The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Thursday, November 10, 2005

More on the East River site

Per David Sucher, I'm rather more interested in this major East River development for its planning character than its architectural style. As David Childs himself says, "This is as much about planning as it is about architecture."

But what's planned seems to be towers in a park. I think we've seen this movie before, and we all know the ending.

I can't find any links showing the proposed site plan discussed in this Times article, so I'll just excerpt some more:
The architects Richard Meier and David M. Childs have completed a master plan for four buildings, a park and an ice rink on part of a nine-acre site near the United Nations.

[...]

The landscape architect Diana Balmori is designing the park and skating rink. For the area surrounding the rink, between 38th and 41st Streets, the master plan calls for three residential buildings by Mr. Meier and one largely commercial building by Mr. Childs, with apartments on the upper floors

[...]

The specifics of the buildings' materials and design have yet to be determined. Mr. Meier said the four towers would take the United Nations as a starting point, "then spiral around." Individually, they will be distinct while forming a "family of buildings," he said.

The architects emphasized that the project would connect the area to the water's edge, with open views to the water from First Avenue, and sidewalks that extend to the river at 39th and 40th Streets. "To be able to restore the grid of the city at that edge, bring people to it, is delightful," Mr. Childs said.
The main thing that's unclear to me is where the park is relative to the river. If the buildings front the river (actually, FDR Drive, which may be dropped to reduce its barrier-hood), and the park is nothing more than a lawn between 1,000 foot towers, then it's likely to be just as unpleasant and unwelcoming as the old WTC plaza was. But if the rink is in the midst of the buildings (a la Rockefeller Center, an explicit referent) and the park is between the river and the towers, then I could see it working, and I could see the park becoming a neighborhood amenity that draws foot traffic down those sidewalks (why not streets?).

The ideal process, of course, would have been some sort of charette involving, if not the general public, then at least community representatives and city planners, so that input could come from someone other than the developer and his (non-planner) architects. It's interesting to note that, even in a city as famous for both its planning and its intrusive regulation of development, there seems to have been little useful intrusion on the process. I found an old Times article in which Muschamp suggested that the original architecture competition was intended to gain the developer leeway from the city - "you don't have to regulate us, look at our fancy team" - and if so, it was a complete failure as a process. I'll withhold judgment on whether it results in a failure of development.

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