Talking SHoP About Atlantic Yards

 

Would you want to do some of the buildings around it?

Yes.

 

Is it awkward to be designing a project that’s making a superblock out of something that was a grid? Urban planning is generally going the other direction.

Over a site that has that much transportation infrastructure, I think it’s the only ethical, rational, sustainable thing to do to put density, and sometimes density requires some superblocks.

 

What did you think of the Gehry design?

I thought it was a brilliant design. I thought the idea of nestling an arena inside four towers was really, really interesting, and I thought it would have been a really exciting project.

 

Does the design allow the towers to still do that?

I think there are probably ways to still do it.

 

Is it still hard to get something cutting edge done here in New York?

It’s very difficult. I think there are a couple reasons. It’s the pressure of the precious commodity of Manhattan real estate. It’s the ever-tightening zoning envelopes since contextualism became a word that people knew, and the sort of tightening of the zoning envelope against the FAR [Floor area ratio—or density] that needs to be built in order to afford the land, leaves you very little room for creativity. It’s a thing I call ‘zoning spread,’ which is the spread between the full FAR and the zoning envelope, and the tighter it gets, which is what contextual zoning tries to do, the less ability you have to make interesting buildings. And that’s been a mistake. 

 

You designed a new South Street Seaport for General Growth Properties. Not that that’s going anywhere fast right now, but what was your task going in there?

They were a terrific client to work with, because they really said, ‘Push it, let’s see what we can do.’ And there was a place where we broke down the superblock, because I thought that was the right thing to do at that location. And the notion of bringing the street grid under the FDR, and putting that plaza 300 to 400 feet out into the river facing the Brooklyn Bridge almost at mid-span, and then the view of Governors Island and the Statue of Liberty from the south, I really felt could make one of the most iconic places in the city. That would be photographed as much as the ice rink at Rockefeller Center. … I still have hope that that will go forward. I think that General Growth really wants to make that happen.

 

You think they still want it?

I think they definitely do. I think they’ve got to get through their other issues, but the company is viable, and when they get through their issues—we talk to them all the time, and I think they have a lot of faith that they’re going to do it some day.

 

You both develop and design some projects.

We have.

 

How’s that been going?

We’re facing the same difficulties that every other developer has, and we’re trying to work our way through it.

 

Why did you go down that road? It’s rare for architects to assume risk like that.

We felt that by taking responsibility and taking on risk gave us the opportunity to push design and try new things. … We felt that if we were willing to take on that risk ourselves, that our clients would have more faith in us, that that what we were doing was the right thing.

ebrown@observer.com