1) There’s a huge public appetite for insight into such "city-making" projects; the Great Hall at Cooper Union was standing room only, and the audience topped 1000 (and that’s without having partisans bussed in). Each presentation got enthusiastic applause, and the audience listened carefully when each team was asked what distinguished its design from its competition.
(The graphic comparing some basic aspects of the plans comes from Friends of the High Line. Click to enlarge.)
2) It’s the master plan, stupid, not the starchitect. Each of the design teams last night acknowledged that the buildings, and the architects behind them, might change, but the strength in each project starts with the designs—and they differ. Each takes off from the MTA's design guidelines--which would've been impossible in the case of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards, since MTA property occupies less than 40% of the site. The lead presenter for one project last night was not a building designer but James Corner of Field Operations, landscape architect extraordinaire.
3) Frank Gehry never had to do this, to stand before an audience of peers and the public, and defend his Atlantic Yards design. The closest we got was a staffer from his office, Tensho Takemori, attending one public meeting in Park Slope. Gehry was never allowed to meet with the public, and that of course after the sole-source plan had received political backing. Last night, after their 20-minute presentations, the designers answered questions (right) on a panel.
4) A project of such magnitude (26 acres, vs. AY’s 22 acres) and expense demands multiple architectural styles and multiple architects; one of the teams has seven architects working on different building types. “Of course many architects would be involved in such a big project,” said architect Steven Holl.
5) In some cases open space would be built at the street; in other cases, it would serve as a central plaza. In no cases would any open space be enclosed by three-sided “catcher’s mitt” type residential buildings or otherwise seem "private," as with a good portion of the Atlantic Yards open space. 6) This site, at up to 12 million square feet, would be denser than Atlantic Yards (8 million square feet), but almost certainly not as residentially dense.
There would be less affordable housing; the affordable rental housing would be 80% market/20% low-income, as opposed to 50% market, 30% middle- and moderate-income, and 20% low-income at Atlantic Yards. Some AY boosters say that the Manhattan project's density puts AY in perspective ("Brooklyn's plan is pikerish," writes Dennis Holt of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle), but the West Side site borders the water and nearly borders the Javits Convention Center, not exactly row house neighborhoods. (At right, Brookfield Properties' plan.)
7) The West Side yards site is rectangular. The Atlantic Yards site is not, and the railyard would be less than 40% of the site. That means that the one competing bid for the railyard, once an RFP was issued 18 months after Atlantic Yards was announced, was not a competing bid for the site. Had the city somehow drawn the curious Atlantic Yards footprint—is the 100-foot segment east of Sixth Avenue between Dean and Pacific streets blight or just a staging area for arena construction?—ahead of time and then put that 22 acres out for bid, well, we might have gotten five interesting proposals.
8) We can’t be sure what will happen. Robert A.M. Stern, an architect of near-Gehryesque stature, said it was important that the design “can grow incrementally and change over time as the project goes forward, and even after completion.” Indeed, New York magazine suggests that none of the schemes will be built as planned, but that elements of them may ultimately be part of the winning proposal, which of course depends on the numbers and promises behind the bid.
9) The West Side yards project, unlike Atlantic Yards, will go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and there will be opportunity for public input, both before and after a developer is chosen. A community forum will be held Monday, December 10 from 6-8:30 pm at the Hudson Guild, Dan Carpenter Room, 441 West 26th Street, Second Floor; it is sponsored by Manhattan Community Board 4 and the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee.
10) Atlantic Yards was proposed (well, publicly announced) four years ago, minus one week. A single-source project like it, on such valuable publicly-owned land, could never be proposed today. We know better.