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Newsletter of the Institute for Urban Design May/June 2007 Vol. 23 No. 3 HOYT-SCHERMERHORN AND STATE RENAISSANCE BROOKLYN, REPRESENT INNOVATION IN AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN TWO PROJECTS DESIGNED BY JAMES McCULLAR At a time when many middle- and low-income residents are being priced out of New York City housing, it is noteworthy that the current president-elect of the American Institute of Architects’ Metro New York Chapter, James McCullar, is a veteran designer of affordable housing and the past chair of the AIA NYC Housing Committee. The election of McCullar as president, is a sign of the increasing attention being paid to the affordable housing shortage: recently there have been an international competition for affordable housing hosted at NYC AIA Center for Architecture, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has made a commitment to build and preserve 165,000 units of affordable housing by 2012. New Promise Cohesion Between Groups

While it is still unclear whether New York City will be able to create affordable housing on a scale large enough to meet the growing demand for it, more socially progressive planning policies are resulting in higher quality dwellings for low-income people as well as in improvement to the design of the city’s streetscapes. McCullar says that the new approach to government subsidized housing of mixing people from different income brackets has the potential to foster cohesion between different economic groups in ways that prior public housing projects failed to do. “Previously, low-income housing was built as separate freestanding buildings, and there were budget constraints,” says McCullar. “Low- income housing began to be seen as having a certain social stigma---it was clear by the look of the building that the poor lived there. Now good design and good management are helping mitigate the differences and make social integration more possible.” The typology and design of government subsidized housing has changed dramatically since McCullar first began his career working on commissions from the New York City Housing Authority in the early 1970s. At that time, the fashion for low-income and lower middle-income housing was the “tower-in the park”-style developments in which tall plain brick-box housing projects are set back from the street. Typically, these developments were oriented towards a specific income level, and while durably built were lacking in windows and other basic features.

Housing the Poor Public/Private Partnerships

Nowadays, however, under the new mixed-income model, affordable housing is being built on the same development sites as market rate housing, and sometimes even incorporated into the same building. New zoning regulations disallow tower in the park style developments in many areas where the new development is taking place and instead emphasize street-walls, which is seen as a way to better integrate affordable housing into a residential neighborhood. Providing housing for the poor also has shifted from being primarily a government enterprise to public-private partnerships. In this arrangement, developers are provided various financial incentives such as subsidies and inexpensive land to create affordable housing. In addition, in some areas, through a process known a inclusionary zoning, affordable housing is incorporated into market rate developments either as a requirement or as a zoning bonus, under which developers are given permission to build larger buildings in exchange for providing and maintaining affordable

housing. The affordable housing is often awarded to qualified applicants through a lottery. A major issue that has been hotly debated in places where the city is attempting to create large amounts of affordable housing, such as a recently rezoned area of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, is that, given New York City’s currently overheated real estate market, will the financial incentives and zoning benefits actually encourage developers to incorporate affordable housing into their developments? Some argue that instead of granting zoning bonuses for building affordable housing, it should be mandated in areas that have been rezoned for residential purposes. But others argue that making affordable housing a requirement in rezoned areas will drive developers away. From an urban design standpoint, McCullar says that in rezoned areas, one potential problem with providing a zoning bonus for affordable housing rather than making it a requirement, is that if not all developers take advantage of the bonus, the result could be a jagged disharmonious skyline. “Zoning really intends to create a certain skyline---you want neighborhoods to have a certain scale, “ he says, “But when the incentive creates taller buildings in some instances and shorter buildings in other instances, then are you altering the skyline in ways that might be unintended.” Brooklyn Hoyt-Schermerhorn

Brooklyn State Renaissance Court

McCullar says one place where the mandated inclusionary zoning requirement has been successful both in terms of attracting developers and in urban design, is the HoytSchermerhorn Urban Renewal Area in downtown Brooklyn. Under an agreement with the New York Empire State Development Corporation, the developers received various city and state financial incentives in exchange for making 30 percent of all new housing units affordable. When complete, the urban renewal area will include a variety of housing types ranging from $2.7 million townhouses designed by Rogers Marvel Architects to an 11-story building designed by Polshek Partnership with single room occupancy housing for formerly homeless adults and low-income people in the arts. Because the inclusionary zoning was mandated rather than made available as an optional bonus, there is no uncertainty about how this neighborhood will look. The area is zoned so that there will be a predictable transition in scale from tall buildings along Schermerhorn Street down to brownstone Brooklyn, which begins on State Street. One building that McCullar is designing in the urban renewal area, which epitomizes the new approach to affordable housing, is the State Renaissance Court in Brooklyn, an eight- story luxury doorman building. Of the building’s 158-units, 50 percent will be market rate and 50 percent affordable (20 percent reserved for middle-income tenants earning up to 200 percent of area median income or $125,000 for a family of four, 30 percent set aside for low-income tenants earning up to 60 percent of area median income or $37,000 for a family of four.) Because the developers are building affordable housing close to the market rate housing, there is in effect a market pressure to establish a higher quality design for the affordable units, which would not necessarily be the case in stand alone affordable housing, says McCullar. “The affordable housing is going to benefit,” he says. “They are going to have the same lobby the same concierge and the same parking--so if you see somebody leaving the building you won’t know whether the person is somebody making a lot of money who just rented an apartment in Brooklyn, or somebody who got there by virtue of the lottery.” By Alex Ulam. ALEXANDROS WASHBURN LEADS DESIGN INITIATIVE AT NEW YORK CITY PLANNING To help cope with one of the greatest construction booms in the city’s history, the New York Department of City Planning has reestablished the position of Director of Urban Design. This past January, it hired architect Alexandros Washburn, 44, to fill the post. Washburn is charged with ensuring quality design in everything ranging from new transit stations to parks to streetscapes. He assesses the fine-grain details of the cityscape, such as width of tree pits, and he also weighs in on plans for large infrastructure projects such as Moynihan Station and the redevelopment of the Hudson Rail Yards.

The last director of urban design in the New York Department of City Planning was Geoffrey Baker, who served in the early 1990s. Until Washburn’s appointment, the current chair of the city planning, Amanda Burden directly oversaw urban design issues. However, with the many new projects on the drawing boards, it was decided to revive the director of urban design position. “Amanda has this complete devotion to the virtues of good design,” says Washburn, “and my sense is that with so much going on in the city at once, she felt that it was important to have another pair of design eyes.” Washburn and Moynihan: Getting the Station Built

Washburn cut his teeth in government as Public Works Advisor to the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (and Fellow of the Institute) during the mid-1990s; at that time he was the only architect employed on U.S. Senate staff. From 1996-2000, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Station Redevelopment Corporation, the state agency overseeing the expansion of the station into the Farley Post Office building. Most recently, Washburn has worked as a principal in W Architecture and Landscape Architecture, where he focused on projects such as the redevelopment of the West Harlem waterfront. As director of urban design, Wasburn’s day-to-day routine takes him all over the city. “I will run from one project in Manhattan where we are haggling with a developer to make his parking lot greener to The Bronx to try to sort out the site plan of some affordable housing so that it can dovetail better with some city initiative,” Washburn says, adding he finds himself frequently drawing on his background in landscape architecture. “Landscape architecture has taken the lead in the design of public places and is one of the good fits with Amanda,” he says, “She believes that everything is in the details—and so she will ask me about the width of a tree pit and this is something that I actually know and care about.”

Interplay Landscape and Architecture

A major design agenda for Washburn is emphasizing the interplay between landscape and architecture. “In my mind, the most successful twenty-first century cities are going to be the ones that are the most natural as well as the most urban, and that is an issue of contrast,” he says. “So you fight hard to be able to ensure that a certain number of trees get planted at an important intersection and you fight to make a continuity of green that will lead from a subway stop to a plaza---so even when you are walking down a city street, there is no interruption in the pedestrian experience of nature.” For Washburn, one of the most exciting frontiers for urban design in the city is along its waterfront in redeveloping areas such as Williamsburg and Greenpoint. “Water is nature in its most open,” he says. “Earlier in the Twentieth Century, you would get these interesting tensions by walking through Central Park and seeing the skyscrapers against the trees. But I think that right now, our Central Park moment is the waterfront ---the new paths, the new piers, and the new plantings balanced against the new buildings.” Washburn views quality urban design as a critical to the city’s future and he says that New York needs to work harder if it is to maintain its edge against other world-class cities. “We are now competing globally with cities, which have a very high design standard with a very well organized system of bringing designers along and giving them commissions and opportunities,” he says. “But we really need to get the best designers in the world to show the scope of their talents here---I think that design quality will a primary determinant of our competitiveness over the course of the next century.” By Alex Ulam is a Columbia educated journalist whose specialty is urban design and architecture. Last month he reported from Paris on new projects near Centre Pompidou.

November 2-3, 2007 New York 2030: Responses to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Plan Michael Sorkin, Program Chair Please send topic proposals and speaker nominees to: Director, Olympia Kazi at


Ove Arup: Masterbuilder of the 20th Century. By Peter Jones. Color and black/white illus. 364 pages. Yale University Press, New Haven. $40.00 Pompidou Center, Sydney Opera, Millennium Bridge - most architects will match the monument to the architect not quite so many will name Ove Arup as the engineer for each. But without his genius none may have been built, says author Peter Jones, Emeritus Professor at Edinburgh University.

Arup North America

Concrete is the material which calls on skills of an engineer and the Ove Arup office excelled with this material. In North America Richard Meier, Daniel Liebeskind, Frank Gehry and Robert Venturi are among architects who have retained the Ove Arup offices for engineering services. As the century move forward one hopes that engineers get the credit they deserve for the great structures still to be built. Louis Kahn: Beyond Time and Style, A Life in Architecture. By Carter Weissman. Color and black/white illus. 284 pages. W.W. Norton, New York. $60.00.

Kahn Pakistan


Was Louis Kahn the greatest architect in the third quarter of the 20th century? Certainly a case can be made that The Jonas Salk Institute (1959 - 1965) in San Diego, compared by biographer Carter Wiseman to a Greek temple overlooking the Aegean. What makes the Salk vista soul-stopping is that laboratories and a concrete walkway lead the eyes across the Pacific and into infinity. The government center in Daka for the new state of Pakistan provided Kahn the opportunity to plan at a scale heretofore not offered him. It is today the best example of Kahn’s work at a large scale. James Ballard, Architect, New York, NY; Peter Brassard, Assoc. Dir. of Hospitality Design, Costas Kondylis & Partners, New York, NY; Richard Clarke, ZGF, New York, NY; Anne Reilly Fahim, President, Anne Fahim Architectural Services, PC, New York, NY; David Farmer, Manager, Providence Office, Edwards and Kelcey Inc., Providence, RI; Oliver Gillham, Newton, MA; Olympia Kazi, Director, Institute for Urban Design, New York, NY; Herbert S. Newman, Herbert S. Newman & Partners, PC, New Haven, CT; Jack Nyman, Director, The Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, New York, NY; Margaret Rietveld, Partner, Rietveld Architects, New York, NY; Frederic Schwartz, Frederic Schwartz Architects, New York, NY; Daniel Williams, Daniel Williams Architect, Seattle, WA; June Williamson, Architect & Urban Planner, New York, NY; Al Zgolinski, Principal, A.G. Zgolinski Architect, Bronx, NY.

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

Institute for Urban Design - Urban Design Update May/June 2007  

Hoyt-Schermerhorn and State Renaissance Brooklyn, Represent Innovation in Affordable Housing in Two Projects Design by James McCullar

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