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ROOSEVELT ISLAND Hanxiao Yang GSAPP Spring 2013 Instructor: Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D. Associate: Leigha Dennis

ROOSEVELT ISLAND Hemmed in by the straits of the East River, the two-mile long Roosevelt Island - known as Welfare Island between 1921 and 1973 - was remained unknown to the majority of New York with no direct access from outside, no attractions except for decrepit hospitals and a fire department school.

The proposed masterplan in 1969 by Philip Johnson and Johnson Burgee, constructed in 1975 by UDC, opened the island towards the rest of city through bridge, subway and tram, turning the island a walkable residential town.

1638 - 1955 ISLAND HISTORY


Map of Blackwell Island, 1880s

1638 Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller first purchases the island, then known as Hog Island, from the Canarsie Indians


1686 Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell, becomes the island’s new owner and namesake


Blackwell Island from 86th street.

1828 The City of New York purchases the island for $32,000


Penitentiary Roosevelt Blackwell’s Island, 1872

1832 The city erects a penitentiary on the island.


The Octagon, the last remaining piece of the New York City Asylum, May 1970.

1839 The New York City Lunatic Asylum opens


1872 The Blackwell Island Light


1879 Taylor’s Map of New York



Queensboro Bridge Under Construction, 1907

1909 The Queensboro Bridge, which passes over the island but does not provide direct vehicular access to it, opens.


1909 - 1957 A trolley used to connect passengers from Queens and Manhattan to a stop in the middle of the bridge, where passengers took an elevator down to the island.


Welfare Island, 1932

1921 Blackwell’s Island is renamed Welfare Island


1930 Queensboro Bridge Elevator Between 1930 and 1955, the only vehicular access to the island was provided by an elevator system in the Elevator Storehouse that transported cars and commuters between the bridge and the island. The elevator was closed to the public after the construction of the Roosevelt Island Bridge between the island and Astoria in 1955 and demolished in 1970. 13

Map of Welfare, 1950s

Goldwater Memorial Hospital

1939 Goldwater Memorial Hospital opens.


Bird S. Coler Hospital

1952 Bird S. Coler Hospital opens.


1955 The Welfare Island Bridge from Queens opens, allowing automobile and truck access to the island.





1960 From Garden Cities to New Town Program Ebenezer Howard envisioned what he called “garden cities� located far from the urban core that would provide people better, healthier lives, with easier access to parks, little pollution, and stress-free commutes. A number of private corporations hoped to create idealistic new cities on the garden cities model at the edge of metropolitan areas. 19

1960 Industrialist Fredrick W. Richmond hired architect and urban planner Victor Gruen to plan for the island’s renovation into a mini-city.



1961 Victor Gruen’s East Island Proposal Victor Gruen, inventor of the indoor shopping mall and author of urban renewal projects around the country developed a plan for a car-free community of 70,000. Together they designed East Island in part to counter the out-migration of New York’s middle-income families, with serpentine apartments along the entire two-mile length of the island. 22

1961 Victor Gruen’s East Island Proposal They proposed to cover the two-mile-long island with a concrete platform to create a vast communal lobby, with moving walkways for residents and conveyor belts for goods. Transportation to mainland through improving existing elevators with ferry and subway systems.


1962 The transit authority announced the East 63rd Street rail tunnel, which would extend subway service on the 6th Avenue and Broadway lines into Queens. Welfare Island suddenly emerged as the last great undeveloped tract of New York City, touching off a heated debate in urban planning circles.


1965 Zion & Breen’s “Tivoli Park for Welfare Island” Architectural historian Lewis Mumford and the American Institute of Architects lobbied for a new waterfront Central Park. Landscape architects Zion and Breen modeled the entire island after Tivoli Gardens, a celebrated urban amusement park in Copenhagen. To emphasize their direct opposition to the Gruen plan, Zion and Breen appropriated the photomontage from the East Island proposal, shifting the buildings to Long Island City.





Welfare Island, 1961

1968 UDC’s Subsidary Governor Nelson Rockefeller asked the state legislature to establish the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), a quasigovernmental agency that could circumvent standard city zoning and building codes, helping to realize his ambition to create mixed-income communities with a cross-section of age groups. In 1969, UDC signed a 99-year lease for the island. 28

1969 The Island Nobody Knows UDC commissioned Philip Johnson and John Burgee (Johnson was also a committee member), to develop a series of massing models to sketch out the project; these ideas were presented at the Metropolitan Museum. The Master Plan by Philip Johnson organized the Island into a series of lateral zones to foster a sense of community amongst the residents: high-density housing clusters alternating with large open areas for recreational use. 29

1969 The Island Nobody Knows The island was car-free, with non-polluting electric buses providing free service from a large central parking garage to points on the Island. Several existing structures were designated as landmarks and restored for community use. An aerial tramway was designed to convey residents to Manhattan via a 3-minute ride, the ďŹ rst tramway to become a signiďŹ cant component of an urban transportation system. 30


1969 The Island Nobody Knows The Island Town was planned for 5,000 dwelling units - both market-rate and publicly-assisted, using a variety of Federal and State subsidy programs - for people with a wide range of incomes and social needs. Schools, day-care centers, and other community amenities were incorporated within the buildings. The New Town was barrier-free, providing the disabled with access to all public spaces. 32


Recreational Facilities

1969 Oct.7 Technical report Recreational Activities are created for both Island residents and East River residents from Queens and Manhattan, after overcoming problems of the time-consuming access by means of new subway.


1969 Oct.7 Technical report Several existing structures were designated as landmarks and restored for community use.


Main Street

1969 Oct.7 Technical report The architects envisioned it as the hub of commerce, entertainment, and education. Along with providing people of different incomes housing of similar quality in close proximity, the community’s design facilitated quotidian interaction. The isolating features of suburban postwar uppermiddle-class existence that allowed people to escape their less wealthy peers—the automobile commute, expensive shopping 36

centers, and elite public schools—ironically would not be provided on this island. What Johnson and Burgee were proposing was an untested prototype for class integration.

Water Promenade


1969 Oct.7 Technical report



Public Access to Welfare Island

1969 Oct.7th Technical report Access to the island by city bus exists via Welfare Island Bridge. The new 63rd st. subway line will have a station at Town Square. A water taxi/ferry system will be feasible on the East River.


The principal form of vehicular transportation is a mini-transit system. It travels two different routes at peak hours. The principal vehicular route is the two-way Main Street. Pedestrian routes include the Waterfront Promenade along the entire edge of the Island, the path system outside of Island Town and sidewalks within. 41

May 1969 - April 1971 Gibbs and Hill weighed the costs and benefits of monorail versus shuttle bus transport around the island.


1969 Oct.7 Technical report Distance Span of 20min subway and 20min ride by car, in peak hour, from Welfare Island


1969 Oct.7 Technical report Peak Hour Traffic 7:00 - 8:00am


Vehicle Volumes

Person Trips

Peak Hour 3:30 - 4:30 pm

1969 Oct.7 Technical report


1969 New York City was confronting a major garbage crisis. Trash on the streets exacerbated the perception of urban decline as middle class residents and corporations left New York City for the suburbs.


May 1969 - April 1971 The engineering firm Gibbs and Hill was responsible for infrastructure and transportation on the island. They produced a series of research reports which they compared alternative strategies for transportation, energy and refuse collection. They weighed the costs and benefits of monorail versus shuttle bus transport around the island.


1969 Oct.7 Technical report Trash and garbage is collected by a pneumatic system and burned in an incinerator It eliminates the traffic, noise and odor of collection by truck. The sanitary sewer system includes gravity sewers from each building, several satellite pumping stations and a main pumping station at the Utility Complex. 48

The system runs under all the island’s high-rises. When people throw their garbage down the trash chutes, it piles up for several hours, until a trapdoor opens, sucking the waste into a big underground pipe. Then a complex system of air valves propels the garbage through the pipe at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour.

The control room with two pneumatic tubes running overhead and the container switching area below.

May 1969 - April 1971 After arriving at the ground floor of a gray three-story building at the north end of the island, the trash is compacted to about one-twentieth of its original size, sealed in a container and trucked to landfills outside the state.

Handling about 10 tons of trash daily, the system is activated every several hours when a computer triggers six centrifugal turbines in the basement of the AVAC building, creating the vacuum that pulls the accumulated garbage from the island’s roughly 20 apartment complexes.


June. 1971-1976 First Phase Construction begins, including 2,100 dwelling units in Northtown. - 365 units of Market-rate Housing Johansen & Bhavnani (Rivercross) - 410 units of Middle-income Housing Johansen & Bhavnani (Island House) - 400 units of Middle-income Housing Sert Jackson & Associates (Westview) - 1,003 units of Low/moderate-income 50

Housing Sert Jackson & Associates (Eastwood) - Blackwell House restoration - Fire House - 4 mini-schools accommodating grades K-8, commercial spaces, and other community facilities were incorporated into the buildings. hase Construction begins.



1974 The Eastwood complex is comprised of 1,000 dwelling units for people of low/ moderate income, located in ten interconnected buildings forming three rectangular courtyards. Each courtyard contains community facilities: a mini-school, a center for the elderly, and an outdoor amphitheater. Ground-level apartments have private outdoor areas within these courtyards. 52

1975 First Phase of construction finished


Main Street, Roosevelt Island, New York, ‘Island House’ by Johansen+Bhavnani in 1975 (left), ‘Westview Apartments’ (background) and ‘Eastwood Apartments’ by José Luis Sert+Huson Jackson in 1976 (right)

1976 The four Northtown buildings welcomed their first inhabitants. The island’s first inhabitants rode city buses across the river to Queens, then across the river again to Manhattan, a one-hour journey at rush hour. The Transit Authority announced that it would not be able to complete the island’s subway station until 1981 at the earliest, 54


1976 The Roosevelt Island Tramway opens, connecting the island directly with Manhattan. Originally intended as a temporary measure, it becomes a tourist attraction and an iconic symbol of the island. It is held hostage in the Sylvester Stallone film Nighthawks in 1981.


1973 Welfare island is renamed Roosevelt Island after Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Motorgate dowsized to 1,000 cars.



1975 - present RECENT CONDITIONS


Plans and Implementation


1989 Manhattan Park development Subway service to the island begins, 13 years after originally scheduled(1976). It provided service to Manhattan and Queens via the F train, greatly improving the mobility of current residents and expanding the capacity of Roosevelt Island to absorb new population growth. 60

2001 - present Housing Development Southtown development since 2001, Octagon development since 2006.


2005 Survey Roosevelt Island is an economically and racially diverse community of approximately 14,000 people. The median household in-come of Island residents is $57,196. The median age is 42.3 years. 48.9% of the residents are white; 23.7% are AfricanAmerican,15% are Asian, and 11.1% are Hispanic.


Public space 64% of respondents use the public spaces 66% of these use the public spaces 1-2 times per month. Transport 86% of those surveyed use the subway 64% use bus 58% walk 63

2012 The four-acre Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park finally completes a memorial to the 32nd U.S. president -- almost four decades after architect Louis Kahn finished the designs.


Hanxiao Yang GSAPP Spring 2013 Instructor: Kazys Varnelis, Ph.D. Associate: Leigha Dennis


Roosevelt Island - HanxiaoYang