Battery Park City New York Ny Usa a new town intown 1962 to 2002 but continuing

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Whether or not one cares for the design of Battery Park City, it is arguably the exemplar of an all-of-a-piece urban precinct design in the United States. Chronologically, it predates Canary Wharf, Euralille and Lujiazui but it is very different. It was not seen as a new business district but as an adjunct to an existing one. Now almost completed (and repaired after the events of11 September 2001 when it was much damaged; see page 379 for a 2004 view) Battery Park City's development history is lengthy. The undertaking was embroiled in political infighting (particularly between politicians and bureaucrats of the State and the City of New York) and battered by the fluctuations in New York City's economy and the corresponding demand for property development. Political and civic leaders and architectural critics (particularly Ada Louise Huxtable of the New York Times) wielded considerable influence on the proposals for the scheme. What we see today on the site is a product of the 1979 master plan, but the process of planning for Battery Park City began in the early 1960s.

Like many other river ports throughout the world, the finger wharfs on the Hudson River became obsolete in the 1960s. In Lower

The World Trade Center Site 1977
Figure 8.30 The site in 1977 with the World Trade Center towers in the left background.

Manhattan 20 piers that had once busily handled produce had fallen into disuse and became decayed. They were owned by the city and run by its Department of Marine and Aviation. The river could legally be land-filled to pierhead-line and the 37-hectare (92-acre) site so created used for development (see Figure 8.30). The Department wanted to build a new shipping terminal with an industrial esplanade along the edge, with housing blocks behind (see Figure 8.31). These blocks were proposed to be located, in the Modernist manner, as objects in space. This plan, presented in 1962, was poorly received by the press, the public and by government officials.

A series of alternative proposals followed. The governor of the state, Nelson Rockefeller, wished the development to be a comprehensive community built over a base of light industry. He asked Wallace K. Harrison of Harrison and Abromowitz, who had worked for him before, to prepare a plan. In 1966, the firm produced a poorly received orthodox Bauhaus/Le Corbusian scheme (see Figure 8.32). Like the 1962 plan no implementation procedure was designed along with the urban design. Implicit in both proposals was that they were total urban designs to be implemented by a single developer. Proposed funding procedures were never worked out.

The City responded to the State's plan with one of its own. Mayor John Lindsay hired the firm of Concklin and Rossant to do the job. As a compromise the firm worked with Harrison and Abromowitz (and with Philip Johnson as a broker of ideas), to propose another scheme. It was presented in 1969. The conflict between the city and the state over control of the project was finally

Figure 8.31 The New York City Department of Marine and Aviation proposal, 1963.
Battery City Layout

Figure 8.32 The Harrison and Abromowitz plan (Governor Rockefeller's proposal). (a) The plan and (b) massing diagram.

Figure 8.32 The Harrison and Abromowitz plan (Governor Rockefeller's proposal). (a) The plan and (b) massing diagram.

Conflict And Compromise New York City

Figure 8.33 Battery Park City: the City/State plan of 1969. (a) General view along the Hudson River, (b) internal view of the proposed spine and (c) cross-section through the spine.

Figure 8.33 Battery Park City: the City/State plan of 1969. (a) General view along the Hudson River, (b) internal view of the proposed spine and (c) cross-section through the spine.

resolved with the formation of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) in 1968. The authority was given considerable freedom of action. It has had a chequered career but has seen the project through to completion.

The 1969 proposal was well received by press and public as appropriate for Manhattan. It was radically different to its predecessors consisting of a seven storey, partly enclosed, partly open interior-mall containing a variety of urban functions and amenities - shops, restaurants schools, parks, recreation facilities, access from transit lines and utilities (see Figure 8.33). It ran the length of the Battery Park City site. The scheme also proposed the decking over of the West Side Highway to link the site directly with the rest of Lower Manhattan. The City's planning department translated the scheme into a voluminous zoning code. The problem was money. Who would finance the project?

The 1973 recession and the close-to bankruptcy conditions of the BPCA and of the City of New York did not encourage investment in such a mammoth project. Subsequent plans for the precinct were thus more down to earth. A 1975 proposal was pragmatically related to how developers finance their projects. It divided the whole site into a number of residential clusters or pods that could be developed independently. The pods turned in on themselves to create isolated, controllable middle-class worlds. The pods were to be linked by elevated walkways with traffic moving underneath, but the idea was abandoned as too costly. It was a sort of plug-in urban design although who would finance the walkways was not clear. Nevertheless, one of the pods, Gateway Plaza, was built. It took a number of years to complete being finished in 1982. By then the BPCA had abandoned the pod plan and another master plan was in place.

Until 1979, the land was leased to the BPCA. The parlous financial state of the 1970s led to New York State's Urban Development Corporation stepping in and the title was transferred to the BPCA. Having the land title enabled the authority to make decisions rapidly. One of the first decisions it made was to adopt a conceptual plan radical in its simplicity (see Figure 8.34a). The conceptual design and master plan were the work of Alexander Cooper and Stanton Eckstut. Produced in 1979, the scheme's intellectual foundation was a precursor to the ideas of the New Urbanist movement in urban design.

This new plan was developed under considerable time and political pressure. Richard Kahan, Director of the BPCA at that time, faced considerable constraints. Payment on a $200 million bond issue had to be made in 90 days and a plan requiring the approval of the New York State legislature had to be made within that time. It also had to be something that property developers could understand. The parcelization of the overall scheme had to be fairly standard.

The plan proposed that up to 14,000 housing units be built on the site, that commercial facilities be incorporated as an integral part of the scheme, and that 6 million square feet (557,000 square metres) of office space be located opposite the World Trade Center. Thirty per cent of the site would be squares and parks and an esplanade would run along the Hudson. The streets consumed another 16% of the site space. The new plan was based on a number of objectives. Battery Park City should:

1 be an integral part of Lower Manhattan so the street pattern of Manhattan ought to continue through the site;

2 have circulation at ground level;

3 have its aesthetic qualities based on New York's architectural heritage;

4 have the commercial complex as its foreground buildings, with the other buildings as background;

5 have its uses and development controls flexible enough to respond to changes in the marketplace.

The northern end of the site was to be a park, now named for Governor Rockefeller. Public art would terminate the vistas from the centre of the island on each street in order to provide elements of interest and act as symbols of 'class' - high status.

The master plan specified the sites for buildings and the design controls to be applied to each. The building design guidelines were based on the buildings in well-loved parts of New York such as Gramercy Park and Morningside Heights. The guidelines stipulated the nature of materials, the

Rector Place

South cove

Rector Place

South cove

Urban Design

Figure 8.34 Battery Park City: the 1979 master plan as developed. (a) The plan, (b) the view from across the Hudson in 1993, (c) the esplanade in 2003, (d) the World Financial Center layout in context, (e) a view towards the Winter Garden and (f) the Winter Garden in 1993.

Figure 8.34 Battery Park City: the 1979 master plan as developed. (a) The plan, (b) the view from across the Hudson in 1993, (c) the esplanade in 2003, (d) the World Financial Center layout in context, (e) a view towards the Winter Garden and (f) the Winter Garden in 1993.

Battery Park Design
Figure 8.35 Rector place, Battery Park City. (a) The design guidelines, (b) rector place as built and (c) the park.

location of stringcourses, that buildings should have articulated bases and cornices and specific window-to-solid-wall ratios. Each building was designed individually as can be seen in Rector Place (see Figure 8.35). The commercial space was taken up by the World Financial Center and Winter Garden (1980-3) that were designed by César Pelli as foreground elements. The esplanade was designed by Hanna-Olin a landscape architectural firm. Its hierarchy of levels has become a model for subsequent waterfront walkways. The BPCA built the public spaces to high standards to ensure a good financial return for the sites. Bonds matching long-term financing with capital funding were used to finance the infrastructure.

The implementation process was considerably less complex than that proposed for the 1969 megastructure proposal (see

Table 8.1 Plan implementation comparison

1969 Master Development Plan

1979 Master Plan

Physical Design Concept


Extension of Manhattan Grid

Public Circulation Spine


7 Pods

36 Blocks

Open-Space Decks

Public Parks

Planning Controls

City Ownership

BPCA Ownership

Master Lease

City Repurchase Option

Master Development Plan

Master Plan

Special District Zoning

Urban Design Guidelines

Site Improvement Cost Estimates




Utilities 14.1




Civic Facilities 41.1


Civic Facilities


Streets, Spine 58.3




Foundations 19.2




Architecture and Engineering 26.0


Architecture and Engineering


Contingency 15.8




Total ($ million) $174.5


Total ($ million)


Implementation process


BPCA designs service spine


BPCA prepares design guidelines


PARB reviews spine design


BPCA designs streets and parks


City Plan Commission Amendments


BPCA selects developer(s)


Board of Estimate Amendments


Developer designs buildings


BPCA starts spine construction


BPCA reviews designs


BPCA selects pod developer


BPCA builds streets and parks


Developer designs pod platform


Developer builds building


BPCA reviews pod/spine connect


Developer designs towers


BPCA approves tower design


PARB reviews pod design


CPC amends MDP (if required)


B of E amends MDP (if required)


Developer builds pod platform


Developer builds first building

Source: Gordon (1997); courtesy of David Gordon

*1973 Costs inflated to $1979 using CPI (1973 = 128.4; 1979 = 230.1).

Source: Gordon (1997); courtesy of David Gordon

*1973 Costs inflated to $1979 using CPI (1973 = 128.4; 1979 = 230.1).

Table 8.1). The first phase of constructing the project involved the building of the World Financial Center with Olympia and York as developer. It was a financial success at least partially due to government commitments being fulfilled - an expectation that Paul Reichmann carried with him to London and the development of Canary

Wharf. Then the tactic was to build towards the north and south of the site (i.e. from the centre out). The first residential pod, Gateway Plaza, remains a relic of the previous plan.

The project as it has emerged, is very much part of New York and not nearly so much part of the global architectural scene as are La Défense and Lujiazui. Battery Park City has ended up being an all-of-a-piece urban design almost as rigidly controlled as Seaside but following very different design guidelines. It shows what can be accomplished, particularly in times of high demand for development, through carefully conceived urban design rather than laissez-faire planning. At the same time critics feel that the architecture's focus on the appearance of New York - on its visual aesthetic character -has led to a lack of the behaviour settings that characterize New York. It is also not the type of architecture sought by the global economy. Yet, by all reports, it is well liked as a place to work by office workers and a place to live by its 25,000 residents. It is estimated to have cost $US4 billion to create.

Major references

Alexander Cooper Associates (1979). Battery Park City: Draft Summary Report and 1979 Master Plan. New York: The authors. org/guidelines.htm Barnett, Jonathan (1987). In the public interest: design guidelines. Architectural Record 175 (8): 114-25.

Gordon, David A. (1 997). Battery Park City: Politics and Planning on the New York Waterfront. London: Routledge, Gordon & Breach. Russell, Francis P. (1994). Battery Park City: an American dream of urbanism. In Brenda Case Scheer and Wolfgang Preiser, eds. Design Review: Challenging Urban Aesthetic Control. New York: Chapman and Hall, 197-209.

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