Last spring, developer Related Cos. became disenchanted with the design of the first phase of Hudson Yards, the gargantuan project on top of a train storage yard along the Hudson River.
The original design of Hudson Yards had three straight boxy towers.
“I could tell that Stephen wasn’t in love with it,” recalls Jay Cross, who oversees the project for Related, referring to the developer’s chairman, Stephen Ross. “He felt he wanted the buildings to be more dramatic. And we found that the marketplace was looking for bigger buildings.”
That made for a busy summer for Related and its architect William Pedersen, one of the name partners at the firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. The result, which was recently unveiled, is an improvement in terms of the interactions of the buildings if not in the aesthetics of the buildings themselves.
With 26 acres and more than 12 million square feet of potential developable space overtop Hudson Yards competes with the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site as New York’s current, highest-profile development effort. Related has signed a deal with handbag-maker Coach Inc. to move its headquarters into 600,000 square feet in the south tower.
A new rendering shows two jagged towers
Kohn Pedersen’s original first-phase design called for three boxy steel office towers, the shortest one in the middle, along the east side of the site. Each building had the same square-jawed look of consternation: renderings showed stacks of long, plain blocks of steel and concrete arrayed to look like a cubist abstraction, or a screenshot from Tetris, the old block-stacking video-game. In between was to be four stories of retail space centered around a large glass box with a cyclone-shaped structure.
The design wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t the sort of arresting, statement-making architecture that one would expect a next-big-thing type of project. KPF’s early designs for the buildings were like Buckingham Palace bobbies: standing straight and erect, faces constant, but not saying much of anything at all.
The new plan for phase one, recently unveiled, describes a much different composition. The 30-story middle building is gone. New renderings show two jagged towers—the more northerly one 67 stories and sloping diagonally toward the city, the other, 51 stories and angled towards the Hudson—that slash through the skyline. Connecting the two buildings will be eight stories of retail and trading-floor space.
Hudson Yard’s New look Slideshow
The two office towers are disappointing as stand-alone buildings. Like most modern office towers they are brash and arrogant instead of being noble and poised. Their form is shard-like: all harsh angles with a jaggedness that evokes crystals or canyon rock formations.
But the new design helps make up for this in the way the office buildings interact. The mirror-image slopes of the two buildings, which would regard one another differently from nearly every angle of viewing, give viewers the sensation of two dancers in the midst of a paso doble. The southern building, which would house Coach, is, sensibly, the female of the pair —slightly shorter, with the atrium manifested as a slit in the dancer’s ball gown, giving a glimpse of a flash of leg underneath.
Mr. Pedersen talks frequently of the “responsibility of tall buildings” to interact rationally with the urban context around them. The towers, through their interplay, emphasize the presence of a long, open, park space—set to run east-west from the towers to the river—that will go in between them.
“The buildings have to be able to, by their internal biology, create social connections,” Mr. Pedersen says. “Too many buildings around the world have independent, sculptural shapes. The effect here is to connect the building directly to the city.”
This intent is certainly palpable in the design. And if Related eventually ends up landing another signature tenant for the north tower, the plan will be realized, and the two buildings will go ahead and dance their way around the fabric of the city’s newest cluster of statement-making skyscrapers.
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As South Korea’s economy stabilizes, its ambition to be recognized as a major international business hub is leading to a bold building strategy. Ann Lok Lui investigates how Korea aims to impress the world not only with its tall towers but its large-scale sustainable planning.
The KPF-designed Northeast Asia Trade Tower will be Songdo's landmark on the skyline.
Buzz and hype have surrounded China’s recent building boom, but to the east, South Korea is becoming the next hot spot for international architecture.
Far from deferring to China’s hectic development, South Korea is positioning itself to be the East Asian country that grows not only faster but also smarter. In 2010, Engineering News Record ranked Seoul as home to six of the 75 top international contractors—a significant number for a nation so small. The juxtaposition of major construction corporations side-by-side with government support and a growing national interest in architectural design is producing opportunities inevitably attractive to international players.
From big corporate firms from the United States to young, internationally-trained Koreans, architects are capitalizing on opportunities in the East Asian nation and particularly Seoul as it rises to compete with China and assert itself as a business hub for northeastern Asia.
After generations of political turmoil, South Korea can now guarantee a degree of economic stability. As a result and on a grand scale, Korean companies that went abroad to build some of the tallest buildings around the world (Samsung led construction on the Burj Khalifa) are now looking to field monuments on their own native soil. Even at the grass-roots level, there is a growing interest in avant-garde architecture and design—home-brewed as well as imported—providing opportunities for small firms and young designers to have an impact on the street by designing art galleries and small homes.
Off the coast of South Korea and not far from Seoul, Songdo represents a new kind of large-scale planned city. A joint venture between Cisco Systems, Gale International, and the New York City office of Kohn Pederson Fox, New Songdo City could be the prototypical aerotropolis—a city defined as much by its proximity to an airport as by its livability—as described by authors John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in their new book Aerotropolis: How We’ll Live Next.
Since 2001, when Gale International signed a $35 billion dollar loan from Korean banks to develop a city right by Incheon International Airport, Songdo has grown rapidly on landfill in the Yellow Sea. Today, it’s home to the tallest building in the country —KPF’s 68-story Northeast Asia Trade Tower—and it’s still growing. Construction on KPF’s masterplan will be completed in 2015. Fitting to the city’s mission to attract foreign business, its architecture includes work by multiple American firms: KPF’s own nine buildings in the central business district include a convention center and an international school, and there are also six residential towers and a hotel by HOK.
An evening view of Asymptote's World Business Tower.
Songdo is intrinsic to the South Korean government’s vision of the future, according to Richard Nemeth, a KPF principal: “[They] realized that to compete with China, they needed a platform to work internationally. [Songdo] is connected to the new airport, one of the busiest in the world.”
If its proximity to an international airport gives Songdo the futuristic moniker “aerotropolis,” its vast scale represents a first in international sustainability. Under the USGBC’s LEED for Neighborhood Development Pilot Program (KPF engaged with USGBC to certify the masterplan and develop a new LEED category), Songdo boasts a central non-potable water canal, electric vehicle charging stations, and a city-scale co-generation plant—elements that operate on a larger scale than traditional single-building LEED certification. The city also takes some of its literally green inspiration from American roots: a large public park in the middle of Songdo is named Central Park. The city also attempts to offset the effects of massive new construction by recycling 75% of construction waste and using local materials to minimize transportation costs.
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