The City and The Public Realm

TS-VIEW 2

(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.

TIMESSQUARE-articleLarge

(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; publicspaces.com

Canyons of New York

Canyons_1

(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.

Pierhouse_3

(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.

extell-LES-residential-tower-2

(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.

Developer

(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.

Hunchback of The Trade

Hunchback Image 2 WTC

(Hunchback of The Trade. Rendering Via DBOX. New York, New York)

The Urban Critic: Earlier this week, the newly redesigned World Trade Center 2 Tower was unveiled. We refrained from posting our immediate reaction. Now its a few days later.

At first there was a gasp, then a sigh as disappointment settled in. Next, a rationalization of positive impressions which could be extracted from The Proposal. Maybe those ticker tapes along the cantilevered masses are interesting and modern? The bulky form is progressive, sort of, and the “gardens in the sky” concept is nice for Office Workers. The animation of the lobby and building experience was beyond first class and a work of art unto itself (Click HERE for Animation).

Two World Trade_Tickers

(Times Square Ticker Tapes along the underside of Unsettled Boxes)

Another question, a major question, began to emerge. Why was Norman Foster, the original Towers’ architect, sidestepped after committing to the project for so long? Clearly his firm is capable of adapting any design to the varied needs of clients, as requirements change with the whims of The World. It appears, after the events of the week, that the ushering in of “Newness” coincided with the crowning of Rupert Murdoch’s son, James, as the Titan of the Twentieth Century Fox Empire, aka: the Primary Tenant of Hunchback of The Trade.

As far as our feelings toward buildings go, the sigh and the frown did not abate. The Hunchback, it appears, does not have great angles.

From the Memorial Fountain Side, the structure creates the illusion of leaning: as if lopsided. Leaning, with a potential to fall over; not necessarily the message a building should convey on a site where towers already fell. Was this message already pondered by the Port Authority many years ago when they constructed One World Trade?

Fountain View 2 WTC

(A leaning view of Hunchback from The Memorial Side) 

A small piece of construction history comes to mind. During the erection of One World Trade, many forget that the original tower had chamfered corners, leaning in; A tapered base, much as the tower tapers toward the sky. In fact, the steel super-structure of the tower was built to accommodate this detail. Then, during construction something changed, and the base of the building was made square. Perhaps this was a reaction to an “unsettled” feeling, an imbalance the tower conveyed? Was this a move toward an Architecture of greater stability? Nonetheless, in final form, the building turned out to be a permanent marker on our New York skyline.

1WTC_Base and Final_2

(Original design of 1 WTC, with tapered base, and final form, as constructed. Image on left from SOM/DBOX. Image on right from The Durst Organization)

Fast forward to The Hunchback, newly revealed. It’s form explained as stacked villages in the sky. Its massing curiously changes from side to side. From the viewpoint taken from The Streets of Tribeca, the Hunchback analogy becomes clear. An off-putting mass; a bit awkward and not too elegant. Interesting, maybe for a moment.

Turning back to The Memorial Fountain Side, we return to the Toppling Effect. The leaning tower of 2 World Trade staring at the perfectly symmetrical One World Trade, as if deliberately acting out in defiance.

From the cut corners of the First Tower, now straightened out, to the unsettled mass of Two. Now moving to the innocuous towers of Three and Four, which are really background buildings: The area has become a mismatch, now unified by Santiago Calatrava’s Transit Hub; A bombastic over-budget structure, but one of the only interesting gem’s to emerge in this landscape, by virtue of perversion, alongside the beautiful and solemn Trade Center Fountains.

WTC 1

(The beautiful and solemn Trade Center Fountains. New York, NY. 2014)

In summation, if the message is going to be switched, the tradeoff at this Heritage Site should be a net positive for The City. This is Our Public Space as well, not deferential to James Murdoch’s Media Empire. For many years, an image was created in Our Mental Memory of a soaring Vertical Diamond, with a strong silhouette, punctuating the New York sky. Perhaps this was a visual cliché’, but this design resonated in the mind of The Public.

So, we ask for The Hunchback building to be a better Urban Monument; something more than a leaning tower of blocks with Times Square ticker tapes. A building which will not cut corners, but will resonate with permanence as a Solid Urban Monument, as we were all led to believe.

Links of Relateable Note can be found HERE:

Link to Curbed New York’s article on the Unveiling of Two World Trade.

Link to animation of the future Two World Trade.

Vintage Stock of NYC

Vintage Stock_Williamsburg

(Construction of The Williamsburg Bridge, New York, 1903. Image by Ewing Galloway)

For all the mapping fans, and the historical photo fans of New York’s History: The New York Public Library has released an interactive photo map highlighting numerous locations across The City. For a fun historical tour of many familiar and some long gone places, you can click HERE.

It’s the Vintage Stock of NYC.

Imagination City

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

(The 2030 Manhattan Skyline envisioned by Visualhouse. New York, NY. 2015)

A compelling image has been released by Manhattan architectural graphics company Visualhouse, depicting the Manhattan skyline as it will appear with all of the planned and to-be-built towers coming down the pipeline. Mesmerizing yet also familiar; The pictorial takes into account all of the “Supertalls” planned for the West 57th Street corridor, as well as the Massive Hudson Yards complex rising above the Westside rail yard.

Mesmerizing yet also familiar. The fascination with the everchanging skyline (this blog included) encapsulates the capacity for imagination and wonderment. Perhaps it is Awe in the collective constructive achievements of Mankind? Individual feats, brought together by teamwork and assembled into a massive agglomeration? This agglomeration creates that feeling of the familiar and is a nod to a form of Expectation: The Gestalt of New York.

Manhattan 2030 really is not that much different from Manhattan 2015, 2000, or 1975 for that matter. Differing socio-economic and geo-political circumstances aside, The City just grows and multiplies based on the prevailing forces of Market Capitalism. The seemingly familiar driver behind The Mesmerizing.

Step back within any of those eras, and The Skyline consistently captivates. It has, and always will remain a symbol of Destiny Density; of a collective will-to-improve. The Skyline also serves the memory as a Projection of Dreams, where people cast their own visions onto that familiar skyline, constantly changing in the blink of an eye.

Links of Relatable note can be found Here:

Visualhouse, a unique Manhattan architecture and urbanism branding company.

Imagining the Megatower Filled Manhattan Skyline of 2030, from Curbed New York.