Planes Trains & Automobiles
Earlier this month, the Municipal Art Society announced a “provocation” for Penn Station, challenging four architecture firms—Diller Scofidio + Renfro, SHoP Architects, SOM and Santiago Calatrava—to rethink the city’s most hated transit hub. The selection of Mr. Calatrava’s firm as a participant, shall we say, provoked some controversy, with blogger Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas telling The Observer, “Even involving Calatrava underscores the utter contempt for transit improvements that some of the city’s leading institutions have.” At over $3.7 billion, the PATH terminal that Mr. Calatrava designed for the World Trade Center site will be far and away the most expensive subway station in world history.
So Mr. Kabak should be pleased to learn that Mr. Calatrava’s firm is not, in fact, participating in the effort. Santiago Calatrava’s firm sent the following statement to The Observer via email this afternoon:
Bruce Ratner did not win out with the tax man this week, but he has secured an even bigger deal with another New York City institution that will be a linchpin for his Atlantic Yards project. Today, Forest City Ratner announced it is going forward with its long-planned intentions to build a modular apartment tower as part of the 22-acre arena-anchored mega-development. The project is made possible in large part through an agreement with the city’s labor unions to allow the 32-story prefab apartment building to proceed.
Modular construction has long been a dream of architects, for its efficiency and control, and now it could be a boon for New York City developers as well, since prefab methods can save 20 to 30 percent from traditional design methods. The only issue is for construction workers. Because the projects are built in factories, even when using union labor, the jobs tend to be less skilled and thus lower paying. Many labor unions had bridled at this, especially since Mr. Ratner had made extensive promises about the well-paying jobs Atlantic Yards would provide. But today the Building and Construction Trades Council announced its support for the development, saying that the prefab builders will get their own division within the labor group.
Best Laid Plans
In this week’s Observer, we take a look at two proposals to widen the Park Avenue median and turn it into a pedestrian promenade. One is from SHoP Architects, one SOM, both presented at last month’s MAS Summit. Part High Line, part art walk, the hope is it would create an entirely new destination on the East Side of Manhattan, providing much needed open space along the way. Take a stroll for yourself and decide.
An Arena Grows in Brooklyn
Forest City’s Ratner’s Mary Anne Gilmartin praises “the democratic feel” during a recent tour of the nearly complete Barclay’s Center with Curbed, while SHoP’s Chris Sharples waxes about the urban appeal of the place. “Everyone is going to be able to feel the energy” from the cafe overlooking the arena floor. It is certainly a dynamic place, a great space to take in a show—it’s already been a circus for years—but democratic? When it took eminent domain to put this together? Not the first time we’ve heard such claims this week.
That’s what Gregg Pasquarelli, the SHoP principal told us last night, at a party on the pier, part ribbon cutting (even though the thing opened last fall) part book launch (even though that came out three months ago). Really, this is one of the hottest firms in town, so whenever an opportunity presents itself to drink and party, it is taken.
As The Observer was leaving, Mr. Pasquarelli grabbed our arm and pointed out to the FDR, the underside of which glowed a faint purple.
“You’ve got to take your wife out there, I promise she’s going to kiss you,” he said. “It happens to everyone.”
Yesterday, The Journal (rightly) complained the lack of progress at two major affordable housing projects, Hudson Yards and Willets Point. This got The Observer wondering about another, though: whatever happened to Hunters Point South, which was approved the same day almost four years ago as the Willets Point project.
Things are moving along quite nicely, it turns out.
It may seem as though there has been limited tangible progress since Related Companies was tapped to develop the project in February of last year, but that is because most of the work is being done below the surface—with on the banks of the East River and the banks of housing finance.
Does a developer have any obligation to undo the ills of the past?
That was the rather existential debate that took place at the Landmarks Preservation Commission earlier this month, as commissioners debated the merits of a proposal to transform Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport. While the designs by SHoP Architects were roundly applauded, and ultimately won unanimous approval, many commissioners lamented the fact that the current mall was being replaced with a new one, rather than something less commercial or even nothing at all, just a wide-open public pier.
“There’s lots of proof in Manhattan that a shopping mall never works, but nevertheless, there’s a developer who insists they have the right formula for this shopping mall to finally work, so I guess within the context of that, then the question really is—is the architecture appropriate for the Seaport?” commissioner Margery Perlmutter said.
Commissioner Fred Bland felt so strongly about the issue, including the destruction of the notable-for-its-time Ben Thompson-designed mall, that he had composed his comments earlier that day, something he said had only happened twice before in his four years on the commission (for St. Vincent’s and “for the infamous mosque”).
Over the past two decades, SHoP Architects has succeeded through unconventional means. The downtown firm has invested in its own projects to ensure creative control, and not a little profit. It has partnered with manufacturers to create cutting-edge materials for its buildings. It has designed some of the more striking projects in the city, from the Porter House in the Meatpacking District to the East River Esplanade stretching from the Battery to the Upper East Side.
Now, looking to expand its practice beyond unconventional buildings into unconventional cities, SHoP has added a new partner to the firm, professor skyscraper Vishaan Chakrabarti. Chair of Columbia’s real estate development program, the Center for Urban Real Estate, Mr. Chakrabarti has helped transform the way many New Yorkers think about their city and others, and now he wants to get back in on the act of building them.
“SHoP reinvented the practice of architecture, and with my coming here, we’re going to reinvent urbanism,” Mr. Chakrabarti said in an interview this morning. “It’s about how a building meets the city, how it meets the grid, the transit system, public space, basically how a building meets the world.”
The news keeps trickling out about the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport, now that the Howard Hughes Corp. has spun off from the no-longer-bankrupt General Growth Properties. The new company, led by wily Bill Ackman, was created pretty much for the explicit purpose of redeveloping a number of nascent mixed-use projects General Growth Read More
General Growth Properties plans for the South Street Seaport appeared sunk when the retail giant filed for bankruptcy last year. All was not lost at sea, though, as lead architect Gregg Pasquarelli, of SHoP Architects, told The Observer back in September: “We assume the Seaport will be going forward at some point. We Read More