National Design Awards and the New York Waterfront

Credit: SHoP Architects

I have been looking at this image from SHoP’s submission for quite some time without really understanding what the firm is proposing. Somehow, I managed to largely miss the announcement of the plan of General Growth Properties (GGP) to completely transform the area known as the South Street Seaport – an increasingly residential area characterized largely by a large mall on Pier 17 that is almost always empty. SHoP’s proposal for the area includes a reconceptualization of Pier 17 as an open public space with smaller retail and hospitality around it. The Tin Building would be renovated and moved onto Pier 17, allowing Beekman Street to flow directly onto the pier rather than hitting a dead end at South Street and, additionally, letting the East River Esplanade to continue without interruption. The glowing tower at the center of the rendering above is SHoP’s proposed new tower, a 495-foot mixed use building that consists of three stacked volumes held together with a net-like exoskeleton. SHoP’s proposal has been met with some controversy, even though it does embrace some of the sensitive treatment of the waterfront seen in their highly praised proposal for the East River. It will come as no surprise to anyone who actually lives in New York City that the archipelago has a fairly contentious relationship to its waterfront. Thanks to the infrastructural ambitions of the 1930s, most neighborhoods that should have access to the waterfront can barely even see it. SHoP’s proposal here accepts the fact of the hard edges of the waterfront while finding discreet ways to bring people to the water – visually, literally, psychologically – across the length of the FDR.

Credit: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects

In the meantime, despite the deafening silence of building cranes throughout the city, there are some exciting developments courtesy of previous National Design Award winners that are worth keeping an eye on. Michael van Valkenburgh’s Brooklyn Bridge Park has finally broken ground. Hopefully, portions of Pier 6 will be open later this year but, while you are waiting, here is an interesting walkthrough with the designer. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s transformation of the Highline is underway and their highly acclaimed recently completed renovation of Alice Tully Hall will be joined later this fall by a new visitor’s center – replacing the old Harmony Atrium and its climbing wall – designed by Tod Wiliams and Billie Tsien. Morphosis’ dizzying new building for Cooper Union will also be completed this fall, all in time for the launch of our exhibition celebrating the past decade of the National Design Awards, Design USA: Contemporary Innovation.