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Thread: What architectural eminence grise does New York have?

  1. #1

    Default What architectural eminence grise does New York have?

    Below is an account of Richard Rogers' call before the House of Lords (Rogers is one of the grandees) for putting architects in charge of overseeing development, improving the quality and thought put into big projects, and streamlining the approvals process for developments in England.

    Rogers may have been speaking about the UK, but his words probably strike a chord with many of us here -- though, sadly, people like Rogers don't seem to be in government. That raises the question: Is there a New York version of Rogers? Who is it? Are there any eminent architects involved in advising government, or are we all held hostage by Community Boards and well-meaning but often destructive City Councilors or assemblymen? And why isn't there something even bigger than a Rogers-style adviser -- a unified city agency for all NY development, both ensuring quality and standards, funding as well as pushing projects through the bureaucratic muckery quickly?

    I hope there's someone pushing against the seemingly ubiquitous, always anti-development and increasingly powerful influence of NIMBYs here. It could simplify things greatly to have one point man or agency pushing, say, the Dolans along, or trying to generate progress on both state-organized and private developments from Hudson Yards to Atlantic Yards, WTC, Coney Island, Columbia, Willets Point, the subway lines/extensions, East River waterfront, Downtown Brooklyn/BAM cultural district, Fulton St. station, even Pier 40 or Nouvel's MoMA tower...

    At the end of the day, old Rogers could be spot-on correct ... or he could be calling for a new Moses era of hellish dictation to communities from above and poor design. I think what's needed is a streamlined process and (of course) better quality development, but with some sort of check against the likes of Moses. As Montesquieu said when writing in admiration about England over 300 years ago, it's all about checks and balances... but if the people are a check on out-of-control development, government would have to be pro-quality development, which it doesn't seem to be.

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    Delays caused by the planning decision-making process in Britain came under fire today by leading architect Lord Rogers of Riverside.

    Richard Rogers, considered one of the foremost living architects, was knighted in 1991 and made a life peer in 1996.

    He told the Lords: "It takes at least 15 years and strong leadership for urban visions to become urban realities. In Britain, every policy is watered down through negotiation with countless agencies and every proposal bogged down in endless processes.

    "The first planes landed and took off from Heathrow's new Terminal Five today. When my firm started to design this building, I was a much younger man. It was 19 years ago. We have to speed up the decision-making."

    The new £4.3 billion showcase terminal suffered a disastrous opening day, with flights cancelled, luggage delayed and long queues.

    Lord Rogers is best known for such pioneering buildings as the Lloyd's headquarters in the City of London, the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

    He is chief adviser on architecture and urbanism to the Mayor of London, and was recently appointed chairman of the Greater London Authority's Design for London Advisory Group.

    In a debate on architecture, Lord Rogers said: "Ten years after John Prescott asked me to lead the Urban Task Force to assess how we could turn round our failing towns and cities there is much to celebrate.

    "This is the first Government that has actually encouraged people back to cities, setting clear targets for developing brownfield land and reversing depopulation.

    "It is also the first Government since the early 1940s that has set out a vision for sustainable long-term change in our cities. There has been success in creating new agencies and new devolved government.

    "Ken Livingstone has established a dedicated design team under my leadership and cities throughout the world now look to London. The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment has been a major success, creating a force for expertise, design review and helping create better buildings, towns and cities across England.

    "There is something wrong however when nine years after the Urban Task Force published its report we still have no examples of regenerated neighbourhoods and cities in the UK to compare with the best in the world.

    "There is something wrong when the Thames Gateway - Europe's major urban regeneration project - is still peppering the banks of the beautiful River Thames with shoddy, toy-town houses and Dan Dare glass towers.

    "There is also something seriously wrong when new houses across the country form rootless estates and could just as well be in Beijing, Buenos Aires or Belfast.

    "These are developments which have no regard for a community's sense of place, belonging or identity. I fear we are building the slums of tomorrow but it shouldn't be. Britain has some of the best architects in the world.

    "The answer is simple. We have sidelined the talents that we have and, in what should be a golden age of British architecture, our output is simply lacklustre."

    Lord Rogers said: "Trained architects should be placed at the heart of decision-making and all planning should have access to advice from skilled architects and vice versa.

    "We should clarify, simplify and reduce the number of delivery bodies.
    The Thames Gateway, for example, has over 30 authorities and partnerships involved. We should move towards establishing single-purpose, area-based delivery bodies.

    "Local authorities must be empowered to lead the urban renaissance. The Government has gone a long way towards doing that. Now it needs to give our towns and cities the tools to finish the job.

    "Unless we empower and enable our civic leaders to created beautiful cities, we will not just repeat our past mistakes but will condemn our children to live with them and in them."

    For Tories, Lord Dixon-Smith said: "Most of the great buildings we long to preserve were constructed without the benefit of any planning system whatsoever.

    "I often find myself wondering what the modern conservation societies would have had to say if they had seen the plans for St Paul's Cathedral from Sir Christopher Wren before it was built.

    "They would have said it was 'not in the British tradition', 'out of character' and - perish the thought - 'Popish'.

    "We need to remember that progress sometimes is not the way we perceive it immediately today. Our successors may well judge things very differently, though that is not to say we should not be making every effort to get design improved."

    Replying to the debate, junior communities minister Baroness Andrews conceded that there had been "failures" in the creation of housing estates but added: "Things have changed since 2004 and there has been a cultural change in the culture of planning. We are living in a golden age of opportunity.

    "The message is very clear. No more monolithic housing estates. We want well-designed, diverse, mixed housing for people who may live and work at home in the future."

    She told Lord Rogers: "The Thames Gateway is not seen as an empty brownfield site. It is has a wonderfully diverse history and by bringing in CABE and setting design targets we are in with a chance of making a very good site there."

    The debate ended without a vote.

    http://www.24dash.com/news/Communiti...lanning-delays

  2. #2
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    Richard Rogers is my favorite architect. All of NYC needs a few more of his skyscrapers and buildings, then we'll be beyond perfect.

    "Unless we empower and enable our civic leaders to created beautiful cities, we will not just repeat our past mistakes but will condemn our children to live with them and in them." Another city beautiful movement isn't going to hurt.

    Do places in the UK also have powerful NIMBY/anti-development ciciv group members (like our CBs)/groups? I would assume so.

    There are projects that most people don't see beauty in, but I don't think that NYC is lacking with quality of development; we look at other places and think we are lacking. A key to the problem is the anti-development mentality which has consumed the city; I think it has a hold of developers and designers and prevents them from going all out when they do what they are supposed to do, in fear that they have a better chance of making a profit with something that won't get any attention.

    New York City needs a Richard Rogers. First assign him to the West Side so people will stop moaning.
    Last edited by Ebola; March 29th, 2008 at 03:37 AM.

  3. #3

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    Hang on!!!!!

    1. Whatever one's opinion of Rogers as an architect, saying that architects should be in charge of planning and saying explicitly that local opposition should carry less weight is tantamount to having factory owners run the EPA and Pharma CEOs running the FDA...

    2. I don't think that everyone who opposes some scheme that will impact their immediate neighborhood should be tarred with the "unthinking NIMBY" brush; any more that every architect should be considered an arrogant, starchitect fashion whore.

    3. Of course London has NIMBY's. It's because of the "NIMBYS" that we now still have COvent Garden and a walkable city instead of Houston upon Thames.

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    I disagree, Luca. The best-run regulatory agencies are usually those with industry professionals at the helm.

    If you don't have experience in the field, how will you know what works and what doesn't?

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    Unfortunately for those of us living in the USA far too many of our governmental regulatory agencies are not well run -- whether or not there are experts at the helm.

  6. #6

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    Pianoman (would that be Renzo Pianoman? couldn't resist the pun), I wasn't saying that no architect should ever have anything to say about planning. I I was alluding to the dangers faced when we lack a healthy adversarial (or at least skeptical) relationship between regulator and regulated.

    If Rogers and his ilk are in cahrge of our cities with no 'checks and balances' from the public and less 'slash-and-burn' types, before you know it we'd all be living in la Defence/Canary Wharf. No thanks.

  7. #7

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    Agreed.

    And the constant one-note anti-nimby sentiment is stupid.

    If, because of community involvement, London still has Covent Garden and a walkable city instead of Houston upon Thames... ask the general public what their favorite NY neighborhoods are.

    I do agee that architects should have more voice, but imagine if they had had free reign in the 50's and 60's... what would NYC look like today?

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    The rise of NIMBYism seems to correlate to the lack of trust in the government. The polar opposite of NIMBY attitude is to trust that the decisions of government, planning, and enforcement agencies consistently have the best interests of neighborhoods, residents, and the good of the municipality at heart. It assumes that the staff are highly educated and motivated out of civic pride and responsibility.

    It's simply not the case.

    The argument against NIMBYism is based on a notion that the residents should blindly accept the judgment and decisions of the governmental agencies and the developers. It assumes that developers will balance their pecuniary interests with the public good. It assumes a rigorous review and approval process. It blindly believes that in every case the residents are wrong, thus the general term NIMBYism applied to all.

    New York City experiences these fights with more regularity because we tend to be presented with a lovely rendering and then end up with a different reality. Look at the Fulton Street Transit Center. There is no commitment to producing quality projects and no commitment to the public - and tha project is a public project.

    It's NIMBYism when someone rails against a project that we love or appreciate. However, when we all object to a Gene Kaufman low-end horror going up in a location that WE believe is prime, it is just arguing for good sense and, what, better planning? Stricter review and approval processes? Aesthetic standards? A drawing review? We're all NIMBY's when we talk about McSam projects. Wouldn't you agree?

    It's blanket NIMBYism until it is going up next to your home or in your neighborhood. People opposed to a project are not NIMBYs. Everyone wants to live in a quality environment and someone in the Village has different environmental values than someone living on the UWS. Someone in Bay Ridge has different environmental values than someone in the Village.

    The idea that we don't or shouldn't have a say in development or railing against those who do speak up is the equivalent of a President saying that speaking out against a war is undemocratic or killing our troops. It's extremist, inaccurate, and actually diminishes the credibility of those who constantly repeat it with no depth of reasoning.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Luca View Post
    Pianoman (would that be Renzo Pianoman? couldn't resist the pun), I wasn't saying that no architect should ever have anything to say about planning. I I was alluding to the dangers faced when we lack a healthy adversarial (or at least skeptical) relationship between regulator and regulated.

    If Rogers and his ilk are in cahrge of our cities with no 'checks and balances' from the public and less 'slash-and-burn' types, before you know it we'd all be living in la Defence/Canary Wharf. No thanks.
    Slightly off-topic, but: who's to say the relationship between architects/planners and developers wouldn't be somewhat adversarial?

    My point is that, if you're going to have regulators, you should always strive to employ those who have the most intimate knowledge of the industry to be regulated. For real estate and urban development, this doesn't simply mean architects: it means a host of different professions, including architects, civil engineers, developers, planners, and probably even lawyers. That'll ensure no one opinion will dominate; you won't get radical results like a citywide Canary Wharf. (This is, in fact, how New York's own zoning code came into existence.)

    The problem with involving too much public input is manyfold. For one, it drags out the review process longer than it has to. (And we've all witnessed, especially recently, why it's important to seize the opportunity to move forward with development plans sooner rather than later, for there are many things that can go wrong in the meantime and throw it off track.)

    Another problem is the problem of stakeholder bias. Of course different residents in different areas will hold different hierarchies of desires concerning development. We've seen this countless times, too, with for example the ConEd/UN development. Should the wishes of local residents outweigh those of the rest of the city, just because of proximity? Moreover, should the wishes of those who voice an opinion outweigh those who stand idly by? (Again, we've seen this many times, such as with the MoMa proposal, where the average age of dissenting opiners is somewhere in the 70s.) That's another advantage of regulation: you can deliberately remove stakeholder bias by making sure that the regulators have no stake in the outcome.

    A final problem is the relative inexperience and ignorance of the general public in special interests such as real estate development. Most people have no clue how zoning, landmarking, or variances work. Nor do they want to. They're specialists in something else: selling clothes, fixing computers, driving a cab, trading stock. Why should their opinion on something of which they have precious little knowledge be weighed equally (or moreso) than the opinions of seasoned experts?

    In virtually every other industry, laypeople allow regulators to do their jobs. Occasionally, the media will stir their emotions with some outrageous scandal. Protesters will get their field day, and there'll be a shake-up in government offices. Why is real estate development (at least around here) treated so differently? Why should it be?

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by pianoman11686 View Post
    I disagree, Luca. The best-run regulatory agencies are usually those with industry professionals at the helm.

    If you don't have experience in the field, how will you know what works and what doesn't?
    Point taken.

    But there you can't dismiss the fox guarding the henhouse factor in that equation. A person with intimate career ties to the industry he or she regulates certainly and very easily may be persuaded to do what is good for their friend, or even him/herself, with little regard for what is good for the industry as a whole. And to then say that person's opinions and directives are to be placed above all but the most extraordinary reproach.

    You know what they say, "Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."
    Last edited by Clarknt67; April 2nd, 2008 at 12:29 AM.

  11. #11

    Default Does New York Need to Dream Big Again?

    Not quite the same subject but I used this old thread to avoid starting a new one.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    August 26, 2008, 9:20 am

    Does New York Need to Dream Big Again?

    By Jennifer 8. Lee


    New commercial and residential buildings are seen behind a construction site in Shenzhen, China, in July. An urban planner in New York believes the city could emulate China’s construction energy. (Photo: Bobby Yip/Reuters)

    Now that the world has seen some of the spectacular redevelopment of Beijing that was showcased during the Olympics, an urban policy expert is challenging leaders in the New York region to invest as aggressively as Chinese cities have in urban infrastructure.

    Robert D. Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, has published a three-page commentary [pdf] through Center for an Urban Future encouraging New York to be more ambitious.

    Specifically he points to Shenzhen, once a small fishing community across the border from Hong Kong. That city has evolved into a world-class manufacturing center with a population of 13 million.

    Despite its frenetic growth, Mr. Yaro notes, the city is remarkably well serviced by modern roads, rail lines and parks, and appears to be quite livable. The Chinese government has invested heavily in the development of Shenzhen and other cities in the surrounding Pearl River Delta region, with a commitment of $50 billion in new high-speed passenger rail and transportation networks over a five-year period.

    In contrast, Mr. Yaro notes, our federal government has disinvested in the Northeast corridor rail system for years.

    Nicolai Ouroussoff, The Times’s architecture critic, has observed that places like Shenzhen are instant cities:
    Shenzhen is often criticized as a product of unregulated development, better suited to the speculators that first spurred its growth than to the workers housed in huge complexes of factory-run barracks. Yet for architects these cities have also become vast fields of urban experimentation, on a scale that not even the early Modernists, who first envisioned the city as a field of gleaming towers, could have dreamed of.
    (See a related slide show on Shenzhen.)

    The scale of these undertakings in Shenzhen recalls the early part of the last century in America, when the country was confidently pointed toward the future, Mr. Ouroussoff explains. But it would be unimaginable in New York today, where, in the face of shrinking state and city budgets, expanding a single subway line can seem like a heroic act.

    Have we lost our ability to carry out ambitious infrastructure projects? New York has a long history of embracing change, after all. We have Robert Moses to thank for Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, the Triborough Bridge, the Grand Central Parkway, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, Staten Island Expressway, Orchard Beach, Co-op City, Riverside Park, Lincoln Center and the New York Coliseum, to name just a few projects. (Of course, even now debate rages about whether Moses was the creator of indispensable public works or an anti-democratic, anti-urban despot who bent government to his will.)

    A debate about the government’s role and the appropriate role for private investors and public-private partnerships in building public infrastructure has not been a big factor in development in Chinese cities.

    For better or worse, it is part of the development process in New York. And big dreams can fall, even when there is support from powerful city leaders, as was the case with the West Side football-Olympics stadium.

    Still, even residents in Shenzhen are pushing back against the government. When some learned of plans to build an expressway that would cut through the heart of their congested, middle-class neighborhood, they immediately organized a campaign to fight City Hall. They managed to halt work on the most destructive segment of the highway and forced design changes to reduce pollution from the roadway.

    Mr. Yaro’s report raises the question of whether the Northeast region can compete globally without the making infrastructure investments.

    If New York is to push forward, is an all-powerful development czar needed? Is it time for another Robert Moses?

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/20...eam-big-again/

    Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
    Last edited by brianac; August 26th, 2008 at 01:03 PM.

  12. #12

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    The dreams are always there. The capablity is more than there. It's the nimby's that have too much clout that prevent these ambitious great new developments from ever occuring.

    Compare airplanes built in the 1920's to those of today. Airplanes were developed without nimby hinderences. Now compare NYC skyscrapers built in the 1920's/30's to those of today. GE, ESB, Chrystler, etc. Architectual dreamers, who always exist, and who want to have their most ambitious works built will have a very hard time doing this in NYC.

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