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Rival Proposals for Hudson Yards Discussed

December 4, 2007

By Tim McKeough

Correction appended December 10, 2007

Five design teams presented their proposals for the development of Manhattan’s Hudson Rail Yards yesterday evening before a crowd of more than 1,000 people packed into Cooper Union’s Great Hall. New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which owns the 26-acre chunk of prime real estate—stretching from 30th Street to 33rd Street, between 10th Avenue and 12th Avenue—invited development proposals last July in advance of its plan to sell the property. Yesterday was the first time that the architects personally presented their plans to the public.

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Image: Courtesy Brookfield Properties
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The redevelopment district is currently occupied by rail lines and industrial uses. It has been granted a floor-to-area ratio of 11, which given the size of the site could allow for tall buildings. The Hudson Yards Development Corporation (HYDC), headed by New York City deputy mayor Daniel Doctoroff, developed the planning guidelines along with WRT and FXFowle—which also worked on one of the five rival schemes, causing some observers to question the fairness of the process.

In presenting their different visions last night, all of the architects spoke about the importance of connections to the city, connections to the future High Line park—which is being created out of a disused elevated railway line that runs along Manhattan’s West Side—vibrant public spaces, and sustainability. So it seemed appropriate that the first question put to them after presentations was what exactly made each of their proposals different.

Steven Holl, who is working with Extell Development Company, had the most straightforward answer. Rather than building a high platform above the existing train tracks, the team proposes to vault the 365-foot-wide gap with a surface that hangs like a suspension bridge. This eliminates the need for columns underneath, reduces construction costs, and creates a naturally curved valley that slices across the site. “A diagram from the HYDC framework plan shows only 12 acres of open space,” Holl said, “our project proposes 19.5.” Promising the most open space of all the proposals, the Extell plan also leaves the east and west edges of the site open. “Twenty years from now, maximizing this green space will be something we all should have thought of,” Holl said. The strategy also opens views of both the Hudson River and Empire State Building, presuming that future high-rise development between 10th and 6th Avenues doesn’t block that view.

For Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica, Robert A.M. Stern, and West 8, which collaborated on the proposal from the Related Companies and Goldman Sachs, the project is all about

variety. “What we’re really talking about is trying to make a neighborhood for people to live and work in,” Stern said. “A New York neighborhood which is diverse in its functions, diverse in its architecture, diverse in its typologies, and one that can grow incrementally and change over time as the project goes forward, even after completion.” Hoping to reflect existing Manhattan city blocks more than a singular, super-sized development, the proposal calls for buildings of varying heights, styles, and materials, from bricks and mortar to glass.

Brookfield Properties’ proposal, led by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill and Field Operations, similarly imagines a cluster of diverse buildings by a large group of contributors, including SHoP Architects, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and SANAA. “The requirement put to us by Brookfield was that this be part of the city, that this not be developed as an enclave,” said James Corner, of Field Operations. To provide a strong connection with the rest of the city on the southern edge of the site, the proposal calls for the creation of a West Chelsea Promenade along the length of 30th Street, below the High Line, which would serve as a transition zone up to the higher elevation above the train tracks.

FXFowle, Pelli Clarke Pelli, and WRT partnered on a proposal from the Durst Organization and Vornado Realty Trust. “In terms of organizing the site visually we would create an iconic point tower that really serves as a focal point,” on the eastern edge of the site, said FXFowle’s Daniel J. Kaplan. As well as tying new buildings into the High Line, the proposal envisions a separate “Skyline” elevated walkway that would connect to building lobbies, and a “people mover” train that would whisk visitors to and from Penn Station.

The Tishman Speyer and Morgan Stanley proposal, designed by Helmut Jahn and Peter Walker, calls for four massive, matching towers that taper as they rise. “Our team’s architectural vision was inspired by the optimistic dreams of the city’s skyscraper visionaries from the turn of the century,” explained Murphy/Jahn’s Francisco Gonzalez Pulido. In the center of it all would be a large circular public plaza known as “the forum.”

The MTA’s selection committee will make recommendations to the MTA board on a winning proposal, or proposals, in the first quarter of 2008. After that point, the development plan will be subject to further reviews and approvals.

Correction: Due to an editing error, two details were omitted from this story. Air rights for the Hudson Yards district are available for purchase, as the story noted, as well as long-term lease. The FAR of 11, meanwhile, applies only to the eastern portion of the site.

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