Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Astor Place Design Pavilion

Five years ago, I posted here about the Battle for Astor Place, writing, "The City's Department of Transportation and Cooper Union are unfolding their plan to turn Astor Place into what they call a public park, but what is clearly an amenity for more condo and office towers, setting the stage for further upscaling of the East Village and Bowery."

Today, that vision is coming true. Across from Gwathmey's "Green Monster" condo tower, the Death Star has since risen, a dark, hulking slab full of tech companies. Astor Place's center has been flattened and reshaped--part of the street has been erased, and the Alamo cube was hauled off for polishing, yet to return.

And now we have our first "public" private advertainment event.

Yesterday, NYCxDesign's "Design Pavilion" opened between the Green Monster and the Death Star.

It features interactive advertisements from IBM, a resident of the Death Star, and is sponsored by 125 Greenwich Street, another supertall luxury tower that will be full of oligarch money.

125 Greenwich commandeers the center space with a large architectural display, described thus: "the installation abstracts the surrounding city fabric as an undulating landscape of white fiberglass rods, while 125 Greenwich Street and the World Trade Center buildings are prominently represented as solid forms, finished in white satin lacquer."

So the city fabric is erased, abstracted, neutralized, while the sky-high luxury residence and the corporate office tower are "prominently represented."

Whose city is this?

Uniformed security guards circle the perimeter of the pavilion. When I approached, I hesitated, unsure if I would be permitted inside.

The space is "open to the public," but doesn't quite feel open. And which public? All of the public?

NYCxDesign calls the pavilion a "public activation" and "an immersive urban experience" consisting of "a curated assemblage of creative structures and displays."

But the true urban experience is not a curated one. It is, by nature, haphazard, chaotic, idiosyncratic.

The pavilion reminds me of the controversial BMW Guggenheim Lab that came to the East Village a few years ago. James Wolcott said at the time: "An interdisciplinary lab is what you get when there's no more Mercer Arts Center, Max's Kansas City, CBGB's, or Mudd Club--a buzzword mausoleum."

This is the new Astor Place. It looks like a public space, but like many sites in Bloomberg's "high-performance" neoliberal vision of the city, it feels more and more like privatization, covered in high-end branding disguised as "fun for everyone."

Standing in the center, you find that what you're immersed in is not the urban utopia, but a dystopia of corporate advertising--the pavilion and its branded contents, surrounded by the lighted signs of Chase, Walgreens, Starbucks, CVS, on and on. This is truly the "geography of nowhere."

I'll end this post as I did the one in 2011, with some words by William H. Whyte, Jr., from his 1958 book The Exploding Metropolis:

"Everybody, it would seem, is for the rebuilding of our cities... But this is not the same as liking cities...most of the rebuilding under way and in prospect is being designed by people who don’t like cities."

"what is the image of the city of the future? In the plans for the huge redevelopment projects to come, we are being shown a new image of the city—and it is sterile and lifeless. Gone are the dirt and the noise—and the variety and the excitement and the spirit. That it is an ideal makes it all the worse; these bleak new utopias are not bleak because they have to be; they are the concrete manifestation—and how literally—of a deep, and at times arrogant, misunderstanding of the function of the city."


mrnickcooper said...

"The geography of nowhere" is what I experience as the geography of anywhere. When you are standing in Battery Park and feel like you could be standing in Meyerhoffs Baltimore Seaport, or Philly's Penns Landing, or a thousand other clean safe family friendly spots that have coffee carts and pop-up beer gardens.

JM said...

It's abysmal. We've been walking through it during installation and now complete, and it's very uninviting, soulless, and Bloombergian. I have to ask why our current mayor has allowed soul-killing projects of our former mayor to continue unabated. Obviously, the new boss is really not that different from the old boss.

Fooled again.

Maven said...

Pretty soon, every place will look so common place, it will take all the incentive out of trying to travel and experience anything new and unique.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

"Advertainment event" - a perfect phrase.

In related news, there are currently 31 'luxury' towers going up in Lower Manhattan alone -

Over 5,000 apartments for the uber rich and/or people who will never live here.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I'm so tired of this stuff. Everything sponsored & designed to make money. Stupid little tables in the street next to "boutique" food carts. High-price Smorgasburg in city parks. Can't we just have parks & corners and alleyways & places to sit and watch & read & listen without someone maxing out their financial potential?

Ken Mac said...

Plastic plaza for a plastic city.

Ms. said...

We can only hope that when the dust settles and the rains come on with rising waters trickling over all these corporate monuments, someone will shoot the next "Blade Runner" and get it up on the internet before that too evaporates.

John K said...

The neoliberal city par excellence. Public space must be monetized space. A geography of nowhere, commodified.

A buzzword mausoleum that can be replicated elsewhere, anywhere, with great sales and scale potential!

The idea of the public commons, once so common across New York, has given way to branded spaces that certain publics can access, sort of.

Who needs unpredictable institutions and businesses like Max's Kansas City or Edelweiss or La Nueva Escuelita when you can't scale them up and potentially become a billionaire by franchising all over the US and the globe?

Why even think of any spot in New York City, or yourselves, for that matter, as anything other than markets? Isn't that the highest value, to be a market, and to get the highest possible value--and then scale up?

A buzzword mausoleum? There's an app and Facebook page and Tumblr and Snapchat channel for that! Just remember to Periscope it!

Paul Pelkonen said...


FlyOnTheWall said...

This is what the folk at Transportation Alternatives and Streetblogs fought for and thought was a great idea. DOT's Sadiktator-Khan was like white on rice with these loonies. This is what we get.

Andrew Porter said...

Every day, I'm happy that I live in Brooklyn Heights, where we fight the intrusion of the "tall-building-good; short-building-bad" syndrome. Although assaulted by the PierHouse (the Brooklyn Heights Associations public meeting uncovered the news that the building was originally supposed to have 275,000 sq feet, not the nearly 600,000 sq. feet as built) and numerous other developments lapping at the Heights's borders, such as the 38-story condo replacing the 2 story library, the place still looks much like it did when I moved here, decades ago.

How about doing some articles about how the Jehovah's Witnesses, in leaving Brooklyn for upstate, are transforming much of the real estate here?

Walter said...

Walked by there yesterday, intending to get a burger at Cozy Soup 'n' Burger on B'way.
When I saw all those earnest Design Pavilion people holding court on Astor Place, I lost my appetite and made a left on Lafayette, heading to Astor Wines and LIquor to get a little something to console myself. For many years, I thought the only way I'd ever leave my little abode on East 5th Street near The Bowery would be in a wooden box. Well, change of plan. When my current lease runs out next September, I'll be out of here. Where I'll be going is not exactly clear yet, but what is very clear is the fact that after 45 years of living here it's time to depart. The best times of my life took place here and I don't want to end up hating the neighborhood.

Kevin said...

Possible good news - The Alamo set to return!!!!

Anonymous said...

Corporate shills have convinced the public and possibly local government that parks are better when private businesses operate out of them. Why go to a boring green park to relax, look at the birds and people passing through when you can wait in line at a shake shack with tourist for 2 hours? The general public sees nothing wrong with this especially if you offer them a great selfie photo op. People today rather watch and press interactive screens to discover more about a service or product than just appreciate an open to all public space.
As the biggest and most habitual consuming culture in the world we no longer recognize a sales pitch from a tree.

Unknown said...

That's pretty ugly and quite awkward. Who'd want to live there?

They should rename it. "Astor Place" is far too sophisticated a name for that monstrosity.