An Urban Provocation


(Honeycomb on The Hudson by Heatherwick Studio. Image by Visualhouse, 2016)

At the massive Hudson Yards complex rising on Manhattan’s West Side, the anticipated centerpiece has been unveiled by London’s Heatherwick Studio.

Towering above the newly constructed platform over the railyards, this Honeycomb of sorts, at least through its representative image, draws the public in like a sieve and portends to act as an Urban Filter for the masses. A large scale and walkable sculpture. At once, another New York Icon which prioritizes the Participatory Public (as a subjective experience) over what easily could have been an exercise in objective “Form Making”.


(The Honeycomb’s Base. Heatherwick Studios. Image by Visualhouse. 2016)

Nodding to The Chicago Bean, another interactive Art Piece (and more an object in its own right), The Honeycomb softens the edge of an oftentimes Caustic City. Placed in the middle of New York’s man made environment; it is an invitation to view and be viewed within, provoking one’s physical and perceptual senses. An Urban Awareness on the grander scale of The City, which continues to transform at an overwhelming pace.

Outpost of Brooklyn


W Vale

(The William Vale Hotel, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Image by Greg Gordon. 2016)

Perched on stilts, an Architecture of striation and, in a lot of ways, playful fun, has risen in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The building has become the latest curiosity in the New York Architecture landscape because it directly challenges the conventional buildings rising in the city, and it also contains diametrically opposing structural systems. An interest indeed amongst the boring glass boxes peppered throughout The City.

An Architecture of Elevation. As the viewer tends to look up and at the building, it invites the passer by to stare skyward. It is a box, perched on legs, and elevated above a plaza. Hearkening back to the pure modernism of the 60’s with brutalist tendencies. The lower half exhibits a musculature akin to arms holding up a delicate layer cake. There is a directness and forcefulness to the gesture which is refreshing.

Without entering, there is a feeling that this place will become successful; Not for its gentrifying nature, but potentially only for providing delight from the relentless grid of The City. This building makes one want to find out more.

The Williamsburg Wall

Thoughts on Urban Densification and the changing structure of New York’s waterfront:

The New York waterfront has seen a proliferation of “Urban Wall” buildings cropping up along it’s shores; Most notably in the Williamsburg area of the City. With changes in Zoning and a push toward affordable housing, there is nowhere to go but up. And the permanence of these changes will be amplified by the design (or lack thereof) of this New Urban Wall. Here is a rundown of the major developments impacting Williamsburg:


(416-420 Kent Avenue by ODA Architects)

416-420 Kent, just to the South of the Williamsburg Bridge, is one of the more daring developments to take shape on the Urban Waterfront, This series of towers, developed by Eliot Spitzer and ODA Architects, takes the conventional tower form and “cracks” it into pieces, as is the trend in tower design (see prior post) these days. A reference point for this trend can be found across the River at Herzog and DeMueron’s Jenga Tower which has topped out in Lower Manhattan. Foundation work on this project has started.

Domino Sugar

(Domino Sugar Redevelopment, Image by SHoP Architects)

The Domino Sugar Development, brought to fruition by Two Trees Development, was controversial from the outset because of its site. In essence, this development embodies “New” New York taking over the old, as many of the Domino Sugar buildings were town down to make way for these mega towers. The design mixes residential with greenspace, as well as offices in the old Domino Building, which is the one building still standing on the site (with smokestack). The refurbishment of this structure seems in the vain of the Tate gallery in London, with a new glass bar erected on top of the old industrial hulk of industry gone by. Construction on this project has started.

Greenpoint Landing

(The Glassification of Greenpoint Landing, Rendering by Handel Architects)

And further up The River, Greenpoint Landing, a massive development at the northern tip of this industrial area, is reshaping the Urban Edge and in many ways, will sanitize a once gritty maritime waterway. A continuation of The Urban Wall against The River as New York’s transformation (and Gentrification forces) continue unabated.


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.


(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.


(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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