Monday, May 8, 2017

Billionaires' Row

Image may contain: outdoor
All photos DC unless noted

Pictures from a recent trip to New York

Rafael Viñoly's pencil tower as seen from 57th Street. I still like it. Well-resolved facades - direct, elegant, no nonsense, no shame. Looks good --or at least commands attention-- from all over town and the region. Very New York. A crowd of these? Art history teachers always liked San Gimignano, right?  And income disparity is nothing new in New York.

Another plus: it makes Trump Tower look small.

Image may contain: living room, table and indoor

Each window measures approximately 10 x 10 feet. Interiors by Deborah Berke:

Double-height technical floors are open to lessen wind loads, breezes pass through them. There is an elaborate system of dampers and floor slabs have added mass on upper floors to lower oscillating movement under wind pressure:

Portzamparc's tower on West 57th, with its fussy glass skin is, as Viñoly has said, "horrendous".
56 Leonard Street by Herzog & de Meuron
Herzog & de Meuron, 56 Leonard Street. Source: Dezeen

 A summary of star-architect designed projects underway in New York from January 2016, including three by Herzog & de Meuron and one by Álvaro Siza:

An inside look at the tower by Viñoly and Herzog & de Meuron's Leonard Street tower in Tribeca:
Justin Davidson
"Fancy Prisons for Billionaires Are Reshaping the Manhattan Skyline"
New York Magazine,  May 9, 2017

Image may contain: sky, skyscraper, cloud and outdoor
Photo: Jeff English
 Bjark Ingel's West 57th Street rental block: I took a stroll with my friend Jeff around the finished building.  The impact from the street is brutal. You see how cheaply it is thrown together. On the back side on West 58th Street the ground floor is full of floor-height mechanical louvers, and on 57th the aluminum-framed storefront glazing isn't much better. Though at least this facade got some sunshine. A design for the distant view - and the media view.

The idea of living there isn't very appealing. Too much like a beehive, you imagine the warren of narrow corridors on every floor, and the little studios and one-bedrooms. Like an over-dimensioned college dorm or, inevitably, decks of a cruise ship.

The location is not attractive except for the river views for the best units, but that's nothing new on Manhattan's formerly industrial and fast-developing Hudson River environs.

More on this project in my blog entry of May 12, 2015

Image may contain: food and outdoor

Food truck in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Who needs art?

New Jersey skyline from Battery Park City. A mess. I wonder what walking around Hoboken is like nowadays.

Pier 32

Central Park Reservoir. The last time I was here (1980s?), the fence was chain link. The transformation of Central Park is amazing.

Posing for bridal photos in Central Park's Conservatory Garden. Future husband looks on.

Previous post on my New York visit:
Postcard from New York

Monday, May 1, 2017

Land-grab in Moscow

Source: CityLab / AP

El Pais recently published an article by their excellent Moscow correspondent, Pilar Bonet, on the plans of Mayor Sergey Sobyanin to demolish 8,000 housing blocks from the Khrushchev era and replace them with new buildings, re-housing some 1.6 million people.

Coverage of this story in the English-language press has not mentioned the fears that current residents have of being shortchanged – that they will lose the green spaces and good services they currently enjoy and end up in high-rise "anthills" on the periphery lacking basic services. Critics warn that the plans are being hastily pushed through with little control, and are open to abuses. Neighbors are currently organizing to protect their rights in this massive operation. 

As in China, a political-economic-military oligarchy feeds off the population, Matrix-style, using them at will to increase its fortune and power. A demented new Feudalism.

In London too, public housing estates are being robbed from poor residents by local councils and profiteers.

Are we headed in the same direction in the US (Trump, healthcare)? Or are we already there? When will the pressure of rising land values in New York tempt the local government to sell off and demolish its wealth of public housing?

A women watches as excavator and workers demolish a five storey Khrushchyovka building in Moscow
Demolition of a Khrushchev-era housing block last October. Source; BBC / EPA

Pilar Bonet 
El Pais, April 28, 2017 

Mark Byrnes  
CityLab, The Atlantic, March 8, 2017 

BBC News, February 22, 2017

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Postcard from New York: Calatrava's Path Station

All photos by DC

 Santiago Calatrava's work is scaleless, which is one of the reasons I generally dislike his projects for European cities. But it works well in the US, where everything else is scaleless too.

In fact, at the Ground Zero Memorial, it is the only intervention with a relatively human scale. Everything else soars up above your head or burrows under your feet. On the ground plane, you're left with a confusing mess of walks, plantings and low barriers, more confusing now while still under construction  – Libeskind's famous disappearing master plan?  Calatrava's fossilized wings become a focus point, the only visual reference within reasonable range, though they seem to be ambiguously oriented, their curving sides pointing towards I'm not sure where. In fact, the building shows what appears to be its backside to the Memorial Park (although there isn't actually a real facade, just another rear end on the other side). And it looks quite freaky when seen from the Wall Street canyons.   

In the Park, you don't even  sense the vast pits of the memorial fountains until you are on top of them, although they are stupendous in themselves. Looking over one of them, someone asked if there was another one. You'd never know. And the museum – was there a museum there? Though admittedly I was operating at less than full visual capacity.

Inside, Calatrava scores again. A clear, legible space. The white stone floor looks like an ice skating rink. As I have observed about the sandy walks and stone plazas of Spain, it’s a surface that enhances and ennobles people as they move across it, converting their progress into a choreography of presence. The secret: the ground plane is luminous and abstract, a real stage of public appearance. The only other space in New York that does something similar is the entry plaza to Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building, which is raised above the surrounding streets, almost unfettered by barriers, so that it is the very air of the plaza that gives people that electric sense of being. Another European in America. The main hall at Grand Central Station has something of this expansive generosity, but in a more subdued, Beaux-Arts tone. And the populated lawns of Central Park in the summer. And Rockefeller Center. In all of these, something happens when view points are organized at varying elevations.

Another bit of European urbanity: the benches around the exterior edge of the hall, as in a Renaissance palace.

I don't think anyone has pointed out that the ribs of this hall evoke the vertical gothic ribs of Yamaski's original towers.  Despite their awkward refusal to touch ground on the white marble floor – instead, Calatrava tucks them under the mezzanine galleries in graceless little elbows, as if they were neon lighting tubes or radiator fins, bizarrely undercutting their structural reading. This isn't modern weightlessness, it's kitsch modern weightlessness. (There was something a little kitsch in Yamasaki's neo-gothic too, but no need to go into that now.)

More from my New York visit:
Billionaires' Row

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ensamble Studio's POPLab Prototype in Brookline

Photos © Ensambl,e Studio

Spanish architects Débora Mesa and Antón García-Abril have built a prefab prototype as their Boston home. It's the subject of my latest article in the April-May issue of Mark magazine (Holland).

Here are some excerpts from the text (article not available online):

"The Cyclopean House is a live-work loft, built over a former garage in Brookline, Massachusetts, where the Spanish architects Débora Mesa and Antón García-Abril live with their three children. The house is also the first completed prototype for a novel system of prefabrication that the couple is developing at the POPLab, which they founded at MIT in 2013, and in their architectural practice known as Ensamble Studio."

"The key to the system is the use of large sections of expanded, high-density polystyrene foam, popularly known as Styrofoam, which is the core of prefab elements…. The architects shape the foam into beams with different profiles, including Is, Ls and Cs. They reinforce it with an exoskeleton of galvanized steel studs, and finish it with a double layer of 6mm cement board."

"The experiment is driven by their interest in developing an "ultra-light" prefab system that, "without adding mass, provides tectonic qualities of solidity and firmness," Antón explains."

"The galvanized steel framing on the interior reads in many ways like conventional wood trim, recalling Japanese paneled interiors, as Antón points out, or perhaps the Prairie Houses of Frank Lloyd Wright…. These references are coherent with the essential concept of the prefab units, which use modern versions of the materials of traditional American balloon-frame construction."

"Antón considers their system a hybrid between American and European building concepts, between the balloon frame and the solid wall. "Compare houses by Richard Meier and Eduardo Souto de Moura," he says. "There's a difference in weight. European construction is about the continuum, solidity, firmitas. We've put together these two traditions, to try to get the best of both. Prefabricating, but not in little pieces. Light but not thin. Solid and thick, building walls, not frames." "

Case Studt in Prefab
Mark, April  - May 2017, p. 152 - 159

More pictures and plans:
Divisaire Journal, July 29, 2016