Critical Round-Up: Hudson Yards

New York City’s Hudson Yards has opened its doors to the public, and the reviews are flooding in. Built on Midtown Manhattan’s West Side, the project is New York’s largest development to date and the largest private real estate venture in American history, covering almost 14 acres of land with residential towers, offices, plazas, shopping centers, and restaurants. A host of architecture firms have shaped the development, including BIG, SOM, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Rockwell Group, and many others.

“It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.” – Michael Kimmelman, New York Times

Following the same interactive style review of the Whitney back in 2015, New York Times critic Michael Kimmelman discusses why Hudson Yards has become a gated community in Manhattan. Among the many apparent problems he highlighted, from Heatherwick’s “waste-basket-shaped stairway to nowhere” and towers that appear as “crowded perfume bottles vying for attention in a department store window display”, Kimmelman touches on the role of urban design and how the success of a neighborhood comes down to what’s happening at street level.

A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid. From a distance the project may remind you of glass shards on top of a wall. It offers 14 acres of public open space in return for privatizing the last precious undeveloped parcel of significant size in Manhattan. But the open space looks like it may end up being mostly a fancy drive-through drop-off for the shopping mall, a landscaped plaza overshadowed by office towers and, for the coming western yards, a scattering of high-rise apartment buildings around a lawn — in effect, a version of a 1950s towers-in-the-park housing complex, except designed by big-name architects.

“Behind the scenes, this city-within-a-city is designed like a fortress.” – Peter Grant, Wall Street Journal

Peter Grant, Wall Street Journal’s editor in charge of commercial real estate coverage, looks at how Hudson Yards is designed with natural and man-made disasters in mind. He touches on how developers learned from past events to create resilient design elements, including a power system that that could withstand a citywide blackout, a rainwater collection system, and underground “submarine doors” that could be sealed to protect against storm surges.

“No weirdness, no wildness, nothing off book. The megaproject was built by an all-star team of designers, but in the end, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the corporate and the artistic.” – Alexandra Lange, Curbed NY

Architecture and design critic Alexandra Lange takes a closer look at the actual buildings and designed elements (or lack thereof). She explores the development’s funding and its influence, touching on how cities are letting systems of capital set urban terms. She hopes cities can plan their own megaprojects and let the developers fill them out—on the city’s terms.

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