Life in The City, Rising


(The Pierhouse at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Image by Pablo Enriquez from The New York Times. 2015) 

A recent article in The New York Times chronicles the daily stressors of living in a City which is constantly in flux. C.J Hughes writes about the loss of views, construction noise and the socio-political climate behind controversial projects such as The Pierhouse Development in Brooklyn. In this instance, construction was halted by local community organizations who feared that the buildings height would take away a valuable public asset: the skyline views from the Brooklyn Promenade.

An interesting read in today’s “construction heavy” New York.

Link to the Article and other relevant articles can be found Here:

The Stress of New Construction, from The New York Times

A Tale of Two Bridges, From Gordon’s Urban Morphology

The Central Park Spire, Revisited

Nordstrom Spire

(The Spire-less Nordstrom Tower, after an unfortunate design change. Rendering, 2015)

The Urban Critic: Recently, it was revealed that the crowning spire of the soon to rise Nordstrom Tower has been deleted from its design, leaving in its wake another tall glass box with nondescript features.

A year ago in our prior post, The Central Park Spire, we praised the new Supertall for projecting a futuristic & strong profile into the Manhattan skyline. In our era of Supertall skyscrapers, this design, while boxy and predictable at its base and mid section, took on a stronger profile as it crept skyward. It was a gesture toward the audacity of earlier skyscrapers of the 20th Century and a nod that Manhattan was again pushing the upper limits of tall building design.

For reasons likely tied to budget, the spire has been lopped off the top and we are left with another basic box, albeit a very tall one, with a nonexistent crown. It no longer captures the imagination as the once-future-tallest of The City would have.


(The Nordstrom Spire, with its loftier design. Rendering circa 2014)

Oftentimes, with structures of this scale, ballooning budgets leave the last elements of construction to be reconsidered. A spire is an easy target for a building that may also be a target in itself. As architecture, this is a reversal of a design whose base and shaft seemed to exist for the sole purpose of supporting a higher reaching element. In totality, it feels similar to lopping off the arm of The Statue of Liberty, both in proportion and message.

We ask to bring back the Central Park Spire, so it is a beacon for all who travel to The City from afar, as well as disilliusioned Urban Dwellers. Sometimes looking up is the best medicine; And the many spires of New York serve to keep that raw energy burning.

Prior Posts on The Supertalls of New York:

The Central Park Spire. A blog post where we praised the Nordstrom Tower Spire, from 2014.

Imagination City. Thoughts on the impact of Supertalls on The Urban Skyline, from May 2015.

Two Tenements, Down

Two Tenements Down_2

(Two Tenements, Down. New York, September 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

Urban Memory:

Two Tenements, Down. A companion piece to our prior post, Two Tenements Standing, chronicles the demise of two stalwart buildings which stood guard over Grand Street for over a Century. Somehow, in the mess of the 50’s Urban Renewal destruction, they escaped the mass demolition of tenement complexes in the surrounding blocks and served as steady reminders of a New York, since passed.

Two Tenements Down will now be New York ghosts. For the inhabitants of this City, their absence will remain as a memory marker to a generation. And chronicled by the painter Hedy Pagremanski, Two Tenements Down are memory pieces edified through artistry, serving as a snapshot of urbanity in rapid change.


(Hedy Pagremanski painting Two Tenements, Standing. Image by Josh Haner from The New York Times)

Two Tenements, Down. Fragments in a malleable Urban Mass of brick, mortar, steel and dreams. Buildings rise and buildings fall. Architecture is never permanent. These structures, once bulwarks on a bustling Grand Street, full of push carts and carriages, have given way to the pressures of modernity, understandably so.

Two Tenements Down are a chronicle of Urban Change, in a City bursting at its seams. They deserve a memory piece only Hedy can preserve in the vibrancy and color of a Lower East Side’s past and present.


(Tenement Life from Memory Past)

People on the street stop and pause, in partial wonderment and a semi-state of disbelief as the backhoe tears at the tenement walls. Two Tenements, Down. The moment has arrived and the moment soon will pass, when the excavator begins the process anew, digging for the future of the new Urban Settlers.

Links of Relatable Note can be found Here:

Two Tenements, Standing. From Gordon’s Urban Morphology

New York Tenement Museum. A place to learn about the Urban Architecture of New York Past.


The City and The Public Realm


(The Public Realm, 2010. Greg Gordon Canaras with Wayne Norbeck and Jordan Rogove)

Over the last few weeks, much has been written about Mayor de Blasio’s suggestion for the elimination of pedestrian plaza’s within Times Square in order to control the inappropriate behaviour (of topless ladies) in and around the environs. In typical New York fashion, the reaction was swift, and appropriately candid to point out the Mayor’s short-sighted suggestion that this would somehow improve on the area. It’s almost not worth writing about, because the topic of public space in The City, and advocating the need for it is an Urban no-brainer amongst planners.

Looking back into the Histories of Cities, from the Agora in Greek times, to the piazza’s of Italy, and pubic squares in cities across the globe, Public Space has served as the primary organizer of culture, connecting people within the Urban Milieu. Without Public Space, there would be no City.


(Times Square. 2015. Image by Richard Perry from The New York Times)

And New York, as many inhabitants know and are feeling, is being squeezed out of itself in many ways. From the cost of living (for the majority), to the rampant developer driven and controlled creation of “Public Space” which is actually private space for the Public to roam; activities tightly monitored by our security driven culture in The Public Realm (rightfully so in this day and age). The suggestion that less of a public amenity would somehow benefit this congested metropolis puts further pressure on an already taxed people. What New York actually needs is more Public Space, and better designed spaces for people to roam.

A central tenet of this blog aims to investigate the transformative forces which impact the Form of The City. Though buildings occupy the primary footprint of The City, it is the public realm which serves as its connective tissue. Starting this Fall, Gordon’s Urban Morphology, in conjunction with League Studio and outside contributors, will begin to investigate the meaning of The Public Realm in Modern New York.

We will question the current state of Public Space and how it is changing both positively and negatively, in the hopes of continuing a meaningful dialogue about the significance of maintaining and enhancing our Collective Urban Environment.

Links of relatable note can be found HERE:

Challenging Mayor DeBlasio over Times Square Plazas, from The New York Times.

A blog investigating public spaces and the urban realm;

Canyons of New York


(Urban Canyons of New York, Image via ILNY / Skyscraperpage. 2015)

New Brusque City, via Urban Canyons of The rising Westside. Up and around the environs of West 42nd Street, Our Urban landscape is being transformed into a new, and oftentimes unrecognizable, landmass.

Buildings of immense scale and height resting side by side, non-deferential to sunlight or privacy for their inhabitants. This phenomenon of relentless, developer driven construction has picked up pace since the last recession ended here a few years ago. It continues unabated and will continue until this stretch of Manhattan’s Westside becomes one big Urban Canyon. Fast forward to The not-too-distant future: One will be able to rise to the perimeter of these luxury boxes, via sky-elevator, and look down into the shadowy chasms of the streets below.

This particular piece of Manhattan is past the point worth saving for harvesting any meaningful relationship to the human condition. It has transformed into a spectacle unto itself. Might as well keep going and make it complete as New York’s next great tourist attraction. The Grand Canyon of Manhattan. Come here twice a year to watch Manhattanhenge, between the slivers of sky. Come here to race down 42nd Street, where parkland on The Hudson awaits. Come here with a selfie stick, and drop the plastic wrapper which it came in, onto the windswept streets of New Brusque City.

A Tale of Two Bridges

Two bridges 2_Cybrary

(A view of Two Bridges, The Brooklyn and Manhattan. Image from Cybrary Man)

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, both connectors across the East River, have succumbed to separate development controversies; each revealing a uniquely New York socio-economic subplot, with the same outcome.


(Construction Photo of the Brooklyn Bridge Viewblocker)

A long story short: A medium size development called Pierhouse is being built next to the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a fairly low lying structure, short by Manhattan standards, but it blocks the view from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. It has gotten the community of Brooklyn Heights up in arms because the beloved view of the Bridge from the promenade has been compromised; A justifiable concern when, as city dwellers, access to space is a precious commodity.

Just up the river, The Manhattan Bridge is getting its own neighbor in the form of an 80 story Monolith Tower. A gated luxury villa replete with a now banned “poor door” for lower income residents. The controversy surrounding this development involves the encroachment of the market rate consumer into a below market rate community. Another justifiable concern.


(A vague rendering of The Manhattan Bridge Monolith. Image from City Realty)

The controversies surrounding the two developments have been puzzling to say the least. The realization of the Pierhouse “view blocking” debacle came after the building was mostly built. The community rallied (without success) when the structure was almost topped out.

The Monolith Tower of Manhattan Bridge has been shrouded in secrecy since the day the development plans were released. There has been no coherent rendering of the entire project, only hints to its size, its discriminating entry sequence and vague references to a “luxury market rate product” coming to the Lower East Side.

Viewed from differing perspectives, these developments and the controversies surrounding them makes one wonder how “value” is placed on the Landmarks of New York, our public green space, and surrounding communities? And how is this “value” regulated? These perspectives are manifest both internally (from the inside looking out) and externally (from the outside looking in).

Internally, because the Manhattan Bridge Monolith is being shunned on all fronts by the neighboring community. As much of a boon it will be to its surroundings (a new grocery store and affordable housing complex are included), it has almost been universally rejected by the neighboring residents of Chinatown and surrounding housing projects (for good reason) because it is new, and it is huge. So while this thing is forging ahead with the mighty backing of The Developer, it makes one wonder if regulations could have been put into place to mitigate such a disaster from happening. Because now, it is apparent that any existing regulations are being blatantly manipulated. This is an internal cry from the community that something must be done.


(The Developer strikes again)

Externally, the same goes for the Pierhouse development across the way, where the neighborhood is crying wolf after the fact. With very legitimate concerns about the right to public space, light and air, and the Urban Benefits of our park systems for all, it makes one wonder, again, what could have been different? Where was the breakdown in process and dialogue and why is this discussion being projected onto a building when it is already there?

So, while the political and economic contexts surrounding these two projects differ (one is in the rich area and one is in the poor), the rallying cry behind their wreckage must be assessed through a redefined lens; One that does not view The City in hindsight. Because in this particular Tale of Two Bridges, everything has transpired “too little, too late”.

Links of Relatable Note Can be Found Here:

Brooklyn Bridge Deserves a Scenic District of It’s Own, from Curbed.

Protestors Voice Outrage over Extell’s “Building From Hell” from Bedford and Bowery

Brooklyn Bridge Blocking Pierhouse is Allowed to Keep Rising, from Curbed.


Remnants on The Urban Fringe

Urban Mass

(Urban Relic, Redhook, Brooklyn. 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

Urban Fringe of NYC, one of the last bastions of Old Industrial New York. Walk to The Edge and you will find the relics which housed the infrastructure of a once burgeoning Industrial City. Relic’s unused, standing as memorials, partially preserved for the Urban Wanderer.

Urban Tower

(Infrastructure Remnant, Redhook, Brooklyn. 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

An exercise in the Poetics of Form, through necessity. Big skeletal tower. Solid little building. Now a curious composition which could be mistaken as an installation by The Builders of Our Past. Totems from a prior Time, waiting for preservation, on The Fringes of New York.