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The svelte, glass & steel 432 Park Ave (distant center) seen between the brick buildings at Waterside Plaza. It doesn't look it from this point of view, but 432 Park is the tallest apartment tower in NYC (and the western hemisphere) standing at over 1,300 ft high.

 

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A hodge-podge of buildings in the NYU/Bellevue/Waerside area of Manhattan's east 20's

 

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The East River and apartment towers in Kips Bay / Murray Hill and beyond. Seen from Stuyvesant Cove, Manhattan.

 

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View across FDR Drive, from the first part of the walkway (before the chain-link fence kicks in).

 

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Waterside Plaza and the Empire State Building from the East River.

A view of the Macy's Fireworks display from the 37th floor of Waterside Plaza. Thanks to LM and her Mom...

 

www.watersideplaza.com/

Waterside Plaza, completed in 1974, is one of New York's most ambitious master-planned ensembles - and, perhaps, one of its most disappointing. The program was some fifteen-hundred units of housing (originally including subsidized units; I can't tell if this is still the case, but a studio will run you $2,200/month in 2012), plus a smattering of retail at the plaza level, one integral school, and, next door, the United Nations school (designed by Harrison & Abramovitz, and visible at the bottom right of this image). The approach was a variant on trusty old modernist "towers-in-the-park" planning, with a few key differences:

 

1) Rather than requiring the demolition of existing urban fabric, Waterside would be constructed on a tabula rasa: the East River. Two thousand deeply sunk pilings support a thick platform (mostly taken up with the parking garage), on top of which is a jauntily-planned plaza looking out onto the river. From this rise a long bar-building (which screens FDR Drive) and four sculptural towers.

 

2) The architecture, rather than trumpeting its own sad institutional cheapness, would make a serious attempt to take advantage of its site and the tremendous views. The floor plans, which you can see over at HousingPrototypes, zig and zag to give multiple angles of exposure and view to the units (and to accommodate a wider variety of unit types). All that zigging and zagging isn't cheap, but it presumably makes for a rather more pleasant interior experience, even if the actual quantity of window glass seems a little shy of what might be possible - as if the architects could not permit the vaguely Kahnian muscularity of the form to be eroded by windows not grouped together in dramatic verticals. The building is, of course, a classic Duck, constructed as an entirely ordinary stack of concrete floor slabs, but masquerading as a shear-wall project where any interruption in the grand expanses of brick wall would bring the towers toppling over. But nevermind.

 

3) While the project is still essentially Utopian and Modernist, the imagined utopia is no longer for the solitary Modern man, revivified by the green breath of Nature; rather, it's the re-engaged late-modern citizen, hob-knobbing and people-watching on the Plaza. The plaza itself was a bit barren (it's gotten spruced up recently), but still, this brings us much closer to the pedestrian-oriented Team X school of thought than to the Corbusian world of Peter Cooper Village, a stone's throw away but twenty to forty years behind on design ideas.

 

The buildings are majestic, the views are ennobling, and the plaza is, amazingly, pretty well-used, at least on sunny days. No historic neighborhoods were harmed in the making of this enclave. So why did I call it disappointing?

 

The issue is connectivity. While the building is well-equipped for automotive commuters, who can effectively pull right off of FDR drive into the garage, it's a joke for pedestrians. All this grandeur, all this Brutalist sculpture, and the on-foot connection to New York City is a walkway over the highway, six feet in width, secured with chain-link fence and arranged to dump you unceremoniously onto the corner of Nothing and Nowhere. On the other side, the vaunted connection to the waterfront is pathetic: great view from the plaza, but descend the collossally overscaled stairs (here, they give the pedestrian some kingly flattery) and you find... another shrivelled walkway and a shortcut back to the parking garage. The East River bike path actually pulls away from the river in order to send bicyclists through the undercrofting of Waterside; try to bike around the back of the complex and security will wave you away. Of course, the designers probably weren't thinking about bicycle commuters back in 1963, but a heartier engagement with the waterfront seems like a no-brainer in any case, and the tether back to the city is so flimsy that it seems deliberately so.

 

Some of this, probably, can be chalked up to money. All those pilings didn't come cheap, and maybe at some point it was a choice between a better landscape, and the ennobling cantilevers and chamfers of the towers. Honestly, I do think the sculptural work is worth it here; while we've been told that Ducks can only convey the one-note message of "Modernism found here," in fact this says "We care about this building," or "The people who live here deserve something spectacular," or, more simply maybe, "The meek shall inherit the earth."

 

I can't say I would know how to balance the budget and still get the things that I think this project badly needs. Still, one senses severely missed opportunities - what if they'd acquired one lot on the other side of FDR drive, and created an anchor/bridge building to more gracefully stage the transition to the city? What if the plaza really stepped down to the river (or drew some of its waters up to play in fountains - like a miniature Barbican)? What if New York would decide to bury the grade-level stretches of FDR Drive and create a green necklace of protective wetlands?

 

Ah, well. As previously noted, Davis & Brody would attempt to correct some of the urbanistic faults of Waterside in their later projects, for example at the Ruppert Brewery site. Waterside may gall the pedestrian but, caught in sunset light and looming majestically at the edge of the world, it retains its optimism and its grandeur in a way that none of the previous generation of housing schemes do.

 

Oh, and here's a night view I caught from across the river a couple months ago....

The sky over Stuyvesant Cove and the East River was beautiful yesterday afternoon

 

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An apartment complex in Kips Bay between the FDR Drive and the East River.

Parking garage and porte-cochère along FDR drive.

 

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Gallery walkway overlooking FDR Drive, with the United Nations building gleaming in the distance.

 

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Imperial steps down to the East River.

 

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Approach to the plaza from the pedestrian bridge.

 

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A series of residential towers in the 20s on Manhattan's East Side, as seen from Terminal Park in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Empire State Building is on the right.

Approach up the steps to the pedestrian bridge.

 

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Punch window, enlivening the end of the upper-level walkway.

 

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Shot with my iPhone4 from about E.27th Street facing Northeast

Copped on the phone with Photoshop Express, which apparently also "Cropped" the Exif Data

This is from a fire that my building had back in 2001. I live two floors below but my apartment was not caught because its on a different column. Every apartment below the fire damaged ones got soaked in water from the firemen putting the fire out all the way down to the lobby.

 

I think the fire got started by a cigarette, proves smoking is bad for your health!

Looking towards the complex from 23rd & Asser Levy Place. In the foreground: the Asser Levy Public Baths (now the Asser Levy Recreation Center): Arnold Brunner & Martin Aiken, 1904-1908.

 

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A peek at the top of the Chrysler Building through Waterside Plaza - with a little Bellevue thrown in for good measure.

 

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i took like 200 pictures hoping to randomly catch lightning in one.

 

nope.

The George Gee Orchestra graces Waterside Plaza with Carla Cook

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