You may be asking me, ‘What’s studio like in New York, Angela?’ Well, dear reader, I’ve got to say my studio thus far has been full of writings, feelings, and introspection. Gabriel Smith and Thomas Phifer of Thomas Phifer & Partners are the dynamic duo orchestrating this studio. We have been engaged to build a chapel in Greenwich Village. The students stand divided: half of us at the intersection of Hudson and Bleecker Streets, and the others at Washington and Charles Streets on the west side of Manhattan. We started off with an exploration of our site—one that was not totally conventional but rooted in humanistic qualities; feeling, sense, and memory.
We were subsequently prompted to create embodiments of the site—expressions of the site in architectural terms. We went from the simplest components which comprise architecture, to the most complex in terms of spatial and material qualities. We started with defining ‘surface,’ then moved to ‘aperture,’ and we have just finished creating ‘a room.’
All the while, we’ve been encouraged to work back and forth between synthesis and introspection through writing. Never before have I written so much poetry, reductive and concise linguistic which seek to embody a feeling or place. Neither have we been pushed to all ends of the spectrum with our research and investigative stages. With all these studies under our belts, we’re well equipped to move into the schematic stages of our chapels.
Our class project for this semester is a a little different than your traditional urban design studio set up. Instead of creating a hypothetical master plan for a neighborhood or site, we are working with WXY Studio to develop a tool for the New York City Housing Authority to use in engagement.
NYCHA is the largest provider of affordable and public housing in the country, but currently faces a number of budgetary and maintenance challenges.
A combination of ‘what-if’ scenario planning and dialogue-based community engagement, our goal this semester is to create an online simulation platform for future engagement with various stakeholders – such as developers, NYCHA, tenants, neighbors and political leaders – to imagine opportunities for Baruch Houses on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Using a European gaming software called Tygron, our class will be one of the first American student groups to test the platform for a development project.
Real-Life Sim City
After an initial research phase at the building, neighborhood and policy scale, we are currently setting up both our ‘virtual game’ and ‘physical model-based game’ with stakeholders, actions, financial budgets, indicators, and performance metrics for a variety of real estate development options, including:
Sometimes (just sometimes) we like to get out of studio.
Last month, we had the pleasure of touring Governors Island National Monument and Roosevelt Island with AAP NYC executive director Bob Balder, the latter of which is home of the future Cornell tech campus. At Governors, students took the ferry to tour the currently-in-restoration ferry terminal, Fort Jay (a preserved remnant from the Revolutionary War), and biked around the coastline on the last weekend of operation.
At Roosevelt, we took the Islander tramway (Spiderman, anyone?) across the Queensboro Bridge. Much of the island is a construction site for the new Cornell Tech campus, home to old World War I era hospitals and the beautiful new FDR Four Freedoms Park, an original design by the late Louis Khan.
A major highlight of the AAP NYC program is taking neighborhood tours of interesting developments around the city. Recently, we joined forces with Professor Jennifer Minner’s Land Use course from the Ithaca campus to tour Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens.
Queens is the most racially and ethnically diverse county in the country, and nowhere is this diversity more apparent than in Flushing. The park, currently home to the USTA’s Arthur Ashe Stadium for the annual US Open as well as New York Mets’ Citi Field, expands well beyond these two sites. Originally developed from an old ash dump into an 897-acre park on the 25th and 75th anniversaries of the 1939 and the 1964 World’s Fair, respectively, the park grounds became a showcase for innovation from New York State. Today, the site sits largely vacant, stitched together within the fabric of the park itself.
First, we met with Janice Melnick and John Krawchuk from NYC Parks, who were gracious enough to give us a breakdown of the park’s usage and operations, as well as historic development. As the 4th largest open space in New York City, Corona Park boasts a $20 million capital budget. Unlike Central Park, however, it is used largely as a “working park” today and is popularly known as the “utilitarian” or “community-based” park of the City with seven million visitors a year. As any parks planner will tell you, maintenance, operations and programming are often just as or more important than the physical design and layout of the park. Flushing Meadows-Corona Park boasts heavy usage, ranging from Ecuadorian Volleyball and cricket tournaments to ethnic festivals such as Cinco de Mayo and the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Race Day, as well as everyday family functions and weddings.
In addition to the open spaces and stadiums, the park also boasts:
The Unisphere, the world’s largest representation of planet Earth and the largest fountain at the time of construction. Made of more than 700,000 pounds of stainless steel, the fountain/sculpture stands today a symbol of Queens’ diversity.
The Queens Museum, which houses the largest accurate 3-D model of New York City in the world. Check it out!
A beautifully restored, handmade carousal – definitely a blast to the past! Modeled after the Coney Island carousals, this gem features over 70 hand painted horses!
Two rising towers from the World’s Fair – you might remember them as the floating spaceships from Men in Black. What you probably didn’t see, however, is the historic gem behind the towers: The New York State Pavilion. Although it was originally developed as an engineering marvel to be showcased at the World’s Fair, the Pavilion has since changed ownership multiple times and has been the subject of a large historic preservation effort. At the Queens museum, we even got to view a screening of a recently produced documentary on the historical legacy of the structure. You can view the trailer here.
Interestingly enough, the concepts for modern theme and amusement parks came out of World’s Fairs. Do you think they should be preserved? Why or why not? What do you imagine Corona Park to be in 10 years? Sound off in the comments!
While we do spend a lot of time at our desks in the cozy 17th street studio here at AAP NYC, we Cornell students do get out from time to time – to do work for other classes of course! Some classes, like our visual representation class, encourage us to trudge forth from the artificially lit white studio in Chelsea to explore the farthest corner of the metropolis before us, provided that there’s enough light to take a good photograph. When you start to look at the city through a photographic lens, you start to realize the little things; how the sun ladles itself into the crevices of a single brick on a façade, how the city has been laid fanned out before you like an infinite, ornate tablecloth, each stitch woven with intention and awareness of the one sharing an end or beginning.
Sometimes I walk down the street here, and look at the infrastructure that rises before me like triumphant concrete blades of grass, and I think to myself that these things, this whole meadow of industry and life and progress is due to a few humble aspirations. That with a selection of proper connections, some proper investments, and the unbreakable spirit of human perseverance, one can erect a whole island of intricate moving parts that churn in unison as a monument to progress.
In fact, I’m starting to realize that the possibilities in Manhattan are endless. You’d be hard pressed to find any object or concept that isn’t being sold within a stone’s throw or has not come into existence yet. Manhattan encompasses the universe in a mostly neatly plotted grid. You want new wave roller disco in the park? You got it. You need a late night ramen fix? Easy. Want to write a revolutionary manifesto with some of your best friends? We’ve got spaces starting at $15 dollars an hour. Secret invite-only dinner parties with some of the world’s biggest most incognito movers and shakers? Hop over to the west side. (see reference here) Want to toast to Richard Meier’s at his 80th Birthday Bash? Come on down to AAP NYC!
Each person on the street constitutes one totem to a collection of millions upon millions of individual sensations and cognizance. It’s almost insane when it registers that all these beings coexist in one huge feedback loop together in this city, and that the whole place doesn’t just erupt into disarray but actually really thrives and even encourages new modes of synthesis!
And with that, I’m off to grab the beast by the horns and shamelessly exploit all the opportunities I can!