The Sublet Experiment

November 30, 2006


Here’s a totally cool concept: A play that moves from apartment to apartment, neighborhood to neighborhood (thanks to Craigslist) rather than being staged in a traditional theater. The Sublet Experiment is described thusly: “A serial sublettor, a reality show reject and the worst bank robbers in history collide. It is a comic thriller about love, identity and identity theft as two young people try to find themselves but end up finding each other.” The play started in Washington Heights on Nov. 13, and moves to the West Village tonight (which is sold out), before moving on to Chelsea and Astoria. You can get on their email list to be alerted for new neighborhood shows.

The playwright, Ethan Youngerman, told Gothamist: “New Yorkers are so obsessed with real estate because where you live has a huge effect on how you live.”

Trash and Fashion

November 29, 2006


Fashion shoot, St. Marks style: Yes, the guy with smudges all over his face is part of the shoot, not a random street urchin crashing the scene (photographed this afternoon between 2nd and 3rd Aves).

Ghost Bikes

November 26, 2006

An activist group has erected memorials to bicyclists who have been felled in traffic accidents. The project is called Ghost Bikes. The above pic was taken by NYT photog Fred R. Conrad of a memorial at Lafayette and Houston for 12 dead cyclists (an intersection I must admit to riding through with little regard for traffic). Click to see NYT slideshow.

The Green Apple

November 22, 2006

ny_pie.jpgThe Architect’s Newspaper has a series of articles about New York, all trying to answer the question, How Green is The Big Apple? Given the density and the most heavily used public transportation system in the country, NYC consistently ranks high on “sustainability” lists. But for anyone who lives here, this hardly feels like “green” living.

The Architect’s Newspaper offers some pretty comprehensive coverage (some are clickable, others are not):

There’s also really great thumbnail graphs that tell the quick and dirty story (no pun intended), such as how many green buildings New York has compared to other cities (Atlanta was high on the list, a surprise to me), open space, and other “green” criteria. This is a must-read.


November 21, 2006


The Times has yet another piece about Columbia University’s plans to expand its campus in West Harlem in an area otherwise known as Manhattanville. The struggle to develop a massive 17-acre campus, designed by Renzo Piano, promises to become another Atlantic Yards shootout, or perhaps even worse, given the long standing antipathy between Columbia and Harlem.

It’s safe to say that Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger could open up his own veins and bleed on the streets, and it wouldn’t be enough for some residents of Harlem. Every time Columbia sneezes, people drag out the protest signs dating from 1968 and threaten self-immolation. This fight is so tedious, you can’t help but root against both sides. (Click to enlarge map.)


And frankly, the Times article does little to sort it out by allowing residents of Harlem to level charges without examining them — something about a science and technology-oriented high school that Columbia vowed to build for the neighborhood, but the residents don’t like the temporary location? It’s ridiculous.

And what’s even more amazing to me is the complaint that the people of Harlem won’t benefit because they aren’t qualified to work in high-tech or health science jobs that will be created at the new campus, so they have to settle for the janitorial jobs. Say what? It’s somehow Columbia’s fault that people aren’t qualified for the good jobs, so screw you and the “bad” jobs? That is just crazytalk, especially considering that people have been complaining since 1971 about the disappearance of well-paid jobs that DON’T require a lot of skills and degrees. And that’s exactly what a “bad” job at Columbia is, a well-paid, low-skill job with a great benefits package.

The Times quotes the current largest property owner in the area, whom I’m sure is providing tons and tons of well-paying, secure jobs with a great benefits package:

Nicholas Sprayregen, president of Tuck-It-Away Self-Storage, is the largest property owner in the area with five buildings and almost 300,000 square feet of space. He said he has spent several hundred thousand dollars fighting Columbia and is willing to spend more.

He has a right to defend his property, even if it is a losing battle, but it’s no wonder that Columbia refuses to give up the eminent domain threat. Given the hardened position of the opposition, only a fool would.

Of course, residents of Harlem should demand and fight for what is best for the neighborhood — including saving more than just three buildings that are currently on the site. But for activists to say in one breath that Columbia has done a lot to make up for past mistakes and yet still has less than zero credibility is to be a bad negotiating partner, period.

Photo by Tyler Hicks.

Arch Rags on the Skids

November 16, 2006

Slate has a good piece about why architecture magazines have hit the skids, with only Architectural Record surviving into the 21st century.

You are more likely to find tough architectural criticism in the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, and The New Yorker than in any of the major architecture magazines.

The public’s growing fascination with architecture over the last two decades might have saved architecture magazines, except that they were read only by practitioners. It wasn’t always so. … If architecture magazines had maintained their coverage of housing and planning, they might have found more important social roles—and more readers. Instead, they became cheerleaders for an increasingly marginalized profession. …


Slate points to a promising new pub, Architect, which seems to be signaling a different direction from glossy photos of starchitect buildings by — gasp — putting a human being on the cover, and a not-famous one at that. I haven’t had the opportunity to check it out yet, but a letter from the editor certainly sounds promising:

The old-school method of architectural journalism is all about the building review, a story type with a fixed kit of parts: 1,000 words or so of muted criticism, a few presentation drawings, and a suite of photographs taken at sunrise or sunset, with no people in the way. …

Architectural journalism can serve the profession better by voicing the complexities, values, and concerns of the discipline itself. … ARCHITECT will portray architecture from multiple perspectives, not just as a succession of high-profile projects, glowingly photographed and critiqued, but as a technical and creative process, and as a community.

Sign me up.

Stuy Town Sale Going South?

November 16, 2006

stuyvesant.jpgCrain’s is reporting that the largest real estate deal in American history is headed for an iceberg. Last month MetLife agreed to sell Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village to the highest bidder, Tishman Speyer, for $5.4 billion. It was supposed to close this week. The 110 building complex on First Ave. between 14th and 23rd Streets, was built by MetLife for returning veterans from World War II. Since then, generations of middle class and working people have lived and raised families there, as the rents are significantly below market rate as a result of stabilization laws.

Now Crain’s is reporting on a long-forgotten agreement dating back to 1942 between the City of New York and MetLife that the company would not make more than a 6 percent annual profit on the development in exchange for a 25 year tax break. Presumably this referred to the rent collected from tenants, but a lawyer representing the tenants, who only recently discovered this agreement, is making the argument that it applies to the sale of the property as well, and that all profits above 6 percent from the sale should go to the city. Needless to say, Tishman Speyer probably wouldn’t be down with that.

Is this a last minute “desperate” effort to derail the deal? Of course! Is it also a legitimate claim based on a binding legal agreement? Depends on the judge. And you can take it to the bank that a judge will be getting involved.

Flushing, New York

November 15, 2006


While New York lags behind other global cities in providing safe and clean public bathrooms, leave it to the private sector to step in and fill the void (at least temporarily). In an absolutely brilliant public relations move, Charmin is going to open a public restroom in Times Square, which will be stocked not only with TP but human attendants through Dec. 31. And of course, there is a screaming billboard telling the 15 million tourists who come to New York over the holidays where they can “Go In Style.” According to the Times article:

“Let’s face it — there aren’t a lot of environments where a bathroom tissue message is relevant,” said Dennis Legault, brand manager for Charmin. “But the message is very relevant when people really need to go.”

So true! I was wondering where I would take my dad and his wife when they visit for the hollidays, and now I’ve got the perfect spot: The 20-stall public restroom at 1540 Broadway, between 45th and 46th Streets, which — in addition to the billboard — will be advertised by people walking around Times Square dressed as toilets.

Happy flushing, New York.



It seems I’m not the only one who recognized what a brilliant PR campaign this has been for Charmin. From a story in today’s Times covering the ceremonial first flush yesterday:

“The mind boggles,” [Mayor Michael R.] Bloomberg said when asked about the Times Square event during a news conference in the Bronx. “The person that sold that is somebody I’d love to have come to work for my company.”

Tim Tompkins, the president of the Times Square Alliance, the business group that, among other things, organizes the city’s New Years Eve celebration, said, “I’ve never seen so many television cameras in my life, not even on New Year’s.”

Each bathroom has its own sink, original decor, baby-changing tables, and of course rolls of Charmin.

Play the Approval Matrix

November 14, 2006

picture-3.pngOne of my favorite regular features of New York magazine is the Approval Matrix, and now the website has an interactive feature where you can make up your own Approval Matrix. This is how mine looked about mid-way through (click to enlarge).

Coney Island, Holy S**t

November 14, 2006


Thor Equities has been planning a Coney Island redo for a long time now, and The New York Sun comes through with a nice article about the latest plans, a $1.5 billion mega-project. Not much can be added to the renderings, except to say that I don’t see a whole lot left of the freakshows. Other than a nod to Nathan’s, there’s absolutely nothing here to reassure people that Thor will respect the history of Coney Island. One can only hope that the collapse of the real estate market will seriously scale these plans back to a more subtle version of Las Vegas. (For a slideshow I took last year of real-life people who actually go to Coney Island, click on over to Photo Essays at the top of the page and scroll down.)


Two more renderings, by Ehrenkrantz Eckstut & Kuhn Architects, after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

St. Marks Roundup-O-Rama

November 13, 2006

Mid-November on St. Marks Place: The punk kid summer convention is (mostly) dissipated. The Halloween puke has been hosed into the sewer. And a new restaurant is set to open (among other news).


  • gama1.JPGGama, a new Korean place in the space where Cafe San Marcos used to be (12 St. Marks, built in 1885 as the German American Shooting Society, and was once home to St. Marks Bookshop, which is no longer on the block). Gama had a lovely tasting on Saturday night and will likely open this week (click to enlarge photos).
  • CBGBs is opening a store in the building that has at various times been a German music club wherecbgb.JPG a Jewish mob shootout happened in 1914; the Polish National Home, known as The Dom, which turned into a popular bar; the Electric Circus which hosted Andy Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, among others; a drug rehab center; and now it is a refurbished building with expensive condos on top and Chipotle, Super Cuts and other assorted retailers at street level. So it’s pretty much indisputable: CBGBs has officially sold-out. Going to Vegas is one thing, but opening a retail shop in this squeaky clean retail spot is another, even if it is St. Marks.
  • fuego2.JPGLast but not least, Cafe Fuego, which opened very quietly in August, is a Cuban spot at 9 St. Marks and is co-owned by international male model Gabriel Aubry, who is dating Halle Berry. On Tuesday, there will be a big red carpet event that Ms. Berry is going to attend, along with 300 other glam types who probably couldn’t find St. Marks on a map. The press release for this event calls St. Marks one of the hippest blocks in Manhattan. Well, it will be Tuesday night, anyway. Not so sure how hip it will be once the Berry entourage departs for environs less likely to have heroin addicts doing the nod in front of Trash and Vaudeville

Thanks to New York Songlines, as always, for the historical info.

Designing Interactions

November 12, 2006


Yet another fantastic book delivered to my door. This one is totally different from Life on the Lower East Side, yet every bit as engaging. Entitled Designing Interactions, the book is a compilation of interviews with 40 designers, accompanied by graphical representations and a DVD of selected interviews, to show how the design industry has been radically altered from the creation of physical objects or things of beauty into designing interactions between people and the world, both physical and virtual. But this description doesn’t even really do this door-stop of a book justice.

The interviews were conducted by Bill Moggridge — the designer of the first laptop computer and co-founder of the pioneering design firm IDEO — with people such as Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Sims creator Will Wright (recently the subject of an excellent New Yorker profile), and lesser known but equally brilliant thinkers and creators. Having industry experts explain in simple language how the everyday objects we interact with on a daily basis were created — from the mouse to the search engine — opens up a whole new world of insights not just into the objects themselves, but into the human psyche.

billverplank1.jpgFor instance, one of my favorite segments of the book and DVD is watching Stanford Professor Bill Verplank use a simple marker and a white piece of paper to explain the interaction loop of people and the physical and virtual worlds, and how designers affect that loop. “How do you ‘do’, how do you ‘feel’, how do you ‘know’?” Those are the three basic questions he illustrates so simply and beautifully.

Another one of my favorite parts is an interview with Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby, two UK designers who concern themselves with the the social, cultural and ethical implications of emerging technologies:

“We’re not interested in futures, as in technical futures or scientific futures or technological futures, but more in alternative nows: how things could be right now if we had different values.”

This, of course, seems all rather heavy, but the two have a wicked sense of humor about what it is they’re contemplating (which can really only be appreciated by watching the DVD). What’s more, “alternative nows” is one of those phrases that needs to enter our everyday lexicon.

Another wonderful discussion in the book concerns “tacit knowledge” as opposed to explicit knowledge or logically expressed thought. Using the iceberg as an analogy of the mind, where there are two levels upon which to operate, above and below the waterline: “Designers operate at a level … where it is more effective to learn by doing, allowing the subconscious mind to inform intuitions and guide actions. … If a internetrepresentation.jpgproblem has a large number of constraints, the conscious mind starts to get confused, but the subconscious mind has a much larger capacity. … This makes [designers] good at synthesizing complex problems with a large number of constraints; it also makes them bad at explaining or defining what they are doing or thinking.” At left is a graphical representation of the Internet revealing not only its structure but how it works and ultimately why it’s so powerful.

I could go on and on; it’s a very large and wonderful book, but I can’t really add any more than what one reviewer had to say: “This will be the book–the book that summarizes how the technology of interaction came into being and prescribes how it will advance in the future.” In addition to the MIT Press website linked above, Designing Interactions has an independent website for learning more and/or ordering the book and/or DVD: for that, click here.

The Un-Wedding Cake Design

November 8, 2006

new-museum.jpgI don’t think I’ve ever been as genuinely excited about — and even felt a certain ownership of — a new building the way I am anticipating the New Museum of Contemporary Art on the Bowery, which is about to top out and is projected to be finished in late 2007. Maybe it’s because the building will be within walking distance of my apartment. Maybe it’s because, unlike MoMA or the Whitney, the New Museum is truly contemporary and not suffering from an identity crisis. Maybe it’s because it is the first new museum building to be erected downtown in 100 years (designed by Japan-based firm SANAA). Or maybe it’s all of the above. All I know is, when I first visited the museum’s current space in Chelsea, I felt a visceral kinship with the art and the mission, and in the not too distant future, it will become my neighborhood playground. So with that love letter, below is a great photo of SANAA architect Kazuyo Sejima by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue (via Curbed). She’s holding a model of the building in her palm of her hand (I can relate to that feeling).


Of the building’s design, Sejima had this to say: “A stack of boxes is exactly what it is, or rather a series of pearly-gray volumes piled with artful carelessness, each off-center to the one below. Being both blocky and stepped, they intentionally echo the profile of classic Manhattan towers …” Brilliant! A contemporary take on the old-fashioned New York wedding cake building.

Meanwhile, to build support in the neighborhood, The New Museum is sponsoring a lecture series with Cooper Union entitled Hot Button. For info on that, click here.

Updating the High Line

November 7, 2006


At a luncheon today hosted by AREW (Association of Real Estate Women), the topic was the High Line, an old elevated railroad on the far west side of Manhattan. Even though I’ve written about the plans (click here for a pdf) to turn it into one of the most unique greenway spaces in New York, if not the entire United States, I still learned a few things while eating a really bad chicken breast lunch. First of all, I was unaware of the fact that the elevated greenway design only recently got funding for phase 2 from EDC (NYC economic development corporation), and that the design as it currently stands does not extend all the way up to the Hudson rail yards. Friends of the High Line (check out their website for tons of great images) still needs to raise $40 million, and designs have not been totally finalized (they’ll be on display next summer at an exhibit at Grand Central Station). The designs by Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio + Renfro that have been widely circulated and approved of are more or less schematic in nature. Of course, this is about as far along as one could possibly hope at this point, but the High Line seems to be a bit more in flux than I thought, especially considering how fast the buildings all around it are coming up. The Caledonia at W. 17th — a massive 540,000 square-foot residential building with 190 condos (60 percent sold) and 288 rental units — broke ground four months ago and will begin rising out of the ground shortly, according to Charles Bendit, principal of Taconic Investment Partners. So it seems that the development frenzy kicked off by the High Line will surge ahead of the High Line itself.

Photo by Joel Sternfeld, who has a whole show of High Line photos opening tonight at the Caledonia sales office at 111 8th Avenue, Suite 516 (through Dec. 15).

iPod To Go

November 6, 2006


First there was the revival of the automat on St. Marks Pl., serving up delectables such as bite-size burgers and mac&cheese. Now I see there is an iPod vending machine in the Atlanta airport (and probably others). Just swipe your credit card, select your model, and shazam, fresh hot tunes to go.