July 22, 2013
For many, it’s New York‘s skyline that defines its architectural achievements. Although skyscraper silhouettes are certainly part of the equation, much of the best architecture in New York is happening at ground-level.
No metropolitan area has a skyline as iconic or an infrastructure as intricate as New York City. Given the volume of people who traverse Gotham’s streets, descend upon its tourism sites, partake of its cultural offerings, and rub elbows on its subways, the five boroughs present a constant architectural puzzle. How do developers meet the swelling needs of burgeoning neighbourhoods? As tastes change and economic centres expand, how can architects offer something new that will provide maximum utility as well as enduring visual inspiration? These quandaries are the obsession of the world’s top architectural minds.
Rick Bell, FAIA, is the Executive Director of AIANY, NYC’s chapter of the American institute of Architects. Working from the Center for Architecture – a fascinating spot near Washington Square Park with revolving exhibitions for anyone interested in the city’s changing landscape – Bell spends significant time weighing the aforementioned questions and offering his perspective to the global design community. “New York continues to be aspirational – not just in terms of height,” says Bell. “There’s a big push for connectivity. I think of the Standard hotel that straddles the High Line, built by architect Todd Schliemann. That structure defines the changing attitude of the city – bringing value to everything along its perimeter.”
Bell points out that the newly completed 1776-foot spire atop 1 WTC at the resurrected World Trade Center site is a soaring example of the city’s expressionistic bent – as is Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower in Lower Manhattan and Renzo Piano’s home for The New York Times. Grimshaw Architects’ city bus shelters and work on the Queens Museum of Art have contributed a streamlined vision of future New York. Meanwhile, the site that has Bell most captivated is Fulton Center (scheduled to open mid-2014), also conceived and executed by Grimshaw. The center will see 12 subway lines and the PATH train to New Jersey converge beneath four storeys and a glass atrium, outfitted with significant office and retail space and serving more than 300,000 commuters. “The Fulton Center speaks to New York’s identity as a “˜portal city,'” says Bell.
Beyond height and foot traffic, Bell sees environmental and health concerns as top priorities for New York architecture projects, and notices that more and more significant work is taking place in the “outer boroughs” beyond Manhattan. The biggest game-changer for Bell? “Bike lanes,” he says. “One has to give credit to Mayor Bloomberg, who empowered his commissioners to make the city healthier. So much work has been done to promote physical health, and that is more and more evident in the design of the city.”
While New York continues to assert itself against the sky in new and proud ways, the most exciting work seems to be taking place on the street, below ground, and on the drafting room table.
Header photo: New York Skyline at night © Songquan Deng, 2013. Used under license from Shutterstock.com
Have you visited New York recently? Which of the city’s architectural masterpieces are your favourites?
Written by Andrew Stone