Flatbush Avenue was once a hotbed of development in the new downtown Brooklyn. Glittering towers filled with pricey condos began to dot the landscape, rezoned by city planners ushering in a would-be renaissance. Developers cheered that vision, rallied by the surging housing market. They even advanced into the heart of Kensington, four miles down the road, where yet another 107-unit luxury project began to take shape. Now, just three years after ground-breaking, those plans have unraveled. The towers are vacant relics of the housing bubble. The Kensington project, not even complete, faces foreclosure and possible demolition.
Some see the failed projects as nothing more than monuments to a reckless development era. But others have seized them as an opportunity to try and reverse-engineer the city’s housing bubble by paring down the city’s condo glut and adding to its affordable stock. Housing advocates and policymakers are piecing together plans to convert many of those luxury units into cheaper ones, either through subsidies, affordable housing programs or new tax incentives. Or perhaps even government intervention. “There are hundreds of units of empty luxury apartments that developers are unable to sell or rent because of the declining housing market,” said Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn), whose district includes some of the newest high-rises in Brooklyn. “It makes sense to figure out a way to convert those empty luxury units into affordable housing for the community.” The plan is seen by advocates and even some developers as a creative if untested strategy for easing the city’s housing woes as credit tightens and prices plummet. Jeffries’ plan, which he calls Project Reclaim, got its first major boost in February, when Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) featured a similar blueprint in her State of the City address. Details of how the various plans might work, and whether they can succeed, are beginning to emerge. Quinn’s proposal focuses primarily on using an aquisition fund to purchase luxury units and convert them into moderate and middle income housing. Jeffries is considering using subsidies to lower rents, or creating a new state tax incentive program similar to the 421-a program, which requires developers receiving tax breaks to build affordable units in select neighborhoods. Those two options have been the source of considerable debate in housing circles, as advocates and policymakers untangle the multiple layers of financing developers put together to underwrite their now-stalled projects. Deciding which strategy will work for which project is likely to be a messy process. In most cases, someone will have to lose money.
“Who takes the haircut is a complicated situation here,” said Brad Lander of the Pratt Center for Community Development, which is working on recovering the Kensington project for affordable use by possibly buying it through the foreclosure process.
Jeffries is working with Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-Brooklyn), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, to get banks receiving federal bailout money to help refinance landlords’ mortgages. If they can lean on banks to help restructure those deals, they say, landlords could then afford to offer their luxury units at lower rates. But housing experts caution against leaning on the banks too heavily, warning that funneling the bailout money to landlords could, if done carelessly, amount to a windfall for developers who invested recklessly in the housing market.
To read more about the housing issues in Brooklyn, visit http://www.cityhallnews.com/news/128/ARTICLE/1879/2009-04-13.html.
Inspired by the devastation of the Holocaust – “the attempt by the Third Reich to get rid of the history, presence and culture of Jews in Europe,” says Tigerman – the combination museum and memorial is visually arresting, deeply symbolic and intellectually satisfying. Architecturally, it suggests the evolution from despair to hope, a descent into darkness followed by an emergence into the light, which visitors experience as they move through the museum. “This is a highly poignant subject,” he said. “Six million people killed, the diminishing of Jews and Judaism in the variety of ways the Third Reich accomplished it, how do you embed that into a building? It’s very, very difficult.”
The museum is comprised of two steel and concrete wings – one dark, one light, each angled at six degrees – that come together to form the space Tigerman calls “the cleave.” Visitors enter through the dark building or the southern wing, which faces the west wall of the Temple Mount. Hard lines and angles define the space, which features exposed piping, ducts and conduit that reveals the guts of the building and reflects German industrialization and efficiency that characterized the concentration and extermination camps, says Tigerman. “There were no frills,” said Tigerman, “The Germans didn’t try to make things pretty.” The dark building houses permanent exhibitions depicting Jewish life before the war, the rise of Nazism and the subsequent ghetto-ization, deportation and genocide of the Jews. Positioned between the buildings is the cleave which houses the museum’s centerpiece artifact, a German rail car like those used to transport Jews to concentration camps.
From there, visitors move into the light building that faces due east, toward Jerusalem and the rising sun. Exhibits detail liberation and include a gallery comprised of works that bear witness to other acts of genocide that occurred in Rwanda, Cambodia, Russia, Latin American and elsewhere. A curved staircase leads to the Hall of Reflection containing 12 benches representing Israel’s 12 tribes and including small windows, every one of which contains a candle. Steps away is a cylindrical room whose soaring walls (suggestive of Jerusalem stone) are etched with the names of Holocaust victims. It houses the Book of Remembrance containing names of victims and obtained from Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem.
Tigerman describes as “brutal” the rear of the building which greets visitors coming from the west. Austere and fortress-like with concrete barricades, slits for windows and a chilling, circular shape that suggests a smokestack, it conveys menace and oppression. Yet its massive appearance speaks to its permanence, its insistence that never again will Jews be dislocated and disappeared. Six points of light atop the roof pay homage to the Holocaust’s 6 million Jewish casualties. Flanking the exterior of the cleave are two grand steel columns recalling the pillars flanking the Temple of Solomon referenced in the Old Testament. Illuminated, the columns form a dual eternal flame. Lastly, a reflecting pool surrounded by names of Righteous Persons, including Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, German industrialist Oskar Schindler and Poland’s Irena Sendler – gentiles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during World War II.
To read more on this design, or to see renderings, visit http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=286408, or http://www.kulisekpc.com/Portfolio/illinois-holocaust-museum-education-center-for-the-holocaust-memorial-foundation-of-illinois.
Cleveland is facing the issue of wind turbine aesthetics and safety for the first time this week. On Monday, City Council started reviewing a proposed new ordinance aimed at regulating wind turbines, which was written by the city’s planning staff and spearheaded by Ward 17 Councilman Matt Zone. “The goal is to make it clear that we do permit wind turbines but that we want to regulate their placement so they don’t result in any safety hazards and aren’t visual nuisances,” said City Planning Director Robert Brown. Wind energy is in its infancy in Cleveland, but investment in alternative energy is heating up in Ohio, which suggests there’s a need to think seriously about the design implications of wind power.
Cleveland was prompted to act when the owner of an auto repair shop on Pearl Road asked recently to install a wind turbine on his property, Brown said. “We had to process that application without the benefit of any regulations in the code,” Brown said. The business owner received a zoning variance from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals, which allowed the turbine. The application made the city realize it needed to get in front of the issue. The proposed ordinance is aimed at controlling smaller-scale turbines in neighborhoods, not the gigantic towers that could appear in Lake Erie, Brown said. The basic thrust is to restrict the heights of turbines in residential districts to those of adjacent houses, and to require setbacks slightly bigger than the height of a turbine. In other words, a 35-foot-high turbine would have be set back 38.5 feet, or 1.1 times its height, from the nearest property line, ensuring that a collapse wouldn’t affect a neighbor’s property.
The planning director, speaking Wednesday evening, said he wasn’t sure whether Cleveland would have jurisdiction over towers in the lake, or whether state or federal rules would supercede local control.
What’s clear from other regions around the country, however, is that wind farms can be extremely controversial. First Wind, a wind energy company that proposed building a wind farm in Cohocton on the far eastern end of Lake Erie in New York, triggered heavy opposition. Construction started in 2007, but only after a wave of lawsuits. Last summer, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo launched an investigation to see whether First Wind and another company building wind farms in New York State bribed public officials to obtain permits and engaged in anti-competitive practices.
Roopali Phadke, an assistant professor at Macalester College in Minneapolis, who analyzed the Cohocton project as part of a national study of wind energy and aesthetics, called it “a worst case scenario for such development in a small town.” Cohocton residents complained about the noise and visual impact of the proposed turbines, and claimed property values would fall, she reported.
Clevelanders should be on guard about such proposals. Our city suffered plenty of damage in the last industrial revolution. We should do our best to avoid adding more. Sunsets matter. View corridors matter. Amenities matter, especially in a city dealing with the wreckage caused by the mortgage foreclosure crisis, plummeting property values and a sharp and painful recession. Landscape architect Frode Birk Nielsen of Arhus, Denmark, a country that took an early lead in development of wind power, thinks it’s possible to design wind farms in ways that are aesthetically appealing. In his 1996 book, Wind Turbines & the Landscape, Nielsen wrote that “a wind farm can be regarded as a gigantic sculptural element in the landscape, a land-art project, if you like.”
To read more about wind turbine development in Cleveland, visit http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2009/04/if_wind_farms_come_to_clevelan.html.
Upon its completion in 1992, the Audubon’s original office building, located on lower Broadway, was a model of eco-friendly construction at its time. “The [motion-sensitive] lights would go off every ten minutes,” Flicker recalls, “so we were always waving our arms around.” With technology and know-how markedly improved, the society looked to FXFowle, whose principal Bruce Fowle, FAIA, designed such eco-groundbreaking projects as 4 Times Square, to create a new home that would take it back to the leading edge.
Located in a former printing house near Soho, the latest office condenses operations from the earlier site’s 40,000 square feet spread over three floors to 27,500 square feet on just one floor. “We didn’t need that much space,” says Flicker, adding that the closer quarters improve worker communication. Arriving at the seventh-floor, which is LEED-Platinum-rated space, the visitor enters from a central core wrapped in barn planks reclaimed from upstate New York. Opposite is a 10 ft. x 20 ft screen of the same, which separates the entry from a communal area on the other side. With polished concrete floors, tables topped by salvaged wood, and Eames chairs made of recyclable polypropylene, the common area is bracketed by two conference rooms. All three spaces can be combined into one, thanks to pivoting partitions covered in eco-friendly Xorel fabric. “We were able to use sustainable materials almost everywhere,” says Geier.
In order to read more about National Audubon Society’s new office building, visit http://www.mcgrawhillconstruction.com/projects/2009/03_National-Audubon-Society.asp.
A contrary school of thought sees the slackening market as an opportunity for architects to rediscover the core values of their profession. “What designers do really well is work within constraints, work with what they have,” MoMA architecture and design curator Paola Antonelli told the New York Times in January. She predicted that the recession will bring “less design, but much better design.” If this notion sounds idealistic, it also echoes the sentiments of some practicing architects. “I think it’s an exciting period we’re in now,” says Mark DuBois, AIA, a partner at Ohlhausen DuBois Architects in New York, “It’s really about getting back to basics, focusing on what works and what makes sense.” DuBois believes the former period of untrammeled showmanship may be giving way to a new ethos of “responsible innovation.” While architects relied on the ingenuity of engineers and builders to realize experimental designs during the boom years, design-build collaboration is now more important than ever. The constructability of a design can mean the difference between having it built as planned and losing control of the project. If a carpenter can do some of the work normally reserved for a metalworker, for example, the cost of construction decreases. The epitome of architect-contractor synergy may be the Empire State Building, completed in 1931 as the Great Depression continued to worsen. “So brilliantly conceived and executed was the building campaign that the Empire State was completed ahead of schedule and under budget,” wrote the historian Carol Willis in a 1998 exhibition at the Skyscraper Museum. Retrofitting existing buildings has emerged in recent years as an eco-effective alternative to new construction. In the context of the recession, it also makes fiscal sense. The firm BNIM was recently commissioned to renovate 200,000 square feet of office space in One Kansas City Place, a 1980s skyscraper. Although the client, Kansas City Power and Light, commissioned grand new buildings in previous eras of expansion, this time the company favored the less costly strategy of renovation. BNIM is also helping clients in Kansas City to redevelop vacant lots, engaging in a kind of “retrofitting” at the urban scale. To read more about these new economical approaches to design, visit http://info.aia.org/aiarchitect/thisweek09/0410/0410b_shrink.cfm.
Energise! is a book that every aspiring sustainability consultant and architect with green leanings should read. Government ministers, MPs, local authority officials and everyone with an interest in the environment should also read it because it takes a cold, hard look at the planet’s energy needs and solutions without the usual hype. Authors James Woudhuysen and Joe Kaplinsky both have strong backgrounds in scientific exploration and writing and have carried out extensive research into the subject of energy. In this book, they dispel many common myths and challenge accepted views. The book actually takes a refreshingly pragmatic, scientific view of the use of energy in our society. According to the authors, ‘this book offers a radically new perspective on energy and climate change. It covers not just the technology, economics, science and politics of these two issues, but also their sociology: how people perceive energy and how they organize it.’ It contains some extremely disparaging comment on the ever- burgeoning Green Movement and the British government’s rather impotent attempts to enforce energy savings on us as individuals. Energise is also informative about renewables, or as the authors’ prefer, ‘astronomicals’. As with the rest of the book, this subject has been given clear, scientific and rational evaluation which draws on some interesting points, in particular, that ‘renewable energy is limited only by humanity’s political will and engineering talent to capture it…. wind, solar, water and geothermal sources of energy have one thing in common: they’re about capturing continuous flows of energy over the earth as an astronomical entity, not mining it as a stock of geological fuels’. To find out more about this book, visit http://beautiful-books.co.uk/232.html.
In many ways, the architecture of Toronto’s public libraries has evolved as much as the attitudes that govern them. Thick masonry walls and prim Victorian windows have given way to enormous sheets of glass. The newly opened Jane/Sheppard branch in Toronto’s northwest fringes and the nearly completed Bloor/Gladstone heritage library in the city’s west end are designed as glowing cubes of transparency. Libraries are designed these days with rooms for teenagers to gather and lounge on funky furniture. There are community halls where newlyweds can hold their wedding reception. At the Jane/Sheppard branch, which 900 people visited last week on its opening day, there are laptops for loan within the library. Last year, four libraries (Jane/Dundas, Cliffcrest, S. Walter Stewart and Dufferin/St. Clair) were opened after extensive renovations. This year, another four (Kennedy/Eglinton, Bloor/Gladstone, Jane/Sheppard and Thorncliffe) will be reinvented. And, in 2010, Cedarbrae in Scarborough will reopen as a $5-million light-filled transformation of a dated 1960s building, led by the talented young architect, Tina Ranieri-D’Ovidio of Makrimichalos Cugini Architects. To read more about the new architectural ideas behind these libraries, visit http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/LAC.20090411.LIBRARY11ART1759/TPStory/TPEntertainment/?query=.
This MoMA exhibit is being shown from April 8, 2009 through September 14, 2009. In recent decades “landscape” has taken on an expanded definition in architecture. In the first half of the twentieth century, the architectural avant-garde celebrated autonomy from nature, and architects devised utopian schemes for creating urban realms ex novo, with little consideration for their surroundings. More recently, however, the challenges of a threatened environment and rapidly expanding cities have fostered a revised understanding of landscape. Harmony between the spatial, social, and environmental aspects of human life has become a priority in political thought, and this has had profound reverberations in both architecture and landscape design. “Landscape” now encompasses complex interventions by architects and landscape architects in urban and rural surroundings. In Situ: Architecture and Landscape draws from the rich collection of The Museum of Modern Art to examine the diverse attitudes toward landscape over the last hundred years. To read more, or find information about hours of operation, visit http://www.moma.org/visit/calendar/exhibitions/866.
André Balazs’s new High Line-straddling Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District is the centerpiece of New York magazine’s “Everything Guide to the New-Hotel Glut” feature, earning a rave from architecture critic Justin Davidson and a test-run by an editor. The Observer’s Chris Shott also chimes in on the Standard today (”The Last Cool Building”), covering everything from Balazs’s $18 million acquisition of the site to the heaven-and-hell video installation being put in the elevators. The hotel soft-opened last month. The 18th-floor nightlife venue and the expansive rooftop are exquisite. The top-floor, double-height party palace will be divided into two spaces. One, a more casual bar area, and the other, a more refined club experience (that happens to have a gigantic hot tub). The roof has two levels, and will be accessible to Standard goers in some form, as well as available for private events. It’s not hard to see why these spaces will be coveted. On a clear day you can see forever. To find out more about the new New York City Standard hotel, visit http://www.standardhotels.com/new-york-city/.
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) is hosting an open international design competition for ideas responding to sea level rise in San Francisco Bay and beyond. Nearly every day, we learn more about sea level rise, which is one of the most critical impacts of global warming. Individually and collectively, people are seeking solutions to this climate challenge. The issue of sea level rise is clearly of global importance, and both simple and complex design interventions will be needed to sustain quality of life, preserve the environment and ensure continued economic vitality of shoreline communities throughout the world. To read more about this international design competition, visit the home page at http://www.risingtidescompetition.com/risingtides/Home.html.