The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Design seeks to make the East River waterfront accessible

    Annie Bergelin reports for The Architect's Newspaper: The Missing Link. AECOM designing new path to connect New York City's East River Esplanade.

     
    For years there has been an inconvenient gap in the East River Esplanade between East 37th and East 60th streets, disrupting what could be a contiguous promenade experience along the waterfront. The gap is there because of two major built projects that cause the north section to be disjointed from the south section. The first is FDR Drive, the brainchild of Robert Moses who gave preferential treatment to vehicular traffic along the East River.
     
    The second is the United Nations headquarters, an iconic Modernist building complex that trumps local land use in the interest of global alliances. Despite these two obstacles, AECOM has come up with a solution to bridge the gap on the East River Esplanade. The conceptual design work that AECOM has prepared for the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) reveals that there will be a new piece of infrastructure dedicated to pedestrian and bicycle circulation decking over the water adjacent to the FDR Drive. The primary objective is to connect the north and south portions of the Esplanade, but the design team is using the opportunity to introduce other amenities as well.
     
     
    Gonzalo Cruz, a creative design director at AECOM and project manager for the Esplanade project, explained that the design seeks to develop easily accessible connections to the street grid, provide three programmatic nodes, and establish a “ribbon” of features to integrate the mile-long project as one cohesive design. Between 38th and 41st streets there is a recreation node designed for active uses such as children’s play areas and fitness equipment. At 48th Street there is a gathering node for passive recreation with an amphitheater seating area, shade trees, and a variety of seating options, including a bar area with benches and small gathering spaces. And at 53rd Street there is an environmental education node with educational signage and ecological plantings.
     
     
    Cruz pointed out that an increasing number of people want to ride bicycles in New York, either for recreation or commuting, therefore the city needs to build the infrastructure to facilitate that objective. The expanded esplanade will feature a bike lane separated from the pedestrian walkway to streamline north-south movement along the East Side of Manhattan.
     
    Developing ideas for the project has been a true collaborative effort, said Cruz. AECOM worked with various city agencies and community groups to determine how to deal with access, programming, and logistics. Internally, AECOM brought together their landscape design and planning team with the environmental design and marine engineering teams to solve the complex design problem. The goal is to design a project that benefits the local community, as well as the city at large, and Cruz believes that they have been successful thus far with the conceptual design.
     
    Cali Williams, vice president of EDC, agrees. “We’re proud of the open engagement process that sought and subsequently applied the best ideas from both the design team and local community to achieve the highest standards of form and function,” said Williams. There is no set timeline to develop the project yet, but planning is underway. For those of us who long for the landscape-oriented transformation of the New York City waterfront, this project cannot come soon enough.
     
     

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  • A Vision for a Self-Reliant New York

    Rory Stott reports for Archdaily.

    Bird’s-eye view of Midtown Manhattan’s neighborhood food hubs in New York City (Steady) State.

    “In an era of incompetent nation states and predatory transnationals, we must ratchet up local self-reliance, and the most logical increment of organization (and resistance) is the city.” This is how Michael Sorkin, writing in Aeon Magazine, explains his hypothetical plan to radically change the landscape of New York City, bringing a green landscape and urban farming into the former concrete jungle.

    Street view of Amsterdam Ave. in northern Manhattan featuring a mix of traditional and advanced agricultural growing techniques.

    The plan, called “New York City (Steady) State”, produced over six years by Sorkin’s Terreform Research Group, is not designed simply for aesthetic pleasure; it’s not even an attempt to make the city more sustainable (although sustainability is the key motivation behind the project). The project is in fact a “thought-experiment” to design a version of New York that is completely self reliant, creating its own food, energy and everything else within its own borders.

    Street level view of the interior courtyard space in the Figure Ground Switch.

    The key idea behind the project is to create a sustainable society from the bottom up – rather than relying on government to impose one from the top down – by applying autarky, a political concept which describes a completely closed system. This system resonates well with many established notions of sustainability: ideas such as 'cradle-to-cradle' or 'net zero' often demand closed loops or minimal outside influence.

    New York City (Steady) State, Master Plan B.

    After defining the extents of the study (including only the five boroughs of New York City and creating “an almost completely 'unnatural limit' to constrain the study), the first step was to define how a city as urban as New York might be adapted to provide food for its 8.5 million inhabitants. Using a variety of skyscraper farms, and reclaiming streets and under-utilized city blocks, Terreform has calculated that it would be technically possible to produce 2,500 calories per person, per day. Combining this with a sophisticated distribution network would give each resident access to enough food.

    Exterior rendering of a vertical tower designed specifically for meat production.

    A plan as dramatic as this obviously brings drawbacks: the first iteration of the design was calculated to require 25 nuclear power stations to generate the energy required to produce all this food, a result that was “somewhat at odds with our larger intentions.” However, this is where the project’s intention as a thought experiment comes into play: the radical design is meant to test boundaries, to take on a seemingly impossible task and see what the implications are of meeting it.

    Street view of 147th street in northern Manhattan where dominance has shifted from vehicular circulation to food production and distribution.

    “On the whole, we’re sanguine about the differences between the logics of comparative advantage and the politics of self-realization, and the difficulties of negotiating the territory in between,” explains Sorkin. The truly desirable solution to environmental crisis and social inequality will lie somewhere between our current situation and the designs of Terreform. But without their investigation pushing the boundaries of what is feasibly possible – and showing us just how different our urban environment could be – then our quest for sustainability would be limited, and therefore incomplete.

    New York City streets and blocks with proposed Figure Ground Switch, where the buildings occupy what were streets and the interior blocks are reserved for vertical towers and traditional food production.

    More images of “New York City (Steady) State”.

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