2012 in review
Plains Trains & Automobiles
It has been an exciting year for architecture in the city, with bold projects unveiled and getting underway: the new Cornell tech campus by Thom Mayne and SOM, a vastly re-imagined (and boldly so) Hudson Yards and modular housing getting off the ground at Atlantic Yards.
But in terms of actual new, completed projects, 2012 has been a lean year. This is largely the fault of the recession. Downturns tend to stifle development generally, but especially when the heart of the slow down is a real estate bubble. Design can actually be at its best just after the bubble bursts, and the gaudiest visions are getting wrapped up. And so, there are no Frank Gehry towers or Diller, Scofidio + Renfro cultural confections this year.
There were some striking visions presented for transforming Grand Central Terminal recently, making it a more inviting place amidst the coming Midtown East Rezoning. Now come some truly far-out fantasy’s of one of New York’s favorite public spaces.
In honor of the station’s 100th anniversary next year, the Architectural League and the Transit Museum teamed up to host a drawing competition calling for “architectural sketches for a contemporary terminal.” Well, contemporary they sure are. Among the 20 winners (all on display on the League’s website) are some conventional, and quite lovely, renderings of the station. But there are also some dynamic, dizzying, dreamy and deconstucted ones as well, which The Observer liked best and has collected here.
If King Kong were to swing into New York sometime this decade, he might actually have a hard time figuring out where to go.
In the original 1933 black-and-white classic, King Kong famously scales the two-year-old Empire State Building, cementing it in the conscience of the world as arguably its most famous skyscraper. Four decades later, the giant gorilla set his sights higher, standing astride the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Today, perhaps he might climb atop their succesor, the new 1 World Trade Center. But one gets the sense that King Kong is given to gigantism, so only the city’s tallest tower will do.
Until a few months ago, that would have been 1 World Trade. But since 432 Park Avenue began to rise skyward in April, the 1,397-foot condo tower developed by Harry Macklowe and CIM on the old Drake Hotel site would have claimed the skyline crown. It beats out its downtown rival by 29 feet, so long as one ignores the silly 400-foot sorta spire atop 1 World Trade. Should King Kong arrive sometime in 2014, this slinky tower would probably be his choice.
But a year or two after that, and he might turn his gaze further down 57th Street, past the already striking 1,005-foot One57 tower, Gary Barnett’s billionaire bauble nearing completion despite that crane accident. There it would settle on another tower being developed by Mr. Barnett, at 225 West 57th Street, just one block from what was already going to be the city’s tallest apartment building when it opens next year. The new tower’s height, according to building permits filed last week: 1,550 feet.
The MAS Summit has offered plenty of rousing discussions about design and architecture in the city, and cities around the globe, for the past two days at the Time Warner Center. But there was also an unexpected architectural treat outside. As readers are well aware, we here at The Observer are rather obsessed with One57 and its skyward march. Now, for the first time we have seen, the curving cornice of the building has been installed.
This revelation was exciting not simply for the continued progress of the city’s biggest apartment building and the reshaping of the Central Park skyline, but also because of something we learned while reporting this week’s feature on Goldstein, Hill & West: it was they, and not the celebrated Christian de Portzamparc, who is responsible for the crown of One57.
Silicon Alley U
With the choice of four of the world’s greatest architects, how could David Levinson ever settle on just one to build a new tower at 425 Park Avenue?
“That’s my next job, to find three more sites so I can build all these buildings,” Mr. Levinson joked, seated at a conference table inside his sleek white offices on 57th Street on Monday. He was surrounded by renderings and models by Zaha Hadid, Richard Rogers, Rem Koolhaas and the winning architect Norman Foster.
“For us, it was really a blend of what’s the right concept for Park Avenue, a place that has not had a new building for almost 50 years, an avenue that is quite possibly the most important commercial boulevard in New York City, quite possibly the United State, and what is the place of a new build down the street from Seagrams and Lever House, two of the greatest buildings ever built,” Mr. Levinson explained. “We had to determine for that setting what’s the right firm. So really, it’s a blend of the concept and the firm we can work with.”
on the waterfront
When technology changes at the speed of a microprocessor or the flicker of a screen, in the time it takes to type in a password or hit send on an email, how can buildings be created to contain all this light-speed innovation? That is the quandry confronting the architects designing Cornell and Technion University’s news campus on Roosevelt Island.
“Google didn’t exist 25 years ago, Facebook didn’t exist 25 years ago, even AOL didn’t exist 25 years ago,” Andrew Winters said on a recent afternoon. The director of capital projects and planning for Cornell NYC Tech, he was giving a preview of the the school’s proposed Roosevelt Island campus in a large conference room inside the Wall Street offices of SOM, the master planners for the 12.5-acre project. Thom Mayne, the Pritzker Prize-winning L.A. architect designing the first academic building on the campus was also present, along with a number of other Cornell construction executives.
“The challenge,” Mr. Winters continued, “is how do you create a tech campus today that is still flexible enough to grow and evolve for the next 25 years?”
Last week, +POOL, that brilliant, crazy, possibly over-designed, possibly perfectly designed project that places a floating, self-filtering pool in the East River announced it was going to try and raise $1 million in the next six months to make its aquatic dreams come true. It is a prospect, which makes The Observer giddy with child-like joy. Swimming in the river, in river water no less.
That youthful excitement is infectious, especially when talking to Dong-Ping Wong, one +POOL’s founders. “It’s a simple idea that didn’t really come from anywhere,” he explained in an interview. “As for ‘Why the idea?’ It was a combination of a few things, a hot and sweaty summer looking at the water, taking the train over the water, and riding my bike over the water but never really seeing it at all. I’m from San Diego, we use and view water very differently than we do from here.”
Even if it may be losing Microsoft to the brand new 11 Times Square nearby, 1290 Avenue of the Americas is about to get buffed up itself to appeal to tenants (including those who might be in the market for some 100,000 square feet of space that may soon be sitting vacant). Vornado, the owners of 1290 A of A, have just announced the beginning of construction for a new lobby and plaza renovation that will modernize and improve the appearance of the 43-story building at the street level.
For the past few months, work has been progressing on the Hotel Bossert, once known as Brooklyn’s Waldorf-Astoria. It was where many Dodgers greats used to live, and they famously took the trolley from Brooklyn Heights to Ebbets Field, when that sort of thing was still possible.
For decades, the Bossert has served as a hostel for Jehovah’s Witnesses stopping off at the global headquarters here, but as they are moving upstate and getting rid of all their property, developer David Bistricer stepped forward in May to turn the Bossert back into a boutique that still bears the same name it has for nearly a century.
This gives a whole new meaning to “in the heights.”
Columbia University Medical Center has just announced that Diller Scofidio + Renfro will be designing a new 14-story medical building on Haven Avenue between 171st and 172nd streets that will be home to high-tech class facilities for all four CUMC colleges as well as the biomedical program within Columbia University’s college of art and science.
The university tapped DS+R, along with Gensler, to create a new landmark for the medical center, one that will be visible from both the George Washington Bridge and Riverside Park.