ask Assemblyman Sheldon Silver about it. The public project in his disctrict, the one he so valiantly fought for by killing the stadium, isn't faring so well.

(On the other hand, now that the Stadium is caput, perhaps the HL can have back the northern tail of the old rail, which was the most interesting part. It curls around the rail yards and is adjacent to the West Side Highway for three blocks. I always felt the potential connection to Hudson River Park, across the highway, was irresistible).

The High Line is a rare public project: one that has emerged from public discourse, and has been sustained by a mix of focused public support and favorable policy decisions, like today's. Along the way, it has become a more interesting, rich, and diverse project. The vision has emerged and strengthened, and hasn't succumbed to the signal degradation most public projects get. Like the third sibling in a family, the one that the parents aren't paying attention to, it quietly succeeds, and builds its own world of hope, while everyone else is fighting.

Shepherding the sheep are Friends of The High Line. My direct experience with them has given me the impression that we are being guided by savvy and connected smart people.

Stadium team: take notes. WTC team: take notes.

Wednesday is an opportunity for you to get involved in this discourse. At 9.30am, at City Hall, Manhattan, New York City, the City Council hears testimony regarding the rezoning of West Chelsea, which is another piece of the puzzle to getting the High Line Park or Whatever It Is Called. People are invited to come, and to speak if they are so inspired.

Another aspect, which may be of interest to websites like, oh, Cool Hunting, is that they've had great support from Pentagram, and Paula Sher, who painted one of her lovely maps, this time of the Chelsea neighborhood for FHL. FHL has the best graphic identity of any public effort I've ever seen.

NYC2012, please take note. (although their website intro is kiki.)

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.

Scottish Parliament Wins, Period


Anyone who reads this little column long enough will discern a bias towards Enric Miralles' work. If you were looking for objective news, there's always CNN.

Our friends at Archinect have reported that EMBT's Scottish Parliament building, which opened last year, won two Scottish Design Awards, including the top prize (called the Architecture Grand Prix.) I suppose everyone has their own "Architecture Grand Prix Award", like the New York City AIA, The New York State AIA, every chapter of the AIA ever, and every country on earth too. It already one Spain's top prize. Okay, so the profession is covering its ass. But after a long hoo-ha about the building's cost overruns, receipt of a local award may be confirmation that someone, somewhere in the building's local environs is satisfied.

Hearst Tower Revives Interest In Diagonal Living

The Hearst Tower, Norman Foster's only building in Manhattan, is getting its curtain wall. (I'm not counting the fabulous Asprey store, gorgeous but interior). What struck me on the afternoon I took this was how the glass origami crystal candy building appeared like a fantastically alien construction, contrasting brutally with the brown brickness all around it.

The surrounding buildings is a little architectural history microcosm of New York. Below, 19th century brick. It is nice. Therefore, goes 'contextual' architectural thinking, Brick equals Nice. Fast forward through the period of real modernism, of which only a few buildings made it into New York anyway. To the west, late 1960s brick, where one attempts to create a Seagram Building, only...Brick! They demolished the nearby CCC, another white-brick modernist compromise, so we know how that is going to end. To the north, 1980s Multi-Brick, also known as Po-Mo Brick, where one attempts to create a 19th Century Brick building, only using brick (or in this case, metal panels, same diff, yo) in a lot of non-brick like colors and patterns, thus creating a recognizable extension of context for the building,'s completely flat, like a billboard. It's like irony, without the irony.