Downtown

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.

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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.

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:

east-side-coastal-resiliency-lg

(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.

Time Lapse NYC

20ELEVATOR2-master315

(Time Lapse Image of Lower New York, 1779. By Reuben Hernandez)

A video depicts Lower Manhattan’s evolution from a natural habitat to The Center of Urban density in one continuous time lapse. The video, by Reuben Hernandez for The New York Times, captures the spirit of Urban Morphology spanning multiple decades. A landmass undergoes change from its point of settlement to over 500 years later, with buildings appearing and disappearing as the pace of development continues.

This video is the centerpiece animation for the elevator ride to the Skydeck of the One World Trade Center Observatory.

To see the video of New York and its growth, click HERE.

 

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.

 

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.