Location, Location, Location

Something that may not be obvious to non-NYers about Occupy Wall Street: lower Manhattan is a small area. The center of the protests is “Zuccotti Park” – otherwise known as the plaza that U.S. Steel had to build to satisfy zoning when it constructed the building now known as One Liberty Plaza (165 Broadway, actually a very short block away from Liberty Street) – which is diagonally across Broadway and a couple of blocks north of Wall Street. The plaza is, in recent years, most famous for being across Church Street from the southeast corner of the WTC site.

Incidentally, my office is one very short block south of the plaza, facing Wall Street in one direction and Church Street in the other.

This may all seem meaningless, and perhaps it is, but the fact is the protestors have spent very little time on Wall Street (because of the police presence) and quite a bit more on the less-bankster-populated west side of Broadway. But everything in the Wall Street area is within a five minute walk – the WTC, the bull statue north of Bowling Green, the yuppie scum bars over by the South Street Seaport, City Hall, a half-dozen buildings that briefly were the tallest in the country a century ago, and a sprinkling of AEC offices for seasoning.


Last week was POOP week, this is rat week:

I swear this is a cut scene from Half-Life 2.

The picture is from an examination of post-apocalyptic NYC in movies. I think they’ve got it wrong. Why would the rats be riding the barrel when the food is in the water?

The station shown, BTW, is Broadway-Nassau on the A/C, which lies underneath the Fulton Street stations on the 2/3/4/5/J. The Z has gone the way of all riderless trains and the M has been rerouted.


New York is basically an archipelago. Two major islands, a piece of a third major island, a chunk of mainland, dozens of small islands, and countless rocks. There are fewer rocks than their used to be, as many were removed in the 1800s as hazards to navigation.

Until recently, my island-empire fantasies centered on South Brother Island, but realistically it’s now a wildlife sanctuary and is going to stay one. I’ve got a new object of desire: Rat Island.

What’s not to like? Barely above high tide, no water or sewers or electric. The names needs work…maybe “Radioactive Rat Island”?



No Vermin Problem AT ALL

New York is full of odds and ends of long-gone transportation. Near where I grew up, there was a branch of the Long Island Railroad that was abandoned in the 1930s, for example. There are stub ends of subways and elevateds where extensions were never built, trolley barns with no tracks, railroad stations on lines that now only carry freight, and so on. The High Line, recently a park, was an elevated freight railroad built in the 1930s to replace a street-level freight line built in the 1840s.

Every once in a while, someone gets the idea to use one of these things for something. Lately, there’s a plan to take a trolley yard where cars parked and turned around after crossing the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn and make it into a sunken park…something like the High Line upside down.

As it once was:

Small Changes

This post from Gothamist is interesting not so much for its topic as what it misses. Yes, there are a handful of survivors scattered around Manhattan. What they missed: the exact same buildings are present in both pictures (1920s on the left, current-day on the right). There’s been some minor facade alterations (the loft building to the right of the farmhouse appears to have gained olde-timey shutters, for example) but the same four buildings (loft, industrial carriage house, farmhouse, loft) are there.

Different Skills

I’m insanely busy at work, with both design and management. Today I’m going to give a three-hour history lecture.

When I’m not dealing with complete assholes, I enjoy all of these activities. Which is to say, I enjoy most of my work mist of the time. But the clash of mental gears as I switch back and forth sometimes literally gives me a headache. I have to remember that a student asking why something wasn’t done a certain way in 1870 isn’t a construction manager trying to screw up my design with ill-considered ‘value engineering’.

The Bombing Will Commence

From Brownstoner, an aerial view of my chunk of Brooklyn and beyond.

The new arena for the Nyets is near the center. The Long Island Railroad train yard that gives the Atlantic Yards development its name is the yellow area down and bearing right from there. Chez__B‘s erection is a bit up and to the right of the arena.

To the left of the arena are, form bottom to top, Prospect Heights, a bit of Park Slope, Boerum Hill (See a hill anyone? Didn’t think so.), and Carroll Gardens. To the right, Fort Greene and downtown Brooklyn. The stuff past the waterline is Governor’s Island to the left and New Jersey beyond. The Brooklyn Bridge is straight up and down, the Manhattan Bridge is in semi-profile.

Click to engorge.

Repeated From Last Night

In response to the most recent Sadly, No! meme, I linked to this preliminary sketch by Hopper as an illustration of my moral landscape:

Putting aside the nice healthy dose of alienation that shows up in most of Hopper’s work, I spend more time than I care to think about looking at the world from strange angles and thinking calming thoughts about the state of my safety equipment. Also, as I am in the office these days before 6 AM more often than not, that could be me scurrying along.


This news story isn’t particularly surprising. Teens acts stupidly, outer-borough teens act even more stupidly. But the description of Gerritsen Beach as insular caught my eye. It’s physically isolated (undeveloped parkland on one side, water on three others) but more importantly, it’s physically bizarre. The streets are very narrow, the blocks are very small, and the houses are tiny. It’s a 1920s developer’s idea of quaint, I guess.

Zoom in on the map to get a sense of the difference in scale between the Gerritsen street grid and the other neighborhoods nearby.

Inherent Beauty

Cast iron allowed engineers and contractors to create oddball shapes economically, and some took advantage of this freedom. From the underside of Bow Bridge in Central Park, a bracket cast integrally with the beam above, and connecting the cast-iron beam to a wrought-iron tie rod that strengthens the beam by taking bottom-side tension:



Too bad about the over-painting.


As the U.S. prepared to enter World War I, a huge freight terminal was built in southern Brooklyn for the army, so that transports could have their own home base. The terminal was completed shortly after the armistice in 1918, but was in use for some decades after. It is now in redevelopment but, given size of the warehouse buildings, it may take a while. (Click to engorge greatly.)

The warehouses were designed by Cass Gilbert, a prominent high-end architect, and are notable for both their heavy flat-slab construction (no beams) and for their layout, with interior courtyards for loading and unloading entire freight trains.

The balconies were for loading and unloading to specific floors: a crane (the red “bridge”) ran on rails at the top and could pick from or to each balcony, which is why they are offset.

And of course – thanks Observer – you can hold a party there.

Busy and a Preview

We’re swamped. Among small-business owners – like the architects, engineers, and contractors I deal with every day – you’re not supposed to complain about being busy because the reverse is so bad. But it’s easy for a seven-person firm to reach the point where we can’t deliver on our obligations because the volume of work is simply too large, and that is as potentially dangerous as not having work. It’s particularly dangerous when combined with slow-paying clients. Fuck, I hate working twelve-hour days.

I’ll be discussing my favorite architect soon, and one who is generally neglected and/or slighted by architectural history. Here’s a teaser, from someone’s nice set of vacation pix (click to something or other):