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Jennifer Whelan reports for Archdaily: COBE’s Adaptive Reuse of Nordhavnen Silo Marks Beginning of Redevelopment.

Danish firm COBE is transforming the largest industrial building in Nordhavnen – a silo – into an apartment building with both private and public functions. For COBE, who also created the urban development plans for Nordhavnen, this project marks the beginning of the post-industrial area’s future. Nordhavnen is a harbor area located only 4km from Copenhagen‘s city centre.

“The exciting thing about old industrial property is how to preserve their soul and at the same time use them for something else,” said Klaus Kastbjerg, the owner of the silo, commenting on the adaptive reuse project. To preserve the soul of the silo, the architects will maintain a raw industrial feeling on the interior. Each of the 40 retrofitted apartments will contain visible historic remnants such as existing concrete columns and walls.

The spatial variation within the silo is immense due to the various functions of storing and handling grain, giving rise to a unique set of apartments. The single and multi-leveled apartments range from 80 square meters to 800 square meters in size, with floor heights soaring up to 8 meters. Each apartment has large panoramic views with balconies overlooking the city skyline. The public element of the building lies in both the ground and top floors, creating a multidimensional experience for users. The silo will be used for public purposes such as exhibitions, events, and conferences. On the top floor of the building there will be a restaurant with 360 degree views of almost all of Copenhagen.

While the building interior will be preserved as much as possible, the exterior will be re-cladded in order to bring the facade up to current standards. Despite this major change, the maintenance of the building’s slender, tall shape serves to preserve the existing silo’s distinctive character and redefine it as a modern landmark. For more images of the project click here.  

Chris Berger reports for Curbed: America's First Shopping Mall is Now Stuffed With Micro Homes.

In 2008, Rhode Island's Providence Arcade was in trouble. Considered America's first indoor mall, the nearly 200-year-old downtown building closed after struggling to fill its cramped commercial spaces. The arcade needed an overhaul, but few viable options existed: when the possibility of a gut job arose, preservationists raised holy hell. In the end, the shopping center and its snug quarters proved just the right fit for a growing housing trend: micro apartments.

Known as Westminster Arcade when it opened in 1828, the building marked the debut of English indoor shopping concept in the United States. Designed by architects Russell Warren and James Bucklin, the Greek Revival stone structure more resembles a courthouse than a shopping mall, what with its stately Ionic columns and sunlight-filled atrium with its glass gable roof. Shoppers browsed three floors of shops—or at least that was the idea; they never seemed willing to trudge up the stairs to the second and third floors.

The mall was nearly razed in 1944, but preservationists intervened, and it was spared. In 1976, the arcade was designated a National Historic Landmark, though businesses struggled. Even its 1980 renovation didn't help much, and it ultimately closed in 2008. "It had become economically obsolete," said J. Michael Abbott, a principal at Northeast Collaborative Architects. "When it was a full shopping center of all three floors, it just wasn't working. Shops were opening and closing all the time."


Oft smaller than a hotel room, micro apartments have grown in popularity in recent years as more people cram into urban areas and housing prices escalate. The concept first gained popularity in European and Asian cities before projects popped up in San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston during the Great Recession. And so, developer Evan Granoff, who bought the Westminster Arcade in 2005, sought to introduce shoebox living to Providence. The construction practices of yore proved a challenge for the rehabilitation team, led by Northeast Collaborative Architects.

"They just laid down some flat rocks and started building on top of those—that was the foundation," Abbott said. "The building has settled over time. We call that 'character.'" As a result, the walls had to be shored up, and custom doors and windows were created to fit the uneven contours. The well-worn wood floors and lacelike iron balustrades were left in place. Work on the $7M project wrapped in October 2013. Granoff retained the retail spaces on the ground floor and rented them to retail busineses.

These commercial spaces are enclosed by bay windows so sound doesn't drift to the residences above. Inspired by ship construction, each of the 38 rental units—which measure from 225 to 300 square feet—includes a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and built-in storage. The homes on the second floor even have guest accommodations in the form of a twin Murphy bed. The Providence Arcade also contains eight larger apartments, a game room, storage spaces, and laundry machine.

Micro apartments are not for everyone—in fact, their clientele are "young kinds that just graduated." They "are at the bottom-end of the totem pole and don't have that dining room set that grandma gave them," Abbott said. "They travel really light. They might have a bike and two suitcases." The Providence Arcade's dwellings have also attracted keepers of the shops downstairs as well as second homeowners seeking a place to stay when they're in town. Rent starts at $550 a month, but future residents better get in line—there is already a waitlist.  

Katherine Clarke reports for The Daily News: Salvage operation at Domino Sugar factory tops $10M as developers look to rescue industrial artifacts.

The iconic Domino Sugar factory sign and other artifacts are being salvaged and will return once the $1.5 billion project is completed.

The developers of Williamsburg’s iconic Domino Sugar Factory say the 40-foot yellow neon sign which has adorned the property since the 1920s will return — once a $1.5 billion redevelopment of the site is completed. And the sign, in the process of being temporarily removed, is hardly the only artifact being salvaged from the site, once home to the largest sugar-refining operation in the world. Landscape architects and preservationists have been like kids in a candy factory, raiding the site for relics. The relics speak to the area’s rich industrial past. And they can and will be incorporated into a brand-new ­waterfront park at the site. “The demolition contractors wanted to kill me because I kept finding things I wanted to keep,” said Lisa Switkin, a landscape architect with James Corner Field Operations.

The firm has been tapped by developer Two Trees Management Company to design the park. The salvage operation is now more important than ever, as Two Trees prepares to raze the majority of the factory buildings. And the salvation efforts may help assuage the anger of some neighborhood residents, who have long opposed the redevelopment of the site on the grounds of historical significance. Some concerns about the project were already put to bed earlier this year. That happened when Two Trees, headed by the Walentas family, agreed to up the number of affordable housing units included in its plans, from 660 apartments to 700. Two Trees also plans to build more than 2,000 rental apartment units, retail space and a school, in addition to the five acres of waterfront open space.

The wrecking ball is finally rolling after years of discussion. The so-called bin structure, on which the Domino sign is prominently displayed, is slated to be demolished by the end of August. And under the company’s current construction schedule, most of the property’s buildings will be gone by the end of the year. But the main refinery building, complete with its distinctive chimney and protected by a landmarks law, will remain. Plans call for that structure to be transformed into an office hub for technology and creative companies.

Switkin’s firm is drawing inspiration for the park from one of its biggest projects, the High Line, which the company spent five years masterminding. The Domino park will feature a similarly elevated catwalk. It will be abutted on one end by two salvaged 80-foot-tall gantry cranes, which were once used to unload raw sugar from freighters when the product arrived on ships from Latin America and the Caribbean. The runway, to be known as the Artifact Walk, will run the length of the 505-foot-long sugar warehouse currently housed on the site. That’s where the sugar was first stored before being pumped up into the main refinery. The warehouse recently played host to an enormous art installation by Kara Walker. For Switkin, salvaging these kinds of objects is a way to leverage the area’s industrial heritage and to add character and context to the park, all while adding value to the apartments and office space going up on the site. In the 1950s, when production peaked at the facility, there were more than 5,000 workers active at the factory. Up to 1,500 tons of sugar were refined there every day. “If you lived on Kent Ave., some mornings you’d wake up to find a thick sugar coating on your car,” said Dave Lombino, the director of special projects at Two Trees. When the company began the project nearly a year ago, visitors to the site were instructed to wear throwaway shoes. The floors were still sticky from molasses.

The park will feature an elevated catwalk, abutted on one end by two salvaged 80-foot-tall gantry cranes, which were once used to unload raw sugar from freighters when the product arrived on ships from Latin America and the Caribbean.

The developer is also salvaging the 425-foot long rail tracks. They supported the cranes and a series of structural columns from the sugar warehouse, still caked in sugary lumps, which will serve as a backbone for the catwalk. Other artifacts to be rescued from the rubble include: cylindrical tanks that collected syrup during the refining process, mooring bollards and bucket elevators. Switkin is even planning to restore various dials, meters and valves from old refinery machines. They’ll be incorporated into a play area for children in the park.

The process of salvaging these items is expensive and time-consuming, but Two Trees will likely get its money back out on the other end. A representative company estimated the cost of the salvage operation at more than $10 million. “It’s not pure altruism on our part,” Lombino admits. “We’re renting a couple of thousand apartments here. The more this place is desirable as an attraction, the more intriguing the history seems, the more we’ll be able to rent them for.” For its part, the Brooklyn Historical Society is happy with Two Trees’ preservation efforts and is helping the company to curate a small exhibition about the factory’s past. The show will be displayed in the refinery building once it opens. “Some people will always be unhappy about the development of the site,” says society president Deborah Schwartz. “But Two Trees has no desire to wipe out the history. They’re giving the community an opportunity to remain connected to the story of the site."  

Chris Bentley reports for The Architect's Newspaper: Smooth Finish. Planners mull the revival of a historic millwork district on the Mississippi.

For much of its modern history, Dubuque, Iowa, has been a city that could not catch a break. The millwork industry that built it moved elsewhere in the early 20th century, and later the Interstate Highway System passed it by, too, building I-90 to the north through Madison, Wisconsin, and I-80 to the south through the Quad Cities.

Dubuque languished, enduring about 9 percent unemployment throughout the entire 1980s. Since then local officials have embarked on a series of public-private partnerships to revive the Mississippi River town piece by piece. Their latest effort takes aim at the heart of Dubuque’s industrial past: its rustic downtown millworking district. Once the largest millworking district in the U.S., these 28 buildings across 17 city blocks sat largely vacant for decades.


Thousands of employees used to make the trek from the nearby residential neighborhood of Washington to work in dozens of mills and other businesses. That may not happen again, but Andrew Dresdner, a Cuningham Group urban design associate, said Dubuque could forge a new identity without turning its back on the past. Cuningham’s master plan for the Millwork District recently won the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Award for Smart Growth Achievement—a vote of confidence in an ongoing plan that has so far created 150 units of housing, 15,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space, a 200-car parking garage, and substantial improvements to area streets. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named it a Green Lab pilot project.

The plan hopes to rehabilitate 1 million square feet of formerly vacant warehouse space, brining 1,000 new residents to the area. Those that have already come inhabit the Caradco Building, a three-story warehouse from the late 19th century. The namesake company is defunct, but the brick building remains, its inner courtyard turned into green space for residents of the city block-sized structure. “When you walk down the street there’s this glimmer of life from the courtyards through these huge, gracious arches,” said Dresdner. The master plan envisions similar transformations for other warehouses, with food co-ops, art galleries, and a solar energy company already moving in nearby.



  The city worked with existing property owners to redevelop the area as a unit, opting to landmark the district so it could score historic tax credits. They also landed an EPA Brownfields grant to daylight the underground Bee Branch Creek, which Dubuque buried after a fatal flash flood in 1858. Along with permeable pavement in the alleys and a bevy of “complete streets” improvements to the Millwork District’s urban grid, the newly exposed creek should help reduce damage to the flood-prone Washington neighborhood, too.


“It’s going to reintroduce green space into some of our most historic neighborhoods,” said Assistant City Manger Teri Goodman in the EPA video. The plan calls for a public plaza in the heart of the district and improved pedestrian connections to surrounding neighborhoods. For those traveling from farther away, Amtrak is looking to build a new multi-modal rail stop in the area, connecting the Millwork District to Chicago via the old Black Hawk line. Work is supposed to begin this year, but may be delayed while the Illinois Department of Transportation and Canadian National Railway negotiate track improvements.

However they arrive, visitors will find a different Dubuque than the one passed over by the highway system in the 1950s. “I can remember sitting at the council table in the 1990s. The comment was made that people will never live downtown in the city of Dubuque,” Mayor Roy Buol said in an EPA video touting the district’s redevelopment. “I think as a community we showed that if you can develop the infrastructure, take your historic buildings and rehab those so it’s a welcoming space, you can attract people downtown to live.”


Jessica Dailey reports for Curbed: Inside Dumbo's Abandoned Empire Stores Before Its Makeover.

More than six decades have passed since Dumbo's Empire Stores warehouses served a purpose, but by the end of next year, the abandoned coffee warehouses will be home to tech and fashion companies, marquee retailers, and "the who's who" of restaurateurs. Developer Midtown Equities, which won the development bid from Brooklyn Bridge Park last summer, is currently giving the brick buildings new life. STUDIO V designed two modern additions for the top, as well as an open-air courtyard that slices through the middle, but largely, the two buildings, dating to 1869 and 1885, will be preserved. 

The developer always planned on keeping historic elements like coffee chutes and hoisting wheels, and the commercial tenants that plan to lease the space (no new names were given) fully support that plan. Jack Cayre, founder of Midtown Equities, said many companies wanted the space as-is, strewn-about coffee beans and all. While that won't be happening, Curbed recently took a trip inside the historic warehouses, and suffice it to say that these will be some of the coolest office spaces in the city. The Empire Stores warehouses are actually seven individual buildings, which were built at different times as four-story and five-story structures.


Each building's faded number is still visible on the exterior. The shorter building is older, having been completed in 1869, while the five-story building dates to 1885. Engineers working on the redevelopment think that the schist used to create the walls inside the older warehouse was excavated from beneath the East River during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, which opened in 1883.

Both buildings will be six-stories with the new additions, and the four-story building will have a floor-to-ceiling open air courtyard sliced through it that will look something like this (rendering by STUDIO V). Cayre said they want "the new parts to look new" and juxtapose with the historic buildings. The ground floor will have eateries facing the park, including a yet-to-be-named Michelin star restaurateur, and retail in the rest of the space.


Every window on the warehouse had large black shutters which have been removed and tagged. Most of the shutters are falling apart and beyond repair, but they'll be used in spaces throughout the buildings. Many tenants have also expressed interest in having them in their offices. New shutters have been made to fit the windows, which are all different sizes. 

Part of the second floor of the development will host a museum dedicated to the history of coffee. Artifacts found in the warehouse, like these stencils that were used to write on the bags of coffee beans, will be displayed. The original floors on the ground level have been ripped out in preparation for new flooring. The concrete bases around the support columns were added during construction.


All of the wood used in the original buildings is first cut pine. Since the building is located on the waterfront, a flood barrier system will be installed around the perimeter. This building, with its brick ground floor still intact, is still in the same shape that it was when it was last used as a coffee warehouse.

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The upper levels have wooden floors and some of the best views any office could have. New windows will be placed on the inside of the building to not disrupt the look of it from the outside. Tenants will be able to have floorplates of up to 100,000 square feet. To make this happen, openings will be cut through the schist walls that separate the buildings. The rooftop is currently untouched. This is the top of the five-story building, so there will be a new office space here.

The addition will be setback, so this office will have a private terrace. The four-story building, which will have a two-story addition sits in front of the Dock Street project. The open courtyard will be immediately beside the five-story building, and a public rooftop terrace will wrap around it. There will also be a rooftop beer garden. The public rooftop terrace will look like this. You can see the brick wall of the five-story building on the far side, and the glassy two-story addition of the shorter warehouse. The rooftop office spaces will lease for $90 to $100 per square foot, a price unheard of in Brooklyn. 

Midtown Equities plans to turn the spaces over to the tenants by the third quarter of 2015, and at that time, the public spaces and rooftop would open. Every retail space is spoken for, but Midtown Equities has not released the names of the restaurants or shops. West Elm signed on as an anchor tenant for 10,000 square feet of offices and retail space. They paid in the high $40s to low $50s per square foot, setting a record for the borough.


And here's what it will look like when the whole thing is done. You can read the whole article and see more photographs here.

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Landmark adaptive reuse with a twist

Aaron Seward reports for The Architect's Newspaper: IN DETAIL> 837 WASHINGTON STREET. 

Morris Adjmi adds a twisting topper to a meat packing landmark.

The design of the addition's exoskeletal structure references Greenwich Village's Street grid.

The orthogonal street grid of New York City’s Commissioners’ Plan of 1811 collides with Greenwich Village’s wickerwork layout at 14th Street. While everything above that mark is rectangular blocks, below there is a series of odd triangular leftovers in the urban fabric. The difference between these two conditions served as the primary inspiration behind Morris Adjmi Architects’ design of 837 Washington Street, a 54,000-square-foot spec commercial building developed by Taconic Investment Partners at the corner of 13th Street in the Meat Packing District.

The site was home to an existing brick building that was once used for the purpose that gives the neighborhood its name. Two stories tall on Washington Street, it steps down to one story on 13th and is distinguished by a two-tone brick facade and a now-restored steel canopy—one of the hallmarks of a district that is protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Required to preserve this piece of history, but eager to wring out every bit of allowed floor area, Taconic asked Adjmi to design an extension for the top of the structure. Adjmi—who has built up quite a repertoire of expansion projects of this sort—responded with a modern addition that looks to the area’s high-design newcomers (High Line, Standard Hotel, Whitney Museum, etc.) as much as it does to its industrial heritage.

If the existing building represents the right angles of the Commissioners’ Plan, the rooftop extension expresses the village street condition. “The notion,” said Adjmi, “was to create a space where two buildings can coexist, rather than one being an addition to the other.” The expansion rises five levels above the brick building’s first story. Roughly square shaped, each floor is slightly smaller in area to the one below it and is rotated slightly in plan. This leaves triangular spaces outside of each floor’s divided light window wall, much like the triangular plazas found throughout the Village, which will be planted, drawing a connection to the neighboring High Line.

The expansion is supported by a structural steel exoskeleton—another High Line reference—featuring sloped columns that, like the building’s floors, twist in plan as they go up the elevation. While this expression does indeed resemble the way the Village streets veer off from the straight-as-an-arrow avenues coming down from uptown, it also created a structure that wanted to rotate and fall over. The structural engineers at Gilsanz Murray Steficek (GMS) were hard pressed to design an efficient and cost-effective scheme that would stand up against its live and dead loads.

Rotating each floor in plan opened up triangular exterior sections that will be planted. 

The solution mixes a conventional system with custom elements. Conventionally, the building is supported by a perimeter moment frame with a braced frame core, which is situated at the interior-most corner of the lot. Custom elements include built-up plate girders for the spandrel beams that were designed to handle the stresses imposed by the torqued shapes while maintaining the look desired by the architect. The columns themselves are spliced at every floor, rather than every other floor, and rotated five degrees to create a twisting profile. Intumescent painted and epoxy coated in black, the sloping columns meet new vertical columns that run through the existing building down to a newly dug basement and onto a freshly poured matt foundation.

Having the majority of the structure on the exterior and in the core allowed the designers to only use three columns on the interior, opening up more useable floor space. This did create thermal bridging issues, however, and so non-conductive shims were used to create thermal breaks between inside and outside. To maximize floor-to-ceiling heights the engineers also staggered the placement of the metal decking, allowing them to keep floor-framing members down to W12s. Since the structure also serves as the architectural expression, GMS worked with Adjmi to detail the connections between members. “We worked closely with Morris to develop the connection details, doing isometric drawings and going back and forth on bolt issue, where we usually release that to the fabricator,” said Joseph Basel, GMS partner in charge of the project. “It was a great project and really interesting for us.”


Amy Schellenbaum reports for Curbed: Explore the 'Wilds' of Lost Structures in America's Northeast.

In 2012, photographers Daniel Barter and Dan Marbaix, practiced urban explorers and creators of spine-tingling images like elaborate horror film sets,traipsed through 5,000 miles of the American northeast, stepping inside forgotten asylums, old bowling allies, and abandoned churches (like the one above).

Using Google maps and the suggestions of locals, the pair tiptoed across unstable structures, avoiding hazardous materials, unauthorized homemakers ("You never know who you might bump into," Barter tells BuzzFeed), and other surprise inhabitants. "It got pretty wild at times," Barter says, "so much so that in the more destitute areas, our guide carried a Glock."

More photos, over at BuzzFeed.  

Michael Cooper reports for The New York Times: Factory Conversion Moves Forward

The effort to turn a century-old sawdust factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, into an acoustically sound concert hall, recording studio, nightclub and center for composers is moving ahead, with organizers saying that they have raised the $16 million needed to finish construction. The space on North 6th Street, called the Original Music Workshop, has already drawn respected musicians and celebrities inside its weathered brick walls for concerts, even before it had a roof. Now its founder, Kevin Dolan, said that he had lined up what he called “philanthropic investors” to put up the money needed to finish construction.

It is an unusual arrangement. Mr. Dolan said that the investors would become part owners of the building, which they would allow the Original Music Workshop, a nonprofit, to use rent-free. In the future they could then give their shares to the workshop, sell them to the workshop, or sell the building. Mr. Dolan, 62, said this would reduce the risk to people who might be reluctant to put money into a new organization without a long track record. He added that the space could open as soon as the fall of 2015.

Jessica Dailey reports for Curbed: For 'Newer, Odder' Buildings, Historic Preservation Is Tough

During discussions of why the American Folk Art Museum, and its geometric cooper and bronze facade, could not be incorporated into the Museum of Modern Art's expansion, one of the architects working on the expansion plan called the Folk Art Museum's design, "bespoke," meaning "that the architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien fitted it so artfully to their client's needs that it won't meet anyone else's."

As such, preservation efforts failed to save the American Folk Art Museum, and MoMA is now demolishing the structure. In light of this, New York archicritic Justin Davidson takes a look at six other "newer, odder" buildings that may one day be (or already have been) in the same position as the soon-to-be gonemuseum:

1) U.N. Secretariat Building, by Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, and Wallace Harrison: Davidson notes that the idea of tearing down the building was considered when the U.N. created its masterplan for upgrading the site, but "the U.N.'s Vatican-like aversion to change—plus a desire to avoid the international arguments that a new structure would foment" ultimately saved the building, leading to a $2.1 billion renovation instead.

2) O'Toole Building, by Albert Ledner: This odd bunker-like "over-bite" building was almost torn down in 2008 so St. Vincent's could build a bigger complex, but the hospital closed before that could happen. Now, it's being turned into an emergency medical center, "its architectural identity crisply restored."
3) 2 Columbus Circle, by Edward Durell Stone: Now home to the Museum of Art and Design, 2 Columbus Circle was originally a marble-clad building with a curved façade, Venetian motifs, and a loggia at the top. People really hated it when it opened in 1964, and by the 1990s, Landmarks wouldn't even consider it. So the museum gut renovated it and completely changed the façade, creating the glass zig-zagging design that now exists.
4) Fifth Avenue Apple Store, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson: It's hard to imagine that someone would want to Landmark this glass box, but Davidson points out that the structure "accomplishes a staggering number of architectural tasks." But it's a rather fragile structure—a snowblower shattered a pane this winter, and it cost $450K to replace—so if Apple ever vacates the space it would probably be demolished if it wasn't protected. 5) IAC Building, by Frank Gehry: The day will likely come when one of Frank Gehry's swooping, swirling creations is deemed a landmarked, but will that building be in NYC? And will it be the blue and white IAC building? IAC commissioned the structure, and Davidson says it "carries a message about the company's defiance of conventional wisdom. However, if IAC's empire should crumble, Diller retire, or tech get square, who will cherish Gehry's folly?"
6) Queens Public Library, by Steven Holl: This building isn't even a reality yet, but continuous delays with the Hunters Point project lead Davidson to believe it's "potentially compromised" already. "The process for public building being a tortured one, the architecture could go all stolid by the time it's built, and the conventional wisdom on book spaces is likely to have changed by then, too."
The Architect's Newspaper:
Crit> Alternative Domino Proposal. Recounting the bittersweet history of Brooklyn's Domino Sugar Factory, Molly Heintz says the city deserves better.
To those of us in the neighborhood, long-suffering Domino feels more like a person than a project. Reborn as a development site in 2004, the defunct sugar refinery complex on the Williamsburg waterfront has gone through a rocky childhood. For the last decade, controversy has surrounded its use and financing. Now, Domino is about to enter what’s sure to be an awkward adolescence—now that the City Council signed off on the latest deal proposed by developer Two Trees and supported by the New York City Planning Commission, the 11 acres will become a construction site through at least 2023.
The result would be 3 million square feet of offices, retail, and residential space housed in a series of buildings designed by the architecture firm SHoP. City Hall is already high-fiving, but city leaders should consider that now and in the future the communities in all five boroughs deserve better.
Recent press around Domino has focused on the increase in affordable housing units hammered out between Two Trees and the City. The current deal, spearheaded by planning commissioner Carl Weisbrod and deputy mayor for housing and economic development Alicia Glen, has been hailed as a coup for the de Blasio administration. Two Trees agreed to 700 affordable units, an increase from 660, or 30 percent of the planned 2,200 units. But at what price? More square feet. And that continues to be the rub for members of the community: the project’s sheer scale compared to its context. Two trees claims the project scale—the tallest building is now 55 stories—is contextual if compared to the neighboring Williamsburg Bridge, a flawed point of reference when current zoning requires buildings just off the waterfront to be six stories or less.
Despite SHoP’s new design, other serious scale-related questions still linger. For example, the 2010 Environmental Impact Study lists building shadows as an “unavoidable adverse impact.” A 2013 follow-up report revising the findings in light of the SHoP plan states that the shadows will be better, faint praise considering the widespread gloom that would have been generated by the previous scheme. It is also a claim that should now be revisited given the new building heights and the fact that diagrams representing a wintertime afternoon timeframe—when shadows would be worst—are omitted from the 2013 report. The shadows are still severe and will make a large chunk of Williamsburg feel like a village stuck in a deep alpine valley. Transit, traffic, and pedestrians are on a list of other issues requiring mitigation thanks to the outsized project.  
Raising these concerns are not just to-be-expected NIMBY objections. A lower income neighborhood until the last decade, Williamsburg and its residents do not have the PR reach or sense of entitlement to speak up that money buys in New York. The community understands firsthand the value of development and the need for affordable housing, but the issue for many residents is a much bigger one: the feeling that Domino is a major lost opportunity for the city.
The community group Williamsburg Independent People, exploring alternative ideas, commissioned Jens Holm of HAO/Holm Architecture Office (full disclosure: Jens Holm is the author’s spouse) to help envision a plan that includes the same amount of affordable housing and retail, plus more public space. Recognizing the unique history and situation of the site, this financially self-sustaining scheme takes a page from the adaptive reuse of a London power plant that became a powerhouse cultural attraction, the Tate Modern. It is a plan that doesn’t just benefit the neighborhood or one borough, but would have long-term economic ripple effects for the entire city.
Above all, it underscores the possibility that affordable housing might be able to take forms other than as the stepchild to luxury condos. Disappointingly, architecture critics writing about the SHoP proposal over the past year have stayed focused not on the larger context but the architectural aesthetics, waxing poetic about watching the sun rising in the monumental “O-shaped” building or noting how the new skyline spells “Ooh.” Sure, that is the way it looks if you are sitting in Manhattan. From the Brooklyn side it spells “Hoo.” As in, ha, ha. This is bigger than Two Trees and SHoP.
It is a question of where the city’s loyalties truly lie. Local government should represent not just individuals but be the caretaker of neighborhoods. The balance sheet may now add up in a more equitable way, but looking beyond the numbers, the city still comes up short. Failing to acknowledge the impact on the urban fabric is a problematic precedent for the de Blasio administration, and the City Council should realize that Domino will cast a long shadow.


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