The Design + Development Challenge:
Over the past ten years, New York has experienced a resurgence of the ‘mega-project.’ These include heavily residential developments such as Riverside South, Hunts Point/LIC, City Point in Brooklyn, primarily commercial projects such as the new World Trade Center, true mixed-use projects such as Hudson Yards, and technology/institutional-centric developments such as Roosevelt Island Tech and the Biotech corridor south of NYU Medical Center. Each of these developments is ongoing and all have used a series of diverse design strategies to leverage urban and commercial opportunities, while overcoming developmental challenges and mitigating potential impacts from the development.
One of the most important, and once most controversial, mega-projects is Pacific Park (formerly Atlantic Yards). Currently Co-Developed by Forest City Ratner and Greenland USA (Greenland Forest City Partners) the site is under development with several major pieces such as the Barclay’s Center completed, and several residential buildings in various stages of construction. The project is a 22-acre parcel, mostly built atop a platform over the MTA LIRR’s Atlantic Yards, adjacent to Atlantic Terminal (a major commuter rail and subway station). The current masterplan is15-17 buildings, centered on a major linear open space and ending with a mixed-use block anchored by the stadium. The Masterplan was originally developed by Gehry Partners, the Los Angeles based practice known for the Walt Disney Concert Hall, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and was largely evolved, though some of the key urban design moves were retained (massing, heights, public space, and stadium size + location). The final design of the stadium was completed by SHoP with Ellerbe Becket, and the various residential buildings form a contextual palimpsest, the result of varied designs by KPF, SHoP, and Cook Fox.
The site of the development was long considered a ‘gap’ in the urban fabric – a three block long open yard that spawned an elevated rail line running along Atlantic Avenue that serves as a substantial seam between a series of neighborhoods north and south of the line. To the south of the site is the prosperous residential neighborhood of Park Slope, one of Brooklyn’s most gentrified; to the north and east lie Prospect Heights and Fort Greene, both rapidly gentrifying/gentrified neighborhoods; and immediately to the north-west is Downtown Brooklyn, the site of a major city re-zoning to encourage high-density residential and office development. While some saw the project as the perfect opportunity to spur further development in the area, many feared the project would cast a pall on the natural evolution of the adjacent neighborhoods. For some the project served as an opportunity for economic development and source of jobs for under-served communities elsewhere in Brooklyn, and others believed that the new buildings would encourage further gentrification and price even more people out of the adjacent neighborhoods. There were clashes about the scale of the project, program mix, amount and nature of affordable housing, whether the project should include the stadium, and about the size + availability of public open space and amenities. Controversially, eminent domain was used to clear more land for the site. The project, originally slated for 5970 units with full build-out by 2025, is 10 years behind schedule. 460 market-rate units and 782 affordable units have been have been constructed to date.
The final project asks you to rewind the clock to the point of inception of the project. The site, still vacant, sits unplanned and undeveloped – an opportunity with great promise, great risk, and great, though varied, expectations.
This course has/will explore (at multiple scales, multiple programs, and in multiple sites around the world), the way in which design can work to further development goals both commercially and socially, economically and culturally. Based on the opportunities for design as explored in this course, working in teams of two, apply some of these concepts and strategies to the Atlantis Yards/Pacific Park project. Evaluate the site and its opportunities and constraints. Consider the key questions raised on the following page and outline an approach to the project and its design in a way that maximizes value in multiple ways: financial, social, and political.
After careful analysis, evaluation and reflection, you should identify those critical design issues and factors that you and your team, as developers and designers, would need to consider in developing and designing the project. You should also identify some of the design strategies you would employ to arrive at the ‘best’ possible project given the opportunities and constraints (physical, economic, social and political) at the site.
The paper should be 2,000 words with illustrations, endnotes and bibliography. The paper should cite primary and secondary research sources and all images should be credited. Images should not just consist of the work of others but should also feature original, self-produced analytical diagrams and/or sketches. References to precedents (both analytical work and built or proposed projects by others) that are relevant are encouraged, but should not substitute creative, innovative ideas and solutions crafted on your own.
1. Analyze the development current plan and development history for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park since it was first announced in 2003.
2. Analyze the potential major ‘positive externalities’ (benefits) and significant ‘negative externalities’ (impacts) that a new development at Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park would offer? Consider:
a. At multiple scales: the community members (both local and borough wide), the local neighborhoods, and the city at large
b. Economically, and Culturally
3. What are the main commercial risks to the project’s long term feasibility and financial success? Consider:
a. Risks intrinsic to the project itself (costs, phasing, time, marketability, etc.)
b. Risks extrinsic to the project (community opposition, city approvals, environmental issues, infrastructure, etc.)
4. Strategize on how to select the appropriate scale and mix of programs for a major development like this, such that it would maximize commercial success and social benefits, yet avoid major risk or negative impacts. Consider:
a. What are the programs most viable for commercial success – in the near term? In the long term? Are these the same or different?
b. Are there programs that the community/city particularly need, even if they are not self-sustaining commercially?
c. Are there ‘loss-leader’ programs that will enhance the long-term viability of the site?
d. What are the synergies among the programs listed per the above? How can the program mix be leveraged?
5. Identify and describe some of the key design strategies that you would employ to enhance the success of the project as a development project and new piece of the city? Consider for example:
a. Scale of buildings and where they would be located (height, density, size, etc.).
b. Key aspects of urban form given adjacent context – in what ways should the project conform to or depart from the adjacent neighborhood contexts?
c. Key public elements such as: open public space, parks/gardens, active programs, streetscape, transit or other infrastructure improvements.
d. Special programs that add value to the development/community: schools, community center, day care/children’s activities + amenities, cultural/performance spaces, sports facilities, university/research/innovation spaces, etc.
e. Issues of character, materiality, and detail elements – focusing on what are the critical design details of the project rather than questions of ‘style.’
f. Specific design moments, feature or locations that merit special attention – is there a particular corner that needs to be highlighted, a special zone/place within the site that should be marked, a certain frontage meriting of special treatment?
g. How should the project be phased over years?
6. Given your own analysis, how does the current approach to the project differ from or conform to your proposed approach? Where there are differences, why do you believe these other courses of action were pursued?