Skip to main content

New New York Times architecture critic expresses concerns for urbanism, not just in "buildings as sculptures" (and what will he say about the arena?)

After Herbert Muschamp and Nicolai Ouroussoff, known for their admiration of starchitects and especially Frank Gehry, the New York Times named Michael Kimmelman as architecture critic. And, though some questioned his background as an art and culture critic, Kimmelman has delivered, at least in his initial reviews, far more context than his predecessors.

As Matt Chaban wrote 9/26/11 in the New York Observer, in response to Kimmelman's first review, regarding the Via Verde subsidized apartment complex (not public housing) in the Melrose section of the South Bronx:
Consider what he, and The Times, have done here, though. This is a review of a public housing complex designed by notable but far from famous architects—in the South Bronx, no less. It is not the latest bauble from from some boldfaced jetsetter. Indeed, Mr. Kimmelman attacks this very type of design in the third paragraph of his piece, in what seems to be, one might hope, a declaration of principles for the future of his work:
The rebirth of the South Bronx isn’t news. But Via Verde is. And it makes as good an argument as any new building in the city for the cultural and civic value of architecture. The profession, or in any case much talk about it, has been fixated for too long on brand-name luxury objects and buildings as sculptures instead of attending to the richer, broader, more urgent vein of public policy and community engagement, in which aesthetics play a part.
Are you listening, Frank Gehry?
And yet the piece serves also as a critique not only of the architectural media but also of architecture, its social and political realities, and how they might be fixed, or even if they can be.
Indeed, Kimmelman wrote 9/26/11 on the Times's ArtsBeat blog:
A few of my own concerns are laid out in the review. I’m interested in urbanism, city planning, housing and social affairs, the environment and health, politics and culture — in all the ways we live, in other words, and not just in how buildings look or who designs them, although those things are inseparable from the rest.
Regarding the new Gehry tower

Given his concerns, would Kimmelman have been able to salute 8 Spruce Street, Forest City Ratner's new Frank Gehry tower in Lower Manhattan, quite as enthusiastically as Ouroussoff, who called it "the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen's CBS building went up 46 years ago"?

Ouroussoff acknowledged that "Gehry’s design is least successful at the bottom," given the "odd coupling of private and public interests" that include a school and hospital services.

But he waved away concerns that those using the public facilities won't mix with residents:
None of this matters much, however, once you see the tower in the skyline, a view that seems to lift Lower Manhattan out of its decade-long gloom.
That, of course, is a quintessential example of "buildings as sculptures." And that helps Forest City Ratner promote the tower, as executive Maryanne Gilmartin did recently at the Municipal Art Society Summit for New York City.

What about the arena?

So, will Kimmelman visit the Barclays Center next year and only assess the sightlines from upper bowl seats, the view of the scoreboard from Flatbush Avenue, the weathered steel panels, the plethora of branding, and the curious oculus?

(That would ape the shortsighted initial reviews from Muschamp and Ouroussoff, though the latter improved slightly. Kimelman also might consult the work of New York magazine's Justin Davidson.)

Or will he see the impact of a parking lot one long block on a residential neighborhood, the effect on pedestrians of narrowed sidewalks, and the impact of a zoning override allowing an arena to face residential neighbors across narrow Dean Street?

Will he point out that the oculus exists because the much-touted Urban Room does not, and the Urban Room was supposed to be part of a tower that remains unbuilt? And that that tower was vital to the state and city's optimistic-to-the-point-of-irresponsible economic projections?

And that the New York City Independent Budget Office, calculating the accumulated subsidies, tax breaks, and foregone alternatives, considers the arena a loss to the city?

These indeed are issues of "urbanism, city planning, housing and social affairs, the environment and health, politics and culture."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website Matzav.com explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…

Atlanta's Atlantic Yards moves ahead

First mentioned in April, the Atlantic Yards project in Atlanta is moving ahead--and has the potential to nudge Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn further down in Google searches.

According to a 5/30/17 press release, Hines and Invesco Real Estate Announce T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards:
Hines, the international real estate firm, and Invesco Real Estate, a global real estate investment manager, today announced a joint venture on behalf of one of Invesco Real Estate’s institutional clients to develop two progressive office projects in Atlanta totalling 700,000 square feet. T3 West Midtown will be a 200,000-square-foot heavy timber office development and Atlantic Yards will consist of 500,000 square feet of progressive office space in two buildings. Both projects are located on sites within Atlantic Station in the flourishing Midtown submarket.
Hines will work with Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture (HPA) as the design architect for both T3 West Midtown and Atlantic Yards. DLR Group will be t…

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Not quite the pattern: Greenland selling development sites, not completed condos

Real Estate Weekly, reporting on trends in Chinese investment in New York City, on 11/18/15 quoted Jim Costello, a senior vice president at research firm Real Capital Analytics:
“They’re typically building high-end condos, build it and sell it. Capital return is in a few years. That’s something that is ingrained in the companies that have been coming here because that’s how they’ve grown in the last 35 years. It’s always been a development game for them. So they’re just repeating their business model here,” he said. When I read that last November, I didn't think it necessarily applied to Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park, now 70% owned (outside of the Barclays Center and B2 modular apartment tower), by the Greenland Group, owned significantly by the Shanghai government.
A majority of the buildings will be rentals, some 100% market, some 100% affordable, and several--the last several built--are supposed to be 50% market/50% subsidized. (See tentative timetable below.)

Selling development …

"There is no alternative": DM Glen on de Blasio's affordable housing strategy

As I've written, Mayor Bill de Blasio sure knows how to steer and spin coverage of his affordable housing initiatives.

Indeed, his latest announcement, claiming significant progress, came with a pre-press release op-ed in the New York Daily News and then a friendly photo-op press conference with an understandably grateful--and very lucky--winner of an affordable housing lottery.

To me, though, the most significant quote came from Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, who, as the Wall Street Journal reported:
said public housing had been “starved” of federal support for years now, leaving the city with fewer ways of creating affordable housing. “Are we relying too heavily on the private sector?” she said. “There is no alternative.” Though Glen was using what she surely sees as a common-sense phrase, it recalls the slogan of a politician with whom I doubt de Blasio identifies: former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a Conservative who believed in free markets.

It suggests the limits to …