A Bait and Switch in The Lower East Side

A commentary on the latest Mega-Development in New York; Essex Crossing:

Last week, the first four buildings of the long awaited Essex Crossing development were revealed to the public. If one word could sum up the general feeling of the images, it would be: Disappointing.

SPURAaerial

(The initial rendering of Essex Crossing, Lower East Side, by SHoP Architects. 2013)

Some background context should be given: When the Megaproject vision was initially released to the public in September 2013, the project was presented as one unifying design for the multi-block development. The vision was executed by a singular firm (SHoP Architects) and while not immensely exciting, the vision still conveyed a sense that this was a solid urban infill project. The architecture and general design were relatively strong. The buildings, while not potential award winners, were stout boxes on podiums with gardens and pedestrian flow throughout. It looked convincing for an area of The City that has lacked so much for so long; A vast Urban swath which was cleared of Tenement housing in the 1960’s under a failed renewal plan.

Seward Park 06

(Initial rendering of Essex Crossing by SHoP Architects. 2013)

Fast forward to last weeks’ rendering releases of the first four superblock developments and one can only think that something was lost. As part of the Essex Crossing developer agreement, the buildings were broken out as separate parcels with different architects. This idea, in theory, would diversify the appearance of the architecture and the surrounding environment. Although, In typical developer fashion, the buildings took the form of the Everyday New York developer building. In the effort to diversify, they have instead all moved toward looking the same, and downgraded.

Essex_Main

(A revised, Mediocre rendering of Essex Crossing, by Handel Architects. 2015)

While still providing great amenities for the neighborhood (a new movie theatre, relocated Essex Street Market, affordable housing for seniors), the project does not deserve to be watered down by Mediocrity. Mediocrity in Architecture has recently been so pervasive in New York that one only has to turn their head to see another boring developer building rising in sight. The brick is all the same, the windows are nondescript. There is a flatness to the facades which scream of construction efficiency.

Essex_Market

(Another revised, Mediocre rendering of Essex Crossing, by Handel Architects. 2015)

If there is a time to get it back to right, the time seems to be now. This development site is still fallow and not a shovel has been lifted. This time will soon pass within the next few months and the blocks will be abuzz with activity. This is a moment for the neighborhood and architecture community to rally for better design in our neighborhoods and surrounding environment.

Essex_Dattner

(A Mediocre building for senior housing, by Dattner Architects. 2015)

Urban Infill buildings, when thoughtfully executed, can serve communities in wonderful and meaningful ways. And while never intending to break ground as buildings of beauty, they can still be designed and constructed in a manner which elevates the surrounding Urban context. They can be nice to look at from a distance and also up close.

These renderings reveal that the Essex Crossing Development is currently going through a developer “bait and switch”. While exciting and convincing to The Public at the onset, these buildings have suffered at the hand of the profiteering developer.

This is the time to ask for more. Because soon, Mediocrity will be built and around us for the next One Hundred Years.

The time for the public to speak about the design of the Essex Crossing Development is NOW. There will be a community presentation to the public by Delancey Street Associates and CB3 (Community Board 3) this Wednesday, January 28th from 6-8PM at Grand Street Settlement. 80 Pitt Street. New York.

Links of relatable note can be found here:

Link to the Essex Crossing website with initial project release renderings.

Link to the rendering releases on New York Curbed.

Link to Gordon’s Urban Morphology’s commentary on another mediocre project, the Westside Beasts, on New York’s West Side.

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