WHEN I SHOWED A TRANSFORMATION FOR QUEENS BOULEVARD that included trees over the subway beneath the wide street, some people naturally had some doubts about how well the trees would grow. But look at these trees above the similar “cut and cover” subway at Broadway and 86th Street in Manhattan. “Cut and cover” is a construction process in which the street is dug up, the tracks are laid, and then the street is put back like a roof. I haven’t examined the drawings for either Queens Boulevard or Broadway, but the details should be similar.
Imagine how much better Broadway would look if the trees chosen had come from one of the great street tree species that form majestic canopies (they weren’t), or if the trees had been properly planted for healthy and mature growth (ditto). That means not only giving the roots enough room to spread out, but also planting trees like sycamores in conditions that allows their roots to intermingle, because we know now that many of the great street species share disease resistance through their roots. And today we have systems like Silva Cells for conditions where we know soil compaction and root spread can be a problem.
Now imagine how much worse Broadway would look without any trees…
Made in the shade at the corner of Broadway and West 86th Street, perfect for a hot August afternoon.
“A new House of Lords report has called for a moratorium on any new ‘frightening and intimidating’ shared space schemes”
WE GAVE Exhibition Road a mixed review in Street Design. I visited Exhibition Road a few times and found it over-designed, a frequent problem for 21st century streets. I agreed with our friend and colleague Hank Dittmar, whom we quoted on the subject of Exhibition Road: “Only the parked cars look comfortable.”
It’s in the news this week, because it may be the most famous Shared Space in Britain, at a time when “Shared Space” is the buzzword of the moment for High Streets (Main Streets) around the country. Most local politicians in the UK seem to know about Shared Space, and now a member of the House of Lords has come out with a report that labels them “dangerous”—and in fact many UK Shared Spaces do seem dangerous, for at least two reasons: cars driving on them routinely go faster than is safe for spaces where pedestrians, cyclists, and cars are sharing the road; and they are frequently unsafe for the blind.
For a couple of years now,I have been … well, I don’t know what the best word is, but it is somewhere between bored and irritated, by the current course of architecture forcing people to be extravagant even if they don’t want or need that. I think there is a fatigue with “originality” now and an interest in the modesty of an artist.
I think there is a fatigue with “originality” now & an interest in the modesty of an artist.”
THERE’S STILL no resolution to the war in Washington over Frank Gehry’s design for a memorial to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Many who love Gehry’s work hate the memorial design,* which the Eisenhower family rejected. But Kansas Senator Bob Dole and Kansas Congressman Pat Roberts (What’s The Matter With Kansas?) are calling in favors and pushing to build the monument while there are veterans of the war alive to see the monument.
The most “innovative” and “inventive”—both favorite words in architecture today—of these is called Remembrance and Honor. An empty sarcophagus is lifted high and ringed by a crown of honor held aloft by Classical columns. The tower turns from the Washington grid to face the rising sun on Armistice Day:
POSTSCRIPT: When the highest profits in a market like New York’s come from 1) converting affordable rental housing into housing for sale that buyers use for investment and speculation, and from 2) building housing for the rich and the super-rich, there is no logical reason to say deregulating the market will bring affordable housing.
In a market that does not have a sudden imbalance of wealth and a large new group of buyers, the libertarian supply and demand argument might apply. But when a tiny group of people who own half the wealth in the world suddenly focus on a market that is already booming without them, the traditional supply and demand is no longer the problem. Every year, more and more affordable rentals are removed from the market, while building costs and land prices become too high to create new affordable rentals without subsidies, regardless of demand.
IN RESPONSE TO:
Gabriel Metcalf, Jul 23, 2015, 184 Comments
Like some other commenters here, I think there is a fatal flaw in this argument. I have to qualify that by saying that I’m not familiar with the current housing market in San Francisco, but I am familiar with the market in New York City, where I live, and London, where my brother lives.
The fatal flaw is in thinking that the market will build housing for the middle class and blue collar workers and families if government just gets out of the way. New York and London show a different history, and I suspect there are similar factors at play in San Francisco.
The problem in New York actually started not with global capitalism, which distorts the local market in “global cities,” but with the widespread conversion of rental apartments to condominiums and co-ops, which began back in the 1970s. At that time, when the New York market was weak, there was no price difference most of the time between rent-stabilized prices and market-rate prices (of course there were exceptions, created by people who had occupied rent controlled apartments for decades, but they were the exceptions).
BEFORE the architecture world settled on “the Iconic building” as the best marketing term to sell shiny towers to the global super-rich, UK Deputy Prime Minister John Preston used to talk about “the Wow Factor” when talking about what London should build for the global market. Preston’s friend John Norquist—former Mayor of Milwaukee, former President of the Congress for New Urbanism, and the patron for a museum designed by Santiago Calatrava—says, “We forget how quickly ‘Wow’ can turn into ‘Bow Wow.”
A late entry, after the jump
I’VE TWEETED this post by Witold Rybczynski, and I’ve put it on FaceBook. But I don’t think it’s getting enough attention, so here it is again: Category I and Category II, by Witold Rybczynski:
You can divide residential architects into two categories: those who design for their clients, and those who design for their colleagues. When the work of Category I is published, it is in mass market magazines such as Architectural Digest and Elle Decor; the work of Category II appears in professional journals and architectural monographs.
VESTER VOLDGADE, KØBENHAVN (“West Rampart Street, Copenhagen”) is interesting both for its current condition and and its original state. It’s called “Voldgade” because like the boulevards of Paris, it was built where the old city wall stood (the French word “boulevard” comes from the word “bulwark”). As in Paris, allées were planted on the old ramparts, but in Copenhagen the result was different.
Parisian boulevards became tree-lined, symmetrical streets (planted in patterns composed of squares, the landscape architect Douglas Duany has pointed out). In an old photograph of a section of Vester Voldgade then called “Filosofgangen” (Philosopher Path), we can see that there was a street next to the tree-covered ramparts, with all the trees on the rampart side of the road in what looks like a naturalistic planting.
No this one:
IF TROMBONE SHORTY were an architect, his fellow architects would say his music is “nostalgic” and “pastiche,” because he draws so heavily on the musical traditions of New Orleans. Luckily for us, musicians are smarter than that. The White House loves him too—EVERYONE is very happy in the video above.
I WENT TO BILBAO just to see the Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. I’m glad I did. Gehry may be our greatest living architect, and the Guggenheim is the best of the 6 or 7 of the buildings designed by him that I’ve seen.
The museum is a wonderful example of a Modernist Civic Building. It is sited well, and everything that is best about it contrasts with the old city around it. That’s not necessary, and it would be bad for an ordinary building in the middle of an ordinary block, but Gehry made it all work in Bilbao.
One thing that struck me was that the people visiting the museum loved it. That’s worth a lot.
I’VE NOTICED this new building a few times from the Hudson River Greenway. It always gets an automatic, “Oh, that’s pretty good.” Other architects have told me they’ve had similar “blink” reactions.
Why? It’s well proportioned, it has pleasant massing, and the balance and play of glass and brick is interesting. It’s a good fabric building that doesn’t completely fade into the background or demand all the attention.
When you get a little closer, you find maisonettes on both side streets, and at the opposite end of the block a respectful attitude towards affordable housing that Jane Jacobs helped build.
I’m usually not a big fan of putting the bulk of the massing in the center of the block when there’s a broad avenue (or in this case the Hudson River), but Cook + Fox turned the zoning regulations into a handsome building. New York could use more like it.