March 20, 2008

A Big Day for Grand Street

141 - 149 Grand Street

The Grand Street rezoning, which has been wending its way through the public approval since December, cleared its next to last hurdle today - the City Council's Land Use Committee voted to approve the rezoning with minor modifications. The next and last stop is a vote by the full Council, which could come as early as next week.

Once enacted, the zoning for all of Grand Street from Kent Avenue to Marcy Avenue will more closely reflect the existing context. Most blocks will be limited to buildings of four to five stories, with a density roughly in line with what was allowed previously. Out of scale "finger" buildings and developments that ignore the prevailing street wall will not be allowed.

March 21, 2008

BMT Power Plant update

Today's Brooklyn Paper has an update on the work at the former BMT Kent Avenue power plant. According to Con Ed, its just routine clean up, nothing to do with demolition or redevelopment.

MTA to G Train Riders: No

Today's Observer has an article about proponents of the G train who want the MTA to shift cars from the (relatively underused) V line to the (generally overcrowded) G line. The MTA says this is an engineering impossibility.

As Brooklyn booms, the G train is becoming more and more popular. Yet the MTA continues to cut back on service, resulting in shorter, overcrowded trains running shorter routes and serving fewer people.

More here.

March 22, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

Economic downturns have a history of delaying, and sometimes killing, large construction projects in New York.

The reports about the potential demise of Bruce Ratner's Atlantic Yards project should serve as a cautionary tale for North Brooklyn. We too have been promised much, but little has been delivered. Yet still developers flock to Williamsburg and Greenpoint promising us the moon.

Nicolai Ouroussoff is right when he says that the public trust has been betrayed. Brooklyn was promised an architectural tour-de-force in Frank Gehry's design. And whether you like the overall Atlantic Yards plan or not, if only the arena gets built, we are getting ripped off culturally (and financially - WPA member Michael D. D. White has more on that here).

The proposed Domino development would be the second largest residential development project in the borough, behind only Atlantic Yards. Given the scale of the project and the tremors coursing through the credit markets, it is not unreasonable to ask the developers two very fundamental questions: 1) Do you have the resources to build it? and 2) What guarantees do we have that you will build it as you say it will?

Architecturally, the Domino project is bold and ambitious. But we've seen this before - remember that the Edge was originally to have been designed by Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos. All through the zoning, the community was told that on top of everything else, we would be getting world-class architecture on the waterfront. City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden was particularly proud of Norten's involvement. But Norten turned out to be just bait - no sooner was the zoning enacted than we were given the switch - the developer dropped Norten for local architect Stephen B. Jacobs. (No knock on Jacobs, who is is a fine architect - but no doubt we - and DCP - were sold a bill of goods.)

Perhaps we need to resurrect an old cold war adage - trust, but verify?

March 26, 2008

Grand Street Rezoning Approved

This afternoon, the City Council voted to approve the rezoning of Grand Street between Marcy and Berry, and surrounding blocks. The implementation of "contextual zoning" on these blocks will limit building heights to match the surrounding neighborhood fabric. The new zoning also eliminates the much-abused "community facility bonus".

Bldg. 'Cap' in W'burg [NYPost]

April 20, 2008

BRT Power Plant Coming Down

BRT Kent Avenue Powerhouse, scaffolded and ready for demolition

Friday's amNY broke the not-very-surprising news that Con Edison is going to demolish the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit power plant. Con Edison had claimed earlier that it was only cleaning out the plant, located on Kent Avenue, just south of Division Avenue. That assertion came in response to some very nice reporting by the local blog I'm Not Sayin', I'm Just Sayin', which first noticed the work and was able to unearth some old photos and history on the building.

The building, which sits on the East River facing the Brooklyn Navy Yard, had already been nominated for Landmark designation by WGPA member Mary Habstritt. The Landmarks Commission reviewed the request at staff level and decided that the building did not meet the Commission's "current priorities". In the amNY article, a Landmarks spokesperson said that decision could be revisited, but with demolition now underway, it seems a bit late for that.

In addition to the amNY article, there was a lively discussion in a related post at Brownstoner, as well as an earlier article in the Brooklyn Papers (in which Con Ed asserted that the work at the site was "just cleaning up"). But the best source of information (including some great historic images) remains INSIJS's original post and his follow ups.

April 25, 2008

Kent Ave. BRT Plant Back in the News

Historic drawing of the Kent Avenue BRT plant.
Courtsey of INSIJS

Today's issue of the Brooklyn Papers has some more information on the impending demolition of the Kent Avenue BRT power plant. As we learned last week, Con Edison (who now owns the former plant) has finally admitted that they intend to demolish the structure. But they still won't say what they will do with the site. Will it be residential (the odds-on favorite), or go some other use?

As with many older buildings, the opportunities for adaptive use here are many. But without an idea of what is planned for the site, its much harder to make that case. And surely, Con Ed knows this. Surely, too, Con Ed will cite all sort of factors as to why the building cannot be saved. But most of these are likely to be red herrings. Take the most obvious - environmental remediation. Con Ed will say "well, the building is full of toxins, we have to take it down". But whatever toxins are in the building (asbestos, PCBs) can be removed with the building in place. The incremental cost of remediation is not likely to be significantly higher, and either way, the toxins within the structure will have to be removed and safely disposed of.

From a sustainability point of view, it makes far more sense to leave the building in place and adapt it for a new use. Throwing away the whole building is a waste of the resources and energy that went into the construction of the building in the first place. In the past few years, there have been at least two local projects that have proposed the reuse of large shell structures such as this. One is the Domino refinery, where CPC resources is proposing a building-within-a-building solution. The second is the Powerhouse condos in Long Island City. There, a former LIRR power station (a building with a very similar history to the BRT power station) is in the final stages of conversion to housing. The sensitivity of the conversion from a historic preservation point of view leaves much to be desired (to put it gently), but its not a total tear down.

Put very simply, under just about any development scenario, this building could be cleaned up and reused. The building could be adapted for housing (luxury, affordable or otherwise). It could also be adapted for industrial use and incorporated into the Brooklyn Navy Yard (which has clearly sghown that there is a demand for good industrial space). The only development scenario that would not be feasible with the building in place is if the site is turned into a waterfront park. But that is the only development scenario that "requires" that the building be removed.

[Updated with links.]

May 4, 2008

BRT in the NYT

The Times' City Section had a piece today on the impending demolition of the Kent Avenue BRT power plant. In the article, a Con Ed rep admits that they company has no idea what they are doing with the site. They're not even sure if they are going to sell it. Given the lack of clarity on the site's future, we'll reiterate our position that its premature and wasteful to tear down a building that could be an excellent candidate for reuse. Doing environmental abatement does not necessarily require demolition.

Unless Con Ed is proposing to turn the site into a pubic park, there is no reason to tear down the building right now. Unless, of course, Con Ed isn't telling us something about their plans.

May 15, 2008

BRT: Imagine the Possibilities


As seen first on Curbed, a local architect has been thinking creatively about the former Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power House at 500 Kent. (Meanwhile, Con Ed has been spinning creatively.)

There are many possibilities for this site - housing, industry, cultural institution, community facility, or any combination thereof. Demolition - without a plan in place - is simply a waste of a building and another opportunity lost for the community.

The BRT site is a very interesting location (see image after the jump). The plot to the north (Certified Lumber) is applying for a rezoning to construct housing along the lines of Schaefer Landing or Kedem Winery. The site to the south is probably destined to become a part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. To the west is an inlet from the East River/Wallabout Bay, which lies at about the location of the historic Wallabout Creek. To the east (across Kent) is Roberto Clemente Park. This site is really a point of transition, an opportunity to bridge different uses, and provide a connector from the park to the east and the waterfront to the west. The site itself includes a fair amount of open space as it is. As public open space, it could terminate a new waterfront esplanade that would run from south of Division Avenue north to Broadway.

None of this requires demolition of the historic building. Without a plan in place, demolition is simply a waste of a building and all of the energy that went into its construction. Short of turning the site over to public open space, there is no use that requires demolition.

Continue reading "BRT: Imagine the Possibilities" »

June 18, 2008

Brooklyn's Vanishing Industrial Heritage

Starting today and running through August 30th, the Brooklyn Public Library will feature an exhibition of photographs by Nathan Kensinger called "Twilight on the Waterfront: Brooklyn's Vanishing Industrial Heritage." In the exhibit, Kensinger documents off-limits industrial sites along Brooklyn's waterfront, shedding light on what Brooklyn has lost to development over the last five years. Kensinger's work has included documentation of Domino Sugar and the Greenpoint Terminal Market.

The Library is hosting an opening night meet-the-photographer reception starting at 7:30 this evening.

July 3, 2008

66 North 1st Street

66 North 1st Street, the finished product.

We've been watching the rehabilitation of 66 North 1st Street for a couple years now, with a mix of hope and trepidation. The building (between Kent and Wythe) started life as a three-story industrial building (most recently occupied by Newco Ironworks). The three-story addition clearly has its tumorous qualities, but its also not just a box plopped on top of an old building. Yes, it overwhelms the base (hence the trepidation), but the setback and skewing of the footprint lessens the impact (hence the hope). The restoration of the base building was done very well, so if the rest of the project proceeded with something approaching sensitivity, there was cause for hope. Its not going to be "Landmarks" quality, but it might be something.

66 North 1st Street, April 2005.

But God is in the details, and either the architect (Bob Scarano's workshop) or the developer was clearly not paying attention to the details. The first signs of true ham-fistedness were noted by Gowanus Lounge last November. As Guskind noted then, the side wall detail completely obliterates the distinction between new and old. Instead of a dialog between the two, as at the front of the building, the addition just swallows up the base. Not a promising development.

Attention to detail matters.

Now that the building is more or less complete, we thinks its time to declare the whole thing a failure. To be generous, maybe whoever designed the addition had nothing to do with the ground floor. But whoever designed the ground floor deserves to lose their license to design. The old base was nothing special, just a couple of drive in entries with roll down gates. The new base, though is a poorly executed applique of cheap aluminum panels, that completely ruins any chance this project had of coming off well design-wise. On top of that, the workmanship is completely atrocious, with misaligned panels and fat caulk joints. If this is any indication of the quality of workmanship on the project, it doesn't bode well for anyone buying one of the 21 units in the building.

An interesting idea, killed by lack of design follow through and pathetic workmanship. Sometimes its better just to demolish a building.

July 16, 2008

Sayonara Kent Avenue Powerhouse

Photo: Brownstoner.

Brownstoner has the latest pictures of the demolition of the BRT power house at 500 Kent Avenue. The building above doesn't look much from this side, but from the water side, it matches the Beaux Arts details of the main section of the building (which is still mostly intact).

As Brownstoner points out, Con Ed still has not said why they are demolishing the building or what the future plans for the site are. They continue their shortsighted race to demolish a building with no idea if it even can be reused.

September 19, 2008

The Glass Stampede

80 Metropolitan (from New York).
Credit: Courtesy of Lou Madigan (l); courtesy of Kim Wendel Design LLC (r).

New York's Justin Davidson has written a long and thoughtful piece on the architectural transformation of New York City these past few years (its a week or two old by now, but we're just getting around to it). The article includes before and after pictures of 54 of the 76,000 (!) new buildings constructed since 1993, as Davidson attempts to answer the question "has this ferment improved New York or eaten away at the city’s soul?". In the end, Davidson concludes that while "[it] would be wonderful if we could stem the Avalonization of New York simply by demanding better buildings... (Good Design Now!)", "most architecture in any age is crap, and today’s crap isn’t as bad as yesterday’s". Based on his analysis, we can buy that, though his thesis certainly applies better to Manhattan than Brooklyn. Why does Brooklyn (and LIC) get all the missed opportunities?

All in all its a very good article - the more so because we tend to agree with most of his calls. Both the good (Rossi's Scholastic, ShOP's Porter House, Nouvel's 40 Mercer and Piano's Morgan Library to name a few); and the bad (of course, Greenberg Farrow's Dutch Mustard 80 Metropolitan, Gruzen Sampton's J Condo, O'Hara's Ten63). On Dutch Mustard, Davidson has this to say:

Rather than renovate, Steiner NYC tore down the rather fancy Old Dutch Mustard plant and worked up a new six-story residential complex, currently under construction. There is no evidence that it will be marvelous enough to take the bite out of the loss.

We couldn't have said it better (though we have certainly said it fairly often).

January 21, 2009

New York Quinine Development Update


Gowanus Lounge has an update on the rehabilitation of the New York Quinine Co. building, aka 44 Berry Street. The developer is claiming that the large HVAC holes riddling the building's facade will hardly be noticeable, a claim that is a little hard to swallow.

(NY Quinine is on WPA's list of significant historical buildings, and has been nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.)

February 9, 2009

Building Brooklyn

Every year, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce sponsors a Building Brooklyn Award for the best architecture of the borough. And every year, Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsnburg come up short. Since the nominations are due on Thursday, we'd thought we'd throw out a few of the projects that we think are award worthy (and a few that are clearly not worthy).

First, their rules. To be eligible, a project must be completed and have received a CO or TCO in calendar 2008. Now our rules. We're looking at projects in North Brooklyn only. The BB categories are a little bit wacky (do we really need two categories for residential buildings under 5 families - that's so 20th-century Brooklyn?). So we've added a few of our own.

1. Adaptive Use and Historic Preservation

Photo: Brownstoner

The Mill Building (85 - 101 North 3rd Street)
Fifield Piaker Elman Architects

A luxury loft in Williamsburg that is actually a loft. Not everything here is to the highest preservation standards, but the conversion of this former factory at North 3rd and Wythe has celebrated the historic architecture and the history of the neighborhood. And it looks great.

The building itself was constructed for the Hinds & Ketcham lithography company in two parts. The mid-block portion was completed before 1898, the corner piece (directly across from Relish) after 1898.

Photo: Brownstoner

Not nominated:
118 Greenpoint Avenue
Scarano Architect

This one was designed to the highest preservation standards - those of the NYC Landmarks Commission - but the results are underwhelming to say the least. None of it rises to the level of the unregulated Mill Building. This project would have passed unnoticed, though, were it not for the cornice, which looks like someone installed a crown molding on the face of a factory.


Special liars award:
Brooklyn Rapid Transit Power Plant
500 Kent Avenue
Con Edison, owner

The building is pretty much gone by now, but less than a year ago it was an intact structure. At that time, local blogger INSIJS did an in-depth article on the fate of the building. Everyone, including workers on site, said the building was coming down. When asked it that was true, a Con Ed spokesperson said that they were only doing some "spring cleaning". Spring cleaning that clearly required removing every brick and sending it very far away to be cleaned.

Landmarks looked at this property in 2007, but refused to hold a hearing to designate. This despite the fact that that the community had identified the building as a significant resource over a decade ago. The State Historic Preservation Office did determine that the building is (or was) eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

As for the future, Con Ed has no plans for the site. Or at least that's what they say.

Have buildings that you think should be included (or excluded) in the BB awards? Email us at wpa [at]

March 19, 2009

Guerilla Gardening


In an effort to beautify the growing developer blight in Williamsburg and Greenpoint, NAG's Open Space working group is starting a Guerilla Gardening campaign. On Saturday the Open Space working group will hold a workshop to create seed balls, a land reclamation strategy for derelict, neglected and abandoned land. Volunteers are invited to help the group construct the seed balls on Saturday, March 21st. The following Saturday, March 28th, the seed balls will be distributed and cast into abandoned lots and neglected patches of land all over North Brooklyn at the participants discretion.

Date: Saturday, March 21, 2009
Time: 3:00pm - 6:00pm
Location: NAG Office
Street: 101 Kent Street at North 8th
Contact: openspace [at]

April 21, 2009

Get Involved: OSA on the Southside and Greenpoint Hospital


Two events of note are happening on Wednesday (April 22):

First, Councilmember Diana Reyna, Esteban Duran & the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn are sponsoring & facilitating a community forum on North Brooklyn's open spaces, parks & neighborhoods. The event (celebrating Earth Day) will take place at El Puente, 211 South 4th Street (@ Roebling) in Williamsburg, at 6:30 p.m., and is open to the public.

Second, Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC) is hosting a meeting about the status (and state) of the Greenpoint Hospital. The City issued an RFP two years ago to redevelop a portion of this historic site. A number of proposals were submitted, but to date, no action has been taken. HPD will be at the meeting to give an update on the status of the RFP process and to answer community questions. Also at 6:30, at the Swingin' Sixties Senior Center, 211 Ainslie Street (corner of Manhattan Avenue).

May 4, 2009

Rendering vs. Reality: Hardly Noticeable

N.Y. Quinine Co. (44 Berry) - reality.

After our stroll down North 9th Street this weekend, we went around the corner to check on the progress at the former N.Y. Quinine Co. Building (44 Berry Street). Last January, we were laying bets that the through HVAC vents would be something more than hardly noticeable (as the developer claimed). Turns out we win - 44 Berry is no Fedders atrocity, but the final result (as shown to the right) is a far cry from the subtlety shown in the rendering (see the detail - and a mini-treatise on pointing - here).

N.Y. Quinine Co. (44 Berry) - rendering.

Why Pointing Matters (More Quinine)


Not to pile on 44 Berry, but this detail photo, which we took to illustrate the through-wall HVAC vents (hardly noticeable, right?), also shows why good pointing matters. Compare the area above the stringcourse to the area below the string course, which has not been repointed. The mortar joints in a brick wall represent roughly 10% to 15% of the total wall area; a bad pointing job can increase that to 15% to 20%. This may not go that far, but the difference in color, tooling and joint profile are clear. The new pointing practically swallows up the brick.

(BTW - those small openings between the HVAC vents are scuppers. Many buildings high-rise loft buildings of this period have them - they were there to drain water in case a pipe burst (either from pipes freezing - these buildings were often not heated - or from the sprinkler system going off.)

May 19, 2009

Singer Defaults on Pencil Factory Loan


Pencil Factory Lofts
Architect: Daniel Goldner Architects

Bad news for Greenpoint development - a lender is suing developer Baruch Singer for failing to complete the Pencil Factory Lofts project in a timely manner. According to the Real Deal, construction was to have been completed by January of this year. That has clearly not happened, though based on a recent pass by, the project seems to be pretty far along.

As originally reported by Vanishing New York, work on the project came to a halt about two weeks ago. The site itself was once part of the complex of buildings owned by the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, but was left out of the landmark district because permits had already been pulled and work had started (including demolition of two smaller buildings). Luckily, the building that is to replace the former Faber buildings is a nice one (thanks to Daniel Goldner Architects), so for once we aren't losing something significant and getting a pile of banal in return. Having come this far, the neighborhood will be a lot worse off if the project does come to a complete standstill, so hopefully it will restart soon - either as a condo or as a rental.

July 3, 2009

City Planning Approves Fillmore Designation

Good news from Brooklyn11211 - at its meeting this past Wednesday, the City Planning Commission voted to approve the Fillmore Place landmark designation. That is the last step before the City Council, which hopefully will approve the designation this month.

City Planning also voted to approve the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Contextual Rezoning. Similar to the Grand Street rezoning that was approved last year, this new rezoning will limit building heights and provide other safeguards against abusive development.

City Council Approves Demolition of PS 133

Elsewhere in Brooklyn, the City Council approved the demolition of PS 133, a CBJ Snyder-designed school in Park Slope. The School Construction Authority plans a new shinier and larger school for the site. HDC is not happy with David Yassky on this one:

To say that we are disappointed in the leadership of CM David Yassky, who represents this school would be both an understatement and untrue. While Mr. Yassky represents the largest number of designated landmark properties in Brooklyn, over the years he has proven to be tone-deaf to preservation issues. Although he has supported commuity-driven preservation efforts in Dumbo (both the designation of the historic district and opposing the Dock Street proposal), he has been absent from many preservation conversations in Brooklyn Heights, Park Slope and other parts of his district and either unhelpful or hostile to efforts in Williamsburg (such as 184 Kent Avenue, the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning & the Hecla Iron Works). He has been of no help on the Admiral’s Row Houses (which he represents, not CM Letitia James) and as memory serves, he was absent on the debate about the Purchase Building.

July 15, 2009

Jane Would


Things have been quiet up north here, but they've been awful busy down the other end of the borough. If you haven't been paying attention, the City has a plan to rezone Coney Island. In terms of the options, the City's plan could be worse - just look at the plan being touted by Thor Equities' Joe Sitt and backed by his pal Councilmember Dominic Recchia. But it also could be a lot better.

Dick Zigun, Coney Island's "mayor" is one of the people fighting the good fight for Coney Island's future - a future that has far fewer high rise hotels and far more space for amusements, rides and attractions (you know, the things that people go to Coney for). Here is Dick's take:

The Municipal Art Society has a plan to make the City's plan work for Brooklyn. The New York Times thinks that MAS's plan is the way to go. So do a lot of other people.

July 28, 2009

Council Vote on Coney on Wednesday

The full Council is expected to vote out the Concey Island rezoning tomorrow. The question is, will they make they rezoning any better before they do?

MAS is hoping they do.

Atlantic Yards Lite

Photo: NY Post

MAS has commissioned a rendering of what a Gehry-less Atlantic Yards might look like. It probably won't look anything like this, but that doesn't mean it won't suck any less.

via Animal

August 24, 2009

Dreamland Closes

Thor Equities, the outfit responsible for the demolition of the Revere Sugar factory in Red Hook (and the ongoing demolition of a Civil War-era warehouse on the same site) has padlocked the Dreamland Amusement Park in Coney Island. (Dreamland only exists because Thor shut down Astroland last year.)

The Wonder Wheel and Cyclone are still running (Thor doesn't control that land). But with two weeks of (official) Summer left, Coney Island is "closed now".

Thor Equities, blighting Brooklyn's waterfront.

December 4, 2009

Rose Plaza: Then


Mollenhauer Sugar Refining Co. (between South 10th Street and Division Avenue)
Source: King's Views of Brooklyn, 1905

The photo above (click for a larger image) shows the Rose Plaza site as it looked 105 years ago. The building the "M" on the smokestack is the main refinery of the Mollenhauer Sugar Refining Company, and was located on Kent Avenue between Division Avenue and South 11th Street. The shorter building to the left on the river (technically on Wallabout Channel), a warehouse for the sugar refinery, was between South 10th and South 11th Streets.

The tall building beyond the warehouse is probably part of the Brooklyn Distilling Co., which once occupied the site where Schaefer Landing now sits. To the right of the Mollenhauer refinery is a building with a small tower and a mansard roof - that is one of the buildings of the former McLoughlin Brothers printing company. The building still stands on Wythe between Division and South 11th (it is now artists live/work lofts).

March 22, 2011

Williamsburgh Savings Bank to Become a Catering Hall

Feast your eyes on some interior views of the landmarked (inside and out) Williamsburgh Savings Bank at Driggs and Broadway (the original Williamsburgh Savings Bank building).


Photo: A|N

The Architect's Newspaper reports that the building will be become a catering hall and museum (catering hall/event space is seemingly the only possible use for opulent former banking hall interiors, viz. Bowery Savings Bank (both the Bowery and 42nd Street branches), 55 Wall Street and that other Williamsburgh Savings Bank on Hanson Place).

Eberhard Faber