Lower East Side Histories

Williamsburg Bridge 1937

(The Lower East Side, Williamsburg Bridge & East River Park. New York, around 1937)

A stunning image posted from our friends at “The Lower East Side” Facebook page; The East River Park under construction sometime around 1937. Old warehouse buildings against The River, now long gone, remnants of the industrial rise of New York City in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Pictured here, the City’s transformation of its coastline from one of industry to one of parkway and leisure.

Steadfast and solid, bisecting the picture, is the Wiliamsburg Bridge; constructed at the dawn of the 1900’s.

An Urban Image can be so telling; in this instance a City Kinetic. Virtually all of this landscape is different now, save for the bridge and the river that runs through the churning maze of Lower Manhattan. A new buffer constructed against the decaying storefronts awaiting their next chapter to be written.

On Urban Fragmentation

Noting recently, the trend in large building design toward a fragmentation (or deconstruction) of sorts, and wondering: What is at the heart of this uneasy feeling in the Architecture World? Looking up at new skyscrapers today, it seems that sky topping design falls into two broad categories, the Monolith, and its arch-rival, the Fragmented Monolith.

photo 2 copy

(Fragmentation of The Urban Monolith. New York 2015. Image by Greg Gordon)

To understand The Fragment one must first turn toward The first, The Monolith; With respect to the history of skyscraper design; With building massing tending toward “a heavy base” with a logical taper to the top. Clean lines and simple form and fine details which intuitively make sense to the observer as logical rationale. Take for instance the grounded form of One World Trade Center, or the recently completed 30 Park Place, which is a historical reproduction of sorts, but in a sensible manner befitting of Robert Stern.

30 Park Place

(Urban Monolith, 30 Park Place, as a standard bearer of logical skyscraper design. 2016)

The second trend which bucks the first is the Fragmented Monolith, or building as an explosive & teetering art form. Exemplified by structures we have previously written about, most Notably The Jenga Box Rising, by Herzog and de Meuron and another uneasy structure in Jersey City rising dubbed Urban Ready Living. These structures, while true to form from the outset, defy logic by taking an attitude tending toward uneasiness to the observer, with building parts that are either pushed and pulled about, or outright missing. Sudden shifts or deletions of building mass create a feeling of discomfort. Why was the building designed this way?

Urban Ready

(Urban Ready Living, Jersey City, New Jersey. 2016. Image via Skyscraperpage)

A rational answer may be Vanity. A cultural conniesuership of The Object. Where buildings get reduced to what amounts to a recognizeable sound bite in the audio world. These visual bites are candy for the eye and create an instant feeling, unsatisfying to many; a trick which is likely to fall within the “passing trend” category of building design….or, “Those buildings from the 20-Teens which bob and shift about”…how passe’.

Not that this trend is undeserving of Its Time. Perhaps this is a reflection of the destabilizing forces at work in the socio-political arena, as Architecture, often is, a reflector of The Times. So perhaps the trend toward destabilization in our visual sphere is appropriately a marker of The Present.

A summary would attempt to reconcile the two disparate logics at play in an attempt to move forward. They can be rationaled into categories of Classicism and Modernism, or Fragmentationalism (this was made up), or whatever moniker the academic community projects onto the built world.

Or perhaps reconciliation is undeserved, and the Fragmented appearance of this new form of building is-what-it-is, and not much more: An arbitrary counterpoint to the known and familiar.

A New Beast on Broad

Warning: An architecturally offensive rendering, lacking any sense of scale, proportion or rhythm has been released to Chinese investors in order to drum up capital for imminent construction. This wildly strange building, A New Beast on Broad, may soon rise in Manhattan’s Financial District.

45-broad-bottom

(A New Beast on Broad at 45 Broad Street, New York. Image by TRD & Cetra Ruddy. 2016)

Odd proportions; From its chunky base, to its narrow shaft, and then a protruding bulge back out again (a trick most likely played by transferring adjacent air rights) to its awkward and oddly un-New York crown; The skyscraper appears almost as a cutout from a children’s book illustrating the pieces of a Gothic cathedral, or skyscraper ornamentation from an earlier Century, hearkening back to Chicago.

Tribune Tower

(The winning design entry for the Chicago Tribune Tower. John Mead Howells. 1922)

A gnawing question circulates in the background: Where has skyscraper design gone in our second decade of the 21st Century? And, as evidence from the offense above, is anything translatable as a design concept, where grace and beauty are thrown out the door? If references from a prior era are used as design inspiration, then the inspiration should at least be applied with an attention to detail, such as the Tribune Tower, instead of plastered onto a clumsy form and marketed as luxury.

Then the gnawing feeling starts to sink in: When renderings like these pop up every once in a while, they make an egregious offense to the profession.

The Next Great Public Space

Gordon's Urban Morphology

An Update to this Blog post from prior: The World Trade Center Path Station will be opening to the public the week of February 29-March 4th. You can read more about this updated opening at The New York Times, and of course, we will have our full architecture review on this space within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

24BLOCKS-5-master675

(A Cathedral Like View of the New World Trade PATH Station. Image by Hilary Swift)

Original Blog Post: In March, Santiago Calatrava’s creaturelike Path Station will open to the public in what has become a long anticipated unveiling. New York has waited over Fourteen Years for this great step toward healing after the September 11th attacks, and this piece of hallowed ground will march one step closer toward the repair of The City in becoming New York’s Next Great Public Space.

PATH Image

(Inside the New World Trade Center PATH Station, from AM…

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The Next Great Public Space

An Update to this Blog post from prior: The World Trade Center Path Station will be opening to the public the week of February 29-March 4th. You can read more about this updated opening at The New York Times, and of course, we will have our full architecture review on this space within the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

24BLOCKS-5-master675

(A Cathedral Like View of the New World Trade PATH Station. Image by Hilary Swift)

Original Blog Post: In March, Santiago Calatrava’s creaturelike Path Station will open to the public in what has become a long anticipated unveiling. New York has waited over Fourteen Years for this great step toward healing after the September 11th attacks, and this piece of hallowed ground will march one step closer toward the repair of The City in becoming New York’s Next Great Public Space.

PATH Image

(Inside the New World Trade Center PATH Station, from AM New York. Opening 2016)

Architecture takes a long time. And this project, upon opening, needs to be understood across the broader spectrum of Urban Design. There have been many articles about budget overruns (it is vastly over budget) and pointed critiques about its alien design and “out of context” nature to the World Trade Center site as a whole (it can be interpreted that way). Though on the flip side, this structure is aiming to unify and bring together a collective psyche which was battered both by the trauma of a terrorist event and the long road to recovery, if recovery is even possible. In short form, the building is an instantaneous visual symbol of Hope and will offer positive attributes to The City’s Urban Infrastructure. It will become New York’s next great transit hall, aligning itself with the lost public space, the ghost of Penn Station yore. It will become A new welcome mat which The City, and nation, deserves.

The opening of The New Transit Hub to The Public will take place this March, 2016. You can read more about it HERE:

WTC Website: A map of Transit Stops and a video of the new interconnecting PATH station.

World Trade Center Oculus Will Open First Week of March, From Curbed.

The Serpent of The Trade, from Gordon’s Urban Morphology.

2016 Trends in Our Changing City

Hello readers to 2016 and our annual segment for the upcoming year in Our Changing City. We like to highlight a few of the building trends shaping our New York environment which we will be eagerly watching:

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(East Side Coastal Resiliency Project. Proposed land berm by Rebuild by Design)

Reshaping the waterfront’s edge has been a major topic of discussion amongst planners and residents alike. After the destruction from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, initiatives have been underway to shore up the Southern tip of Manhattan to prevent widespread flooding in the next major Hurricane event. Architects and City Planners have been hard at work in The Lower East Side to review plans along the Rivers Edge for a land berm and improved East River Park which will buffer the mostly Lower Income and low lying neighborhoods from the Next Superstorm. You can read more about the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project HERE (Note: This is a long Urban Land Planning document and very technical).

The Proliferation of Supertall Buildings will continue their ascent into the Manhattan skyline. Many of these towers are now past their design and permitting stages and are actual construction sites. Dramatic changes to the skyline should appear around the Southern end of Central Park (Central Park Tower/Nordstrom Tower) as well as the World Trade Center Site (3 World Trade by Richard Rogers). Boxy and relatively unadorned in appearance, they will make their marks as companions to the skyline, rather than showstoppers. The real exclamation points will likely be at Hudson Yards where the North Tower will ascend to a pinnacle with a dramatic skydeck sometime later this year. We’re also anticipating SHoP Architects’ 111 W 57th St. Tower at the Southern end of Central Park. It will be the skinniest and most dramatic of the Supertalls.

ShoP_w57_06

(SHoP’s 111 West 57th St. Rendering by SHoP Architects)

The expansion of New York at its Perimeter Cities “Urban Clusters” (Williamsburg, Long Island City, Barclays Center, Jersey City, Queens and central Brooklyn) is creating large, and relatively innocuous, urban centers of activity. Formations of dense silhouettes on the skyline; they are signifiers of New York’s continuing development. As in the past, as well as the future, We advocate for thoughtfulness in design for these new cities. Glass boxes housing people is not a solution to neighborhood creation. We are hoping that a better example is taking shape at the Domino Sugar Development, another cluster soon to rise at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge.

We anticipate the opening of The Hills on Governors Island in 2016. The creation of public space for the greater community at large is always a positive advancement, as long as the space is egalitarian and democratic in nature. The Hills is unique to New York and will become a major public asset once it is open to All.

The Hills

(The Hills on Governors Island, soon to come. Image by West 8)

We welcome the continuation of investment in New York’s Infrastructure and transportation systems. Visible progress will be made when Santiago Calatrava’s transportation hub at the World Trade Center site is opened sometime this Spring. It’s creature like form is a stark contrast to the typical New York building and will become an instant landmark. We hope that the massive budget overruns will be worth the dollars spent, as a welcoming and inviting Transportation Center is added value to an Urban Core. This segment is written against the current backdrop of New York’s mayor reigniting the conversation about making Penn Station a respectable point of entry to the future visitors of New York.

Penn Station

(Another breath of life for a tired place: Penn Station. Image from Andrew Cuomo’s Office)

And larger scale developments, such as Essex Crossing, while not necessarily daring in design, continue to densify the core of New York. Currently under construction, its mixed use of market rate & senior housing, a new Essex Crossing Market and services for the underserved Lower East Side communities are a welcome addition to a dialogue which oftentimes focuses on the higher end of the spectrum.

essex-crossing-3

(The Market Line, currently under construction, at Essex Crossing. Image by ubiquitous SHoP Architects)

So here we have a few of the stories which we will be following in 2016, always alongside the smaller one’s which compose the fabric of The City. New York’s building landscape is one which is constantly evolving. Sometimes we note it is for the better. Oftentimes, as we note, it can be for the worse. Our interest will continue to lie in between the intentions of idea making and the reality of the built environment, as it is this environment which is ultimately perceived, experienced, and recorded in our Collective Public Memory.

2015 Urban Morphology Roundup

Thank you readers for your continued interest in our blog throughout 2015. Gordon’s Urban Morphology has grown substantially in readership over our prior year as we continue to highlight subjects in New York’s built environment which have galvanized The City in one way or another.

Continuing the tradition from last year, here is our Round-Up of our most popular posts based on user clicks:

 

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

VISUALHOUSE NEW YORK 2030

Our most popular post of 2015: Readers imaginations soared to the heights of the Supertall Skyscrapers in Imagination City


Cantilevered Condo

Our most controversial post which touched on the provocative positions which Architecture can take:  The F#ck You Building on The Fringes of Delancey


Essex_Main

The blandness of the Essex Crossing Development, sold to the public as a development which was once much more attractive: A Bait and Switch in The Lower East Side


Fountain View 2 WTC

The redesign of Two World Trade Center, and the impressions this change left us had us lament in Hunchback of The Trade


Nordstrom Spire

And New York’s next great Supertall had its top lopped off in The Central Park Spire, Revisited


Two Tenements Down_2

While our most poignant post revisited a piece of Tenement history, befallen by the wrecking ball in Two Tenements, Down


 So, there you have 2015’s top posts. Thanks again for your readership and stay tuned for 2016 where we’ll continue to strive to bring fresh perspectives on our Changing City. Happy New Year from Gordon’s Urban Morphology.