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New York: The City Reimagined

More than a century ago, the author O. Henry said about New York City, “It’ll be a great place if they ever finish it.” The point, of course, is that the city will never be finished: It’s always been driven by the tireless impulse to tear down and build up. Rather than revel in its history like many cities, New York pushes for the new — though a reverence for the mammoth structures of its industrial glory has led to innovative plans for adaptive reuse. As the Bloomberg years wane and the recession grinds on, a number of high-profile projects remain unfinished. Construction spending (including infrastructure) has dropped in the city from a peak of $33 billion in 2008 to a projected $26 billion this year. New building permits are down considerably; the city issued 2,110 in the first half of 2008, compared to 764 in the first half of this year. “Huge question marks remain, especially for publicly funded projects,” warns Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress. Still, grand ambitions persist. From affordable housing and open space — hallmarks of PlaNYC, one of the mayor’s legacies — to cultural facilities and commercial development, the transformation of the cityscape may slow, but it will never stop.

Image courtesy James Corner Field Operations/City of New York

Freshkills Park

James Corner Field Operations
A former 2,200-acre landfill on a marshy shore in Staten Island is being transformed into a verdant park. The exciting master plan, by James Corner Field Operations, calls for playing fields, bike paths, equestrian trails, a marina, and more. Reported to cost $1.4 billion, the project has yet to be fully financed. Still, construction is under way.

Image courtesy James Corner Field Operations/City of New York

53 West 53rd

Ateliers Jean Nouvel
In early 2007, Hines purchased an empty lot on West 53rd Street from the Museum of Modern Art for $125 million. Soon after, the mega-developer unveiled its design for the site: a slender, 75-story steel-framed skyscraper by French architect Jean Nouvel. After sparking an uproar, the project receded from the headlines. Now, it’s back.

Image courtesy Hines

West 57

BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group)
Plans for a pyramid-shaped building on Manhattan’s West Side are as ambitious as its young architect, Bjarke Ingels, 36, who recently opened a New York City office, the first outside his native Copenhagen. The striking, 870,000-square-foot edifice will rise on West 57th Street, on a site that looks toward the Hudson River. The developer aims to begin construction next year.

Image courtesy Big/Glessner Group

Hudson Yards

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
City officials and developers have long imagined a dazzling future for the airspace over the gritty, 26-acre West Side Rail Yard, near Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan. A plan to transform the site into a mixed-use area with glass towers and pockets of green space is finally gaining traction.

Image courtesy dbox

The New Domino

Rafael Viñoly Architects, Beyer Blinder Belle
With its large, bright yellow sign and front-row seat along the East River, the 155-year-old Domino Sugar plant has long served as a symbol of New York City’s industrial heritage. But the factory was shuttered in 2004, and developers quickly set out to transform the site into an attractive mixed-use community designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. If financing can be fully lined up, construction will begin in 2012.

Image courtesy Rafael Viñoly Architects

BAM Cultural District

Various Firms
In 2000, the city drew back the curtain on its plans to develop a cultural district around the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a thriving performing arts center established in 1861. Despite much hoopla, the district has been slow to materialize, but two projects by H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture are now under way.

Image courtesy H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture

Whitney Museum

Renzo Piano Building Workshop
Like every Manhattan resident, the Whitney Museum has long griped about the need for more space. After years of failed proposals to expand its Marcel Breuer-designed home on the Upper East Side, the museum’s board voted in 2010 to build an entirely new facility, by Renzo Piano, in the Meatpacking District. Groundbreaking occurred in May, with an opening planned for 2015.

Image courtesy Whitney Museum/RPBW

Via Verde

Grimshaw Architects, Dattner Architects
The notorious South Bronx has come a long way since the 1970s, when burnt-out buildings and drug dealers were common sights. While poverty is still prevalent, the area has seen a flurry of development in the past decade, with a number of residential, commercial, and public projects either finished or under construction. One such project is Via Verde, or the Green Way — an affordable housing complex rising on a 1.5-acre remediated brownfield.

Image courtesy Phipps House, Jonathan Rose Companies, Dattner Architects, Grimshaw Architects

Hunters Point South

FXFOWLE, SHoP Architects, Ismael Leyva Architects
Similar to many postindustrial districts, Hunters Point is undergoing a remarkable transformation. In the past decade, warehouses and factories in this Long Island City neighborhood have given way to glass towers and waterfront promenades. Now, construction has begun on a multiphase affordable housing complex that eventually will provide thousands of units for low- to middle-income tenants.

Image courtesy NYC Economic Development Corporation

UN Campus Upgrade

Various Firms
When the 17-acre United Nations headquarters opened in the 1950s, its sleek, 39-story Secretariat tower and low-slung General Assembly and Conference buildings became instant icons. Now, more than a half-century later, the complex is getting its first major overhaul. Construction is progressing on a sweeping, $1.87 billion project to upgrade the campus, whose original design team included Wallace Harrison, Le Corbusier, and Oscar Niemeyer.

Photo © Jenna M. Mcknight

Columbia Expansion

Various Firms
Columbia University is pressing ahead with its controversial, 17-acre expansion into Manhattanville, a West Harlem neighborhood just north of the school’s main 32-acre campus. Preconstruction work on the $6.3 billion project began in 2008, with completion of the first building expected in 2016.

Photo © Columbia University

Governors Island Park & Public Spaces

Team Led by West 8
In 2006, the city and state launched a competition that asked designers to devise a grand plan for 87 acres of public space on Governors Island. A proposal by the Dutch firm West 8 (with several partners, including Rogers Marvel Architects and Diller Scofidio + Renfro) won. If all goes as planned, their visionary scheme will not only be realized; it also will trigger a mini construction boom.

Photo © A Frieden

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