Two Birds with One Design: Affordable Housing & The Boulevard of Death

Queens Boulevard, Queens, New York. Before & After, looking southeast from 67th Road.
Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

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Travels With My iPhone – Bath

BathBath, Maine, November 7, 2014 – Click to Enlarge

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Travels With My iPhone – Wiscasset

WiscassetNovember 7, 2014 – Click to Enlarge

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Street Design @ MIT, Monday


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The NJIT Architecture School said, “Kean University’s proposal of a curriculum of ‘drawing by hand’ does not recognize the demands of today’s job market.”

Kean University, a state school six miles away from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, another public university, has announced that they will open the Michael Graves School of Architecture. According to articles in the New Jersey Record, NJIT is apparently trying to stop any nearby competition.* Princeton University has the only other architecture school in the state, but Princeton and NJIT draw from different applicant pools.

I wrote in the comments,

The Graves curriculum will add variety that is needed in architectural education. The only other school I know of that requires hand drawing for the first few years is Notre Dame, which also has the only Classical architectural curriculum in the United States. Because Notre Dame is supplying something other schools do not, the Notre Dame architecture school’s annual job fair has more offices in attendance than the school has graduating students, and all graduate students get multiple job offers.

The Graves school will not have a Classical curriculum, but since Graves is working on the curriculum it will be more open to pre-Modern architectural history than 99% of American architecture schools. That too should give its students an advantage that other schools like NJIT don’t have.

For the last 20 years, most architecture schools, particularly here in the northeast, have marched in an ideological lockstep. Looking at NJIT student work on their website, the school seems to be squarely within the norm. The work shows an academic approach that many architectural offices complain about, because the designs are so far from what most clients want today.

The problem is not the work, but the relative uniformity of what schools teach today, and how little it often has to do with professional practice. Many (like Graves, apparently) think the best way to bring more diversity to the system and therefore the profession is from outside the system, because the schools resist change. It’s common sense that if everyone is selling the same product, the institution that provides something different can produce students with easily marketable skills.

Sketching and working in CAD are different ways of working (both valuable) that use different parts of the brain. Sketching freehand, the designer connects most directly to his or her intuition. Inserting a keyboard and a monitor into the process makes it more mechanical and rational. There’s a place for both.

* Kean University, NJIT feud over similar curriculums
NJIT formally questions Kean University’s plan for architecture program
Newly Announced Michael Graves School of Architecture Facing Criticism

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“One entered the city like a god. One scuttles in now like a rat.”


That’s the famous quote by the immortal Vincent Scully about Penn Station, where demolition started fifty-one years ago today. But stay tuned—some interesting things are starting to happen, and they’re not the things you’ve been reading about.

More photos here and here.

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Top Seven Reasons Behind the Shanghaiing of New York (#Dubai-on-Hudson)

Iconic Towers

  1. Big Finance: Most people don’t realize that Big Finance is the engine driving the global movement that has had the Mayors of New York, London, and Paris promoting shiny Starchitecture indistinguishable from the shiny Starchitecture in Dubai, Mumbai, and Shanghai. It’s hardly surprising though—these “iconic towers” are the face of Global Capitalism, and you find them everywhere Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, and the One Percent want to land their jets. Why? Because the towers are the most profitable and predictable way for the financial world to invest in real estate. Goldman doesn’t want to invest in the renovation of individual old buildings, because that’s too particular and unpredictable. They want formulas for investments with predictable high returns, which makes iconic towers the new shopping malls.*
  2. Big Real Estate: Big Finance has introduced Big Real Estate to an international market of One Percenters who can’t find enough places to invest their money. Here in New York, this aligns Wall Street’s interests with those of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY—which includes all of the richest mega-developers in the city), in effect making a SuperPAC far more powerful in the state than any other. The most profitable buildings they can develop are shiny, tall towers marketed to the world’s super rich in global hotspots like Moscow, Hong Kong, and Dubai where modern capitalism has produced a small number of people with so much money that they have a hard time finding enough places to invest it. The towers can be residential buildings that get a large premium for every apartment higher than the surrounding buildings, or they can be office or mixed-use buildings that can be sold as investments to foreigners. London’s Shard is a prime example.**
  3. Global Capitalism: The Shard is in a part of London that most Britons consider a poor location for an expensive building, but that doesn’t stop it from being successfully marketed to foreign investors. The offices in the Shard are more than half empty, and a poll shows that Britons do not want to live in the Shard, but marketing offices in foreign countries sold apartments and investments in the building for enormous profits. Similarly, most New Yorkers do not want to live on 57th Street, but foreign investors buy pied-à-terre, fourth-homes there with views of Central Park for the highest prices in the city.
  4. Cheap Construction: The modern glass curtain wall on most iconic towers is cheap, for four reasons: the materials are cheap; the fabrication of the glass walls, frequently made in China, is cheap; the curtain walls require little craftsmanship or skilled labor; and the manufacturers take the computer drawings of the architects and translate them into construction drawings, saving the architects work as well.
  5. Big Unions: Labor unions obviously like large construction jobs, and they particularly like large construction jobs that allow to expand the union but don’t require a skilled labor pool.
  6. Big Zoning: Mayor Bloomberg’s world view was the same as Wall Street’s and REBNY’s. He updated “What’s good for General Motors is good for America” to “What’s good for Big Business is good for New York (and London, and Paris, and…),” and he expressed the philosophy behind the new World Cities when he said that cities are “luxury items” you have to pay for. Note: I voted for Mayor Bloomberg three times. I wish I had only voted for him twice, because until his lame-duck term he was a bit more restrained in his promotion of Big Development, which is choosing short-term mega-profits over the long-term health of the city.
  7. Big Architecture: Big Finance, Big Development, and Big Architecture are a marriage made in heaven for Starchitects, who have won work around the world and even made serious money. Lord Foster, for example, is one of the 400 richest people in Britain. From the point of view of the developers, if you want to promote ridiculously profitable shiny new towers in Hong Kong and Moscow, it’s good to have a culture of world-renowned Starchitects promoting a Cult of the New. One hand washes the other.

Big Architecture also refers to the way most Starchitects and aspiring Starchitects work today, which is unlike the way urban planners design. A city plan starts with the streets and the blocks, with building types in mind. Like it or not (I don’t like it much), Daniel Libeskind’s winning plan for Ground Zero is an example of urban design: what we see there today are the streets, blocks, and building types he laid out, but without the towers he was hoping to design. Norman Foster’s competition entry, on the other hand, was Big Architecture: it was a design for a big building, and the plan only made sense with his building.

Some of these buildings are good, some are bad. Similar things can be said about capitalism, and even Global Capitalism. Extending Winston Churchill’s famous remark about democracy, we can say that capitalism is the worst form of economic life “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” What is new is the ubiquitous, one-size-fits-all building model applied to the entire world for the advantage of the very few. When McDonald’s spread its fast food chain stores cities across the world, we thought that was bad, but in fact storefronts come and go, while buildings remain. In the 21st century, when Slow Food, localism, craftsmanship, walkability, and placemaking are all the rage, a world focus on “iconic” towers seems oddly dated, out of touch, and literally out of place. The vast interiors on large floors with no operable windows and little connection to the ground are the opposite of natural ingredients, and the energy-hog, unsustainable and mass-produced curtain walls might be compared to GMOs. The world’s not asking for GMOs, but Monsanto makes lots of money from them, and in today’s world Big Money usually gets what it wants.


Photo of Dubai courtesy of James Howard Kunstler, who calls this Bowling Trophy Architecture.

“Chinese outbound tourists used to be impressed by futuristic buildings they encountered in places like Dubai and recently also London, but with more and more of such projects realised in Beijing… the pull factor of contemporary architecture for them is diminishing.”

— Wolfgang Georg Arlt, Forbes Magazine.

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Thank you, Mr. Godschalk




DAVID GODSCHALK reviewed Street Design in the current Urban Land magazine,

A revolution in street design is unfolding across America…. Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns is the revolution’s handbook. Its promise is clear: invest in urban streets that slow vehicles down and create shared spaces where pedestrians feel safe and comfortable, and your neighborhoods shall prosper. This encyclopedia of beautiful and profitable streets belongs in the hands of every designer, developer, and planner seeking to create sustainable development projects.

…In the final analysis, this book makes unique and valuable contributions both to urban design and to sustainable development. Creating more great streets means more people will be attracted to urban living, where they will be able to walk and bike more, reducing sprawl and air pollution from commuting by automobile, and resulting in smaller urban footprints with fewer negative climate change impacts. This is a revolution that benefits everyone.

Read the Review Online or Download a PDF

ULI Review

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Eclectic Good Kind


See it in the New York Times

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Separated at Birth

Separated at BirthPerot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, Texas, meet The Borg, Alpha Quadrant, Outer Space. People have long said that Thom Mayne’s buildings have all the human scale and attractiveness of menacing alien spaceships,* but “Why ask why?” — “Resistance is futile” when Starchitects come to town.

I used to joke about new buildings in New York looking like the Borg ship, including the black Maki building at Astor Place, and Mayne’s Cooper building 2 blocks south. Who knew that Mayne was actually looking to the Borg ship as architectural precedent?

* “41 Cooper Square appears in the 2013 U.S. television series The Tomorrow People as the headquarters of the Ultra agency.”
* “You think of the alien popping out of Sigourney Weaver’s stomach.”

An Eyesore of the Month at

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A Street Is A Terrible Thing To Waste — from New York State Conference of Mayors Summer Bulletin

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Honestly, isn’t this building giving New Yorkers the finger?

432 Park Ave

THIS IS Robber Baron 2014 Style: Conspicuous Consumption literally taken to unprecedented heights. You can see it many miles away in Queens, the Bronx, and even Brooklyn, which means millions of New Yorkers have to look at it’s graceless form every day. You get some idea of the problem here (and to a lesser degree here).

And for what? One-hundred and twenty-five apartments on 89 floors (a number that will probably go down as Russian billionaires buy multiple units to combine into large pied-a-terres on the highest floors). Most of the occupants won’t live in the building (What New Yorker would want to live completely surrounded by undistinguished midtown office towers?) and they won’t pay much in the way of local taxes, but their empty nests (called “bullion pots in the sky” in London) will forever disfigure the skyline and steal sunlight as far away as Central Park.
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The Good Kind: The View From My Office

Bayard Building
Louis Sullivan, The Bayard Building, 65 Bleecker Street, New York, New York, 1899.

Looking out my office windows I see Louis Sullivan’s only building in New York City. After the jump, more views of Sullivan’s Bayard Building.
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Words To Live By

Sitting is the new smoking.

Speeding on city streets is the new DUI.

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“And tell me what street compares to Mott Street in July” — August

IF you don’t know this line from the Rodgers and Hart song Manhattan—you should (and here it is in a medley sung by Ella Fitzgerald that combines two Rodgers and Hart songs, Manhattan and I’ll Take Manhattan. I’m calling Mott today’s #StreetoftheDay because we’re having such fabulous weather in New York that you can’t walk down Mott without humming this song.

That seems to be the upside of climate change—we’ve been having a lot of beautiful days in spring, summer, and fall. Today’s temperature eventually climbed to 79•, but this is August, when brown, sticky days in the high 90s were historically common. And the humidity was only 35%, while there was hardly a cloud in the sky. We’ve had lots of days like this for years now, but with early, cold, and sometimes long winters. August is usually the worst time to be in New York, but not recently.

Mott 1
Mott 2
After the jump, more pictures of Mott Street (and a little history).
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The Cosmopolitans and #StreetoftheDay

The Cosmopolitans
From the Amazon Original Pilots and The Cosmopolitans comes the Street Design #StreetoftheDay: the rue Caron, leading into the place du Marché Ste.-Catherine, in the Marais. The shot is taken from the show.

Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine, 75004 More information after the jump:
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Ferguson, Missouri and the Cost of Sprawl

ENGINEER CHARLES MAROHN makes his usual insightful and interesting points in a post about Ferguson, Missouri on the Strong Towns blog (below). I happened to read the post just before reading an article in the Guardian that had many long quotes from Roger Scruton’s new book, The Soul of the World. I frequently disagree with Scruton, particularly when he’s talking about religion, but the quotes in the article are interesting. There’s one that I suspect Marohn would agree with, even though his (Marohn’s) points are mainly about money and economics.

“Everyone has a sense of desecration,” Scruton writes: “there are things everybody values which, when they are spoiled, are not just moved or destroyed, they are desecrated. Something that is vital not just to you but the world. People have this sense when they see their towns pulled apart and concrete blocks put in the middle of them.” That seems to apply to Ferguson too.

Marohn writes,

I’ve spent some time on Google looking at the area where the shooting took place and the QuikTrip that was the flashpoint for events that followed. While this is a fairly ubiquitous pattern of development here in the United States, there are some important things to note. What I see with Ferguson is a suburb deep into the decline phase of the Suburban Ponzi Scheme. The housing styles suggest predominantly 1950’s and 1960’s development. We’re past the first cycle of new (low debt and low taxes), through the second cycle of stagnation (holding on with debt and slowly increasing taxes) and now into predictable decline. There isn’t the community wealth to fix all this stuff — and there never was — so it is all slowly falling apart.

Decline isn’t a result of poverty. The converse is actually true: poverty is the result of decline. Once you understand that decline is baked into the process of building auto-oriented places, the poverty aspect of it becomes fairly predictable. The streets, the sidewalks, the houses and even the appliances were all built in the same time window. They all are going to go bad at roughly the same time. Because there is a delay of decades between when things are new and when they need to be fixed, maintaining stuff is not part of the initial financial equation. Cities are unprepared to fix things — the tax base just isn’t there — and so, to keep it all going, they try to get more easy growth while they take on lots of debt.

In 2013, Ferguson paid nearly $800,000 just in interest on its debt. By comparison, the city budgeted $25,000 for sidewalk repairs, $60,000 for replacing police handguns and $125,000 for updating their police cars. And, like I pointed out last week, Ferguson does what all other cities do and counts their infrastructure and other long-term obligations as assets, not only ignoring the future costs but actually pretending that the more infrastructure they build with borrowed money, the wealthier they become.


(full post here)

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