September 29, 2005
Opening tonight at the Wessel + O’Connor Fine Art gallery in DUMBO (through Nov. 5) is an exhibition of black-and-white photographs by Wouter Deruytter, who has spent four years shooting large-scale billboards around town. The photographs don’t just capture the intersection of high art and commerce, but in fact ARE the intersection of high art and commerce. (They also depict jaded New Yorkers ignoring these outsized billboards at will.)
On a side note, the DUMBO gallery collective at 111 Front Street, Second Floor where the Wessel + O’Connor gallery is, has rather organically become a center for photography. I was going to write about it awhile back for the Times, but alas, I just couldn’t come up with anything new to say about DUMBO, even though the gallery collective itself is definitely worthy of ink.
September 23, 2005
Continuing with my Coney Island jag, here is a really smart analysis of what should and shouldn’t happen when redeveloping one of the most unique spaces on earth. Aaron Donovan, of Fits and Starts, presents some thoughts from Juan Rivera, who wrote his urban planning master’s thesis on redevelopment plans at Coney Island. (All three of us studied urban planning at Columbia at the same time. I would link to Columbia’s urban planning homepage, but it has to be one of the worst websites I’ve ever had the displeasure of trying to navigate.):
To illustrate my point, look at the example of two current Coney Island entrepreneurs, Lola Staar and Coney Island USA. The former has started a line of Coney Island-inspired clothing that is sold is stores throughout the City and beyond. The latter has launched a burlesque revival [pictured above -ed.] that has spread throughout the City, sparking a renewed interest in a form of performance indigenous to, and closely associated with, Coney Island. Both ventures have, in their respective ways, built on the legacy of Coney Island, promoted its uniqueness, and drawn attention to it in a way that corporate retail could never do. And yet, city officials, unable to look beyond the Times Square template, continue to regard the influx of corporate retail as an all-purpose cure for urban decay. I find it ironic that the most generic little town does its best to set itself apart from other towns by highlighting its history. But New York, which actually does have a rich heritage to draw from, spends its time and money trying to look like Nowhere, USA.
Previous Polis posts on Coney Island (the first one outlines my misgivings about redeveloping Coney Island, the second one summarizes the city’s recent announcement of its strategic plans, the third one is a summary of New York magazine’s article about the developer Joe Sitt who wants to build ‘vegas on steroids’:
Coney Island in for a Wild Ride?
Coney Island, Gussied Up
Coney Island, Part III
September 20, 2005
Trevor Body, architecture critic for the Vancouver Sun, has an interesting article looking at the way Vancouver has developed compared to Lower Manhattan. Vancouver has eclipsed Manhattan as the most densely populated residential area in North America. He offers his hometown as a cautionary tale for Lower Manhattan, which is currently converting more commercial space to housing (about 8 million square feet) than most other cities have in total, and this doesn’t bode well for the long-term vibrancy of the area, Body argues. It should be a more balanced mix of office and residential, and he believes Lower Manhattan is on its way to losing this balance, just as Vancouver already has:
“This planner’s paradise – Downtown Vancouver – has exemplary urbanism, a lively social mix, and a high quality of life, all of which make it ever more attractive as … a retirement zone for baby boomers, and much less attractive as a place to conduct business.
…Lower Manhattan and Vancouver’s downtown peninsula share a problem that most North American cities would love to have – too much interest in new downtown housing. [But] it is important to look beyond the current housing bubble to ask whether the wholesale exchange of offices for condos is in the long-term interests of the economic health, even the urbanity and livability of these two cities.”
This contrarian viewpoint is one worth considering, but it overlooks the fact that Manhattan has been shifting its center of commerce to Midtown for nearly a hundred years. Does Manhattan need more than one center of commerce, especially given that Brooklyn has also revived its downtown? Vancouver, on the other hand, doesn’t have another commercial core even while it wipes out the one it had in the name of developing a densely populated urbanist paradise (and we all know “paradise” is just another word for “too much of a good thing”).
I’m all for planning – which New York has little of beyond straight-up zoning – but there are always unintended consequences, and it seems that strict planning regulations combined with a housing bubble has created a problem unique to Vancouver. With little in the way of planning regulations and the housing boom about over, Lower Manhattan probably isn’t in much danger of becoming a densely populated residential “paradise” devoid of commerce. But then, who would have thought 15 years ago that million-dollar condos would be built on the Bowery?
September 13, 2005
With the death knell of Santiago Calatrava’s South Street Seaport residential tower all but rung, is the era of daring residential development coming to an end before it got started? Philip Johnson’s Urban Glass House, “a discreet, twelve-story glass and steel structure” is being built at 330 Spring Street at Washington. Johnson’s very last building (he died in January 2005) will have 40 residences ($1.6 to $10 million) designed to evoke his famous “pared-down but modernist luxury” Glass House in New Canaan, CT. But more importantly, the developers actually BROKE GROUND recently (sales are being handled by The Sunshine Group). Apparently, earlier designs flirted with more adventurous geometries, but the discipline of modernist principles ruled the day. And that’s probably why it’s getting built.
Annabelle Selldorf is handling the interiors — 1,400-3,400 square feet — who characterizes the style as “free of the sort of gratuitious gestures that masquerade as important design today.” Cast those stones! (Click to enlarge lovely interior rendering by Carlos Grande at Hypertecture.)