Congress for the New Urbanism - Illinois Chapter / illinois@cnu.org / ©2018 CNU Illinois

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CNU ILLINOIS CHARTER AWARDS - 2016

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD, DISTRICT, AND CORRIDOR - ACADEMIC AWARD

 

Gowanus

Brooklyn, NY

 

Judson University-School of Art, Design & Architecture

 

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

 

Brooklyn’s Gowanus, a neighborhood between Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook lies on the east and west sides of the Gowanus Canal, a two-hundred year old industrial water resource including shipping access from New York Upper Bay.  Bridging the high ground of Brooklyn Heights and the Red Hook peninsula to the Prospect Park hill, are two massive infrastructures, the US Interstate 278/478 Highway flyover and an elevated Metropolitan Transportation Authority rail line.

 

The principal streets, with strongest connections to greater Brooklyn and New York, run north-south: Smith Street and Fourth Avenue.  Four streets bridge the canal: Union, Carroll, 3rd and 9th Streets.  East-west connectivity is achieved by Union and 9th Streets.  The block, where uninterrupted by the canal, measures 660 feet east-west and 200 feet, north-south.

 

There are four MTA transit stations: the F and G lines serve Carroll/Smith and 9th/Smith; the

D, N and R lines serve Union/Fourth; and the 9th/Fourth is served by all five of these lines. The D, F, N and R lines run from Manhattan to southern Brooklyn, the G line runs from eastern Queens to southern Brooklyn.

 

The canal features five easterly basins; one, at its midpoint, shapes the potential for a terminating view south from the head of the canal.  Chiefly, the existing building stock comprises two basic types.  First, there are the singlefamily and multi-flat row houses with raised first floors, and, on the commercial north-south streets, row houses with shops at the street level.   Second, there are the industrial buildings: pre-War buildings whose number of floors and of floor plates size is unobtrusive (some have raised floors for truck docks and others are at grade) and sprawling post-War, single-story open plans for storage and manufacture.

 

 

Bridging Gowanus, a neighborhood advocacy organization, anticipates the current residential development pressure will be turned to Gowanus as the canal begins to be cleaned as an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Priorities include: “A sustainable, resilient, environmentally healthy community;” “Invest in our parks, schools, transit, and waterfront;” “Strengthen the manufacturing sector and create good jobs;” “Keep Gowanus creative and mixeduse;” “Preserve and create affordable housing for an inclusive community;” and “Secure a pathway for responsible growth.”  Significant, too, is Gowanus’ inclusion in the Industrial Business Zone intended to protect local industrial and manufacturing jobs.  The studio accepted the Bridging Gowanus Priorities and have undertaken to investigate the urban and architectural potential.          

 

The urban intervention gives vision to the Priorities especially to the social justice inhering in mid-rise types providing ample housing across the range of incomes.  Our ambition here, more than a formal, theoretical exploration, has been to answer the real social interests in local jobs and education, and a protected, appealing natural and built environment.  We are applying the full range of urban metrics: permeability, variety, legibility, robustness, visual appropriateness, and richness (Bentley et al, 1985).

RESPONSE TO CHARTER PRINCIPLES

 

The building stock is retained for present uses or for adaptive re-uses (Charter Principles 4, 5, 27).  New buildings are shaped with shallow floor plates for passive heating, cooling, and ventilating; these are also modeled to accommodate flexibly a variety of uses and do so over time: groceries, doctors offices, retail (CP 12, 26).  The blocks are small with a fine-grain to maximize the choices for pedestrians (CP 12).

 

Second, the proposed intervention reverses the urban morphology with the canal as the backside to the canal as the neighborhood’s public space as a Canal Walk (CP 19, 23).  Related is the intention to overcome the border vacuum of Fourth Avenue separating Gowanus from Park Slope and the barriers of the MTA and the interstate highway separating Gowanus from Greenwood to the South and Red Hook to the southeast.  These pragmatic transit and social connections depend on the strategic development of Union and 9th Streets.  North-south connections are improved in the new street bridge at Bond Street and its connections south via Second Avenue (CP 5).  However, the local character of the block and street morphology and building and place types is recognized and cultivated (CP 6). 

 

Third, the increase of housing, with a particular intention of inclusionary housing, is characterized by four strategies: in north Gowanus, infill, stacked-flats and loft conversions that build on the attractive late nineteenth-century industrial character; second, stacked-flats and larger types inserted strategically in Industrial District North; and third, dense, multi-story apartment building types within the pedestrian shed of the underused 9th and Smith Street MTA station and the location of an urban collegiate campus to the immediate south (CP 7, 13).  The density exceeds the 60DUA recommended in Dittmar New Transit Town, 2004 (CP 15).  A greater number of work force housing opportunities are achieved in numerous dense housing types whose scale does not require structured parking (CP 13).

District and Neighborhoods

 

There are institutions, strung apace along the canal, that create interest and legibility.  At the head of the canal and comprising the northern third of the Market Neighborhood is a recreation center between the canal as a water-play amenity and a municipal park in the adjacent eastward block.  An active plaza, with the public market fronting two important east-west crossing streets, is the center for the Market Neighborhood (CP 19, 23, 25).  Close to the south, in the southern third of the Market Neighborhood, is the adaptive re-use of the subway power generation hall as an arts venue (CP 16, 19, 23).

 

The mid-point canal divide, with the Nevins Street pedestrian bridge, marks both the eastern component of the Canal Neighborhood and the bound of Industrial District North.  The particular street activity of small-scale, light manufacturing, including artisanal industry with retail and exhibit opportunities would characterize the Industrial District North.

 

The Canal Neighborhood, here, includes a concert esplanade with a conservancy institution to the east and a music school to the west (CP 19, 23, 25).  The Luquer Street pedestrian bridge connects to the western half of Canal Neighborhood with its community hall and library, and an adjacent school.  Alongside the canal and at the southern termination of a shared, mixed-mode street is the 9th and Smith Streets Station also serving the Canal Neighborhood urban campus to the south (CP 19, 23, 25).  Likewise, well-connected via the 9th Street and pedestrian bridges is Industrial District South (CP 10).

Corridor

 

The shared space street is a feature in pedestrian and biking corridor that could connect at the north to Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza and to waterfront redevelopment making its way round the Red Hook peninsula with future potential for connection (CP 8, 10, 11).

LESSONS LEARNED

 

The scale of post-War manufacturing and storage was accommodated in sprawling one-story buildings even to the degree of sacrificing the efficient street grid and its flexibly sized blocks and lots.  The restoration of the street grid and enhancing its permeability required the reversal of much of the development in the last 50 years. 

 

The streets, blocks, and building types were backed to the canal in order to maximize private ownership of access to the canal as an industrial and shipping resource. This urban intervention had to reverse this by maximizing public access to the canal via the streets, block sizes, building positioning, and building types.

 

A first iteration provided more retail than could be supported by the population density.  In a second iteration we were guided by the recent Cushman and Wakefield study concluding a ratio of 9SF retail per person. The proposal places retail strategically in those places, like the Smith and 9th Street Station and the Market and pedestrian routes, like Union Street and the Canal Walk, that would be planned for the longest daily activity and the mutual security of late night “eyes on the street.”