Hotel Chelsea Nights

December 26, 2006

I saw this  on the Living With Legends blog. Great video, very moody, and a cool song by Ryan Adams: “Strung out like some Christmas lights out there in the Chelsea night….”

Solar Trees

December 26, 2006


Absolutely brilliant: Parking lots covered with solar panels, which generate electricity while providing shade for cars. Last year, I appropriated the term breathtaking inanity (the new irrational exuberance). This year, perhaps a more positive phrase is in order, “breathtaking ingenuity.”

Google Plants Solar Trees [Wired]

Happy Holidays from St. Marks Pl.

December 15, 2006


I’ll be taking a break from Polis until the first of the year (although I have a tendency to say that and then post anyway, so check back if you’re so inclined). In the meantime, below is a year-end review. Happy holidays!

Polis in Review

December 15, 2006

It’s a good time of year to take a look back. Below is a sampling of what I think are some of the more interesting posts on Polis. They tend to be the longer, more in-depth pieces. Of course there are plenty of pretty pictures on Polis, but you can always see those simply by scrolling through. Here are abridged posts from 2006 with links to the full items.


The Times has yet another piece about Columbia University’s plans to expand itscolumbiaexpansion1.jpg 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. Click here to read the entire post.

The Un-Wedding Cake Designsanaa.jpg

I 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. Click here to read the entire post.

Trolley Follies

The Brooklyn Papers is reporting (via Curbed) that the planners of Brooklyn Bridge Park have nixed the idea of trolley cars before they’ve even spent $1 million to investigate ways to provide access to the waterfront, which is very isolated. … it seems the geniuses at Downtown Brooklyn Waterfront Development Corporation — caving to pressure from NIMBYs in Brooklyn Hts. who don’t want “outsiders” tramping through their precious neighborhood via trolley car — say at best, there would be a trolley-like jitney bus. Click here to read the entire post.

The Design Lament


Last night, while attending a presentation by New York architect Thomas Phiferpicture-1.jpg regarding his design for the North Carolina Museum of Art, I struck up a conversation with a couple of people about how far behind the United States is when it comes to public space, urban design and contemporary architecture. Click here to read the entire post.

Breathtaking Inanity: Grand Transit Here, There and Everywherefultontransit.jpg

After decades of neglect, New York is suddenly in love with its monumental transportation hubs, even if all the grand architectural gestures in the offing won’t do much on the most basic level: make more people’s commutes easier. Today’s installment of breathtaking inanity (the new irrational exuberance) takes note of three facets of this latest craze. Click here to read the entire post.

Photo Double Featurepicture-1.png

The occasion of Katrina’s one year anniversary has naturally precipitated a lot of documentary activity, from Spike Lee’s HBO special “When the Levees Broke,” to architectural photographer Robert Polidori’s show at The Met, which I went to see recently (as well as Ecotopia at the International Center for Photography, which I’ll get to in a minute). Click here for the entire post.

99 Degrees of Stinktrash.jpg

One of the first posts I had on Polis was about a demonstration project last summer in Queens, where solar powered trash compactors were installed on street corners, which simultaneously prevents the above from happening and contains the smell (and on a day when it is going to be 99 degrees, this is no small matter). Click here for the entire post.

Silvercup Sprouts

A year ago, I reported on the largest green roof in New York City being installed on top of Silvercup Studios in Long Island City near the Queensboro Bridge. Silvercup is the largest film and television studio in New York, where Sex and the City was filmed and the Sopranos still is. I was out there this afternoon and snapped a couple of pics. While green roofs are big in Chicago, they are pretty rare in New York and most other American cities. Click here to read the entire post.

janejacobs.jpgJJ in Memoriam

It has become the contrarian fashion to say that Jane Jacobs’ contribution to urban planning didn’t address many of the problems we grapple with today, and that Robert Moses wasn’t entirely destructive and wrong. I find this to be an intellectually lazy argument. No single person could simultaneously explode an entire profession AND anticipate every possible consequence of that (such as gentrification, which did not exist at the time that she wrote her seminal book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in 1961). Click here to read the entire post.

ARO Goes Back to School

I happened to be in the [Columbia] architecture library yesterday and spotted Stephen Cassell who, along with Adam Yarinsky, are the founders of ARO, one of my favorite architecture firms. It seems the firm will be undertaking the Avery Hall rehab. They are not starchitects but smarchitects, intent on — hold on to your socks now — designing buildings while keeping in mind 1. the people who will use them, and 2. the surrounding environment. Click here to read the entire post.

And Now the Memorial Fightwtc-memorial.jpg

The “Freedom Tower” fight has been settled with Larry Silverstein (for now), and we move quickly into the memorial fight. The latest estimate for building the memorial came in at an alarming $1 billion, and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg jumped in to say that it should be capped at $500 million. This provided an opportunity for those who have various beefs with the design to use its cost as a wedge; namely, those who think the memorial should be above ground are now saying the design should be radically overhauled. Click here to read the entire post.

New Amsterdam Centercorbin.jpg

I 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. Click here to read the entire post.

King of Queens

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: Conceptual 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: Click here to read the entire post.

Breathtaking Inanity: Gondolas to Gov’s Islandgovspan.jpg

Last week when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made another plea for development proposals for Governor’s Island and revealed Santiago Calatrava’s vision for gondolas linking Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn to the Island, I was tempted to nominate this for another edition of Breathtaking Inanity. But I quickly realized it’s meant to be just a teaser, so I didn’t bother. But today, the Times’ Nicolai Ouroussoff puts the gondolas into an urban planning context that makes this much more worthy of comment. Click here to read the entire post.

Street Renaissance

I went to the Urban Center (at the Municipal Art Society) to see the New York City Streets Renaissance “exhibit,” an undertaking of The Open Planning Project. … One of the better videos is about Hell’s Kitchen under seige by traffic. But the best video is about how neighborhood activists forced DOT to redesign Canal Park, a triangular plot of land in Tribeca, and rerouted traffic entering the Holland Tunnel. The video really shows how these efforts can be a win-win for everyone: traffic flow is far better, pedestrians are no longer being run down, and the neighborhood gets a lovely park space. Click here to read the entire post.

H.C. Bunnerbunner.jpg

We think of the last five years as a unique time in the New York real estate market, but in fact, it is a very old story. The Story of New York House was first published in serial form in Scribner’s magazine in 1887. It is a lovely bit of historical fiction (although that term wasn’t yet coined), which begins in 1807 and takes place over several decades. The story, or allegory, is about the inexorable march of development followed by decline and finally transformation. Click here to read the entire post.



December 11, 2006


Now we’re talking smart public toilet design. Victoria, BC is having such a problem with nighttime public urination, the city has installed a test case urinal that disappears underground during the day and pops up at night. We need at least two of these on St. Marks Place, one at Astor Square and another near Tompkins Square Park. I guess the ladies still have to wait in line like we always do, while the “girls gone wild” crowd and the guys who love them get their very own public urinal design:

By day, the Urilift is lowered below street level for a nice clean look. Then at night, an operator comes by with a remote and the Urilift hydraulically lifts to sidewalk level in about two minutes. Then the unit is ready to serve all the nighttime party animals who don’t mind peeing in a very exposed public urinal.

There’s even a hilarious promo video extolling the many virtues of the Urlift, including the fact that in addition to the urinal, there’s also a drain in the floor since “people may have trouble with their coordination.” Check it out here.

Pic of the Week

December 11, 2006


Central Park skaters (on concrete, not ice) took advantage of a beautiful afternoon to bust some moves. The sun was like a giant disco ball in the sky. For a large format version of the photo, click here.

Austin Tobin Plaza

December 8, 2006


Yesterday’s post about plans for the WTC site at ground level (see below), I received this photo and a note from Visual Diaries photog Cary Conover:

Your post about GZ made me reminisce. I even dug up some old scans I made after 9/11. I kind of miss the Austin Tobin Plaza. Not because it was some great example of urban planning/plaza design, but more because it’s where/how I became most familiar with the towers. I was up in the viewing observatory of the south tower only once, but visited the plaza three or four times total before 9/11. I moved here in August of 2000 and it was just a few weeks later that I took what was then, to me, a very long walk (beginning at Stanton/Bowery) toward the WTC. I just set out to walk and walk and walk until I got to the towers, my goal simply being to get there and touch them, to look straight up at them. … I do remember the wind in the plaza. There was a blue tarp that was covering some sort of stage and it was flapping like hell. … This shot shows the north face of the south tower, and that’s WTC 4 over in the distance.

Click the photo to see the whole image.

Frog’s Eye View

December 7, 2006


I have been staying away from posting about the World Trade Center site because it just got too depressing. So here’s a nice little diversion from disaster that is ground zero. David Dunlap at the Times forgoes the bird’s eye view of the site today in favor of a close-up.

Plans for the new trade center are typically rendered from a far-off perspective. But the experience of the place will succeed or fail on a much more down-to-earth and pedestrian level: in its streets, sidewalks, plazas and parks.

Last week the Port Authority issued a request for proposals to “recreate Fulton Street and Greenwich Street through the trade center super-block, to reconfigure Liberty Street, to design sidewalks along Vesey and Church Streets and the new Liberty Park opposite the memorial. In short, to shape the public environment.”

In some ways, what happens at this level will be more important than what the buildings look like, which is more for aerial photographers than for people who will actually experience the site on a regular basis. The above rendering is Peter Walker’s interpretation for the area immediately around the Freedom Tower. Maybe, just maybe, if the planners get it right at the granular level, the disaster that is the Freedom Tower might just be mitigated. (Note the translucent wind screens on the bottom left of the rending, a gesture that hearkens back to the windswept plaza that was the old WTC plaza.)

Walking It Off

December 6, 2006


Now here’s a Times article made to order for Polis. British author Will Self (The Book of Dave, Junk Mail) flies to New York, and WALKS from JFK airport to Manhattan, with a reporter and photographer along for the trek. What makes this journey such a perfect fit for my little mission here at Polis is Mr. Self’s appreciation for the city, and he even uses the word polis!

…pressing onward and over the Brooklyn Bridge, looking with satisfaction at what he pronounced “the greatest man-made vista there has ever been … instead of looking at individual buildings, it makes more metaphorical sense to think of New York as one enormous chunk of masonry that has been cut up and carved away. It says, ‘This is the ultimate polis, through which humans move like nematodes.'”

Not sure how many nematodes actually walk upright, which is of course the best way to experience a city, as Mr. Self so eloquently points out. In addition to the map there’s also a slideshow. Check it.

Stuck in the John

December 5, 2006


Just because New York has a clean, well-lighted “public” bathroom sponsored by Charmin, you still have to keep your wits about you. This is New York, after all. A tourist (and regular Polis reader) sent in this rather hilarious comment about my post regarding the Charmin public toilets at Times Square, which I noted was a brilliant PR move (the writer happens to work for a PR firm):

I was in the city Thursday and Friday of last week and visited the mighty shrine to Charmin to wait in line for a freshly scrubbed bathroom. Once it was my turn, an attendant welcomed me to door #12 and informed me to lock the door behind me. Once inside, I noticed the clean environment and cheery Charmin-esque music blaring through speakers and that the door construction was a little shoddy…loose purse hook, flimsy door material. When I tried to unlock the door, the deadbolt jammed and I couldn’t get out.

I felt a rush of panic because I realized that the line was quite a distance away from my door (maybe 20 feet) and the music was really loud, so I worried no one would hear me. I frantically started wiggling the door handle hoping someone outside would notice a bathroom visit run amok. When I didn’t get a response, I started pounding on the door (a little worried that I might bust right through) and after about 30 seconds, someone came over and wrestled with the door handle.

I eventually got out (I must have looked completely bewildered) and dashed outside for a gasp of fresh air. On the way out, a cheery Charmin agent asked if I enjoyed my stay while poised to write my comments on his clipboard. When I responded that I was stuck in my stall for a couple minutes, he smiled and said have a good day. …

Toilet paper provided, but bring your own allen wrench.

Underground Pool

December 5, 2006


Bank the Nine has a great story (and an awesome photo) about discovering pool games underneath bodegas on the Lower East Side. Next time you step on a metal cellar door, imagine this scene taking place below your feet.

The Ice Storm: 1909

December 4, 2006

underbridge.gifUnderbridge Pictures, a gallery in DUMBO that focuses on architectural photography, recently had a show of Dutch farm houses and agricultural architecture taken in Brooklyn by long-forgotten New York photographer, Clinton Irving Jones (click here for a previous Polis post). As a follow up, Underbridge is now exhibiting photos that Irving Jones took in Prospect Park after an ice storm in 1909. He used a 4×5 camera loaded with glass plate negatives, even though rollunderbridge1.gif film cameras were readily available. Thanks to David Sokosh, owner of Underbridge, the photographer is enjoying a renaissance of sorts since his negatives were discovered near Syracuse and were sold at auction. The buyer put them on eBay, where Sokosh purchased the collection. For more info about the opening reception on Thursday and the show, click here.


December 1, 2006


No sooner had MoMA opened what was thought to be the final wing of its ten year expansion — the learning center, an eight-story building that anchors the eastern end of the sculpture garden — that MoMA director Glenn D. Lowry tantalized reporters with more building news. Apparently, the museum might get fatter by 17,000 square feet on the western side of its building (where people cue up for Free Fridays). According to Bloomberg News, the assembled land was supposed to be held for future needs, but with land prices skyrocketing, the right time might be sooner rather than later. Mr. Lowry “stressed that no decision had been made to go forward, the museum could add income-producing commercial or residential space above more galleries, totaling as much as 210,000 square feet.”

Photo by Fred R. Conrad for the Times.