Design flaws, mistakes plague new residential projects
The C line at the Impala
has two-foot closets.
By Jonathan Scheff
Sometimes the latest thing is also the lamest, particularly in poorly designed and shoddily built residential projects.
Missing dining rooms, shallow closets and low ceilings are some examples of sloppy work or mistakes developers and architects appear to be repeating in projects all over the city.
Some of these errors are simply examples of lousy workmanship, but others may come from communication glitches between developers, architects and brokers when they collaborate on the development and marketing of new residential properties.
When The Real Deal explored design shortcomings, pet peeves cropped up, but so did the underlying tension and delicate balance of power between these groups.
Max Dobens, a vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said: "Anybody with $10 million and half a quarter of ambition is a real estate developer in New York. You have guys with sub-standard ethics and no experience running around out there building and designing things without any proper thought as to how they're going to resell it. That's a bit dangerous, I think."
Poor planning by these types of developers leads to designs that sacrifice livability, Dobens said.
"There's too much selling the sizzle of the steak and not enough functionality today," he said.
The C line at the Impala at 404 East 76th Street, for example, has two-foot closets and no dining area.
"Anyone who buys a $1 million apartment has a couple coats. It's a bit absurd," Dobens said. "When you have a family and kids, you have strollers and diapers and golf clubs."
Dobens recommends that all buildings dig one story deeper and install storage bins for every apartment in addition to providing reasonable closet space. He also suggested that no two-bedroom apartment should have fewer than 1,100 square feet.
Alissa Bucher of Rogers Marvel Architects agreed with Dobens about the unscrupulousness of some developers. "Almost everything that you can't see ends up being scrimped on," she said, citing infrastructure and materials as examples.
Bucher and other architects, brokers and developers emphasized the importance of finding the correct mix of apartments in a building.
William Ross, the executive director of sales at Halstead Brooklyn, said, "You have to identify your potential buyer before laying out your very first apartment, because the unit mix and the sizes within that mix are imperative to directing the architect."
Certain neighborhoods call for young singles, young couples and very few kids, Ross explained.
Ross cited 110 Livingston, developer David Walentas' conversion of the former Board of Education headquarters in Downtown Brooklyn, as an excellent example of unit mix, design and sizing of apartments.
Yet some new projects in Williamsburg, he said, have poor unit planning as well as extremely low ceiling heights and small closet space.
The black sheep of Williams-burg, 55 Berry Street, offers examples of practically everyone's idea of design problems: poor unit planning, low ceilings, little closet space and bathrooms without bathtubs.
"The theory of the architects is that buyers won't notice," Ross said. But "buyers have a lot of choice all over the city and they are extremely sophisticated."
Ross, whose job involves reviewing blueprints for errors, has found several other common -- and avoidable -- design flaws. He said that 50 percent of architects make fundamental mistakes in laying out kitchens, failing to make enough space for full-sized refrigerators, sinks and stoves.
Ross also highlighted the impracticality of a kitchen island in a small kitchen/dining space.
"Too many people are following too many trends," he said. "The presumption that grown-up people, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, are going to eat at the kitchen island is absolutely wrong."
Developers, often blamed for cutting corners over preoccupation with the bottom line, said common errors start with laying out a building based on brokers' impressions of the market.
"What I don't understand is that I rarely see anyone using the amenities," said Donald Capoccia, a principal with developer BFC Partners, which developed Schaefer Landing on the Williamsburg waterfront.
"Gyms, lounges, playrooms: I know they're very helpful in the marketing of a project. But Schaefer Landing has about 6,000 feet of amenity space -- a library, a lounge -- and they are very underutilized."
"We're better off spending the money on improvements to the space than the expansiveness of the space," he said.
But buyers can find gems instead of lemons by moving where brokers and developers move. Dobens, for example, lives at the Dunhill at 401 East 84th Street, in the same building as the developer, Arun Bhatia. "When I sell at the Dunhill, and the developer still lives there, I'm not just making a quick buck," he said. "I put my money where my mouth is."
Copyright © 2003-2005 The Real Deal
If residents of new developments could chime in here (listing insufficiencies in their respective buildings) that could prove very interesting ...
Weird -- not the sentiment, but the examples.
For instance, I like the Impala, and what's more, it was done in 2000 -- ancient history in my book.
I have tried to attach a "C" line floorplan here -- perfectly valid in my book, and if we shot everybody with a 2-foot closet, we'd take out half of West Harlem.
And Schaeffer Landing? With hundreds of applications for every lottery slot, I'd say potential residents are perfectly happy with the shared amenities. If you're in a small apartment, it really helps to have those rooms, even if you don't use them much.
On the other hand, I have seen some truly shoddy construction. I remember going to a marketing party in Washington Heights and watching people buy new condos -- even though there was visible water damage in the model apartment. Guess the sushi must have been good.
Housing is hard to find, so demand for those apartments are going to be high, regardless of how well designed the building is.
That doesn't make it a smart urban design either.
I know as a broker, you folks love to talk about the amenities to prospective buyers/tenants, but these sort of things just take up too much space that should be for retail.
I have gotten the impression that most on this board aren't fans of street level retail as it generally becomes banks and duane reades. Clearly if the retail could be nice boutiques, spas and cafes that would be best but the market won't support that many new boutiques, spa and cafes. If we have a lot of retail space, we are going to get a lot of banks, duane reades and starbucks because they are the ones that can afford the rent
In terms of design flaws, I am not surprised to hear it. In looking at lots of new developments I have noticed lots of small things like shower doors opening in such a way that the glass bangs up against the sink or doors opening the wrong way into a room so as to block a closet. Fortunately these kinds of things are easily fixed but surprising to see in "luxury" new build.
My experience on these forums suggests that there is near unanimous support for street level retail on all developments. The Duane Reades, Banks, Starbucks and Cell Phone Stores are just a disappointing by-product. I think the opinions on here would rather a Duane Reade or Bank than no street level retail at all. The street level retail provides light and "eyes" on the sidewalks - making for a safer neighborhood overall.
bigkdc, BrooklynRider is correct.
The people here aren't so much against retail as they are disappointed in what type of retail it is.
Of course we'd rather have the cafes, bookstores, bakeries, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques, grocery stores, etc., instead of the boring and ubiquitous Duane Reades, Bank of America branches and Cingular wireless stores but that doesn't mean we're don't want retail.
In the end, any kind of retail--be it the boring chainstore kind or anything else--is better than an entire stretch of street with nothing but apartment lobbies and blank walls.
In addition to the security that BR said, I also want to add in vibrancy as well.
New York has always been developed in such a way that retail always occupied the bottom floor and apartments above.
This is very smart urban planning and is what separates walkable cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago from sprawling cities like Atlanta, L.A., Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Charlotte and so on.
New developments in this city should follow our successful heritage and not create these towers surrounded by parking lots, blank walls and plazas.
As an example, I'm going to use Tampa Florida to illustrate what I'm talking about because I happen to run across these photos (thanks to The-New-Tony-Detroit over at ssp).
Both of these scenes are from the same city, just different approaches and as you can see, different results.
One is vibrant and interesting, the other lifeless and antiseptic.
Which offers a better walk?
... or this?
^ A good choice to contrast, antinimby.
They say the culture learns by experience. This should be so, but don't you believe it!
If that were so, the new stuff in Tampa would be even better than Ybor City, which is old.
Theory and book-learning currently trump experience in the City Planning "profession".
Almost all the really nice (walkable) urban places in the USA had their urban design character established before the Depression.
The newest walkable North American place is Miami Beach (1930's) --unless you count some very recent and somewhat feeble attempts at New Urbanism. The most successful of these are also in Florida: Seaside and Celebration.
* * *
Incidentally, this kind of galumphing gigantism with arid ground floors is also threatening London's walkability in places. See nick-tayor's "London Projects" thread for evidence of that.
Last edited by ablarc; January 7th, 2007 at 11:24 AM.
This thread has drifted off topic.
We have had several discussions concerning streetscapes, but I can't recall one devoted to poor workmanship.
I walked by IAC earlier this week (sorry, no photo). The sidewalk is complete, but I was sorry to see the sloppy transition from ground to building facade.
Uneven gaps were simply filled with extra joint compound. Looks cheap. They should have designed a transition piece at the base.
Ive just moved into my new place, a restoration/renovation and even after the most scrupulous planning (at least I thought so) I keep finding for instance, lightswitches, electrical outlets, TV anntene often poorly placed and its driving me crazy. Sometimes you learn about a place only after actually living there.
The Perry street buildings of course were notorious for poor workmanship.
To come back to topic, there's one more thing to watch out for besides poor design and bad workmanship -- which is simple obsolescence.
Was just in a downtown loft that had a renovation that must have been the bee's knees five years ago. Now it looks like crap -- the property value has doubled or tripled, and the original great design just looks too cheap. Owner responded by putting in a state-of-the-art kitchen, and now the place just looks like an aging actress with a new boob job.