Urban Explorations

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.

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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.

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(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.

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.

League Studio Open House and Public Space Roundtable

League Event Invite_E Mail

Friends of Gordon’s Urban Morphology, please join League Studio (Partners Andrew Magnes and Greg Gordon Canaras) at our launch event this Saturday, November 5th in Redhook. The format is a Studio Open House and will involve food, fun and an open dialogue on The Evolution of Public Space at our MakeSpace overlooking New York Harbour.

Exhibiting the Lowline

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(Image of the Proposed Lowline, from RAAD Studio)

The shell of the old Essex Market is soon to become a testbed for The Lower East Side’s most ambitious project, the Future Lowline. While efforts are still in the fundraising stages, local urban blogger “Curbed” reports that the experimental space, which will exhibit a portion of the proposed plantings and finishes, will be on display on weekends starting October 17th.

The future Lowline, much like it’s predecessor, The Highline, aims to convert derelict Manhattan infrastructure into usable Public Space for The City. The challenge all along for the Lowline has been its subterranean location, with concerns surrounding security and lighting at the forefront of the project. It will be interesting to see how the project, in reality, proposes to provide a light filled and safe environment in one of Manhattan’s most challenging locations; A welcome proposal indeed.

More information on The Lowline Exhibit can be found HERE, from fellow blogger Curbed.

Canyons of New York

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(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.

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.