Would Ratner really let all that space the rest of the tower would have contained dissolve?
High time for a monumental rethink
March 21, 2009
Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano are architects, geniuses, stars - and old. They're children of the Depression, the last one and the current one, and are all well past 70, with Gehry having just turned 80. Happy Birthday, Frank! And welcome to the harsh new reality of the minimalist economy.
For our newest city halls, opera houses, museums and galleries, for the airports and public parks, university buildings and bridges - for unleashing the art of architecture, we have the superstars to thank. It's hard to imagine a more scintillating version of urbanity than the one they delivered.
But the currency of the old avant-garde has become a difficult commodity. Many of their monumental projects have crashed - Gehry's highly anticipated Beekman Tower in lower Manhattan was this week chopped in half from 76 to 38 storeys. Besides that, their fees are outrageous; it's becoming increasingly uncomfortable to ask clients to indulge them. It could be that the glorious, creative outpouring of the iconic ones is destined for an inelegant dead end.
Until recently, Foster + Partners (whose works include London's gherkin-shaped Swiss Re Tower) employed 1,300 architects in 17 offices around the world. Last month, the firm announced that it was firing 300 of them. And figures from Britain's Office of National Statistics, released this week, reveal the number of architects claiming employment benefits rose from 150 to 1,290.
Work has tanked in Russia, forcing Norman Foster to close his Berlin office, where much of the work for the moneyed oligarchs was being drafted. Lord Foster was known to travel in his private jet, and is said to have charged $2,500 an hour for design consulting. His buildings have accomplished startling things with glass and high-tech wizardry. But they're hardly cheap - his remodelling of Europe's biggest football stadium, Camp Nou in Barcelona, involved recladding the exterior with a skin of colour-changing glass panels, estimated to cost upward of $400-million. Now delayed indefinitely, the project pushed architecture to heady heights, but alas, it's produced the kind of price tag that's difficult to rationalize these days.
In the Catalonian capital, considered a Mecca of exquisite architecture, work has dried up. Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (creators of Heathrow's Terminal 5) had conjured a way to insert a shopping centre into an old bullring. Five years ago, Las Arenas might have been pushed through, but in these troubled times, the project stands silent and half-built. And a much-anticipated 34-storey tower by Gehry + Partners (which has cut dozens of architects at the firm's Los Angeles studio) has also been put on hold.
Back in North America, in the once-searing-hot city of Chicago, the Spire by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, proposed by Irish billionaire Garrett Kelleher as the tallest residential tower in North America, is a gaping hole in the ground - and going nowhere fast.
In Canada, too, the superstars came, designed and built, working their magic over the country's ambitious downtowns. Projects conceived 10 years ago have survived. They include all seven of the major cultural makeovers in the City of Toronto, including the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts by Diamond + Schmitt Architects; Daniel Libeskind's makeover of the Royal Ontario Museum; and Gehry's sumptuous if slightly leaky Art Gallery of Ontario.
The University of Toronto's Leslie Dan Pharmacy Building, by Foster + Partners, with its surreal lecture pods suspended in a gigantic atrium, slipped in under the wire. But, over the last year, Foster's design of the Bow - a commercial glass tower with impressive sustainability, spearheaded by oil-and-gas producer EnCana - in Calgary has suffered a scaling back of the original design vision. Vancouver's proposed Jameson House, a series of glass cylinders rising 37 storeys, was cancelled last month.
For the masters, the past few decades have been a wild ride. After enduring creative fits and starts, they got up their nerve to create mind-altering architecture in the 1960s. In Paris, the youngsters Piano and Rogers imagined the unforgettable Centre Pompidou (1977). Jean Nouvel's L'Institut du Monde Arabe, with its wall of mechanical oculi, opened in 1987.
By the 1990s, the established stars were reigniting a faith in downtowns around the world. But their change-making architecture, which lit fireworks in the metropolis, is set to radically change. And it's about time. Architectural and landscape poetry is desperately needed to help heal the disaffected suburbs. The work may be subtle, but there's an urgency to address the societal discontent lurking on the city's edges.
In North America, the biggest challenge will come in reinventing a suburban landscape marred by boarded-up houses, old-style shopping malls and big-box retailers. The stars obsessed over one-off, showy works of architectural sculpture. A new generation is required to consider new questions: How to negotiate the future of the bloated suburban house in light of changing demographics and a desire for intimate communities? How to accommodate smaller families, gay couples without children, and single parents who live alone half the time?
In Europe, the challenges will take on a different shape. Paris, for instance, is a model of urban elegance. But its suburbs are places of deep unrest, where immigrants are often housed in dehumanizing apartment blocks, and where public amenities and parks are scarce. To address the disaster of the Parisian banlieues, President Nicolas Sarkozy has commissioned 10 architects - famous and not, old and young - to imagine a vision for a new Grand Paris. The emphasis is not on standalone, audacious architecture that requires buying a ticket to enjoy.
Parisian architect Roland Castro has presented a sweeping green, Central Park-style space for the otherwise unhappy suburb of La Courneuve. Besides that, he radicalizes his vision by suggesting that the Élysée Palace be moved to the city's tough northeastern suburbs. In another scheme, by Italian architects Bernardo Secchi and Paola Vigano, waterways, rather than roadways, would be Paris's new connective tissue. Richard Rogers recommends reinventing disused railway lines as a network of walkable greenery, something already happening in downtown Paris and New York.
Culture follows money. Besides that, vanity inspires reckless desire. Maybe there was too much of a good thing in the moneyed cities of the world. With a push and shove by a new world order, and by the likes of Sarkozy, the suburbs might just get their chance at a greater livability. The challenge should be one taken up by young, passionate designers. And who knows? The young might make some room for the superstars to weigh in, too, in their golden years.
Would Ratner really let all that space the rest of the tower would have contained dissolve?
The way the news has been recently I wouldn't be surprised if he sold the unused airrights to McSam across the street.
I guess he can always transfer (sell) the unused air rights over to the Pace site or to the Beekman NYU hospital site or god forbid (I don't even want to think about this) to that unthinkable McSam site across the street.
Midtown Guy, thanks for the article. And people say classical architecture is pricey....
LOL. I know it's terrible, but the thought of the most dominant building in lower Manhattan being a bright red and yellow McSam is pretty hilarious.
Maybe then people will wake up, wonder what happened to good architecture, and start building Drake hotels all over the place.
Speaking as one of the few local residents to comment on this "tower", I would like to propose a rousing Bronx Cheer for the anti-nimby crowd that has perpetually applauded the over development of Manhattan these past eight years.
Thanks so much for rooting for these cheap, unsustainable erections; thanks so very much for belittling any concerns over the costs of this mania; thanks for backing Bloomberg and his developer cronies; thanks for all the 3/4-empty condos and thanks for the loss of dozens of neighborhoods to one after another bland, characterless "development"; may you all retire to the ghost town that is Dubai.
The zoning law term is a called a zoning lot merger, where the development rights are transferred as-of-right to adjacent property. One exception is landmarked property, where a permit can be granted to move development rights off the zoning lot.
Unless I'm missing something, Ratner is stuck with the unused air-rights.
Maybe you missed the part about cutting the building off halfway due to market conditions ... and the how many halted new developments in view of similar concerns?
Such completely out of touch comments are why your crowd gets marginalized. Blame yourself, not others.
The big thing that zoomed over his head is that without the arrangement that allowed the school and added height - in other words, a normal sale of property (the parking lot) to a developer, the as-of- right building that would have gone up would have utilized the entire site. The windows at 140 Nassau St are lot-line windows, thus are not a requirement of NYC code, and would have been blocked.
And the residents say in unison - duh!
Saw this on SSP, thought id post the news...
Thanks NYGuy for posting this...
The Beekman tower designed by Frank Gehry
Ratner says Gehry tower will keep rising
By Julie Shapiro
Word spread quickly last week that Forest City Ratner planned to chop the rising Beekman St. tower in half, leaving it at its current height of 38 stories.
The rumors started when workers recently stopped adding floors and WNYC reported that contractors applied for a permit to add a roof.
Joyce Baumgarten, spokesperson for Forest City, said the rumors are exaggerated. The permit was actually for the tower’s first setback, not for the roof, she said. The permits look similar, which could have caused the confusion, she added.
Baumgarten said the addition of new floors had paused so Forest City could look for ways to save money, possibly by re-bidding construction contracts. She is not worried about finding a market for the building’s 903 apartments, which will range from $4,000 to $15,000 a month.
“There’s been no change in the design of the building,” Baumgarten said in a phone interview. “Work is continuing on the building.”
In a statement, Baumgarten added, “Given current economic conditions, including downward trends in construction costs, we are conducting a study to evaluate potential opportunities to achieve savings on the project.”
Joseph Rechichi, a senior vice president with Ratner, said in January that Ratner had all of the $680 million in financing necessary to complete the Frank Gehry-designed tower. The building is slated to finish in 2011 with the new K-8 Spruce Street School in its base and an ambulatory center for New York Downtown Hospital, along with the high-end apartments.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who led the negotiations to get the K-8 school, said in a statement that he was reassured Forest City had promised to continue building the school. Forest Ctiy has said school could open in 2010 but many people, including Silver, expect it to open in 2011.
Despite Forest City’s assurances, many local residents are skeptical that the project’s finances are in good order, especially after seeing so many other projects stall recently. Also, the stock of Forest City Enterprises has lost more than 90 percent of its value in the past year.
The residents who live in the tower’s shadow and fought its erection had a mix of reactions to the possibility of it stopping at 38 stories.
“Definitely it’s better for the neighborhood,” said Suzanne Fass, who lives at 140 Nassau St. “It’s less intrusive, less of a target and less of a drain on whatever services and infrastructure we have.”
Fass said the potential change in height would not affect her building directly, since the tower already dwarfs 140 Nassau and blocks most of the light that once reached it.
Williams Cosby, another 140 Nassau resident, said a truncated building would be more in keeping with the neighborhood, but the most important thing is that the building gets finished.
“I would rather them build it to its full height and complete it than stop halfway and not complete it,” Cosby said. “I would hate for it to fall into some economic crack where they don’t finish it for some reason.”
Alan Mitchell, who lives at 150 Nassau St., agreed that the worst thing for the neighborhood would be to have an unfinished building. The full-sized tower wouldn’t block much more light and air than the half-sized tower already blocks, he said.
The residents of 140 and 150 Nassau St. negotiated with Forest City several years ago to set the tower back from their windows, with a plaza in between.
Over the past week, Gehry’s twisty, shimmering design for the tower found fierce defenders on online forums like SkyscraperPage.com.
“HALF SIZE .. NO WAY !!!” wrote CSABA8. “That was my favorite building. So sad to hear!”
Added a calmer commenter named CoolCzech, “It would be just incredibly shortsighted to allow a recession to gut the heart out of this magnificent project. I can only assume — and hope — the developer is playing some kind of game for some extra concessions or something.”
Fass, the 140 Nassau resident, said the distraught online commenters did not sway her.
“They don’t live across the street from it,” she said.
Good Lord me too. I was on work/vacation for a week only to come home and catch up on 50 posts here of doom and gloom.... ack.