By Carter B. Horsley
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority opened
a small exhibition in mid-November 2007 in a storefront at the
northwest corner of 43rd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue of the five
submissions it has received for the redevelopment of its West
Side rail yards in Manhattan. The exhibition was to run through
December 3, 2007, but was extended to December 14.
The exhibition has plans from Brookfield Properties,
Extell Development, a joint venture of Vornado Real Estate Trust
and the Durst Organization, a joint venture of the Related Companies
and Goldman Sachs, and a joint venture of Tishman Speyer and Morgan
The plans for the redevelopment of the 26-acre
site south of the Javits Convention Center facing the Hudson River
varied greatly in detail and presentation and it was clear that
many details of some of the proposals had not yet been worked
out. Some more details became available at a major public meeting
at Cooper Union sponsored by many of the city's leading civic
organizations and still more at a subsequent meeting organized
by Community Board 4. Both meetings were standing room only and
many of the new details were not easily discernible as some appeared
for a few seconds in video presentations without comment, or were
on large presentation boards blocked by standees and removed instantly
at the meeting's end.
You would almost think that the public agency
and the developers did not want too much scrutiny. When questioned
after the meeting, one Community Board 4 member said that the
MTA agreed to the presentations before the board only on the grounds
that no financial details of the plans would be discussed or disclosed.
Speakers from the community at the meeting emphasized that their
primary interests were the creation of affordable housing and
job generation for the community. One member of the community
board declared that all the plans were too big: "It's Hong
Kong on the Hudson."
Anna Hayes Levin, a member of the board, told
the meeting that the MTA intends to base its decision of which
plan will be chosen on how much revenue it will generate for the
authority, how little disruption it will cause to its operation,
the quality of the architecture and design, and sustainability.
The lead editorial in The New York Sun
November 20, 2007 on the proposals submitted to the MTA noted
that "The only things missing were price tags, which is a
strange way to run an auction for a publicly owned site.
The MTA's board will make a decision early
next year and that decision will be based not only on the specific
plan, but its "doability," and financing and the MTA
released no details of what financing plan accompanied each submission.
The proposals are now being reviewed by a selection committee
with a majority of its members appointed by MTA and with two representatives
from Hudson Yards Development Corp. The recommended proposal(s)
for each yard will then go to the MTA board for consideration
in the first quarter of 2008.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's
requests for proposals for the redevelopment of the air space
over two large rail yards on the West Side between 30th and 33rd
Streets were released by Governor Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael
R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and MTA executive
director and CEO Elliot G. Sander.
"After years of dialogue, today's announcement
is a tremendous step towards making the Far West Side the next
frontier in the city's development," declared Governor Spitzer.
"The Hudson Yards area offers a once-in-a-generation
opportunity to transform a vast underutilized site into a vibrant
community with new office space, housing, cultural space and parks,
and today's announcement marks a key milestone in finally fulfilling
the area's potential," declared Mayor Bloomberg, adding that
"the development of the Far West Side will help us achieve
our long-term goal of creating capacity for jobs and affordable
housing in all five boroughs."
"As this project moves forward, we will
see a new, world-class urban development come to life, one that
will be a vibrant mix of uses and has design controls to fully
integrate it with the surrounding area," declared Speaker
The two yards are each 13 acres in size and
straddle 11th Avenue. They could be developed with about 12 million
square feet of residential and commercial space and the RFPs call
for the creation of about 5 acres of open space on the western
yards and about 7 acres on the eastern yards.
The eastern yards is the southern base of a
new angled boulevard that would extend north to 42nd Street and
which was rezoned in 2005 to permit extremely high density development.
The rail yards had been proposed by the Bloomberg
Administration as a site of an Olympic and football stadium, but
that plan was subsequently abandoned.
The state and the city have been planning an
expansion of the Javits Convention Center that has no windows
facing the Hudson River and is too small to attract the nation's
largest conventions that are major revenue sources for their cities.
The city had argued that the football stadium could have been
a major expansion/addition to the convention center, but since
most major convention centers are one-floor facilities it was
not clear how the stadium would have been used for convention
In any event, costs for the modest expansion
planned for the convention center escalated sharply and the new
plans would have virtually obliterated the integrity of its design
by I. M. Pei that was widely heralded at the time although no
preservationists came forward to protest the state's new plans
even though the Pei design was one of the most modern of its era.
Some press reports put the cost of the modest expansion at $5
billion, an absurd figure that was not challenged in the press
or by civic activists but high enough for the state to rethink
its plans and finally The New York Times reported that
in mid-December, 2007 that Patrick J. Foye, co-chairman of the
Empire State Development Corporation, "acknowledged that
the convention center expansion that he inherited from a previous
administration was 'dead' and "$1 billion more expensive
than had been previously stated." On December 22, 2007, The
New York Post ran an article by David Seifman that said that
"Mayor Bloomberg suggested that delays caused by the Spitzer
Administration's lengthy review of the Javits Center's expansion
plan contributed to the skyrocketing costs that killed the project."
At the same time, plans were advancing for
the redevelopment of the former post office on Eighth Avenue across
from Madison Square Garden as well as proposals to relocate Madison
Square Garden into the revamping of the post office and replace
it with major office buildings.
In addition, Vornado Realty is contemplating
demolishing the huge Hotel Pennsylvania (see The
City Review article) on Seventh Avenue for development of
a major office building. The Pennsylvania Hotel is one of the
city's last major, handsome, early 20th Century hotels designed
to accommodate travelers arriving at the city's great train stations.
Another similar such hotel is the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue
at 45th Street that was reported recently as about to be offered
for sale as a development site for an office tower.
Meanwhile, the city planned to improve access
to this vast redevelopment of the area, which is west of the crowded
Theater District, the crowded Garment Center, and the crowded
Lincoln Tunnel traffic, with an expansion of the 7 subway line
west on 42nd Street from Times Square to 11th Avenue and then
south to 34th Street. The subway extension would add only one
stop although initially plans were to provide a "shell"
for a second station at 41st Street and Tenth Avenue where there
has been a great deal of recent residential development.
Many local elected officials sent a letter
a few days before Christmas to sterday to Deputy Mayor for Economic
Development Daniel Doctoroff declaring that plans to extend the
7 subway line from Times Square to Javits Convention Center and
the MTA's West Side railyards without creating a station at Tenth
Avenue and 41st Street is "a profound mistake, inconsistent
with public promises and an invitation to fiscal irresponsibility."
Not building that station, they argued, "would represent
a failure to provide for the area's growing residential population"
and "would also put at risk several million square feet of
potential commercial and residential development, which would
generate substantial direct and indirect economic benefits for
The elected officials who signed the letter were Senator Charles
E. Schumer, City Controller William C. Thompson Jr., City Public
Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Anthony
Weiner, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, State Senator Tom Duane,
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
The letter was also signed by Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers
Campaign, Kathleen Treat of the Hells Kitchen Neighborhood Association
and Christine Berthet of the Clinton/Hells Kitchen Pedestrian
The plans for the extension have called for it to be financed
by the City with bonds backed by anticipated payments in lieu
of taxes from the development of the West Side with a total of
$3.1 billion to be issued with $2.1 billion being for the extension
and the remainder for infrastructure improvements on the far West
Side such as the "profiling of 33rd Street, the reconstruction
of the 11th Avenue viaduct, the construction of a mid-block boulevard
running from 33rd to 38th Streets and the construction of parks
and open space," the letter maintained.
"If it is possible to take funds initially targeted for other
infrastructure projects and redirect them towards a second 7-line
stop, that option must be explored immediately," the letter
"It is our understanding that, due to high-than anticipated
costs, the option of this second station was eliminated from the
plans in order to reduce the overall contract from nearly $1.5
billion to $1.14 billion.
"Parcels of land in the northern part of the Hudson Yards
district - between 38th - 43rd Streets - lack the transportation
infrastructure and amenities of the 34th Street corridor and will
be more difficult to develop without this subway station,"
the letter continued.
An article by Charles V. Bagli the following day in The New
York Times quoted John Gallagher, a spokesman for the Bloomberg
administration as stating that "It's time for Senator Schumer
and his colleagues in Albany and Washington to step up to the
plate with adequate capital funding for the M.T.A., so that they
have the resources to provide the rest."
A December 23, 2007 editorial in The New
York Times said that Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, who recently
announced that he was resigning, "now seeks a compromise"
and "he says the city would pay half the cost of the 10th
Avenue shell, and the M.T.A. could pay the other half."
Perhaps a Robert Moses could digest all these immense projects
in a few months, but probably not the public, nor architecture
critics, nor government officials.
The city has projected that its population
will grow by a million people by 2030 and that it must act now
to accommodate growth. The Far West Midtown South district is
apparently seen by the city as having the potential to be the
city's third major business district although while 125th Street
and Park Avenue could become that or downtown Brooklyn or Jamaica
are issues not raised by community groups that apparently have
been rather stunned in semi-silence by all the plans. (It should
be noted that Community Board 4 has worked extremely hard on these
issues under very difficult deadlines, given the relative lack
of nitty-gritty information on the proposals.)
Clearly the planning fiascos of the convention
center and the 7-line extension and the failure of Madison Square
Garden to participate yet in the plans to create an "improved"
train station are very, very significant obstacles for these grandiose
The good news, however, is that the High Line
elevated park that runs from Gansevoort Street south of 14th Street
to the MTA yards is proving to be a sensationally successful development
created by the two founders of the Friends of the High Line and
has attracted a great many interesting projects in Chelsea.
The north end of the High Line wraps around
the southwest corner of the combined two sites and the RFPs express
"the goal of retaining those portions of the High Line "if
possible" and "respondents are required to include alternative
treatments of the High Line in their proposals to allow the MTA
to assess the costs and land value effects associated with retention
The request for proposals put out by the MTA
for its 26-acre rail yards, which separated by 11th Avenue, was
contained in a 266-page document and developers had 90 days to
submit proposals. Construction of the eastern yards could begin
after board approval as that yard was rezoned in 2005. Plans for
the western yards, however, must go through an environmental review
after conditional board approval and then go through the city's
Uniform Land Use Review Process.
The developer of the western yards has to provide
space for a public school and make 20 percent of all residential
rental units "affordable." The developer of the eastern
yards must set aside 200,000 square feet of the developable 6.3
million square feet for a "major new cultural facility"
to be selected by the developer and the city.
Plans for developer Related Cos. utilize anchor
tenant News Corp. to "activate" the park in the words
of CEO Stephen Ross and bring people to the area for open-air
movie screenings and NFL pre-game shows.
For developer Extell, the plan brings a "triple
tower" skyscraper to the area and a series of angled towers
to bring different slants of sunlight to the area at different
times of day.
Plans for Vornado and Durst call for an elevated
"skyline" to run alongside the High Line and a "people
mover" to shuttle people over from Penn Station and a new
headquarters for Condé Nast. Architect Dan Kaplan explained
that "we wanted to design the area so that it wouldn't be
an island unto itself."
The vision for developer Brookfield Properties
wraps the area into West Chelsea by reintroducing the street grid
for cars and pedestrians.
Tishman Speyer plans an amphitheater, 13 acres
of open space and residential towers that preserve views. The
project is anchored by Morgan Stanley headquarters.
The MTA rail yards proposal is significantly
larger than the Ground Zero plans (see The
City Review article)and more complex.
What follows are descriptions and graphics
for each of the five plans:
Extell Development posted its plan for the
redevelopment of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority railyards
that straddle 11th Avenue between 30th and 33rd Streets on its
website a few days in advance of the authority's public exhibition
in early December, 2007, of the competing plans.
On October 5, 2007, the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority released the names of the five developers who submitted
bids for the redevelopment of its open train yards near the Hudson
River in midtown.
The other four submissions were Brookfield Properties Developer
LLC, The Related Companies, TS West Side Holding, LLC (a joint
venture of Tishman Speyer and Morgan Stanley), and Hudson Center
East LLC and Hudson Center West LLC (a joint venture of Vornado
Realty Trust and The Durst Organization, Inc.).
The Extell submission has been designed by
Steven Holl and places all of its tall buildings on "terra
firma" to minimize disturbance of the railyards. In contrast
to the proposed plan by the Hudson Yards Development Committee
that called for new buildings to have a "footprint"
of 596,021 square feet, the Extell proposed buildings have a footprint
of about 292,068 square feet permitting 75 percent of the site
to be open as opposed to only 48 percent in the committee's plan.
The Extell plan calls for 6 "Sunslice"
residential towers on its south "west" site, a tower
with curved walls at the northwestern corner with about 846,810
square feet of residential space, a low-rise "porous"
office building on the northern edge, and a very tall cluster
of three towers joined at their tops at the northeastern corner
with a total of more than 3 million square feet.
On the south "east" site, the Extell
plans call for two residential towers with a total of about 1,313,350
square feet and an office tower of about 1,174,650 square feet
and a performing arts center and school of about 285,000 square
The top of this large structure will have more
public observatory space than at Rockefeller Center and the Empire
State building combined. At the Cooper Union presentation, Mr.
Holl noted that the design's three "legs" provide alternate
"escape routes" if needed in emergencies, an ingenious
idea and one that might be further augmented, perhaps, by some
lower skybridges between the "legs." The tower recalls
Peter Eisenman's wonderful unbuilt design in 1991-2 for Max Reinhardt
Haus, an angled and gridded tower that rose and then bent over
and to touch the ground again in Berlin
The "Sunslice" towers have complex
angled tops based on "sun angle calculations" and will
have wind turbines "inside of their thin tops" and each
will have about 500,000 square feet of residential space.
The Extell plan keeps the High Line elevated
structure that turns west on 30th Street and then north at 12th
Avenue to 33rd Street and Extell then extends it west through
a new tower to a bridge over the avenue to a pier and ferry terminal.
The "porous," 10-story, office building
along 33rd Street will have floorplates of more than 100,000 square
feet that can accommodate trading floors or convention center
expansion space and the building will be raised on a grand peristyle
Extell owns a parcel just outside the MTA Yards
on the southeast corner of 30th Street where it had previously
commissioned Mr. Holl to design a 70-story tower, shown above.
A major highlight of the Extell plan is its
large "commons" that is open at both its east and west
ends providing vistas of the Empire State Building and the Hudson
River. Moreover, the commons is atop a suspended platform that
curves gently upwards on its north and south sides and can be
constructed without any disruption to the tracks beneath it. All
other proposals call for platforms to be erected on supports throughout
the yards, a more expensive solution.
Unlike the other proposals, the Extell plan
is the vision of one man: Steven Holl, the architect of Simmons
Hall, a dramatic dormitory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(see The City Review article), "Looped
Hybrid Housing," a spectacular megastructure now nearing
completing in Beijing (see The City Review
article) and of the recently completed, mostly underground,
addition to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City. Holl
does not have a specific style but a wonderful sense of monumentality
and a rather poetic knack for unusual and compelling compositions.
He also has long cogitated about the High Line.
The Holl plan is the best of all the submissions
because it creates a magnificent new "commons" for the
city with great vistas of midtown and the Hudson river that also
is a spectacular feat of engineering, because it not only preserves
but extends the High Line, because it affords a potentially significant
expansion for the Javits Convention Center, because it provides
a bridge over the highway to a pier and ferry terminal, and, most
importantly, because it creates a world-class ensemble of extremely
interesting and extraordinarily distinctive buildings.
At first glimpse, one might think that the
large, low-rise, horizontal building raised on pilotis to maximize
views of the commons might be better placed on the site's south
side to maximize sunlight falling upon the commons. The choice
to put it on the north is actually quite wise as it does afford
an important opportunity to meet the expansion needs of the Javits
Convention Center just to the north, especially in light of the
state and city's collapsed and faulty expansion plans. That placement
decision apparently also led to the very unusual configurations
of the tops of the "Sunslice" buildings. These will
not be small buildings but they will be thin. While the carving
away of their tops may provide some extra square footage of sunlight
on the commons, the thinness of the buildings will create a quite
dramatic dynamic to the skyline, a kind of stacatto architectural
symphony that will create a most intriguing skyline, highlighted,
of course, by the tripod tower whose irregular top redefines most
notions of skyscraper. While the up-and-over form owes a bit to
an unusual, but much shorter tower plan, albeit with only two
"legs" by Peter Eisenman, it has an immensely powerful
aesthetic based on its tall height and its battered macehead top
that harkens to ancient civilizations even if it is enclosed in
glass. The city is in desperate need of observatories and this
promises to easily be the most spectacular.
The High Line bridge building at the site's
northwest corner has very sinuous lines in contrast with the rest
of the plan. Curves are not always easily handled in architecture
but the basic form here is very pleasing expecially the way the
base sucks in for the bridge. This tower is sort of icing on the
cake for it emphasizes that diversity of form and style can be
a good antidote to massive conformity that can be overbearing
and perhaps, over time, dated.
The proposal by Brookfield Properties to redevelop
the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's rail yards on the
west side of midtown Manhattan calls for the creation of 12 million
square feet of space on 50 percent of the site.
The proposal is distinguished by designs by six different architects:
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, which also prepared the master
plan and open space plan along with Field Operations; Thomas Phifer
& Partners; SHoP Architects PC that designed The Porter House
on the southeast corner of Ninth Avenue and 15th Street; Diller
Scofidio + Renfro, the designers with Field Operations of the
High Line Park, now under construction; Kazuo Sejima + Ryue Nishizama/SAANA,
the designers of the recently opened New Museum of Contemporary
Art on the Bowery; and Handel Architects.
Its plan calls for 4 office buildings with
a total of 6,300,000 square feet including ground floor retail,
8 residential buildings with 3,298 units, 3 hotels with 2,025
rooms, 486,000 square feet of retail space, and two cultural facilities
of 100,000 square feet each, and two community spaces with 154,300
square feet including a 115,000-square-foot school.
At the eastern edge of Brookfield's
plan, Skidmore Owings & Merrill has designed two tall, office
towers whose facing facades have rather voluptuous vertical curves
overlooking a spectacular "Hudson Hall" with an undulating
glass roof. The "hall" was created by diagonal pylons
between the towers and its overall form is somewhat reminiscent
of Santiago Calatrava's proposed transportation center at Ground
Zero. It is not clear whether the huge diagonal braces serve a
structural purpose for the two office towers or how windy the
area beneath the roof might be. The glass roof appears to be extremely
elegant and interesting but the extension of the braces above
the roof to the sides of the towers is dramatic but awkward and
The shape of the towers is
soft and sexy and certainly the city needs soft and sexy buildings
but these do not relate to the rest of the Brookfield plan and
therefore seem rather out-of-place. If their design had influenced
the rest of the project, it might have been more acceptable. Brookfield,
to its credit, decided not to commit the design of the huge site
to one architectural firm and while New York is defined by its
architectural chaos and individuality is highly prized a site
of this scale and importance might be better served by a cohesive
rather than totally disparate design.
The glass-vaulted gateway is called Hudson
Hall, between the project's two tallest buildings will supposedly
"invite pedestrians from Tenth Avenue through to Hudson Place
and extend 32nd Street to the river."
The western end of the Brookfield
plan is dominated by two towers designed by Diller Scofidio +
Renfro, a design firm largely involved with the design of the
High Line Park and also with major design projects at the Lincoln
Center for the Performing Arts (see The City Review article).
The two residential towers, One and Two Hudson
Green, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro are at the northwest
corner of the site and are collected by two sky-bridges more than
26 stories up. "Grand staircases, ramps and the amphitheater
connect the Hudson Green with the High Line below" and "a
pedestrian footbridge connecting Hudson Yards to Hudson River
Park springs from the northwest corner of Hudson Green,"
according to Brookfield documents. The two Hudson Green towers
are of unequal height and the eastern facade of the taller, western
building is inclined to the west. One illustration in the documents
showed joggers running around the skybridges, which is a building
amenity not yet offered in other new luxury residential construction.
Rather than sweaty people showing off their often less than perfect
physiques, the skybridges might serve a better purpose as observatory-cafés.
The tying together of the two towers with the skybridges is, in
fact, not only very graceful but exciting and powerful but joggers
should stick to the ground.
According to James Corner, the director of
Field Operations, "Three magnificent public open spaces define
the Plan - the West Chelsea Promenade, including the historic
High Line, creates a two-block long park along 30th Street, lined
with cafes, galleries and markets; the central Hudson Place offers
a 21st Century cultural arts park, with performance spaces and
public art installations, and is capable of supporting events
such as Fashion Week; and Hudson Green affords a generous open
law area and promenade facing southwest and overlooking the Hudson
River, replete with play areas and public gardens, with access
over to Hudson River Park."
Along 30th Street, SHoP architects have designed
residential buildings that are distinguished by their very interesting
swirling notch forms that are very dramatic and very elegant.
Brookfield envisions that the entire project
will be completed in twelve-and-a-half years in 2022 with the
first residential buildings being completed in 2013, the first
commercial buildings being completed in 2012 and the first hotel
buildings being completed in 2013.
Brookfield's portfolio includes 75 square feet of office building
including the World Financial Center at Battery Park City and
300 Madison Avenue in Manhattan, One, Two and Three Allen Center
in Houston, and First Canadian Place in Toronto.
Brookfield's plan has garnered the greatest
support on the Internet and its presentations were as good as
Extell's, both far and away superior to the other proposals.
While the Diller Scofidio + Renfro towers and
those by SHoP Architects are excellent, the rest of the plan leaves
much to be designed. The S.O.M. towers are interesting forms that
deserve to get built, but not at this site as they are off-center
and off-kilter and off-putting.
The Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust
commissioned FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli to design their plan
that already has Condé Nast Publications as the lead tenant
for one of its four office towers, a 1.5-million-square-foot building
at the southeast corner of 11th Avenue and 33rd Street. It quoted
S. I. Newhouse Jr., the chairman of Condé Nast as stating
that "we hope to set an example of both design and environmental
sensitivity." Condé Nast is presently in a major tower
designed by FXFowle on the northeast corner of 42nd Street and
The centerpiece of the plan is an 80-story
commercial and residential tower at the center of the 10th Avenue
In this plan, 20 percent of the estimated 7,000
apartments on the site would be set aside for low- and moderate-income
families and an additional block of units would be set aside for
teachers, firefighters and othres in middle-income households.
The plan would eliminate the High Line along
12th Avenue facing the Hudson River and it would have 12 acres
of open space.
The proposal will pursue LEED Gold certification
for each building in the plan, which includes a central cogeneration
The plan calls for a total of 5.4 million square
feet of office space on the eastern portion of the yards with
a glass-enclosed galleria at the base of two of the buildings.
One of the office towers would have a slightly curved southern
façade with an angled top, while others would have "screen"
The residential buildings on the western portion
of the yards will contain about 6.4 million square feet.
The southern edge of the eastern yards will
contain a multi-purpose cultural center for temporary exhibitions
and also host events ranging from community celebrations to art
shows to runway events.
A 125,000-square-foot public intermediate school
is planned for the southeast corner of the western yards with
entrances both below and at the level of the High Line.
The design of the cultural center appears quite
exciting and the landscaping of the central park is very intriguing,
perhaps too much so.
The plan of the proposal by
the Related Companies and Goldman Sachs proposal has been designed
by Kohn Pedersen Fox, Robert A. M. Stern and Arquitectonica and
it already has an agreement that its tallest tower, a 1,080-foot-high
high on Tenth Avenue, would be occupied by the News Corporation
with a large winter garden on the west side of the tower in front
of a central plaza.
The plan has 14 buldings ranging
in height from 33 to 74 stories including three office buldings,
an Equinox hotel, and about 5,300 apartments, of which 2,000 would
be rentals of which more than 20 percent would be set aside permanently
for low- and moderate-income families. The central park would
be 9 acres.
The Related plan is a hodge-podge
of very different designs, some good and some not, and its presentation
documents were less than clear in some instances.
The major central tower designed
by Kohn Pedersen Fox appears to be very handsome with a slanted
western facade and multiple multi-story atriums, but another tower
designed by the same firm is quite conventional.
Similarly, the two tower groups designed by
Robert A. M. Stern are very different. One, shown above on the
left, recalls his very popular and successful recent Post-Modern
design for 15 Central Park West, but the other group, shown above
on the right, are modern glass towers of similar banded facade
treatment but different forms with what appear to be inset balconies.
Arquitectonica, the architectural firm that
has for a generation set the style standard in Miami where it
is based, has designed several towers, all very different.
One group, shown above at the left, consists
of towers joined by the top, apparently, by a huge trellis, surely
the strangest design in all of the proposals. Another tower, shown
above in the middle, appears to a quite conventional, clean modern
tower and from the rendering appears to have a tapering chamfer
that does not extend all the way to the top. It has also designed
a pair of related glass towers with banded facades, shown above
at the right, but unequal heights and bulging wastelines that
are neither beautiful nor ugly.
The proposal by the Related Companies and Goldman
Sachs to redevelop the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's
rail yards on the west side of midtown Manhattan calls for a 9-acre
waterfront park with a bridge to the Hudson River Park, a two-million-square-foot
headquarters building for the News Corporation that would be 1,080
Some observers have commented
that this plan turns a lot of space over to promoting the various
enterprises of News Corporation with large screens and the like,
as shown above.
The plan also calls for a $100 million contribution
to a "signature cultural facility" and a "new public
school and other cultural amenities." The rendering shown
above is apparently the cultural facility and its shifted layered
design on pilotis and hovering over a what appears to be a circular
entrance/stairwell is attractive. Unfortunately, many of Related's
presentations were not shown in the exhibition and were also of
mixed quality making assessments difficult.
The Tishman Speyer proposal
is the most abominable of all the proposals, which is astounding
given the fact that Tishman Speyer is one of the city's most important
and prestigious landlords whose portfolio includes such iconic
and world-class properties as Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler
A plexiglass model at the exhibition
did not have colored top floors as in the rendering but at least
gave a sense of pristine workmanship that could not disguise,
however, not only the very strange slants of its four major towers
on the eastern part of the site but also the equally strange diagonally
patterning of their facades.
Helmut Jahn is the architect
for the project and has worked previously for Tishman Speyer.
He is most famous for the stunning State of Illinois Center in
Chicago and his projects in New York include 425 Lexington Avenue,
International Plaza across from Bloomingdale's and Citispire on
West 56th Street.
The plan would also include a PS/IS school
and a new "town square" for the West Side.
Helmut Jahn is the architect and Peter Walker is the landscaper
The plan calls for all the buildings to be LEED Gold-certified.
The project combines a crowded mix of low-, mid- and high-rise
According to an article in The New York Times by Charles
V. Bagli five of the seven residential buildings "would be
cantilevered over the High Line."
Morgan Stanley, which is a partner in this venture, has its headquarters
now in Times Square.
While it is true that the developer teams had
very little time to respond the Request for Proposals, which explains
some of the vague presentations, and while it is also likely that
the plans will change over time, hopefully this major project
will not suffer the same shoddy scenario that we have witnessed
at Ground Zero, a much smaller site.
While Internet surfers seem to indicate a preference
for the Brookfield plan and some print journalists have suggested
that Related has the "inside" track, there is no question
that Extell's is the most original scheme and that Brookfield
the second best.
Extell's suspended platform would appear to
be significantly less expensive to build and vastly less disruptive,
both important factors. More importantly, however, its three-legged
tower and observatory is extremely exciting even if it will not
win a lot of beauty contests. It does not fall into any convenient
architectural style although its top has a gargantuan spirit of
expresssionism especially when contrasted with its lower but not
small group of towers across this plan's open central park whose
wildly different "Sunslice" tops defiantly proclaim
a new skyline aesthetic based on confident strength and not stylistic
Holl's post projects have combined monumentality
with a poetic sense of proportion and individuality and Individuality
is the hallmark of Americanism and New Yorkism. The big tower
and the small "Sunslice" towers also contrast with the
sinuous form of Holl's High Line Bridge tower overlooking the
river but the constrast is not incongruous because it is significantly
separated from the others by the large and handsome horizontal
building in the middle of the north frontage that conceiveably
could serve as a significant resource for the beleagured Javits
Convention Center, a center that the city must find ways of improving
to remain competitive.
The large open spaces of Extell's central park
afford vistas both the east and west, a solution only applied
also in the Tishman Speyer proposal.
New York City needs great open spaces for major
urban events and as demonstrated certainly by the Sheep Meadow
and Great Lawn in Central Park. Central Park, of course, has a
great many different landscapes and it is event that such a specific
solution was contemplated in the Durst/Vornado plan that has skywalks,
bridges and nooks and crannies - everything that a "My Man
Godfrey" treasure hunt requires, but unfortunately too much
and too specific a solution for such a major public site. In the
ideal world, of course, the city could accommodate both approaches
and the Durst/Vornado park plan might work between replacing the
grand diagonal boulevard the city plans beteen 42nd and 34th Street.
The Extell open plan permits a variety of grand uses but the Durst/Vornado
is an intimate approach to grand space. Great malls, like one
on in Washington, D.C., can accommodate great monuments and a
variety of subsections, even labyrinthes.
I am sure that some observers are sitting on
the sidelines assuming that the MTA in its infinite wisdom, and
let us not forget its wonderful art program that has greatly beautified
many stations, will pick one from Extell column, one from Brookfield
column, and soon and suggest another round of competition like
we have had at Ground Zero. The Ground Zero competititons, however,
have not come up with a greater plan and it would be a very wrong
public policy to renege on one's regulations and promote aesthetic
thievery. Of course, an alternative might be to say well we like
this aspect of one plan and that should be developed by its originator
and this aspect of another and that should be developed by its
originator: a piecemeal approach. Given the vast economics and
time frame of this site's potential development, however, those
are not really viable options. There is nothing wrong, of course,
with picking one winning plan and asked them to slightly tweak
one aspect of it.
A big problem in all of this is that it is
being rushed ahead without adequate details and public imput.
It is also disconcerting that the MTA might be placing very heavy
emphasis on how much money it will get from all this, a frightening
reminder of the fiasco of the Coliseum site redevelopment at Columbus
Circle when the winning bid was determined solely on money and
the process had to be restarted at very great expense and frustration
to developers who have long been very leary of having to deal
not only with city agencies but community groups, whose many voices
have yet to really surface on this plan, although many members
of Community Board 4 have spent enormous energy and reflection
on it. Incredibly, to date, the community groups have harped only
on trying to get as much affordable housing and community facilities
- obviously very important needs - and have not bothered to comment
in any meaningful way on the quality of the architectural and
urban planning, which are more important for not only the community,
but also the city, and the region.
Some commentators have scoffed that Brookfield
is not as big or experienced or important a developer as The Related
Companies or Durst/Vornado, and have conveniently overlooked the
fact that Brookfield is the successor firm to Olympic & York,
the Canadian company that built not only the spectacular World
Financial Center at Battery Park City with its very great Wintergarden,
but also Canary Wharf in London and countless major skyscrapers
in major cities across the United States.
Two elements of Brookfield's plan are quite
appealing: Diller Scofidio + Renfro two towers connected by two
skybridges, an exciting and very elegant design, as long as not
reserved for sweaty joggers but skyline observers and cappucino
drinkers, and SHoP Architects interesting group of twisted towers
on the south side.
The one element of all plans that seems to
have generated consistently interesting designs is the low-rise
cultural center and Tishman Speyer's and Durst/Vornado's appear
to be the best, although the lack of good renderings and models
make a final choice still impossible.
Lastly, how the projects interface with the
rest of the city is very important. When Battery Park City's final
design was created, it was designed to try to retain the city's
street grid and sightlines, an important consideration, of course,
but given the city not necessarily the best as the far more important
consideration was the creation of its great waterfront esplanade
and the failure to put the West Side Highway underground to make
for a seamless connection with the rest of Lower Manhattan.
Some of the submitted proposals have made an
effort at their corners to make access to the platform/deck inviting,
an important consideration, but only Extell and Tishman Speyer
opted to kept vistas open at the site's east and west ends, sacrificing
the higher rents that a tower obstructing the vistas to the east
would bring for the glory of being able to see the Empire State
Building from the central park.
Finally, one must comment upon the advisability
of design by committee, or by master architect. Committees inevitably
make compromises and often are not aesthetically qualified or
unified. A master plan by one individual can be inspired and great,
or a terrible disaster, but in this age of belated enhanced sensitivity
to architecture and planning disasters can be avoided. Such a
notion, of course, favors Holl and Jahn, but Jahn's plan here
worse than disappointing, it is not even good enough for Chicago
that in recent years seemed to have completed forgotten its great
architectural history and sprouted with horrendous designs, except
for Frank O. Gehry's great BP Bridge, Pritzker Pavilion and Great
Lawn in 2005 (see The City Review article).
New York needs to be daring, to go after the
gold ring of the world's architectural carousel, to reassert itself
as a hotbed for great design as it was in the beginning of the
20th Century when its skyline romanced the world!
In an January 2, 2008 article in The
Wall Street Journal, Ada Louise Huxtable, the paper's distinguished
architecture critic, wrote that "The only...thing we can
count on is that whatever is eventually built there will bear
very little resemblance to what we are being shown now,"
adding that "For which we should be tremendously thankful.
Becuase it is hard to beliebve that teams with this much financial
heft and assembled star power could come up with something so
"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 files in the face of the current cant
about pluralism and diversity and proves again that architecture
is about vision and ideas....You have to admire Extell's courage
in going with a single gifted architect and putting all its chips
on design," Ms. Huxtable wrote.
She liked the "fine environmental hand
of Field Operations" in the Brookfield plan, but noted that
"Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's most conspicuous contribution
is a part of skyscrapes that look, in profile, alarmingly like
The Related Companies' proposal, she continued,
"has coveredall possible bases with something dreadful for
everybody," adding "this is not planning, it's pandering....It
is quite clear that they know what they are doing and why they
are doing it - and it's perfectly awful."
She was critical of the Durst/Vornado scheme
for its "inexplicable revival of the discredited elevated
walkways of the 1960s that were a notorious failure in places
like London's Barbican and South Bank."
"Finally, there is the elephantine
dead-on-arrival proposal by Helmut Jahn and Peter Walker for Tishman
Speyer. what in the world were they thinking? This oppressive
arrangement of immense matched towers (I will not mention the
diagonal stripes) relates to nothing; it is a throwback to the
most insensitve urban renewal projects of the past century,"
she concluded. (1/2/08)
The Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee
has sent the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ten recommendations
for the proposed redevelopment of its West Side Yard near the
Hudson River in midtown.
Last fall, the M.T.A. received proposals from five teams for the
yard's redevelopment and it is expected to select one soon.
The committee was formed pursuant to an agreement between the
Administration and the City Council with respect to the Hudson
Yards rezoning in January 2005 to advise the Hudson Yards Development
Anna Hayes Levin, the chair of the committee, sent a 7-page letter
January 8, 2007 to Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of
the M.T.A., outlining its concerns and noting that "we are
under no illusion that any of the plans will be built exactly
The letter maintains that after reviewing the five proposals that
"there is too much density" and that "the scale
of the buildings is overwhelming" "The base floor area
ratios (FARs) of 11 on the Eastern Rail Yard ('ERY') and 10 on
the Western Rail Yard ('WRY') seem reasonable until you realize
that they are calculated across the entire sites, including open
space and streets. Excluding open space and streets (as parks
and streets are excluded elsewhere in the City), the effective
density over such a large area is in the neighborhood of 25 FAR."
The letter also maintained that "The
Hudson Yards area's infrastructure is already strained and insufficient"
and "simply cannot support such overwhelming additional development
without additional investment in public facilities."
It also said that the affordable housing components of the plans
were not "acceptable," noting that "it is appropriate
that the MTA's drive for financial gain be tempered by standards
of public responsibility" and declared that "the State
and City must ensure that development of the West Side Yard creates
permanent affordable housing opportunities far greater than the
unacceptably small amount currently contemplated."
The letter said that all of the development teams have "commented
to us informally" that the MTA's design requirements were
"unduly confining, and several have submitted plans that
do not conform to all of the design requirements," adding
that "the non-conforming plans feature some good ideas that
should not be rejected."
The plans "seem, to varying degrees, like private enclaves"
that are "disconnected from the surroundings and out of step
with the feel of Manhattan" and the letter urges that the
superblocks be broken by reintroducing the street grid.
"Before we saw the proposals," the letter continued,
"we thought the east-west open space corridor made sense,
but the conforming plans raise a concern that they might produce
a wind tunnel effect." "Separate, distinctive open space
has the added advantage of being constructible in phases and not
dependent on completion of the entire plan for the public amenity
to be realized," it stated, adding that some committee members
"feel that multiple open spaces with distinct programming
will be better than one large space without a clear purpose."
The committee argued that "anything less than full preservation"
of the High Line structure on the site is "unacceptable,"
that a "high level of sustainable is financially feasible,
and should be required of all developers," that construction
employment should have "strong labor provisions and opportunities
for minority- and women-owned businesses."
The committee noted that none of the development teams "has
come up with a committed user" for the planned major new
cultural facility at the site and added that "several of
the proposals strike us as primarily commercial uses, such as
trade show/convention center uses, rather than the not-for-profit
cultural facility uses required by the ERY zoning."
"Providing a notable piece of architecture at this site
very desirable, but it should not take precedence over planning
for a real user," it argued, concluding that it believes
that cultural activity at the site "can best be accomplished
by providing substantial space throughout the development for
smaller cultural uses, especially non-profit theatrical and arts
companies and artistic support services."
Finally, the committee said that "the financial aspects of
the proposals must be made public." (1/9/08)
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Governor David
A. Paterson, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director
and CEO Elliot G. Sander, and Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger announced
the conditional selection March 26, 2008, of Tishman Speyer to
develop the air space over the two development sites that compose
the MTA's 26-acre John D. Caemmerer Rail Yard on the West Side.
The Tishman Speyer proposal would construct
more than 12 million square feet of commercial, residential, retail,
cultural and community space while preserving the High Line's
linear open space, including 379 units of affordable housing,
and pursuing a LEED Gold standard for sustainability.
"Regardless of the current economic
slowdown, New York's long-term prospects are very bright if we
make the decisions now to ensure our future. We've done that today,"
said Mayor Bloomberg, adding that "The outstanding team that
they've assembled and their unparalleled track record as one of
our city's pre-eminent developers absolutely merit the vote of
confidence that the MTA board has given them."
Governor Paterson said that "The selection
of Tishman Speyer will set the stage for construction of a beautiful,
world-class development that will further the transformation of
the Far West Side of Manhattan." "I applaud the MTA
for working closely with community groups to ensure that this
is an environmentally-conscious project that includes affordable
housing and is good for residents, businesses and visitors. The
commitment by Tishman Speyer demonstrates to the world despite
uncertain economic times, New York City is still a great investment."
"We are extremely pleased that despite
a tough market we reached a deal that recognizes the full value
of these extraordinary development sites and provides vital funding
for our capital needs and enormous benefit for the Far West Side,"
said Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director
and CEO Elliot G. Sander.
"The Board's top priority was fulfilling
our responsibility to fund the capital program, which we achieved
beyond our expectations," said MTA Chairman H. Dale Hemmerdinger.
"I am thrilled that we were also able to address community
concerns and look forward to a continuing dialogue with West Side
"Office buildings, housing, open space
and new jobs -- these elements are all critical to the development
of the West Side and the future of New York City," said U.S.
Senator Charles Schumer. "Today's agreement on the Hudson
Yards will not only bring much needed revenue to the MTA, but
will catalyze growth throughout the West Side and ensure that
New York stays competitive in the 21st Century."
"I am very pleased that we are moving
ever closer to realizing the full potential of the West Side,"
said U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton. "This is a significant
commitment to open space, affordable housing and environmental
sustainability that will also make a significant financial contribution
to our public transportation infrastructure."
"The Hudson Yards represents one of
the last great building opportunities on the West Side of Manhattan,"
said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. "Now that an
agreement has been reached between the MTA and Tishman Speyer,
the Council can work with the community to ensure that permanent
affordable housing is appropriately incorporated into the project."
"This project will create much-needed
revenue for our subways and buses, and I am happy to join Governor
Paterson, Mayor Bloomberg, the MTA and Tishman Speyer in announcing
that it is moving forward," said Manhattan Borough President
Scott M. Stringer. "As a participant in the ULURP process
I look forward to continuing to work with the local community,
the City Planning Commission and the City Council to help make
sure that the new Hudson Yards meets the needs of the neighborhood,
the city and entire metropolitan region."
"We are honored to have been chosen
to develop this important section of our city. Its location and
scale afford an unprecedented opportunity to create a new and
special neighborhood for all New Yorkers," said Rob Speyer,
President of Tishman Speyer. "We look forward to working
with the MTA as well as the State and City administrations in
the coming years to establish a vibrant development that will
engage and enliven our city."
The MTA Board authorized the MTA CEO to
execute a Conditional Designation Letter (CDL) with the developer
within the next 14 days. Upon completion of this CDL, the MTA
would then enter into a contract with the developer within the
next 120 days. The proposal for the WRY would then begin an environmental
and public review, which consists of preparation of an environmental
impact statement followed by the City's Uniform Land Use Review
Procedure (ULURP), a six-month series of reviews by the community
board, Borough President, City Council and City Planning Commission.
The ERY was re-zoned in January 2005 and construction could commence
upon completion of the contract with the developer.
Tishman Speyer, whose properties include
Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and Stuyvesant Town,
was one of five ventures that submitted bids last summer to develop
The other ventures were Extell Development,
Brookfield Properties, a venture of the Durst Organization and
Vornado Realty Trust, and the Related Companies.
All of the submitted bids called for the
erection of a platform to permit the continued use of the yards
except for the one submitted by Extell that called for a suspended
level over the yards.
In the first round of bids submitted in
October, the top bid of $1.049 billion was submitted by Related,
followed by $1.015 billion submitted by Durst/Vornado, $908 million
submitted by Brookfield, $819 million submitted by Tishman Speyer,
and $598 million submitted by Extell.
A second round of bidding was requested
in February. Brookfield Properties did not submit a bid but indicated
it could be involved as a co-developer, and Related submitted
a bid only for the western half of the yards but not the eastern
Extell submitted the highest bid in the
second round: $1.15 billion. However, it did not agree to pay
sales tax and that refusal led to its elimination in the bidding
process. Related's second round bid was $943 million, Tishman
Speyer's was $897 million and Durst/Vornado's was $842 million.
The MTA then asked for more bids from the
two remaining ventures and Tishman Speyer offered $1.004 billion
and Durst/Vornado $892 million. Over the last few days, Durst/Vornado
upped its bid but it still fell short of Tishman Speyer's.
The Durst/Vornado plan included new headquarters
for Condé Nast Publications and a much higher number of
apartments than the Tishman Speyer plan, which attracted little
enthusiasm from architectural and community commentators.
The selection of the atrocious Tishman Speyer
plan is incredible as it was widely considered to be the worst
plan of all those submitted. (3/26/08)
On Thursday afternoon, May
7, 2008, the MTA announced that Mr. Bagliit had reached an "impasse"
with Tishman Speyer. The agency's brief statement said that "the
cause of the impasse was Tishman Speyer's attempt to change a
central deal term in an effort to postpone the closing on the
Eastern Yard until the Western Yard was satisfactorily re-zoned.
This demand changed the economics of the proposed deals and the
certainty of payments to the MTA. The MTA remains committed to
developing these unique and very valudable parcels of land."
The announcement came only
six weeks after the agency had selected Tishman Speyer, one of
the city's major real estate concerns and owner of the Chrysler
Building and Rockefeller Center, over four other ventures that
had submitted bids to redevelop the 26-acre yards to the west
of Penn Station with millions of square feet of office space and
several thousand units of housing.
The design of the Tishman Speyer
proposal by Helmut Jahn had not been popular and Morgan Stanley
initially had been a partner in the proposal but subsequently
withdrew. An article by Charles V. Bagli in the May 8, 2008 edition
of The New York Times said that Tishman Speyer has been
looking recently unsuccessfully for a major office tenant, adding
that "Even two companies that had been allied with other
bidders for the project, Condé Nast Publications and the
News Corporation, turned it down, according to real estate executives
who were briefed on the negotiations."
Mr. Bagli's article also reported
that the executives maintained that Tishman Speyer "also
jettisoned its designs by the architect Helmut Jahn."
The yards are divided in two
sections and the western half still requires a rezoning that has
yet to begin to go through the city's Uniform Land Use Review
An article by Brian Kates,
Kirsten Danis and Leo Standora in the May 8, 2008 edition of the
Daily News said that "Tishman wanted to postpone closing
on its lease for the site east of 11th Avenue between W. 30th
and 33rd Streets until the City Council rezones the western half
of the property to its satisfaction." That article also quoted
a MTA spokesman, Jeremy Soffin, as stating that Tishman Speyer
no longer has development rights to the property. It also quoted
Robert Lawson, a spokesman for Tishman Speyer that "we still
hope to be able to complete this deal and reach an agreement that
satisfies the needs of everyone."
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Richard
Brodsky announced on May 8, 2008 a bill to create a new public
authority similar to the one that oversees Battery Park City to
take over the redevelopment of the yards by selling parcels to
developers as they are ready.
On Friday, Jerry Speyer of
Tishman Speyer flew to London to meet with Mayor Bloomberg. Mayor
Bloomberg said he was hopeful that problems will work out and
that the 7 line extension, which Tishman Speyer was supposedly
also concerned about, would go forward, but he did not indicate
whether it would have more than 1 station as most civic organizations
say is needed. (5/8/08)