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School of Architecture & Design News
Dec 11 2008

Port Richmond and Stapleton Reviews at the St. George Theatre

Exciting new visions for the waterfronts in Port Richmond and Stapleton were on display at the St. George Theatre on Tuesday.

The presentations culminated three months of intensive work by more than 70 undergraduate and graduate students from the New York Institute of Technology's School of Architecture and Design as part of the Regional/ Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT).

The formal designs -- on large folding display boards -- packed the theater's lobby and rear orchestra area. A dizzying display of 25 polished, comprehensive community plans were on view -- 21 for Port Richmond, and four for Stapleton.

Imagine the difference that some of the most innovative proposals would make:

  • A floating farmers' market on the Stapleton waterfront, similar to those in Bangkok, Thailand, and Venice, Italy.
  • Energy-generating wind turbines on the water off the existing Stapleton pier, and a nearby marina with live-in houseboats.
  • Oyster farming, a maritime research center, and large-scale community gardens in Port Richmond.
  • An aquarium with an outdoor viewing pavilion.
  • Newly constructed canals and dams, bringing the waters of the Kill van Kull upland into Port Richmond.

The design schemes for both communities included vastly improved public access to the shores, a sensitivity to the need for job-generating activities for local residents, and a variety of new housing construction, ranging from two-family rowhouses and artists' lofts to spectacular high-rise residential buildings at the water's edge.

HI-DENSITY IN PORT RICHMOND

Most of the young architects identified their major challenge in Port Richmond as the lack of connection between community residents and the nearby waterfront. They said that they were challenged to formulate designs that remedied this situation, with the twin goals of shoreline amenities and added jobs.

"We met with people from the community," said Gail Gambarini, 25, who is from Astoria, Queens. "They want to fish, and feed their families." This led her team to propose an oyster farm as one component of the overall plan for the area, which also includes an oceanographic research center and an elevated "park the sky."

Another Port Richmond plan featured dramatic, high-density housing, with public space surrounding it. Team members told the Advance that this was part of their goal of redefining how the land meets the water, and integrating the waterfront into daily urban life. This project, titled "Sea-Thru City," won one of the three awards that an expert jury announced on Tuesday for best projects.

Elson Bakalli, from Queens, said that his team found the waterfront "underutilized but with lots of potential." They designed four spectacular, 24-floor residential towers at the water's edge, other new housing that ranged from 2-story townhouses to 6-story buildings, and a series of canals.

Many of the student teams included in their designs the revitalization of the former Port Richmond train station as a local transit hub connected to St. George. The jurors assessed the 21 proposals of the undergraduate architecture students who were assigned Port Richmond for their fall semester, 5-credit Community Design Studio project.

Another winning design was "Infilltration." The team's challenge, said Preston Smith, 21, from Far Rockaway, Queens, was to "reactivate the waterfront."

The proposal included a network of boardwalks; an aquarium; sites for fishing and kayaking; and building four dams that would take in water from the Kill van Kull, filter it, and send it back out to sea. Dawn D'Agostino, 28, who grew up in New Brighton, and now lives in New Springville, said that her team also placed special value on Port Richmond's historic buildings. "We tried to be delicate in our treatment of the old buildings," seeking to preserve them, she noted.

STAPLETON

The graduate students who took on the design challenge for Stapleton's waterfront were uniformly excited about its potential, but shocked that neighborhood residents currently have no public connection with the nearby shoreline and its fabulous views of the harbor and Manhattan skyline.
"Our first priority was to provide something for the residents," said Viral Chandegra, 24, an architect from India who is studying for her master's degree and never visited Staten Island before her academic assignment.

"We were very focused on housing. People on the Island don't want high-rise buildings," she told the Advance, explaining that her team's design included 1,500 new units for a range of households, from singles to families, including "terraced housing" that would provide water views for everyone. Beyond the proposed housing, the design scheme included features to attract outsiders to the neighborhood, including "spaces around the existing pier with a marina, shopping, an aquarium, and an art museum and exhibition galleries."

A second design team with the Stapleton assignment found the waterfront site in the neighborhood "dead," said Anu Maheshwari, 23, also from India. "It should be lively," she said, and that is why her team's proposals were "green and healthy," including the installation of bogs along the waterfront, a pedestrian boardwalk at the water's edge, and two pedestrian bridges connecting Bay Street with the shore. The design envisions power-generating windmills in the water, a fast-ferry dock, a public park, and an aquarium.

The proposed windmills, jutting out into the harbor, visually signal "that something's happening in Stapleton," she said.

The third Stapleton team was similarly challenged. Khadijeh Khorsandi, from Iran, who earned her undergraduate architecture degree in India, told the Advance that her team's challenge was that there was "no connection for the public to the shore."

Her colleague Rajni Sikri, 23, from India, elaborated, "One of our priorities was to attract other people to the neighborhood," she said. "The night life is dead." So the team devised a plan for a floating yacht club at the end of the existing pier; a floating farmers' market; and a commercial scheme, over the existing railway line, to attract nonresidents "to come and explore."

The students worked in teams of three and four. Many of them were sleepy and "exhausted," they said on Tuesday. In the days leading up to the event, they worked around the clock to put the finishing touches on their large, stunningly crafted graphic presentations and accompanying intricate scale models of proposed new designs.

"No matter how early you start, you still finish at the last minute," said Gloria Chow, 31, a graduate student from Hong Kong who worked on one of the four Stapleton proposals.

It was impressive work, and their efforts did not go unnoticed. Linda Baran, president of the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, said that she was "overwhelmed" by what she saw, and described the students' work as "fantastic." She hopes that "the best of the best" concepts will be considered as NYC-financed development work proceeds in both waterfront neighborhoods. "I give these students a lot of credit," she said.

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