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Hudson Yards Development (NYC)

unimaginative2

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In Plans for Railyards, a Mix of Towers and Parks

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New York Times
By NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF
Published: November 24, 2007

The West Side railyards are the kind of urban development project that makes builders dance in the streets. A footprint bigger than Rockefeller Center’s and the potential for more commercial and residential space than ground zero: what more could an urban visionary want?

So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City.

With the possible exception of a design for the Extell Development Company, the proposals embody the kind of tired, generic planning formulas that appear wherever big development money is at stake. When thoughtful architecture surfaces at all, it is mostly a superficial gloss of culture, rather than a sincere effort to come to terms with the complex social and economic changes the city has been undergoing for the last decade or so.

Located on six square blocks between 30th and 33rd Streets and 10th Avenue and the West Side Highway, the yards are one of the few remaining testaments to New York’s industrial past. Dozens of tracks leading in and out of Pennsylvania Station carve through the site. A string of parking lots and old industrial buildings flanks the tracks to the south; the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is a block to the north. To build, developers first will have to create a platform over the tracks, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion; construction of the platform and towers has to take place without interrupting train service.

City officials and the transportation authority, which owns the railyards, have entertained various proposals for the site in recent years, including an ill-conceived stadium for the Jets. The current guidelines would allow up to 13 million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space; a building to house a cultural group yet to be named; and a public park.

All five of the development teams chose to arrange the bulk of the towers at the northern and southern edges of the site, to minimize disruption of the tracks below, and concentrated the majority of the commercial towers to the east, and the residential towers to the west, where they would have views of the Hudson River.

But none of the teams have fully explored the potentially rich relationship between the railyards and the development above them, an approach that could have added substance to the plans. Nor did any find a successful way to come to terms with the project’s gargantuan scale.

The proposal by the Related Companies would transform the site into a virtual theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the developer’s main tenant. The design, by a team of architects that includes Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica and Robert A. M. Stern, would be anchored at its eastern end by a 74-story tower. Three slightly smaller towers would flank it, creating an imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east.

The plan also includes a vast retail mall and plaza between 10th and 11th Avenues, which could be used by News Corporation for advertising, video projections and outdoor film and concert events — a concept that would essentially transform what is being hailed as a public space into a platform for corporate self-promotion. A proposal by FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli for the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust is slightly less disturbing. Following a similar plan, it would be anchored by a new tower for Condé Nast Publications to the north, and a row of residential towers extending to the west. Sinuous, elevated pedestrian walkways would wind their way through the site just above the proposed public park. The walkways are meant to evoke a contemporary version of the High Line, the raised tracks being converted into a public garden just to the south. But their real precedents are the deadening elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes.

By comparison, the proposal by Tishman Speyer Properties, designed by Helmut Jahn, at least seems more honest. The site is anchored by four huge towers that taper slightly as they rise, exaggerating their sense of weight and recalling more primitive, authoritarian forms: you might call it architecture of intimidation. As you move west, a grand staircase leads down to a circular plaza that would link the park to a pedestrian boulevard the city plans to construct from the site north toward 42nd Street.

Mr. Jahn built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s, when many modern architects were struggling to pump energy into work that had become cold and alienating. Over all, the design looks like a conventional 1980s mega-development: an oddly retro vision of uniform glass towers set around a vast plaza decorated with a few scattered cafes. (In a rare nice touch, Mr. Jahn allows some of his towers to cantilever out over the deck of the High Line, playing up the violent clash between new and old.)

Another proposal, by Brookfield Properties, is an example of how real architectural talent can be used to give a plan an air of sophistication without adding much substance. Brookfield has included a few preliminary sketches of buildings by architectural luminaries like Diller Scofidio & Renfro and the Japanese firm Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, but the sketches are nothing more than window dressing. The proposal includes a retail mall and commercial towers along 10th Avenue, which gives the public park an isolated feel. A hotel and retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its sweep.

For those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents, the Extell Development Company’s proposal is the only one worth serious consideration. Designed by Steven Holl Architects of New York, the plan tries to minimize the impact of the development’s immense scale. Most of the commercial space would be concentrated in three interconnecting towers on the northeast corner of the site. The towers’ forms pull apart and join together as they rise — an effort to break down their mass in the skyline. Smaller towers flank the site’s southern edge, their delicate, shardlike forms designed to allow sunlight to spill into the park area. A low, 10-story commercial building to the north is lifted off the ground on columns to allow the park to slip underneath and connect to 33rd Street.

The plan’s most original feature is a bridgelike cable structure that would span the existing tracks and support a 19-acre public park. According to the developer, the cable system would reduce the cost of building over the tracks significantly, allowing the density to be reduced to 11.3 million square feet from 13 million and still make a profit. The result would be both a more generous public space and a less brutal assault on the skyline. It is a sensitive effort to blend the development into the city’s existing fabric.

But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects, and they have done so without economic ruin.

By contrast, the authority is more likely to focus on potential tenants like News Corporation and Condé Nast and the profits they can generate than on the quality of the design. A development company like Extell is likely to be rejected outright as too small to handle a project of this scale, however original its proposal. (In New York dark horse candidates often find that ambitious architectural proposals are one of the few ways to compete with bigger rivals.)

This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the superficial gloss of civilization. As an ideal of urbanism, it is hollow to its core.

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Jayomatic

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Wow, it's depressing to hear how negative the New York Times is being towards all these concepts when our media is praising the design of 1Bloor and Aura.
 

ganjavih

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This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the superficial gloss of civilization.
Amen.
 

wyliepoon

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From Architectural Record

Brookfield Properties’ proposal, led by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and Field Operations, with a large group of contributors including SHoP Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and SANAA:





FXFowle, Pelli Clarke Pelli, and WRT partnered on a proposal from the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust:





Steven Holl is working with Extell Development Company:





Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica, Robert A.M. Stern, and West 8 collaborated on the proposal from the Related Companies and Goldman Sachs:





The Tishman Speyer and Morgan Stanley proposal, designed by Helmut Jahn and Peter Walker:





*****

This competition, like the San Francisco Transbay competition, goes to show how big-name architects are attracted to these high-profiled competitions at major urban sites.

Applying this to Toronto, Cityplace would have looked much better had it gone this way. Perhaps a similar competition could be carried out for the eastern waterfront, or for a possible redevelopment of Exhibition Place.
 

Hipster Duck

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The buildings are okay (for New York) but the site plan is just egregious. As our very own Pier 27 confirms, developers and planners or whoever dreams up these concepts of large-scale development must have had their heads in the sand for over 40 years. Towers-in-the-park should have been a codeword for 'miserable urban failure' ever since they detonated Pruitt Igoe into ignominy over 35 years ago.
 

Zephyr

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From Architectural Record
This competition, like the San Francisco Transbay competition, goes to show how big-name architects are attracted to these high-profiled competitions at major urban sites.

Applying this to Toronto, Cityplace would have looked much better had it gone this way. Perhaps a similar competition could be carried out for the eastern waterfront, or for a possible redevelopment of Exhibition Place.
Thanks wylie. I put together something like this on my desktop including other images that I have, just to examine and compare the alternatives with greater scrutiny.

I agree with you in principle about competitions, and I am on record as stating that in prior posts. When cities are considering larger projects, projects in special places, or projects for which considerable rethinking is best, a competition, if properly managed, will often attract some of the better talent.

Unfortunately, I don't think this project is bringing out the best from those involved, and therein lies the rub.

Do you ask them to go back and try again? Do you decide to bring in others? Will you be forced to decide on the best of what is there, and ask the ones selected to do more than what they presented? Just as high-profiled competition can bring the better talent 'to the table,' it can also bring in a level of politics meant to smooth over bruised egos, when you do not get what you thought would be their best effort. This is a lesson that NYC continually re-learns with its mega-development projects, and something that other cities should be wary of when trying to emulate them.

Ultimately, I do agree with the overall conclusions of Nicolai Ouroussoff, but I do have my moments when reading some of his expositional detail. So to get it off my chest, I must digress:

________​

For those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents, the Extell Development Company’s proposal is the only one worth serious consideration.
But what about the Architecture inside of that urban-planning? It is all scaled in similar proportions for each cluster - what is often called 'replicated massing' these days, which as a polite way to dismiss the effort for its pockets of sameness within a larger context. I admit that Mr. Holl can be challenging and brilliant, as evidenced by his well-received museum projects. But what will this look like, in this place, and at this time? In my opinion, this would not be a very inviting place to be in the city if this is built, regardless of the urban plan it is placed within.

________​

The proposal by the Related Companies would transform the site into a virtual theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the developer’s main tenant. The design, by a team of architects that includes Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica and Robert A. M. Stern, would be anchored at its eastern end by a 74-story tower. Three slightly smaller towers would flank it, creating an imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east.
"[V]irtual theme park" indeed! This is the direct opposite problem to Holl/Exteli in that each building is different. But different in this case is incompatible by implication, This is one step further, but it is never actually stated and leaves the reader to guess what the critic is saying.

I admit there happens to be one interesting offset stack design that I treasure in this 'theme park', but the rest of it seems fanciful in its conception, and poor in its consideration of site.

A proposal by FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli for the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust is slightly less disturbing. Following a similar plan, it would be anchored by a new tower for Condé Nast Publications to the north, and a row of residential towers extending to the west. Sinuous, elevated pedestrian walkways would wind their way through the site just above the proposed public park. The walkways are meant to evoke a contemporary version of the High Line, the raised tracks being converted into a public garden just to the south. But their real precedents are the deadening elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes.
Mr. Ouroussoff grouped this concoction into a throwback to the housing projects of another era. My only objection is that he labeled this housing project comparison, a generically 'late Modernists' effort, when it actually applied across the board to other types of structures that could be attributed to styles other than Modernist. This is really a NYC type of shorthand to refer to the Robert Moses era, but since this is the NYT, and will be read by more than just those from this city, this irresponsible shorthand will inevitably promote or at least perpetuate that imprecision in discussing these type of issues elsewhere.

________​

By comparison, the proposal by Tishman Speyer Properties, designed by Helmut Jahn, at least seems more honest. The site is anchored by four huge towers that taper slightly as they rise, exaggerating their sense of weight and recalling more primitive, authoritarian forms: you might call it architecture of intimidation. ...
I guess this is Mr. Ouroussoff's way of saying this is more integrated but also overdone in certain key areas. These word games he plays, using such phrasing as "authoritarian forms" and "architecture of intimidation" are strange insertions for a project aimed at New York City. We all realise that this site is not Midtown Manhattan, but Mr. Ouroussoff may be better served by withdrawing the confusing wording, done for effect, and simply engage in stating the obvious. When Jahn et. al. combine their more integrated structures, some structures are far too tall when compared to the others - obviously Mr. Jahn is attempting to identify importance by height - that is at the heart of Mr. Ouroussoff's point, not "intimidation' or 'authoritarian form' which is not at the heart of anything he deals with in this article.

As a side note, I find it interesting that Mr. Ouroussoff is quick to use the shorthand 'late Modernist housing projects' when referring to the negatives of the Durst Organization / Vornado Realty Trust entry, but when reviewing the Tishman Speyer Properties entry, and in particular, the principal Architect, he states "Mr. Jahn built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s, when many modern architects were struggling to pump energy into work that had become cold and alienating." No doubt he is referring to Jahn's exploration of the Post Modernist / Neo-Modernist boundary. Curiously, at least to some, he cannot bring himself to say this. The inclusion in one instance unnecessarily of Modernist, and then the omission in another instance of labels that perhaps could clarify rather than continue the obvious theme, is in fact revealing - but I shall leave that for another day and another topic.

________​

...Brookfield Properties, is an example of how real architectural talent can be used to give a plan an air of sophistication without adding much substance. ... [The] sketches are nothing more than window dressing. The proposal includes a retail mall and commercial towers along 10th Avenue, which gives the public park an isolated feel. A hotel and retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its sweep.
Finally, the one team that he discusses that I am in complete agreement. You could have accomplished what Brookfield proposed by doing the whole thing piecemeal. The site was never challenged in their overall design, but there are some good Architectural elements placed into the mix. Kind of like addressing the Architecture but forgetting the other side of the problem - an integrated plan. Maybe Steven Holl should have been brought in to help them overcome their urban-planning problems, or vice versa.
 

wyliepoon

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Architectural Record

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Jahn and Walker’s Plan for Hudson Yards Victorious
March 27, 2008

By Tim McKeough

Developer Tishman Speyer won rights to develop Manhattan’s Hudson Rail Yards with a scheme designed by architect Helmut Jahn and landscape architect Peter Walker. Announced yesterday, the deal is expected to be formalized within 14 days.

Currently owned by New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the 26-acre site stretches from 30th Street to 33rd Street, between 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue. Tishman outbid competitors—including a team lead by Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust, which reportedly came in a close second—with an offer of just over $1 billion. The deal gives the developer a 99-year lease on the mixed-use property with an option to eventually purchase the land.

Tishman’s proposal faced bumps along the way since it was first unveiled, along with four other schemes, last November. The developer originally had included Morgan Stanley as its anchor tenant, but the financial services firm has since backed out of the deal, reportedly over concerns about when its new headquarters would be completed. The scheme’s architecture, meanwhile, drew sharp criticism at the time. The New York Sun’s James Gardner described it as “perhaps the least appealing†of the five proposals, while The New York Times’s critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that when looking at Jahn’s design, “you might call it architecture of intimidation.â€

Neither the criticisms nor the loss of its anchor tenant seemed to impede Tishman’s bid. The design scheme features four massive, matching towers that taper as they rise surrounding a large circular plaza dubbed the “forum.†The block-like towers feature thick white and grey stripes, while the tops of neighboring buildings are illuminated with different colored lights—but such details could well be changed before construction. Currently, the project calls for more than 10 million square feet of office space, 3,000 residential units, 550,000 square feet of retail space, a 200,000-square-foot cultural venue, a public school, and 13 acres of open space. The entire complex will also be designed to achieve LEED Gold certification.

Before the buildings can go into construction, Tishman needs to build a platform over existing rail lines, which is estimated to cost $2 billion. Eyeing a deteriorating economy and the fact that part of the property must be re-zoned to accommodate high-rises, many observers wonder how much of the plan will remain intact as it moves from concept to execution—a process that could take more than a decade. But as Ouroussoff wrote in the March 27 edition of the Times, “If recent history teaches us anything, it is that the project is only likely to get worse.â€



 

unimaginative2

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In related, more infuriating news, the Moynihan Station project once again looks like it's on the rocks. They finally secured $2 billion in federal funding, and on the same day the Dolans said that Madison Square Gardens no longer wanted to move. I think Moynihan Station is the most exciting project in North America right now, if it ever actually gets built.
 

allabootmatt

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The Hudson Yards debate begs a larger question: is there anywhere where, today, large-scale and high-density master-planned projects are creating neighbourhoods that are really attractive? That are in any way as successful as more organically-established districts? Or, indeed, as successful as the master-planned developments of another era (ie Paris)?

I suspect that, with all the money and attention and brainpower available in New York, if it can't be gotten right there it will be hard to do so anywhere. I just visited mainland China for the first time, and was really quite dismayed by the quality of what is being built--much of it unapologetic archi-porn designed by names we all get very excited about. But while there are some interesting individual structures built/going up in Beijing and Pudong, urbanistically both are total disasters.
 

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