Karrie Jacobs


March 27, 2008

The Railyard Blues?

Actually, I’m not singing the blues. Yes, the Murphy/Jahn buildings shown in the renderings that developer Tishman Speyer is circulating, representing the winning bid for the air rights above Manhattan’s westside railyards, are bombastic in that special 1970s way. But they’re not really buildings. They’re conceptual place holders. Another firm might have drawn up more pleasing, stylishly twisty, au courant place holders, but it wouldn’t matter.

It’s hard to know, given the current economic picture, when and if the big office towers would get built. How they wind up looking will surely be determined by economic conditions and architectural fashion at some later date.

The thing that’s worth examining right now is the landscaping. Specifically the way the new neighborhood that sits atop the deck over the railyards connects to the rest of Manhattan. The problem with many plans for this site, going back to the 1990s, is that the whole development is, like the old World Trade Center (to which the Tishman Speyer scheme bears an unfortunate resemblance), jacked up above street level, isolating it from the surrounding city. So I think it’s encouraging that landscape architect Peter Walker (or maybe master planner Cooper Robertson, of Battery Park City fame) has thought to include the “New York Steps (shown above):”

Descending down from the Forum, the New York Steps, a contemporary reinterpretation of the Spanish Steps in Rome, provide landscaped seating terraces with views of the gardens, parks, and the river beyond.

At least the development will be properly connected to the Hudson River waterfront,* an obvious linkage that was totally overlooked in the design of the nearby Javits Center. However, I can’t tell from the renderings on the Tishman Speyer website whether the connections to the north, south, and east are as well thought out, and honestly, I think that those are the sort of design elements that it makes sense to critique at this juncture. How friendly the railyards district is to the pedestrian and the mass transit rider will do more to make or break it as a viable urban place than how the big towers will eventually look on the skyline.

*You know, the rendering shows the steps leading to a southbound avenue. So Hudson River Park access might be my own overly optimistic addition to the plan.