Manhattan Westside Story

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Manhattan Westside Story

Postby paul h » Wed May 23, 2007 11:20 pm

Biggest Building Site in Manhattan Up for Auction
Todd Heisler/The New York Times
The city plans to begin an auction next month for the rights to build office towers, apartments and parks over the Long Island Rail Road yards on the Far West Side.

Published: May 17, 2007
It is the largest building site left in Manhattan, 26 acres on the Far West Side, where the Bloomberg administration envisions the equivalent of five Empire State Buildings rising on $1 billion worth of concrete columns over bustling railyards.

The High Line, a railway being turned into a park, is part of the debate over developing the Far West Side.
And starting next month, some of the city’s biggest developers will have a chance to bid for the rights to make that grand — some say grandiose — plan real.

“The city hasn’t done anything like this before, certainly not in Midtown,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding. “We want to create a 21st-century Rockefeller Center.”

Known as Hudson Yards, the project is central to one of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s longstanding ambitions: to transform the heavily industrial Far West Side into the city’s third business district, after Wall Street and Midtown, with not just high-rise office and apartment towers, hotels and parks, but also an expanded Jacob K. Javits Convention Center nearby.


The challenges are daunting. Developers say it will probably cost $1 billion to build platforms over the yards for skyscrapers as tall as 70 stories, and the work must be done while Long Island Rail Road trains are running. Some residents want assurances that the development will include permanent housing for poor and working-class families. And a sharp debate is emerging over whether to tear down the northern end of the High Line, an unused railroad structure that is being converted to an elevated park south of 30th Street.

The plan, which is likely to take more than a decade to complete, calls for the construction of 12.4 million square feet of commercial, residential, recreational and cultural space over the railyards, which span 11th Avenue between 30th and 33rd Streets. It is Mr. Bloomberg’s second attempt at developing the yards: His first attempt, which involved building a $2.1 billion stadium for the Jets football team, crumbled in the face of opposition in the neighborhood and in Albany.

The city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the land, are working together to develop the railyards. The project must go through the city’s lengthy land-use review process, but unlike the plan for a football stadium, it will not require approvals in Albany.

The city and transit officials say they will begin an auction for development rights over the parcel next month, and they expect five of the city’s biggest developers to bid. They also plan to hire a contractor this summer to begin drilling work for the extension of the No. 7 subway line from Times Square to 11th Avenue and 34th Street.

“The Hudson Yards are one of the most expensive and complicated developments ever to be undertaken,” said the developer Douglas Durst.

Mr. Durst has formed a partnership with Vornado Realty Trust to bid for the property. Extell Development Company also expects to bid, as does Brookfield Properties, and Tishman Speyer Properties, which real estate executives say may have an alliance with Lehman Brothers as a tenant. Tishman Speyer declined to comment, but if such a collaboration exists, the company would immediately jump to the front of the race.

Debate over the plan has focused on two potentially conflicting demands: that the development provide public benefits, like subsidized housing, parks and other amenities, and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority get the highest possible price for the land.

Developers insist that any requirements for affordable housing or parks will increase their costs by $100 million, reducing the price they can pay. Critics contend that the sale of public land should lead to community benefits, and that the cost of those benefits is a small price to pay for a rare commodity: land in Manhattan.

“It’s a vast undertaking, and it pitches these competing public goals against each other,” said Anna Levin, a member of Community Board 4. “I understand that the entire burden shouldn’t be placed on developers. But this is a public undertaking. There have to be public resources that can be brought to bear, otherwise this will become a gold coast that doesn’t serve the entire city.”

Although the Bloomberg administration failed to win legislative support to build the football stadium over the railyards in 2005, it did succeed in a more far-reaching goal: rezoning a wide swath of the West Side, including 45 blocks outside the railyards, for large-scale development. However, the portion of the railyards west of 11th Avenue still needs to be rezoned and to go through a public review process.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority rebuffed the city’s offer to buy the development rights to the yards for $500 million, saying it was too little. The two sides then agreed to create a strategic development plan for the yards, which is now complete, and put them up for sale.

Building Over Railyards The winning bidder would be assured of state and city support — though not necessarily community backing — during the lengthy public review, which can be unpredictable for a developer. Last week, the city and state publicly unveiled the plan, which calls for up to 5.7 million square feet of residential and commercial development on the western portion of the yards.

Under the proposal, towers as high as 70 stories are pushed to the north and south sides of both the western and eastern yards. There is public space at the center of the eastern yard that would connect to a tree-lined boulevard that the city wants to build from 39th to 33rd Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues. The open space is designed to draw pedestrians across the western yard, to the waterfront.
A rough artists sketch

The High Line, a railway being turned into a park, is part of the debate over developing the Far West Side.

One of the thorniest issues concerns the fate of the High Line, which some people want converted into a park all the way to its northern terminus inside the Hudson Yards area. The city already plans to turn the railway into a park from 30th Street south to Gansevoort Street, where the mere promise of an elevated park has helped spur a residential boomlet in west Chelsea.

But state and city officials have expressed concern that keeping the High Line inside Hudson Yards could impede the already difficult task of construction. At least one critic, Mr. Durst, said retaining the line would add $100 million to the cost of construction.

“Any additional complications will subtract from the value the M.T.A. receives, and leaving the High Line in place will have a substantial effect on that value,” Mr. Durst said.

But Friends of the High Line, an advocacy group, contends that retaining the rail structure will cost only about $800,000, with the benefits outweighing any problems.

“You don’t often have the opportunity to take a piece of the city’s industrial infrastructure and reuse it in an interesting way, to connect west Chelsea, Hudson Yards and the waterfront,” said Robert Hammond, a leader of the group. “It’ll be a great park that’ll serve the city as well as Central Park.”

At a community board meeting last week, an official with the transportation authority said for the first time that the authority supported retaining the High Line, although it also wanted to maximize revenues for rail operations. Privately, one official indicated that the authority did not want the High Line venture to cost it more than $25 million.

Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the authority, said he was trying to work out the housing issue and had set aside land controlled by the authority outside the railyards for subsidized apartments. Officials say bidders will be asked to submit offers based on keeping or demolishing the High Line.

There are other snags in the Bloomberg administration’s plans for the Far West Side. The long-awaited expansion of the Javits Convention Center is stalled while the Spitzer administration continues its review of the $1.8 billion project, which has come under criticism from trade show producers. That, in turn, has held up plans to sell land across 11th Avenue from the Javits center, for a convention center hotel, as well as the block between the center and the western railyard.

But the administration is eager to show progress while the real estate market is hot. So officials say the request for bids on the railyards will be issued no later than early June.

“This is for the future of New York, so it’s not going to be done overnight,” said Stephen M. Ross of the Related Companies, one of the city’s most active developers. “I don’t think there’s ever been anything like this, on this scale.”
Rough artists sketch
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paul h
Posts: 342
Joined: Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:52 am
Location: Dublin

Re: Manhattan Westside Story

Postby paul h » Sun Oct 07, 2007 3:37 pm


IF the state and city go through the trouble of invit ing bids and ideas for the West Side rail yards, and spend years negotiating and fending off inevitable lawsuits, it should result in new buildings we actually need to have built.

Forget the baloney about turning the yards into another "Rockefeller Center." Every giant development scheme is called the "new Rockefeller Center," even when they're more like the Albany Mall.

What the state and city must do is avoid the micromanaged mess they made out of Ground Zero. Too much master planning squeezed so much in that nothing fit right - and six years later, we're still waiting to see a single new building.

Current Hudson Yards ground rules call for about 12 million square feet of offices and apartments, which can be divided up in various ways.

But the MTA's preliminary guidelines, drawn up with the city, also call for 12 acres of "open space," a hotel, cultural center and the kitchen sink, all in designated locations.

All the nitpicky requirements can easily nibble away what's most needed: namely, elbow room for office towers with the giant floors that modern financial companies need.

Sherwood Equities President Jeffrey Katz, who built the 1600 Broadway condo tower near Times Square, plans a huge office project not far from the yards at 10th Avenue and 34th Street, and he knows the drill.

He sees the need for new office buildings as critical to keeping New York competitive in the global economy.

"When London ran out of land some years ago, Canary Wharf saved that city - it would not otherwise be the financial center of Europe," Katz says. "The yards can do for us what Canary Wharf did, but even better, because it's a better location."

Apartments, hotels and cultural centers can go anywhere. Buildings large enough for 21st-century business cannot.

Let Gov. Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg keep that in mind.
paul h
Posts: 342
Joined: Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:52 am
Location: Dublin

Re: Manhattan Westside Story

Postby paul h » Mon Nov 26, 2007 4:27 am


Published: November 24, 2007
The West Side railyards are the kind of urban development project that makes builders dance in the streets. A footprint bigger than Rockefeller Center’s and the potential for more commercial and residential space than ground zero: what more could an urban visionary want?

So the five proposals recently unveiled by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to develop the 26-acre Manhattan railyards are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City.

With the possible exception of a design for the Extell Development Company, the proposals embody the kind of tired, generic planning formulas that appear wherever big development money is at stake. When thoughtful architecture surfaces at all, it is mostly a superficial gloss of culture, rather than a sincere effort to come to terms with the complex social and economic changes the city has been undergoing for the last decade or so.

Located on six square blocks between 30th and 33rd Streets and 10th Avenue and the West Side Highway, the yards are one of the few remaining testaments to New York’s industrial past. Dozens of tracks leading in and out of Pennsylvania Station carve through the site. A string of parking lots and old industrial buildings flanks the tracks to the south; the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is a block to the north. To build, developers first will have to create a platform over the tracks, at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion; construction of the platform and towers has to take place without interrupting train service.

City officials and the transportation authority, which owns the railyards, have entertained various proposals for the site in recent years, including an ill-conceived stadium for the Jets. The current guidelines would allow up to 13 million square feet of commercial, retail and residential space; a building to house a cultural group yet to be named; and a public park.

All five of the development teams chose to arrange the bulk of the towers at the northern and southern edges of the site, to minimize disruption of the tracks below, and concentrated the majority of the commercial towers to the east, and the residential towers to the west, where they would have views of the Hudson River.

But none of the teams have fully explored the potentially rich relationship between the railyards and the development above them, an approach that could have added substance to the plans. Nor did any find a successful way to come to terms with the project’s gargantuan scale.

The proposal by the Related Companies would transform the site into a virtual theme park for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the developer’s main tenant. The design, by a team of architects that includes Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica and Robert A. M. Stern, would be anchored at its eastern end by a 74-story tower. Three slightly smaller towers would flank it, creating an imposing barrier between the public park and the rest of the city to the east.

The plan also includes a vast retail mall and plaza between 10th and 11th Avenues, which could be used by News Corporation for advertising, video projections and outdoor film and concert events — a concept that would essentially transform what is being hailed as a public space into a platform for corporate self-promotion. A proposal by FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli for the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust is slightly less disturbing. Following a similar plan, it would be anchored by a new tower for Condé Nast Publications to the north, and a row of residential towers extending to the west. Sinuous, elevated pedestrian walkways would wind their way through the site just above the proposed public park. The walkways are meant to evoke a contemporary version of the High Line, the raised tracks being converted into a public garden just to the south. But their real precedents are the deadening elevated streets found in late Modernist housing complexes.

By comparison, the proposal by Tishman Speyer Properties, designed by Helmut Jahn, at least seems more honest. The site is anchored by four huge towers that taper slightly as they rise, exaggerating their sense of weight and recalling more primitive, authoritarian forms: you might call it architecture of intimidation. As you move west, a grand staircase leads down to a circular plaza that would link the park to a pedestrian boulevard the city plans to construct from the site north toward 42nd Street.

Mr. Jahn built his reputation in the 1980s and ’90s, when many modern architects were struggling to pump energy into work that had become cold and alienating. Over all, the design looks like a conventional 1980s mega-development: an oddly retro vision of uniform glass towers set around a vast plaza decorated with a few scattered cafes. (In a rare nice touch, Mr. Jahn allows some of his towers to cantilever out over the deck of the High Line, playing up the violent clash between new and old.)

Another proposal, by Brookfield Properties, is an example of how real architectural talent can be used to give a plan an air of sophistication without adding much substance. Brookfield has included a few preliminary sketches of buildings by architectural luminaries like Diller Scofidio & Renfro and the Japanese firm Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, but the sketches are nothing more than window dressing. The proposal includes a retail mall and commercial towers along 10th Avenue, which gives the public park an isolated feel. A hotel and retail complex cuts the park in two, so that you lose the full impact of its sweep.

For those who place urban-planning issues above dollars and cents, the Extell Development Company’s proposal is the only one worth serious consideration. Designed by Steven Holl Architects of New York, the plan tries to minimize the impact of the development’s immense scale. Most of the commercial space would be concentrated in three interconnecting towers on the northeast corner of the site. The towers’ forms pull apart and join together as they rise — an effort to break down their mass in the skyline. Smaller towers flank the site’s southern edge, their delicate, shardlike forms designed to allow sunlight to spill into the park area. A low, 10-story commercial building to the north is lifted off the ground on columns to allow the park to slip underneath and connect to 33rd Street.

The plan’s most original feature is a bridgelike cable structure that would span the existing tracks and support a 19-acre public park. According to the developer, the cable system would reduce the cost of building over the tracks significantly, allowing the density to be reduced to 11.3 million square feet from 13 million and still make a profit. The result would be both a more generous public space and a less brutal assault on the skyline. It is a sensitive effort to blend the development into the city’s existing fabric.

But what is really at issue here is putting the importance of profit margins above architecture and planning. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority could have pushed for more ambitious proposals. For decades now cities like Barcelona have insisted on a high level of design in large-scale urban-planning projects, and they have done so without economic ruin.

By contrast, the authority is more likely to focus on potential tenants like News Corporation and Condé Nast and the profits they can generate than on the quality of the design. A development company like Extell is likely to be rejected outright as too small to handle a project of this scale, however original its proposal. (In New York dark horse candidates often find that ambitious architectural proposals are one of the few ways to compete with bigger rivals.)

This is not how to build healthy cities. It is a model for their ruin, one that has led to a parade of soulless developments typically dressed up with a bit of parkland, a few commercial galleries and a token cultural institution — the superficial gloss of civilization. As an ideal of urbanism, it is hollow to its core.









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paul h
Posts: 342
Joined: Sat Jan 21, 2006 2:52 am
Location: Dublin

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