Saturday, March 22, 2014

Help! When Architecture Changes Our Environment

Residents in some New York City apartment and office buildings didn’t know they were about to experience what happens when art meets Mother Nature and not in a good way. As any visitor to New York City knows, it is a city undergoing constant reinvention with buildings going up and coming down at breakneck speed. Areas that once were considered undesirable are suddenly the sites of multi-million-dollar apartments. Rat-infested and burned down dock areas and sleazy meat market districts are now trendy.

But what some designers didn’t take into consideration, especially in certain midtown Manhattan areas, was the one element that many New Yorkers had come not to expect in their neighborhood; the sun. Buildings had sprung up in cheek-by-jowl fashion and stretched evermore skyward until many streets adapted to shade and shadows as the natural environment.

Trees, seemingly by their own will, remained at a certain trimmed height. Sidewalks and probably many extremely expensive homes and offices found there was little sunshine. All of that was about to change. The sun was coming their way via office tower reflection, but they didn’t know it.

Before the advent of the sun invasion, there was a peculiarly shaped office tower with a uniquely slanted roof that looked like the end of a chisel. Interesting and a totally different addition, it was fine until Mother acted. Probably the first winter was when the unknowing architects found their lovely creation had a propensity to do something skyscrapers usually don’t; it rained down ice on the street below. As the snow and ice accumulated on the slanted roof, the burden became too great and the slant too steep. The result? Street closings below to prevent injury.

Before that, the urban designers had in their noggins the thought that Sixth Avenue, now known as the Avenue of the Americas to all but native New Yorkers, could benefit from a series of slab-like spires. They popped up. Voila, we had “the Marilyn Monroe Effect” as the buildings redirected the wind in a newly formed wind tunnel. 

In the Bronx (named after a wealthy family whose estate had been there), the elderly who had rushed to new housing on a former amusement park site were tossed around like rag dolls by the turbulence created by the unknowing designers. Light poles became like so many metallic lifeguards where they gripped as they tried to remain upright. The physician with a ground floor office had a boatload of elderly patients with scrapes and fractures as a result.

But then, in midtown Manhattan Mother had saved her best for last; the sun. The towers went up and the sun came down, at hours unexpected, plastering the offices and brownstones with light unwelcomed. Tenants began to grouse and growl, but the buildings were there and there was nothing to be done. So it is when Mother is but an afterthought.

Across the Hudson, yet more architects were spying the incredible expanses of beckoning Hudson River views north and south and nary a tall building for miles. One of the two planned 41-story towers abutting the great Palisades of the former volcanoes that steamed there millions of years ago and one tower finally reached its full height. Glass sheathed on all sides it was a sparkling spectacle until the sun began to set in the West.

Setting sunsets can be beautiful except when a residential tower acts as a mirror and reflects the blinding light into people’s apartments.  Yes, they’re still building them and the neighbors be dammed. Can’t say they didn’t know about this after the problems in Manhattan. But, who cares? It’s only grumbling and the one tower is already up and shining. Besides, it will only last for as long as the sun takes to go down. Who could have a problem with that? Oh, only people who find the sun is sooooo brilliant the reflection actually hurts your eyes.

When will they really take Mother into consideration when constructing buildings? Sway of the buildings? Sure they think about that. Amenities? Yes, they have an in-tower health club, spa, pool, concierge, you name it and there are TWO entrances to the garage; one on either side of the building. It’s luxury. The peasants really don’t matter.