Roundup — Wikihouse, Rezoning Midtown, the Model Navy Yard, Street Seats, Street Signs, Sandy Updates, Bay Lights, and Applied Design

The WikiHouse Process | Images via WikiHouse

WikiHouse is an effort to democratize home design and construction by allowing “anyone to design, download, and ‘print’ CNC-milled houses and components.” The design — which is receiving new attention after its architect, Alastair Parvin, presented at the 2013 TED Conference this week — are shared openly and for free. While the digital design and CNC-milling — a technique that can quickly cut complex digitally designed shapes — are relatively complex, the end result is a kit of parts that can be created from almost any materials and put together with little to no formal skill or training. Parvin explains: “It gives us the ability to do for design what Wikipedia does for knowledge, what Linux does for software — to open it up.” The concept is being tested in Brazil’s favelas, where the team hopes to demonstrate how the design could help drive down prices and drive up quality of housing.

The rise of cheap, powerful, and deployable technology and the mounds of data that follow have many implications for analyzing our environments and habits. The “Smart City” movement seeks to use this technology – “sensors, wireless communication, storage and clever software algorithms” – and data to make cities more efficient and livable. Now the movement is gaining some academic gravitas with the opening of New York University’s new Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP). Some of CUSP‘s projects in the works are an analysis of city noise using data from the City’s 311 public service call center to inform policy on noise limits and better plan garbage routes and a thermal map of buildings in the city to research energy use.

The Real Estate Board of New York report contends that if all proposed buildings were landmarked, there would be few viable development sites left in the district. | Image via Midtown 21C

The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) released new details in its plan to rezone the area surrounding Grand Central Terminal for new higher, denser development. The report specifies that the City will sell air rights to developers at a price of $250 per square foot to encourage building, proceeds from which will fund improvements to the 4/5/6 subway platforms and a project to convert Vanderbilt Avenue into a series of pedestrian plazas. DCP’s plan, aimed at maintaining East Midtown’s competitiveness as a world-class office district, is set to begin its path through the city’s six-month public land use review process in April. DCP also identified 32 potential properties for landmark designation, adding to the preservation vs. growth debate. The Municipal Art Society reports that additional landmarking is vital to maintaining the character and history of the district. In a competing report, a coalition group including the Real Estate Board of New York argues an ever-changing building stock is what made the neighborhood what it is today, and denounced additional landmarking as detrimental to the economic wellbeing of the district and the jobs and tax growth it could create.

The Pratt Center for Community Development released a report this week detailing the success story of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. According to the study, the City-owned industrial park, one of the fastest growing green manufacturing facilities in the nation, generates $2 billion in economic output and sustains 10,000 jobs and $390 million in earnings each year. Pratt analyzed the Navy Yard’s model — key components of which include city ownership, management by a nonprofit development corporation, and significant infrastructure investment — and provided recommendations for other cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia to strengthen their manufacturing sectors. Read more about the history of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and its transformation from a crucial shipbuilding facility to a green manufacturing center in this Omnibus feature.

Storefront Bench at 47 Greenwich Avenue, NYC | Photo by Mike Lydon via Street Seats

Whether they are bolted-down park benches, a wood bench in front of a coffee shop, or an upside-down milk crate, sidewalk seating shapes how we experience the city and its incessant activity, yet frequently there’s just not enough of it. The Street Plans Collaborative aims to change that with Street Seats, a crowdsourced photo and mapping project that pays tribute to and showcases examples of urban seats across New York City. By highlighting these utilitarian — and often beautiful — urban objects, they hope to encourage more of them across cities everywhere.

Whether due to landmark designation, safety mandates, historical memorials, or borough identification, street signs in New York are ever changing in their font, color, size, and content. Michelle Young, a connoisseur of the varied designs, explores the historical changes in the city’s signage from the 18th century to today.

With myriad factors guiding decisions to rebuild in heavily damaged neighborhoods, among them how high flood insurance rates will rise and what the ultimate cost of building on stilts might be, many aspects of the future remain unclear as the City continues to demolish homes that have been been deemed beyond repair. Although the overall funds allotted to recovery by the federal government will be reduced by the federal sequestration cuts, the city’s five pension funds are expected to invest $500 million in two funds to be managed by private developers. The funds would allocate money for the redevelopment of properties damaged in the storm with an eye toward strengthening resiliency as well as creating new affordable housing and commercial properties. Following a recent update of maps for Staten Island, the Rockaways, and Jamaica Bay, FEMA added more areas to the 100-year flood maps, including the World Trade Center site and expanded areas in the East Village and Chelsea in Manhattan, as well as Greenpoint and Red Hook in Brooklyn.


Leo Villareal’s monumental The Bay Lights, an installation of 25,000 individually-programmed LED lights across the west span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, will be lit for the first time in its two year run on March 5th at 9:00pm PST. The installation is the largest LED sculpture in the world at 1.8 miles wide and 500 feet high and will shine from dusk until 2:00am until 2015. If you, like us, can’t hop over to the Bay Area for the Grand Lighting, it will be webcast here starting at 8:30pm PST/11:30pm EST. For more on his dazzling work with light, delve into UO’s recent conversation with Villareal during his latest New York City installation in Madison Square Park.

Tomorrow, March 2nd, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) opens Applied Design, a show focused on design as a means to help people respond to change. Highlighting issues from socially minded infrastructure and 5-D spaces to visualizations and video games, the show looks to dismantle the conception that design is about “making things, people, and place pretty” and replace it with an understanding that design has spread to encompass almost every aspect of human activity. The exhibit will run through January 31, 2014.

NYU Steinhardt’s 80WSE gallery is currently home to Four Houses, Some Buildings, and Other Spaces, an exhibit that explores “the bond between architecture and history, delving into the complex relationship between ruins and memories” through ten artists’ revisitation of bygone hallmarks or centers of production now unseen in the contemporary landscape. Catch the exhibit before it ends on March 16th.

Join No Longer Empty and Vertical Urban Factory tomorrow, March 2nd, at 11:00am for Made in LIC: Urban Factory Scavenger Hunt and Tour and explore the industrial past and manufacturing present of Long Island City, Queens. Participants are invited to a reception following the hunt to mingle and view No Longer Empty’s How Much Do I Owe You? exhibition. Nina Rappaport of Vertical Urban Factory, who shared her research on past and future manufacturing in 2011, will speak on the changing face of Queens.


The Roundup keeps you up to date with topics we’ve featured and other things we think are worth knowing about.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.