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Newsletter of the Institute for Urban Design November/December 2005 Vol. 21 No. 6

A SHIFT TO THE CITY BY ARCHITECTS WAS INDICATED IN PLANS BY RICHARD ROGERS DISCUSSED AT NOVEMBER 10TH FELLOWS PROGRAM Urban Design historian Grahame Shane began the November 10, 2005 Fellows program on Richard Rogers and Partners’ plans for two sites along the East River noting how different recent urban design in New York has been from that in Great Britain. Shane, who grew up in London but now lives in New York and teaches at The Cooper Union, CUNY and Columbia University, has an unusual vantage point from which to view development in both places. Rogers has designed an enormous new mixed-used project with public waterfront access for Silvercup Studios in western Queens next to the Queensboro Bridge, on which he is collaborating with the Olin Partnership landscape architects of Philadelphia, and an esplanade under the FDR Drive on the east side of Lower Manhattan, where he is working with SHoP Architects and Ken Smith Landscape Architect. Shane began by showing the Battery Park City waterfront, noting that what Rogers is proposing is of a very different order. He described Rogers’ early work, first with Norman Foster, then with Renzo Piano at the Pompidou Center, in the high-tech tradition of Archigram and his continuing interest in large-scale infrastructure, which in England is funded by the government on an ongoing basis. He acknowledged the important exhibitions and competitions for urban design and public space that the Van Alen Institute had organized under the leadership of Raymond Gastil, but pointed out that Rogers had been able to play a role in governmental planning for sustainable growth and infrastructure that no architect here has been able to play. Silvercup Studios

Stuart Match Suna, an owner of Silvercup Studios and an architect by training, described the project that he had commissioned from the Rogers Partnership through a competition. His father purchased the old Silvercup Bakery in 1980 for his sheet metal business, but Stuart soon moved into the caretaker’s apartment and, with his brother Alan (also a graduate architect), founded the Silvercup Studios. Now it is the biggest movie and television studio outside Hollywood, used for Sex and the City, The Sopranos, and major motion pictures. The Rogers plan for the six-acre waterfront site calls for over six million square feet of new development—eight 16,000-square-foot new studios, 600,000 square feet of office space for entertainment companies, two residential towers, 100,000 square feet of cultural space, a large catering hall, underground parking for 1400 cars, and enough outdoor public space on an esplanade overlooking the river to accommodate 3000 people. There are also plans for stores along the streets, internal driveways for trucks to pull directly into studios, preservation of an old terra cotta works on the site, and the largest green roof in New York City’s history. Suna mentioned the need to relocate the Department of Sanitation’s enormous salt pile which has blocked access to the river, but seemed encouraged by the fact that “this mayor and chairman of

the Department of City Planning have looked at the outer boroughs in ways no one has in a long long time.” He added, “We think New York shouldn’t be frightened by high-rise development along the waterfront. We think there should be intense development there.” Silvercup Studios

Kathleen John-Alder of the Olin Partnership described her firm’s thinking about the site, which will be the first part of an even larger Queensbridge esplanade, linking the Queensbridge Houses (the largest housing project in the United States) north of the bridge to the waterfront. “One of the first things we do is look at sun and shade studies,” she explained. “The site will be shady in the morning but mostly sunny, and often windy.” Another concern is how to get people down to the water, which they plan to do, initially, from Vernon Boulevard. They knew they had to incorporate the traditions of local esplanade furnishings from Battery Park City, New York industrial sites, and sleek Rogers buildings. They considered different kinds of railings, decided on curved benches with seating on both sides, and knew they needed to emphasize the overlook across from the UN. The esplanade will occupy two levels about a foot apart. The lower one will be for movement; the upper, for relaxation. Although a bosque of trees will relate to the towers, lighting will be built into benches and railings so that there are not too many vertical elements. Christopher Sharples, a partner at SHoP, described the East River Waterfront project. His team won the $200 million commission in a competition sponsored by Planning director Amanda Burden, who reminded them at every point, “You’ve got to provide access to the waterfront.” Their project, which begins at the Battery Maritime Terminal and continues north for three-and-ahalf miles, will provide the connection by means of an esplanade, which is especially important as there will eventually also be parks across the water by the Brooklyn Bridge and on Governors Island. This esplanade, he said, will not resemble the one on the other side of the island at Battery Park City, where the width is very different and there is no highway at the water’s edge.

FDR Drive Park

Sharples said they considered taking down the FDR Drive but decided to treat the elevated highway as an illuminated linear armature of brushed concrete and build a series of enclaves beneath it for different activities, of different characters and sizes, depending on the neighborhood and the availability of plazas or piers. Since most of the piers there now are on six-foot centers which are bad for silt and ecological habitats, some will be replaced with wider spans of Vierendeel trusses. Pier 42 will become an urban beach connecting the East Side Waterfront project to the new East River Park. The various parts of the esplanade will be unified by trellises that Ken Smith has designed and pavilions created by SHoP.

The Fellows Respond

Respondent Michael M. Samuelian, who is now with the Related Companies but directed Special Projects in Lower Manhattan for the New York City Department of City Planning while the plan was being developed, commented on the Battery Park City waterfront that Shane had shown and Sharples had mentioned. “It is what we used to think esplanades were, but it is not part of the city. It seems detached. Both these projects challenge that model.” He also mentioned Amanda Burden’s imprint—her concern for design and for details down to whether benches have backs. “It is not business as usual with this administration.” Samuelian said, “Silvercup is interesting in relation to the East River Waterfront, with its mix of uses, 1960s megastructure, and public space. I wonder what that elevated open space will be like. The before and after images are telling.”

Sorkin Soule Kerr

Michael Sorkin began the Fellows discussion after dinner saying, “I thought the East Side project was beautiful, but am I the only one who wonders if situating this gigantic carbuncle across from the UN is a wonderful idea?” “These projects have features that are commendable,” American Planning Association policy director Jeffrey Soule said, “but what is the transportation impact?” Several Fellows echoed his concern with public transportation. Architect and journalist Laurie Kerr, who works in Long Island City for the Department of Building Design and Construction, noted that the problem is “the size of the blocks there, which are essentially superblocks. They are problematic in terms of pedestrian scale. You can’t get to the waterfront in Long Island City” because the subways don’t go there.


Soule, who is from Washington, DC, also asked, “Where is the plan that these fit into?” Dennis Crompton of Archigram in London remarked, “It’s immensely important in the practice of architecture and urbanism that there is experimental research.” Planner Michael Kwartler answered both by invoking a statement that Sylvia Deutsch, the former New York City Planning Commissioner, had made years earlier: “We don’t really have planning here. We have zoning.” “It surprises me,” Soule said, “that with the technological tools we have, like Michael Kwartler’s ability to simulate changes in space and study the physical effects of zoning, that in New York today, the private realm, like Silvercup, builds everything.” By Jayne Merkel, Contributing Editor, AD, London



Peter Reed, formerly Curator for Design at MOMA, has been promoted to Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs. No replacement has been announced for former Director of the Design Department Terrance Riley . . . Kathleen John-Alder, who presented the landscape plan for Silvercup Studios at the Institute’s November 10 Fellows program, is leaving The Olin Partnership . . . Michael Samuelian, who responded to the FDR Park and Silvercup presentations at November 10 Fellows program, has joined The Related Companies, where he will supervise their work at the Moynihan Train Station in New York . . . Vaughn Davies has left the Los Angeles office of Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn to become Director of Urban Design for EDAW, Los Angeles . . . Con Howe has resigned as Director of Los Angeles City Planning . . . Jesse Reiser, who has been working on a mixed-use tower competition in Dubai may fly over there should he win against competing designers Thom Mayne and Zaha Hadad . . . Jonathan Marvel attended the dedication ceremony in October for The Beacon, a new building for which Ken Smith provided the landscaping . . . Bruce Fowle assures readers that the firm name change to FXFOWLE means continued commitment to sustainability and civic responsibility. Both values are reflected in Glen Cove Ferry Terminal and Times Square Tower, with Renzo Piano . . . John Shapiro discussed the role of the Public Advocate at a Newman Institute program in October where Henry Wollman spoke on private land and public dollars. Grassroots community brainstorming sessions and high-tech computer visualization tools are coming together in a forward-looking planning initiative for a 140-square-mile area of Hawaii’s Big Island, encompassing North and South Kona. Architect and urban planner Michael Kwartler’s New York City–based firm Environmental Simulation Center (ESC) is collaborating with ACP Visioning and Planning, of Columbus, Ohio to create a set of criteria for community growth in Kona by gathering feedback from locals through a series of public meetings—the first of which kicked off last September. Key topics include affordable housing, transportation, and “green infrastructure,” referring to bike paths and greenways. These criteria will be used with Community Viz, a 3-D, real-time, computer visualization program developed by ESC that allows users to navigate a virtual simulation of the community—much as one would navigate a video game environment—and to test the community against the set of indicators that the residents have come up with. In other words, the program creates a report card for how the community is doing against its own criteria. The information gathered will be rolled into a community development plan executed by local firm Wilson Okamoto & Associates of Honolulu, with the cooperation of ESC and ACP. The entire project—which is meant to be complete by summer of 2006 and carries a price tag of roughly $500,000 paid by the County of Hawaii—will also encompass several technical studies, including an infrastructure assessment, an open space and green infrastructure assessment, a profile of the community at present, and the catalogue of indicators that can be used with Community Viz to update the assessments over time. ESC and ACP have collaborated on two similar projects in the past, a visioning plan for a commercial street in downtown Santa Fe and another for Baltimore. By Anna Holtzman

BOOKS Green Pioneers

Ecological Architecture: A Critical History. By James Steele. 272 Pages. 120 color illustrations; 130 black/white. Thames and Hudson, New York. $55.00 This book is from a series that included excellent authors Aaron Betsky on Landscapes and Catherine Slessor on Sustainable Architecture and High Technology. James Steele seeks to reconfigure the standard history of modern design (conventionally framed by history of industrial revolution) by restating aims of historically recognized modernists. According to the Steele vision, the early pioneers were, in fact, leading a green revolution. In Steele's view the Scottish vernacular of Charles Rennie Macintosh and the garden cities of Ebenezer Howard were part of a green revolution. Less convincing is Steele's promotion of Le Corbusier, Shindler and Wright as green revolutionaries. On the other hand, Steele's inclusion of Hasan Fathy's mud homes and mud towns give this Egyptian architect his deserved place within the history of modern architecture. As the author approaches more recent leaders, Ian McHarg, a "passionate steward of the environment," stands out. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates: Allegheny Riverfront Park. Jane Amidon, series editor. 125 color illus., 25 black/white illus. 176 pages. Princeton Architectural Press, New York. Paperback. $29.95. This is the third in a valuable series called Source Books in Landscape Architecture. It is an outgrowth of discussion-based seminars at the Knowlton School of Architecture. The park is a project of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, created in 1984 to develop a cultural district in a 14square block area along the Allegheny River. Following Van Valkenburgh interviews are critiques by Gary Hilderbrand, Ethan Carr and Erik de Jong.


John Aliotta, Principal, Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, New York, NY; Karen Fairbanks, Principal, Marble Fairbanks, New York, NY; Philip Giang, Cooper Robertson, New York, NY; Christine Glavasich, President, G2 Project Planning, Inc., New York, NY; Margaret Helfand, Principal, Helfand Architecture, New York, NY; Theodore Kleiner, Vice President, STV Incorporated, New York, NY; Alex Krieger, Partner, Chan Krieger & Associates, Inc., Cambridge, MA; Andres Mignucci, Principal, Andres Mignucci Arquitectos, San Juan, Puerto Rico; Lyn Rice, Principal, Lyn Rice Architects, New York, NY.

UPDATE, published six times a year, welcomes contributions from members.

Institute for Urban Design - Urban Design Update Nov./Dec. 2005  

A Shift to the City By Architects Was Indicated in Plans by Richard Rogers Discussed at November 10th Fellows Program

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