New Amsterdam Center

March 29, 2006

corbin.jpgI have a piece in today’s Times about the current owners of the Corbin Building — the Collegiate Church — who want to turn this historic Lower Manhattan building into the New Amsterdam Center. But it’s being taken by eminent domain for the new Fulton Transit Center. Not much to add to the piece, really, so click here to read it in full, and find out how those mild-mannered, tolerant Protestants of Dutch heritage are going to take it to MTA!


Photo: John Harrington Jr., left, and Casey Kemper of the Collegiate Church Corporation and the original staircase and railing from 1888 by Michael Flaco.

Real Estate Agent Turns Drunken Poet, Wakes Up in the E.Vil.

March 28, 2006

drunkenpoet.jpgA former real estate agent turned “drunken poet” has a short video on the East Village, with several scenes from my block (via Curbed). BTW: The Cube still spins … all that alcohol appears to have weakened this guy’s upper body strength.

King of Queens

March 22, 2006

The Architect’s Newspaper has a comprehensive piece by David Grahame Shane about all the development that’s planned for Queens: “The Department of City Planning’s surgical approach to zoning is stimulating strategic development throughout the borough, promising a series of dynamic urban patches— as well as some awkward seams.”

In this article, Shane — who teaches urban design at Columbia and Cooper Union — applies the theories he laid out in his book, Recombinant Urbanism: Coneceptual Modeling in Architecture, Uban Design, and City Theory, which I interviewed him about when the book was first published in the fall. Here are some excerpts:shane0.jpg

What do you mean by “recombinant” urbanism?
Recombinant comes from genetics. Watson and Crick had a big influence on me. My idea is that through history, urban elements combine and recombine to make something entirely new and unique.

What is the difference between urban planning and design?
My definition, it’s a scale thing. Urban planning is very large scale. Urban design is much more about the fragments. It’s more in tune with the way catalyst development works. People can only assemble so much at one time. It’s more about packaging. Urban design is more pragmatic.

It’s a dense book. Can you sum it up?
It starts with the idea that there are basic elements of urban design, one is a centering device, a town square or an atrium. Another is a linear sorting device, a street or a mall. The third one is places of urban change, the recombination of urban elements, or heterotopias as [Michel] Foucault called them.

Your book argues that there’s no such thing as a master planner anymore.
Planners and their dream of a rational scientific world just doesn’t work. The world is an irrational place where strange things happen. In the past, the illusion of planning scientifically was supported by the state and corporate economic planning departments. It was a different world. A lot of the book is about complex interactions and layers of different approaches. People in the past tried to simplify things. Today, in a heterotopia, actors work out their differences and come to some kind of agreement about its future shape.

Progressive urbanists say there’s no good planning in New York. Do you agree?
In certain ways, the New York adversarial model works. Otherwise you end up with Portland, and that doesn’t appeal to me much.

It’s About Time!

March 3, 2006


Curbed reports that New York City has unveiled some groovy new street furniture designs. It’s about freaking time! Go to any other global city (and even a few villages in Europe) and you’ll see well-designed, contemporary street furniture instead of the overflowing trash cans that are the most interesting thing on most NYC blocks. Final designs for automatic toilets, bus stations, and newstands by Grimshaw (architecture firm for the new Fulton Transit Center in Lower Manhattan) should be approved shortly, manufactured by local vendors and installed not a moment too soon (although no projected date was mentioned).

Update: Lawsuits Seek to Void $1 Billion New York City Deal for Bus Shelters, Newsstands and Toilets (natch)

My Mother As…

March 1, 2006

DeLaVega, an East Harlem artists who opened a shop/gallery on St. Marks Pl. last summer, has the most enteraining storefront on the street (and that’s saying something). I’ve been enjoying the portraits he’s made of his mother: