Skip to main content

Critic Huxtable on West Side yards plans: New York sells itself short

From the perspective of Atlantic Yards critics, the plan to develop the West Side yards (aka Hudson Yards) is inevitably superior, because it starts with an RFP rather than an anointed developer.

And indeed, Gov. Eliot Spitzer this week told the New York Observer:
We are pleased with the bids as they came in—in terms of the magnitude financially, the scale of the proposals, the creativity, the involvement of some of our most prominent real estate companies and private-sector employers who want to site headquarters there. … It reflects and justifies our confidence that if we did an RFP [request for proposals] for that site, we could elicit great response.

But critics have already offered several cautions. In New York magazine, Justin Davidson warned that finance will trump design, and New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff called it a "grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City."

A tough critique

And yesterday, Wall Street Journal (and former New York Times) architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable, in a review headlined The Hudson Yards Proposals: Plenty of Glitz, Little Vision, was harsh, writing that only two of the five design teams "appear to have thought about it beyond the standard investment model blown up to gargantuan scale." (She never wrote about Atlantic Yards.)

And she was sardonic about the opportunity for public input and public presentations, calling it a "charade." She wrote:
We continue to find the spectacle of developers' promotional and political savvy riveting, knowing that success will depend on the deal and not the design.


The Extell bid

She observed:
Only two of the five proposals being considered are worth talking about. Extell Development's submission, by the architect Steven Holl, could have the unity, character and potential beauty of a Rockefeller Center, and it is unique in this respect. The scheme flies in the face of the current cant about pluralism and diversity and proves once again that architecture is about vision and ideas. While the other proposals include a massive truss over the yards that is meant to support the new construction, Mr. Holl substitutes a suspension deck. (The trains will continue to run underneath.) This bridge-like deck carries the lesser weight (and expense) of a park, while the structures surrounding it, handsomely grouped for views of the Empire State Building and the Hudson River, can be built on solid ground. You have to admire Excell's courage in going with a single gifted architect and putting all its chips on design.


(Graphics from New York Times)

Note that the conventional critique is that large projects deserve multiple architects so they don't look like projects, and even Frank Gehry wanted to bring in others for Atlantic Yards, but was stymied by his client. Ouroussoff in 2005 thought the one-architect model for AY worked well, though he's tempered his opinions.

The Brookfield bid

Huxtable also likes the plan that was introduced publicly not by an architect but by a noted landscape architect:
The plan offered by Brookfield Properties is the work of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and the landscape firm Field Operations... The fine environmental hand of Field Operations is easy to discern. The planning process starts with the nature of the site, addressing the huge variations in elevation from street to platform to waterfront, changes in grade that create a formidable barrier to the city around it. This is not easy to read in the models or in the other proposals with their emphasis on hype and heavyweight names.

Continuing the local streets through the site establishes the connective tissue. Instead of treating landscape as leftover space between buildings, Field Operations makes it the unifying factor, softening transitions and tying everything together. Recognizing Chelsea to the south, the plan connects the 30th Street frontage to existing neighborhood fabric and scale, with the High Line, the elevated park-in-progress on the abandoned train bed that skirts the area, incorporated as part of the action.


Government failure

Huxtable criticizes the city and public agencies (MTA, ESDC) for failing to plan for the West Side in general, "from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden to the Javits Center."

Her conclusion:
The disposition of public land is expedited on the developers' terms even though the land is the most powerful negotiating tool of all -- something so valuable in New York that builders would kill for it -- and the Hudson Yards are an estimated $7 billion prize. It is accepted that whatever the plans are for these vast tracts of squandered opportunity, they will ultimately be controlled, compromised, or scuttled by the winner of the financial contest that is at the heart of the matter. New York will continue to sell itself short all the way to the bank.


Imagine what she might have said about a project without even an RFP.

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 …

For Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting Sept. 19, another bare-bones agenda (green wall?)

A message from Empire State Development (ESD) reminds us that the next Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Quality of Life Meeting--which aims to update community members on construction and other issues--will be held:
Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 6 pm
Shirley Chisholm State Office Building
55 Hanson Place
1st Floor Conference Room
Brooklyn, NY 11217 The typically bare-bones, agenda, below, tells us nothing about the content of the presentation. One thing to look for is any hint of plans to start a new building on the southeast block of the project by the end of the year.

If not, ESD is supposed to re-evaluate a longstanding request from project neighbors to move back a giant wall encroaching on part of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues. It's said to enclose construction activity, but, in recent months, has significantly served to protect worker parking.

Also, by the way, if you search for Atlantic Yards on Google or the ESD website, it leads to this page for the Atlantic Ya…