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Should NYC Raze Its Wasteful Modernist Skyscrapers to Go Green? nyc-skyline-1 Kelly Chan investigates for Blouin Artinfo Last year marked the first year New York City’s commercial buildings were mandated to publicly disclose their energy usage levels, and with that, some of the city’s most esteemed works of architecture were subjected to a new wave of scrutiny. While the recently completed 7 World Trade Center clocked in with an admirable score of 74, the much-admired 1958 Seagram Building scored an abysmal 3, casting midcentury design in a troubling new light. Could certain icons of the built environment be too harmful for the natural environment? Last month, a research and consulting firm known as Terrapin Bright Green addressed this exact query. With their recently published report “Midcentury (Un)Modern: An Environmental Analysis of the 1958-73 Manhattan Office Building,” the group brought two ethical debates in the field to a head by articulating the long-term environmental benefits of demolishing and replacing the city’s first wave of glass curtain wall office towers — the architectural cohort of Seagram. If the conclusion of the report is accepted, it could uncouple what the it terms the “sister ethics” of environmental sustainability and historic preservation and justify potentially invasive development in some of Manhattan’s most iconic neighborhoods. For the authors of the report, the initiative most closely linked to the new research is PlaNYC, a Bloomberg administration agenda that lists a 30 percent reduction in the city’s carbon footprint by 2030 among its many long-term goals. “We realized that in 2030, 85 percent of the buildings that will exist then are already here,” Bob Fox of COOKFOX Architects, a design firm deeply involved with Terrapin’s research, explained to ARTINFO. “So if all the new buildings had no carbon footprint, we still couldn’t reach the goal without either seriously retrofitting or dealing with the existing buildings in New York City in a very serious way.” With this challenge in mind, Terrapin Bright Green identified the first generation modern office tower, a typological mainstay in midtown and parts of lower Manhattan, as a candidate for serious reevaluation. For Terrapin, these iconic buildings provided multiple opportunities for improved energy efficiency. The group, which has historically advocated for the retrofitting of buildings such as the White House, the Pentagon, and the Empire State Building to reach new sustainability goals, concluded that retrofitting the midcentury skyscrapers in question could yield an impressive 44 percent reduction in energy usage. But the report also goes on to explore a second avenue, arguing the advantages of demolishing and replacing midcentury towers with brand new high-performance buildings. There is no disputing that New York’s midcentury office towers cannot compete with most new constructions on the energy savings front. Terrapin’s case studies suggest that even while considering the energy required to raze an existing building and construct a new one, the energy savings of a new skyscraper — if designed properly — could compensate for its initial negative impact on the environment in 16 to 28 years. What is open to debate, however, is how Terrapin links the two halves of their analysis. “Midcentury (Un)Modern” hangs its argument on several key assumptions that get buried in the stream of charts, graphs, and bullet points: The report prematurely concludes that, under current conditions, deep retrofitting is an impractical option because owners of these office towers have little economic incentive to invest in extensive renovation: The tight column spacing, low ceiling heights, and inefficient structural organizations of these buildings make for undesirable workspaces by contemporary standards, problems no retrofit can resolve. With no potential to increase rent or occupancy, the retrofitting option emerges as a poor investment. In fact, William Browning, a primary author of Terrapin’s report, believes such buildings have not already been replaced because many of them are “overbuilt,” meaning their developers exploited a short-term loophole to construct these buildings in greater bulk — and thus with more rentable floor area — than current zoning will allow. These assumed economic impediments to retrofitting set the stage for counterarguments to Terrapin’s analysis. For Simeon Bankoff, director of New York City’s Historic Districts Council, another Bloomberg initiative — one that falls outside of PlaNYC’s eco-friendly agenda — paints Terrapin’s rhetoric in a darker way: the proposed rezoning of Midtown East, which offers, as Bankoff explained ARTINFO, to “up-zone the entire area in order to encourage ‘signature architecture’ and to revitalize what has been described by proponents of the plan as obsolete or underperforming buildings. With the emergence of this plan, it became evident that the ground had shifted, and that 17-story buildings could be replaced with 30-story buildings.” Bankoff points out that by the same logic Terrapin introduces in its report to say that retrofitting is impractical, the high-performance replacement buildings being recommended would have to be significantly larger — exceeding zoning regulations as they stand now — and have significantly more rentable floor area to incentivize developers to invest in razing and rebuilding office towers. “They were taking as one of their principles that they would be able to build much, much bigger,” Bankoff explained. This supposition is based on yet another assumption: that New York needs bigger and more high-profile office towers. “They’re premising what businesses will need in five years based on what businesses needed in hindsight five years ago,” Bankoff added. The takeaway, then, is that the green element of “Midcentury (Un)Modern” is premised not only on hard-and-fast facts about the environment but also on predictions about something mercurial and manmade: the market economy. Whether or not it is the intent of the report to exploit current environmental concerns to green-light private development, as Bankoff implies, if its research is misinterpreted, it could potentially rationalize the aggressive reorganization of Manhattan at the expense of some important rudiments of the city’s architectural heritage. While Terrapin is not encouraging the complete erasure of this chapter of architectural history — the Seagram Building, the U.N. Building, and the Lever House are exempt, for instance — authors Browning and Fox have stressed that the towers the report addresses were actually not built to last: “They were all cost-driven. Speed of construction was very important,” Fox said, speaking from his experience as a practitioner during the midcentury era. “I don’t think anyone who was building them then envisioned that they would still be here — we thought they would last for 20 years.” This brings up a new question of whether or not the intent of an architectural design dictates the fate of the architecture once it is realized. But for Bankoff, the architecture has taken on a life of its own. “Those buildings were mostly built under old zoning,” he explained. “From an urban design and art perspective, it’s a very interesting response to the confines of zoning using modern materials.” He stressed how these provisional solutions have become a part of the enduring imagery of the city, how the signature zigzagging setbacks of these glass-and-steel towers provided the backdrop for countless television shows and movies, becoming an iconic milieu that could stand to disappear if not properly safeguarded. “They were incredibly evocative of what America was doing at the time,” he said, speaking of an era that is slowly gaining currency in contemporary historiographies. “Those buildings are the natural environment of Don Draper.”
  In 1968, Donald Judd — the artist known for his boxy, implacable sculptures and wall pieces — paid $68,000 for 101 Spring Street, a graceful but dilapidated five-story cast-iron building, and began his renovation by hauling out truckloads of trash. Over the years, he kept installing art and modifying the architecture in pursuit of an ideal balance. After his death in 1994, the building sat, stilled. Starting on June 3, after a three-year, $23 million restoration, the Judd Foundation will open 101 Spring to the public for guided tours in groups of eight by reservation. Art critic Jerry Saltz and architecture critic Justin Davidson walked through it together. Justin Davidson: This house feels like the total work of art. We get to see how Judd slept in a Judd bed, ate at a Judd table, washed his hands in a Judd sink, and enjoyed the art he and his friends made. You can’t wander on your own, but the trade-off is that you don’t have to peer at a room from behind a rope. So what do you think, Jerry — is this a platonic ideal of how his life and work should be experienced? Jerry Saltz: Judd had no use for disembodied platonic ideals. He’s totally anti-mystical, very American. For him, space is a living substance, not an empty chamber that God and ideas inhabit. I’ve been in a million lofts, and this one has the most palpable, even sensual feeling I’ve ever encountered. When I’m inside the space, I’m part of it; it’s part of me. It’s trippy and physical. J.D.: I love the space, too, but I guess I’m thinking a bit more concretely. On a beautiful spring day, the light coming in those enormous windows with the rippled glass makes the art glow. That effect doesn’t come easily or cheaply: Architecture Research Office, the firm that oversaw the renovation, made a lot of great invisible decisions. They had to perform all kinds of contortions to meet fire code without just closing off a stair or slapping big old sprinklers on the ceilings. As with all minimalist architecture, achieving simplicity means hiding a lot of mess. J.S.: Ugh — Judd loathed the word minimalism. J.D.: But it’s a legitimate description of his style, isn’t it? J.S.: It’s more of a shorthand label for his whole philosophy. In the early sixties, a number of artists were working in that vein, but Judd applied those ideas to sculpture, painting, furniture, and architecture. He coined the term specific object to describe his work and that of friends like Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. It meant that when you looked at a fluorescent-light piece by Flavin that it was no longer a fixture, or hardware, or a familiar idea of sculpture. Boom! It’s a specific object. To me 101 Spring Street has become a specific object — a great one. J.D.: It looks really handmade to me, which is sort of surprising. Judd often had others fabricate his work, but the house feels like he took out a hammer and banged everything together himself. And the result is almost a movie set. It tells a story. Look at the floors: The wavy boards on the ground level are gouged, patched, and stained, but the fourth floor is all freshly shined planks. Those floorboards narrate the transformation of a factory into the giant garbage can it was when Judd bought it, then into his home and laboratory, and now into a ravishing diorama. J.S.: Judd would yell at you for thinking that. Calling it a diorama implies being on the outside, looking in at something fabricated and artificial. Of course, I’m told he’d yell at pretty much anyone for anything. J.D.: Don’t you think there’s some irony here, though? Judd hated museums, so he created this place as a living antidote. But now it’s become — dare I say it? — a house museum. How could it be anything else? J.S.: Well, if you just go for the museum part, there are A1 masterpieces of art here by Flavin, Chamberlain, Stella, ­Oldenburg, Andre. In Advance of the Broken Arm, my favorite ­Duchamp ready-made, is here, and it’s my fave because it’s the least aesthetic of all. Could the architects have done something to make it more alive for you? J.D.: I think they got the restoration just right, mostly by being obsessive about authentic detail. Judd finished a wall with cheapo, rough commercial plaster, and you can’t get that stuff anymore — it’s all much silkier now — so to get the same sloppy effect, they had to do research and mix a custom batch. Hardly anybody would notice that, but it contributes to the texture of the experience. Of course, it would look even more authentic if they blew soot all over it. J.S.: I love that it’s been restored this way. It’s an important step in righting the Judd ship — a toehold in New York. Right now, people are able to see most of Judd’s ideas in Marfa [the small Texas town that he turned into a contemporary-art center], but not here. He’s a genuine American genius on the level of Frank Lloyd Wright and Emerson, and some of that genius is this building. It’s not a “how the great man lived” mausoleum or reliquary. It embodies how he thought about and understood environment; redefined what usage is; and explored different vocabularies of the nonlinear, nonverbal logic of experiencing space. The building and its rooms are a map for the future to decipher, an atlas of ways to plumb space. J.D.: And he did all that in a building that already existed! J.S.: You know, that makes me wonder: What do architects make of him today? J.D.: I think they’ve internalized many of his ideas about reclaiming old materials and opening up spaces without acknowledging where they came from. It’s amazing how many of Judd’s experiments later turned into clichés of industrial chic: the tension between vast rooms and little nooks, the sleeping lofts, the steel sink, the pine-board shelves. It was an idiosyncratic DIY design approach that’s since been totally commercialized. J.S. He changed the way the world looked, and the way we look at the world. I revere him. *This article originally appeared in the May 27, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.
Kerri Jacobs reports for Metropolis Magazine DUMBO Principle A Brooklyn developer asks for more height in exchange for a livelier public realm. A good deal? Karrie Jacobs Courtesy SHOP The renderings were pure eye candy, made for tweeting and retweeting. They showed a dazzling quartet of new buildings flanking the landmark Domino Sugar plant on the Brooklyn waterfront. Three of the towers were loop-shaped, reminiscent of OMA’s Beijing CCTV building, causing New York magazine’s Justin Davidson to joke that the development could be read as the word “OOOH.” Almost immediately some Internet wag doctored the renderings so that the buildings spelled out the name of the architecture firm that dreamed them up: SHoP. But, in truth, the renderings didn’t show buildable architecture. The buildings were placeholders for ones to be designed later, and the image was an attention-getting ad for a master plan. What the renderings actually showed were outsize symbols of the developer’s intention to build a porous neighborhood—one that doesn’t form a wall between the East River and the rest of Williamsburg. What you couldn’t easily glean from those computer-generated portrayals of a proposed place, or the 140-character missives that accompanied them, was that the most radical aspect of the project wasn’t its engineered cut-outs but the attitude of the development team led by Jed Walentas, son of David Walentas, the man who invented the Brooklyn neighborhood of DUMBO. Radical isn’t even the right word because what Walentas the Younger intends is a full-scale build-out of his family’s decidedly hands-on, curatorial—and oddly medieval—approach to urbanism. The story of Walentas the Elder is mostly a study in patient, determined adaptive reuse: He bought most of DUMBO, 13 run-down industrial buildings tucked between the east ends of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, for $12 million in 1979. He thought the area was a logical spot for the city to put its back-office functions, but soon discovered that zoning wouldn’t permit it. Instead, he waited, allowing the disused manufacturing buildings to fill up with artists and amass cachet until he was finally able to get his holdings rezoned in the late 1990s. Since then it’s been a mixture of high-end residential spaces, pricey condos and rentals, and offices for creative businesses, with a handful of artists still in the mix. But, as DUMBO became more conventional, Walentas the Younger began seeding it with unique retailers, attracting them with subsidized rents. The renowned confectioner Jacques Torres began his chocolate empire in a subsidized shop in DUMBO. The Walentases gave a home to Melville House, a publisher specializing in literary novellas, and Galapagos, a performance space priced out of Williamsburg. They’ve handcrafted a little upscale village, one that’s still interesting and somewhat unpredictable, a testament to the power of enlightened self-interest. Then, last summer the Walentases’ company, Two Trees, bought the Domino site from its previous developer, CPC Resources, for $185 million. Jed Walentas quickly signed up SHoP to rethink the site plan, originally done by Rafael Vinõly, which called for 2,200 apartments in four new towers and also in the former sugar refinery. Instead of using CPC’s plan, approved by the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) after a long six-year ordeal, Two Trees decided to restructure the site and go through the approval process all over again. “I don’t know the last time in the history of the city this has happened,” says SHoP principal and Columbia University professor of real estate Vishaan Chakrabarti. “Jed came to us and said, ‘You know, we just want a better plan, even if we have to go through ULURP again.’” Chakrabarti called this a “masochistic challenge.” Walentas, for his part, says, “I think the process is helpful. The fact that we’re doing it to some degree voluntarily explains why there’s so much widespread support for this project.” So there was Jed Walentas one brisk March evening at a south Williamsburg bar called the Woods, standing before a full house of beer-drinking hipsters explaining his philosophy of urbanism. It was the first public meeting about the project since the release of the new plan. Walentas, wearing a zippered hoodie over a button-down shirt, was a curiously uncharismatic figure; he came across as a kind of slacker Jimmy Stewart. Oddly, the fact that he appeared incapable of delivering the polished spiel one expects from a developer worked in his favor. “We will occupy ground-floor spaces with small neighborhood retail,” he said. “It will not be big box. It will not be Starbucks. It will not be Duane Reade.” He added, “What we can achieve is a project that is socially contextual.” I sipped my beer and recalled all the times I’ve said the city should offer some sort of incentive to developers—similar to a plaza bonus—for giving preference to local merchants in ground-floor retail. I’d never understood why every new building seemed to have the same stores until a conversation earlier that day. “The reason for that is the bankers,” Chakrabarti informed me. “Those chain stores are ‘credit tenants.’” In other words, having a Duane Reade in the building reassures the bank that’s holding the paper on a project. Two Trees, on the other hand, is not dependent on the banks for its financing, and Jed Walentas argues, “There’s a real public benefit to being well-enough capitalized to take a long-term approach.” Further, he believes that developers should “make some sacrifices” to improve the character of a neighborhood. Sacrifices? What New York City developer has ever sacrificed anything? But because Two Trees is largely self-financed, its approach to development can be idiosyncratic. So what’s radical isn’t the way the proposed buildings look on the skyline, it’s what happening at street level. Watching Walentas the Younger in front of the Williamsburg crowd, it was tempting to write him off as naïve, as a kid who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But he’s 38 now and an experienced developer. While his father’s ownership of an entire neighborhood can be seen as an accident of history, Jed brings with him a degree of intentionality. His dad is the adaptive reuse guy, but Jed is the Walentas who builds: The firm’s apartment buildings on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, and its Mercedes House—a twisty thing designed by Enrique Norten on the western fringe of midtown Manhattan—those are Jed’s babies. He also recently helped develop Williamsburg’s Wythe Hotel, a former barrel factory topped with a glass-and-steel addition. But the Domino site is huge. It’s his answer to DUMBO, his magnum opus, an opportunity to play god with three million square feet on 11 acres. Note that Two Trees wants what New York City developers invariably want—permission to build taller: 60-story towers instead of 30 stories. The company claims that the added height is a public benefit, the key to the plan’s “porosity.” Tall and skinny, in other words, is better than short and wide. And maybe it is. Because they’ve changed the composition of the project, reducing the number of residential units slightly (116 fewer), and adding more than a half-million square feet of office space and extra acres of open space (the waterfront park will be designed by James Corner Field Operations of High Line fame); they argue that they need the added height to insure the proper return on their investment. Renting out office space is less lucrative than renting out apartments. (One can only sacrifice so much.) But the offices are essential, because, Chakrabarti says, “Jed believes that the secret sauce in DUMBO is the office worker. They’re what makes the retail and the bars work and what makes it a lively neighborhood.” He also contends that the offices will reduce the development’s load on the already overburdened subway system because some workers will reverse commute and others will live in an adjacent tower. Again, maybe so. And maybe the East River Ferry will come to the rescue. There are always good arguments against building three million square feet of anything anywhere. As one woman in the crowd called out: “Why do you need to build so much?” I wanted Jed Walentas to answer honestly: “I’m a developer, lady. I build, therefore I am.” But instead, he just went on talking about the qualities he says will make the project “socially contextual.” And he almost lost me. But then someone else asked him: “How do you know?” I liked his reply: “We don’t have a marketing strategy,” he told them. “We don’t have fancy spreadsheets to demonstrate this.” Call it the DUMBO principle. In an age of big data and metrics for everything, here’s a guy embarking on a billion-dollar-plus development based on gut instincts and anecdotal evidence. And it’s this weirdly old-school quality, more than the eye candy, that makes me think Dominotown could be the first credible piece of twenty-first-century urbanism on either side of the East River.
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MoMA taps DS+R for expansion

Robin Pogrebin reports for The New York Times on the latest developments in MoMA's expansion and the future of Williams & Tsien's AFAM. AFTER impassioned protests from prominent architects, preservationists and design critics, the Museum of Modern Art said on Thursday that it would reconsider its decision to demolish its next-door neighbor, the former home of the American Folk Art Museum, to make room for an expansion. In a board meeting on Thursday morning, the directors were told that a board committee had selected the design firm Diller Scofidio & Renfro to handle the expansion and to help determine whether to keep any of the existing structure. “We’re going to try to create the best building we can create,” Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer and MoMA chairman, said in an interview. “Whether we include Folk Art or not, as is, is an open question.” That question, MoMA said, will be guided by the extension’s architects. “The principals of Diller Scofidio & Renfro have asked that they be given the time and latitude to carefully consider the entirety of the site, including the former American Folk Art Museum building, in devising an architectural solution to the inherent challenges of the project,” said Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director, in a memo sent on Thursday to his trustees and staff. “We readily agreed to consider a range of options, and look forward to seeing their results.” In a statement, the Diller firm, which was responsible for the redevelopment of Lincoln Center’s campus, said MoMA had granted its request for “the time and flexibility to explore a full range of programmatic, spatial and urban options.” “These possibilities include, but are not limited to, integrating the former American Folk Art Museum building, designed by our friends and admired colleagues, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien,” the statement continued. In its original announcement last month, MoMA officials said the former Folk Art building needed to be razed because its opaque facade did not fit in with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum, and because the floors would not align. One person involved in the plans, who was not authorized to comment and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said that MoMA was still likely to arrive at the same conclusion. “Everybody likes the building, but it’s hard to keep it — the floors don’t line up,” the person said. “If I showed you the plans, you would say, ‘I don’t know how to do it.’ “ The Folk Art building, at 45 West 53rd Street, was well received when it opened in 2001, partly for its striking bronze facade and partly because it signaled the city’s recovery from Sept. 11. But the museum was also criticized as a cramped place in which to view art, because of its narrow galleries. The MoMA expansion would consist of five buildings, including an 82-story residential tower just west of the folk museum. Designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel, the high-rise is being developed by Hines, a Houston company, and will also include exhibition space for the museum. The museum’s initial decision to raze the building stirred dismay from its architects, Mr. Williams and Ms. Tsien. “I do think it’s a one-of-a-kind building and I’m sorry that it couldn’t become part of MoMA’s collection,” Ms. Tsien said in an interview at the time. Ms. Tsien and Mr. Williams were traveling in Egypt on Thursday and unavailable for comment. Many prominent architects joined the outcry, including Richard Meier, Thom Mayne, Steven Holl, Hugh Hardy and Robert A. M. Stern. They added their names to a letter written by the Architectural League of New York, a nonprofit organization, and signed by members of its board of directors. “The Museum of Modern Art — the first museum with a permanent curatorial department of architecture and design — should provide more information about why it considers it necessary to tear down this significant work of contemporary architecture,” the letter said. “The public has a substantial and legitimate interest in this decision, and the Museum of Modern Art has not yet offered a compelling justification for the cultural and environmental waste of destroying this much-admired, highly distinctive 12-year-old building.” Many architecture critics also objected. “If a commercial developer were to tear down a small, idiosyncratic and beautifully wrought museum in order to put up a deluxe glass box, it would be attacked as a venal and philistine act,” wrote Justin Davidson in New York magazine. “When a fellow museum does the same thing, it’s even worse — it’s a form of betrayal.” MoMA’s 2004 renovation, designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, increased the museum’s gallery space, but the museum said it still needs more room for exhibitions. The expansion is expected to give the museum about 10,000 square feet of additional gallery space at the former folk art site and about 40,000 in the Nouvel building. The Modern wants its second, fourth and fifth floors to line up with those in the other two buildings. (The second-floor galleries are double height.) The content of these new galleries and the cost of the project are still to be determined, MoMA has said. The folk art museum had hoped the location next to MoMA would help stimulate its growth. But it struggled and ended up selling the property to MoMA to pay off $32 million it borrowed to finance an expansion. The folk art museum now operates at a smaller site on Lincoln Square, at West 66th Street.
A Modern City in East Midtown? By ROBERT A. M. STERN Published: April 21, 2013     Last summer the Department of City Planning released its East Midtown study, envisioning a taller, denser, shinier future for the neighborhood around Grand Central. New and more liberal regulations that will allow bigger office towers are on their way to the City Council for approval before the end of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s current term. But what is a modern city, exactly? And is New York really in danger of falling behind new global cities like Shanghai? With district improvement bonuses, the City Planning study proposes to double the developable floor area on some sites around Grand Central, allowing enough additional square footage to give us a neighborhood of towering office buildings, some as tall as 1,300 feet or more. (For reference, the Chrysler Building is 1,046 feet to the top of its spire.) I’m nearly always an advocate of density: it’s socially beneficial and environmentally responsible. And I like tall buildings as much as the next architect, especially if I’m asked to design them. But the advantages of density can go only so far without the infrastructure to support it. And the appropriateness of tall buildings is a question of where and when, and what they contribute to the public realm. Let’s all admit that the Pan Am Building, now MetLife, was a mistake in 1963, and is still a mistake from an urbanistic point of view. It disrupted the vista down Park Avenue that had become an essential part of our city. Are we preparing to make the same mistake again, on multiple sites? The rezoning study makes no mention of protected-view corridors. Can we guarantee that in the future the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building will not be lost in thickets of taller buildings? And what of our streets and subway platforms? I commute through Grand Central several times a week, and at 6:20 a.m., when I catch my train to New Haven, the terminal is already full of people. When I return at 6:30 or 7 p.m., I can hardly make my way to the stairways and escalators that lead to the Lexington Avenue subway platforms. How will the added workers quartered in these new buildings get from their trains to their desks? The plan says that special assessments and payments in lieu of taxes will guarantee “pedestrian network improvements as development occurs.” There is nothing wrong with privately financed infrastructure improvements. But the study, if I read it correctly, gets it backward: first you put in the infrastructure, then you build the buildings. Look at the example of Grand Central, the private enterprise that spurred all this development in the first place. What lessons should we take from other great cities? In the early 1990s, Shanghai organized a special economic zone that led to the development of a financial hub in Pudong, on land previously occupied by warehouses and wharves. Towers sprouted to create an instant iconic skyline, but with a regrettable, scaleless urban moonscape below. Should we in New York in 2013 emulate the Shanghai of the 1990s? Or should we heed the lesson the Chinese themselves have subsequently learned, that saving old buildings and neighborhoods is essential to the continued vitality of great cities? In Shanghai, the pre-World War II buildings along the Bund, which loom so very large in the city’s appeal, have been saved and repurposed. Nearby, at Xintiandi, a historic residential neighborhood of stone houses and tight alleys has been transformed into a chic, walkable retail and entertainment district. Terminal City, a sophisticated mix of hotels, clubs, office buildings and residential blocks at the heart of East Midtown, was built on platforms bridging the rail yards north of Grand Central. It was a bold plan to create valuable real estate where once there had been urban blight. As much as anything, this development created what the world knows today as Midtown Manhattan. Some judicious pruning is no doubt appropriate, but are the right areas being targeted? In the center of the study’s bull’s-eye diagram are buildings worth preserving: George B. Post’s Roosevelt Hotel, the Yale Club by James Gamble Rogers, Carrère & Hastings’s historically important Liggett Building and Arthur Loomis Harmon’s extraordinary Shelton Club Hotel, now a Marriott, which inspired artists like Georgia O’Keeffe to some of their best work. Those and other distinguished buildings have come to define the area around Grand Central, but are not yet official landmarks. Instead of blindly targeting what is oldest for replacement, as the study does, why not develop a thoughtful preservation plan that takes a broad look at what is worth saving? In fact, the best path toward ensuring the future of East Midtown may well be that of preservation. Preservation, which too many in the real estate community reflexively oppose, has been a better stimulant for development than rezoning. SoHo and the Flatiron district were two of the most moribund parts of the city in the 1960s and ’70s; once they were designated as historic districts, the fortunes that poured in made them more vital than ever. We can do the same in East Midtown. The historic hotels and older office buildings of Terminal City could be repurposed for residential uses (and, I might add, the Yale Club is doing just fine). Some of these older buildings, their futures uncertain, may look a little dowdy today, but I’m confident that the stability that landmark designation provides would lead owners and developers to rediscover their intrinsic value. Our diversity, and the fact that we don’t look like Pudong, is the reason many creative types choose New York over the bland banalities of Silicon Valley, just as in London, they’ve chosen Clerkenwell over Canary Wharf, and in Paris, just about anywhere over La Défense. Why do tourists flock here? Because we are what we are. As we go forward, we need to evolve, not copy someplace else. We can’t sacrifice our legacy for the benefit of a small group of property owners, especially when other, less controversial sites, with the potential for visionary large-scale urbanism on par with the potential that Terminal City seized 100 years ago, are gaining momentum. At its most fundamental level, the problem with the so-called planning study is that it’s not a plan. It trusts that developers will build world-class buildings, and that we’ll sort out the public realm as we go. It looks to improve East Midtown by adding world-class office stock, but it dices the neighborhood into independent development zones with little broader thinking. There’s nothing of the unified vision that gave us Rockefeller Center, with its iconic Channel Gardens, its world-famous ice rink and its shop-lined indoor passageways that connect office buildings to subways. The proposed East Midtown up-zoning doesn’t give anything back to New York. It’s all about real estate and not about place-making, or should I say, place-saving. Even with 80 percent of its building stock over 50 years old, East Midtown is today, in the words of the planning study, “the best business address in the world.” Let’s keep it that way. Robert A. M. Stern, architect, is dean of the Yale School of Architecture and a co-author of a series of books about architecture and urbanism in New York.
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Gas Station on Houston to Go

The gas station on the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets is one step closer to being demolished, a step that would remove one of the last vestiges of SoHo's grittier past. The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission has unanimously approved a plan to demolish three buildings—a BP BP.LN -0.82%PLC gas station, the bar Puck Fair, and a former mechanic shop—and replace them with a seven-story office building with a retail component.
Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street JournalThe BP gas station at the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets, which will be redeveloped by the real-estate development firm LargaVista.
The commission, which designated the site as part of the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District Extension in 2010 because of its prominent location, says it approved the demolition of the buildings because "they are atypical of the structures found elsewhere in the district," said a landmarks spokeswoman of the Tuesday vote. The neighborhood, once home to venues like Mars Bar, antique shops and an outdoor flea market, has gotten a makeover in recent decades as it has attracted a number of retail chains and office tenants ranging from technology companies to designers. Ten years ago, the area offered "all no-name stores," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail group at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Today, she calls it "the denim corridor,"—a reference to jean retailers that have moved in like G-Star Raw and Supreme.
dboxA rendering of the proposed development.
The gas station, which was a Gaseteria before it was a BP location, has been owned by Marcello Porcelli's family since 1976. Mr. Porcelli, president of real-estate development firm LargaVista, decided he wanted to redevelop the site when BP's lease was up at 300 Lafayette St. The project, designed by CookFox Architects LLP, will contain 30,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of office space. Mr. Porcelli—whose portfolio is represented by CBRE Group Inc.'s CBG -0.82%tri-state region head Mary Ann Tighe and Vice President Tom Duke—expects the project to be certified under the city's land-use approval process, which usually takes several months, According to CBRE, the average asking rent for office space in SoHo and NoHo was $79.44 a square foot in the first quarter, up from $49.78 in the year-earlier period. "It's got the exposure of Times Square and yet it's in a neighborhood like SoHo that's so exciting and dynamic," Mr. Porcelli said. Mr. Duke says he expects that the building would have some of the highest rents south of midtown for office and retail. "This is a trophy of LargaVista's portfolio," he says. But not everyone is a fan of his proposal. "We are an icon, I believe, in the neighborhood," said Fernando Dallorso, a manager at Puck Fair, one of the buildings that would be torn down. "I think it would be a loss, but nothing we can do about it." Mr. Dallorso says that the bar is currently in a lease, but he wouldn't discuss its terms. On Wednesday afternoon, the proposal to replace the gas station drew mixed reviews. The corner, which is surrounded by chains ranging from Adidas to Brooklyn Industries, was filled with shoppers and tourists with cameras strapped to their necks. How Zan, a 38-year-old architect who works across the street from the gas station, said good riddance. "It's creating too much traffic," said the Jersey City resident. "People in line, the cabdrivers, they think this is theirs. They occupy this place." But Miranda Santiago, a 31-year-old veterinarian who has lived in SoHo for two years, disagrees. "It's a bummer to see it go," she said. As for the grit and graffiti that SoHo was known for decades ago? "I almost feel like that's not even associated with SoHo anymore," she said.   http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324695104578414720097253696.html?mod=WSJ_NY_RealEstate_LEADNewsCollection  
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Frank Lloyd Wright wronged on Park Avenue

A luxury auto showroom designed by the famous architect and said to be the inspiration for his Guggenheim Museum design has been demolished. Move came on heels of city moving to possibly landmark the space.

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20130412/REAL_ESTATE/130419943 By Matt Chaban @MC_NYC April 12, 2013 11:56 a.m.   Guggenheim Museum Frank Lloyd Wright's most celebrated New York work, the Guggenheim Museum. Photo: Buck Ennis For six decades, a luxury-car showroom with a distinctive swooping ramp stood at the corner of Park Avenue and 56th Street. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was the first of only three New York projects by the modernist master. In six days late last month, the dealership was destroyed. "The loss of a Frank Lloyd Wright, it's a national tragedy," said Simeon Bankoff, director of the Historic Districts Council. Like so many in New York, he had no idea the space was even gone. The end came suddenly and unexpectedly. On March 22, the Landmarks Preservation Commission called the owners of 430 Park Ave. to tell them the city was considering designating the Wright showroom—until January, the longtime home to Mercedes of Manhattan—as the city's 115th interior landmark. Three days later, the commission followed up with a letter. Both went unanswered. Instead, on March 28, the building's owners, Midwood Investment & Management and Oestreicher Properties, reached out to another city agency, the Department of Buildings, requesting a demolition permit for the Wright showroom. The permit was approved the same day, sealing the showroom's fate. By the following week, workers had arrived and removed every last trace of a space that some architectural historians say inspired Wright's most celebrated New York work, the Guggenheim Museum. The city has lost an architectural gem, albeit a small and seldom-noticed one. Almost no one saw it go. Even if they had, there is almost nothing that could have been done to stop it. And yet this quiet disappearance also raises the question of whether there was anything worth saving. "I'm surprised, but I'm not," said David Hoffman, an executive managing director at brokerage Cassidy Turley, who arranged Mercedes-Benz's last lease for the space, in 2001. "It was notable solely because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but it wasn't the Guggenheim; it wasn't monumental." Ironically, it was the Landmarks Commission's good intentions, and a disconnect between it and the Department of Buildings, that doomed the dealership. In August, the commission received a request to consider landmarking the showroom from Docomomo Tri-State, a preservation group focused on modernist buildings, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. The commission decided to wait until Mercedes vacated the space to proceed. Part of the reason was that an interior-landmark designation can be granted only to a public space, and there had been a long-running debate in the preservation community about whether the showroom was actually anything but private property. Also, the commission had little reason to believe Midwood and Oestreicher would take the action they did. The delay proved fatal, but the outcome was likely inevitable. The commission is loath to designate a landmark without the owner's support, because the landlord, not the city, is ultimately the steward of the space. In the case of the auto dealership, the steward simply had other plans. Representatives for both Midwood and Oestreicher declined requests for comment. "Regrettably, the showroom was dismantled before the formal public designation process could begin," a commission spokeswoman said. "It is disappointing that the owners in this case demonstrated a disregard for the process." That process, however, is famously cumbersome. The commission cannot "calendar" a property—the first step in the landmarking process, and the point at which the Department of Buildings is notified not to allow work to be done on the potential landmark—until Landmarks has done sufficient research, which typically involves outreach to the owner. In the interim, the landlord is free to request demolition permits, and there is almost nothing either city agency can do to stop them. The Wright showroom is just one of several such cases in recent years. Back when the Madison Square North Historic District was proposed in 2000, the owners of the former ASPCA headquarters at 50 Madison Ave. removed much of the building's Beaux Arts ornamentation, with the Department of Buildings' blessing. The owners had plans for a multistory addition to create a luxury apartment building, and they did not want their work to be subject to the commission's whims. The tactic worked, and the property was left out of the district. Taking a different tack, the Institute of International Education closed a conference center designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto in 2008, thus creating a private space exempt from landmarking. Motivations for doing such end runs around landmarking are clear. "I can't think of too many owners that would be grateful to receive a phone call from the Landmarks Commission when they're about to do work on a building, which could stop their ability to make that investment and increase the value of the building," said Stephen Spinola, president of the powerful Real Estate Board of New York. In the case of the Wright showroom, the architect who worked on the demolition permits corroborates the city's timeline of the destruction coming shortly after the commission had reached out to the landlords. Silviu Zahara, of architecture firm Belea Group, said he had received the job two weeks ago, but he also insists he had no idea the space was crafted by one of the nation's most revered designers. "The drawings I got were from an architect I'd never heard of," he said. "Actually, it wasn't a great-looking space." To be sure, this was one of Wright's lesser works. Mr. Bankoff of the Historic Districts Council said that when he mentioned it to certain in-the-know colleagues, they were shocked to learn there was a Wright hiding in plain sight on Park Avenue. Even the renowned architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable was lukewarm on the showroom. "The spiral ramp motif … which was to be so beautiful an element in the Guggenheim, is employed here, though far less effectively, in part because of the low ceiling and partly because the cramped, abrupt turning motion all too clearly recalls the ramps of multifloor parking garages," she wrote in a 1966 book. Frank Lloyd Wright's luxury-car showroom at 430 Park Ave. completely demolished. Photo: Matt Chaban Still, the showroom has its mourners. "It's outside our scope as an institution, so we don't know what to do about [the demolition], but it's pretty bad," said Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim. Some question whether there was any Wright worth saving, since the space was renovated twice, first in the 1980s and again in 2001. The merits of the space would have been considered at the Landmarks Commission. "That's a debate we should have had, and could have had, but now we can't" because of the demolition, said Vin Cipolla, president of the Municipal Art Society. "That's what the landmarking process is for." Margery Perlmutter, a member of the Landmarks Commission, was shocked to learn about the loss of the showroom. "All it takes is a savvy landlord and a smart tenant to do something special with that space," she said. "How many boutiques can claim to be inside a Frank Lloyd Wright? None that I know of, unless you count the Guggenheim gift shop." Just how much of an asset the space's pedigree could have been to a retailer will now never be known. But Faith Hope Consolo, a retail broker at Douglas Elliman and a self-professed fan of Wright, has her doubts. "It means nothing to a new retailer; they couldn't care less," she said. Instead, she estimates that having a blank slate to work with could add hundreds of dollars per square foot to the value of the lease, especially given the location, a block off busy 57th Street. "Of course, under the law the landlords had the right to do this," Ms. Consolo said. "I just wish they'd had the same respect for Frank Lloyd Wright as they did for their own rights."
Robin Pogrebin reports for The New York Times, When a new home for the American Folk Art Museum opened on West 53d Street in Manhattan in 2001 it was hailed as a harbinger of hope for the city after the Sept. 11 attacks and praised for its bold architecture. “Its heart is in the right time as well as the right place,” Herbert Muschamp wrote in his architecture review in The New York Times, calling the museum’s sculptural bronze facade “already a Midtown icon.” Now, a mere 12 years later, the building is going to be demolished. In its place the adjacent Museum of Modern Art, which bought the building in 2011, will put up an expansion, which will connect to a new tower with floors for the Modern on the other side of the former museum. And the folk museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, will take a dubious place in history as having had one of the shortest lives of an architecturally ambitious project in Manhattan. “It’s very rare that a building that recent comes down, especially a building that was such a major design and that got so much publicity when it opened for its design — mostly very positive,” said Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program. “The building is so solid looking on the street, and then it becomes a disposable artifact. It’s unusual and it’s tragic because it’s a notable work of 21st century architecture by noteworthy architects who haven’t done that much work in the city, and it’s a beautiful work with the look of a handcrafted facade.” MoMA officials said the building’s design did not fit their plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum. The former folk museum is also set back farther than MoMA’s other properties, and the floors would not line up. “It’s not a comment on the quality of the building or Tod and Billie’s architecture,” Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director said. Mr. Lowry personally went to the architects’ offices to inform them of the museum’s decision, a gesture that Ms. Tsien said she appreciated. “We feel really disappointed,” she said in an interview. “There are of course the personal feelings — your buildings are like your children, and this is a particular, for us, beloved small child. But there is also the feeling that it’s a kind of loss for architecture, because it’s a special building, a kind of small building that’s crafted, that’s particular and thoughtful at a time when so many buildings are about bigness.” The folk art museum, which had once envisioned the building as a stimulus for its growth, ended up selling the property, at 45 West 53d Street, to pay off the $32 million it had borrowed to finance an expansion. It now operates at a smaller site on Lincoln Square, at West 66th Street. Mr. Lowry said the expansion would complete the MoMA campus, which will ultimately consist of five buildings, four of them on West 53rd Street between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas. Still to be built is an 82-story tower just west of the folk museum that is being developed by Hines, a Houston company, and was designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. It will include apartments as well as exhibition space for the museum. When the projects are finished the museum will gain about 10,000 square feet of gallery space at the former folk art site and about 40,000 in the Nouvel building, officials said. The Modern’s second, fourth and fifth floors will line up with those in both buildings. (The second-floor galleries are double height.) “We’ll have a completely integrated west end to the museum,” Mr. Lowry said. “Floor plates will extend seamlessly.” Precisely what will be displayed in the new galleries has yet to be determined, but Mr. Lowry said they would include work from the Modern’s “midcentury collections, early Modern collections and temporary exhibitions.” The cost for the project has not been announced, he said, and fund-raising has yet to begin. MoMA’s 2004 renovation, designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, increased the museum’s gallery space to 125,000 square feet, from 85,000 (and the overall size to 630,000 square feet, from 378,000). But the museum still needs more room for exhibitions. “We have a lot of art that we own that we would like to show,” said Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer who is the museum’s chairman. “When we built what exists today we didn’t get as much exhibition space as we really need.” Ms. Tsien said she and Mr. Williams, her husband, wished the Modern had found a way to reuse what they designed and to realize its value. “It’s a building that kids study in architecture school,” she said. “They study it as a kind of precedent to understand how buildings are made and to understand the kind of space it is because it is a complex and interesting building in a very small site.” But, she added, “it doesn’t seem to make sense to second-guess how they might have used it.” The Modern will interview architects to design the new addition, Mr. Lowry said, and hopes to select one by the end of this year. It expects to have the building demolished by then. Construction of the Nouvel project is expected to start in 2014, with both new buildings being completed simultaneously in 2017 or 2018, Mr. Lowry said. The museum has been aggressive about expansion. In 1996 it bought the Dorset Hotel, a 1920s building on West 54th Street, and two adjacent brownstones, using much of the sites for its extensive renovation in 2004. In 2007 the museum sold its last vacant parcel of land for $125 million to Hines, which decided to develop the Nouvel building and include space for the museum. Mr. Nouvel originally designed the tower, at 53 West 53d Street, with a spire rising 1,250 feet — matching the top floor of the Empire State Building — and Nicolai Ouroussoff predicted in The Times that it would be “the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation.” But residents protested the height and the Department of City Planning demanded that Mr. Nouvel cut 200 feet from the top. He did so, and in 2009 the City Council approved plans for a tower that is to rise 1,050 feet. The museum is deciding what to put at ground level at the former folk art building site — perhaps additional retail or another restaurant, Mr. Lowry said. (Its upscale restaurant, the Dining Room at the Modern, received three stars from Pete Wells in The Times last month.) “We bought the site,” Mr. Lowry said, “and our responsibility is to use the site intelligently.” Ms. Tsien said she could not recall another example of such a high-profile architectural project being demolished so soon after it was built. “Museums have opened and closed and buildings have shifted,” she said, “but I don’t know about being torn down.”
Jackie Robinson’s former home in East Flatbush, a baseball card Community leaders and elected officials in East Flatbush are hoping they don’t strike out with the city Landmarks Preservation Commission in their bid to get landmark status granted to Jackie Robinson’s former home at 5224 Tilden Avenue in Brooklyn, the New York Daily News reported. The push to preserve the baseball legend’s old residence kicked off Tuesday, a day before the release of “42,” a film chronicling the slugger’s experience shattering the Major League Baseball color barrier as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson won both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards while living in the home from 1948 through 1949. Robinson was a hero for race relations on the baseball diamond and he took his work home with him. During the family’s first Christmas on Tilden Avenue, Robinson noticed that his Dodger-loving neighbors, the Satlows, didn’t have a tree. Not wanting them to go without, he took it upon himself to buy them one, not realizing they were Jewish. The family was so touched by the gesture that they put the tree next to their menorah. Robinson’s daughter wrote a book about the story called “Jackie’s Gift.” “It blends in just like the other houses in the district, and that’s why we need to work to landmark it,” City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who is based in Brooklyn, said of the home. “It seems pretty well kept for the time being. We want to make sure it stays that way.” [NYDN] – Evan Bleier
MAS believes 2013 presents New York City with a truly unique opportunity. Madison Square Garden’s 50-year special permit to operate an arena use on its current site has expired. In December 2012, Madison Square Garden filed an application to continue to operate an arena on this site in perpetuity and that request is now going through the City’s land use review process with a final decision by the City Council in late June/early July. NYC deserves a world-class train station and truly dynamic arena but if we approve the Garden’s special permit in perpetuity we will have neither. MAS strongly believes that now is the time to lay out a clear plan for New York City which presents a more ambitious and optimistic vision and moves the conversation beyond incremental and insufficient improvements to a fundamentally flawed plan. The city needs to do the right thing — and set as its goal a new Penn Station and a new arena in 10 years. The 1963 plan for MSG and Penn Station – designed by architect Charles Luckman – was developed at a time when the future of train travel was less certain and when approximately 200,000 people per day were using Penn Station. Today, New York has a station that was designed for approximately 200,000 but moves 640,000 people daily. Madison Square Garden, although it has undergone an expensive renovation continues to fall further behind as new more modern arenas are built. What should be one of the most exciting and dynamic buildings in New York City is unfortunately one of the least. Over the years many alternative locations have been suggested for MSG and the work will explore which sites offer the greatest opportunity. A new Penn Station and a new arena will be an economic engine for New York City – creating thousands of jobs, unlocking billions of dollars in additional private investment, making millions of commutes a year faster and more comfortable.

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