Van Valkenburgh Takes the Boulevard

Van Valkenburgh Takes the Boulevard

Many New Yorkers are wondering how the Related Companies will muster the wherewithal for its multi-billion Hudson Yards mega-development, but plans are moving ahead for Hudson Park and Boulevard, the newly mapped thoroughfare angling north from the West Side railyards to 42nd Street.

Bringing this linear swath of neighborhood one step closer to reality, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates (MVVA) has been selected as lead designer for the project, which will run west of 10th Avenue and include a 4-acre system of parks linking to the core of Hudson Yards.

Related’s executives let news of the decision slip during a presentation of updated railyard designs at a Community Board 4 meeting on December 1, although the Hudson Yards Development Corporation (HYDC) remains officially mum on the matter. “We’re still negotiating to select the design team, so we really can’t comment,” said Wendy Leventer, the HYDC’s senior vice president of planning and design.

The choice of Van Valkenburgh was perhaps no surprise, as the landscape architect is already on Related’s design team for Hudson Yards. The other finalists for the project were Gustafson Guthrie Nichol with Allied Works Architecture, West 8 with Mathews Nielsen, Work AC with Balmori Associates, and Hargreaves Associates with TEN Arquitectos.

Van Valkenburgh’s office, which will design the boulevard with Toshiko Mori Architect, adds the project to a busy New York portfolio, which includes Brooklyn Bridge Park, a stretch of Hudson River Park, and the revamp of the north end of Union Square Park. The office deemed the dynamic public spaces of this last project a prototype for their Hudson Boulevard scheme. 

“Our idea was to take the elements of Union Square and redeploy them so they would work on a long, linear site,” Matthew Urbanski, principal at MVVA, told AN. “It’s got a civic quality and a grand quality, and the plazas end up being these fantastic places that can support farmers’ markets and impromptu gatherings." 

In some ways, the boulevard is a remnant of the city’s quashed 2012 Olympics bid, once destined as a grand urban gesture leading to a stadium atop the railyards. Now, the city envisions residential and commercial towers stretching south from 42nd Street, where the project’s flashiest element would be placed: a cable-stayed pedestrian bridge, designed with Mori’s office and engineers Schlaich Bergermann, spanning the Lincoln Tunnel approach. The public space would then expand into what Urbanski called “fluvially informed shapes,” with grassy areas surrounded by more densely planted, tree-lined sections along the boulevard. Plans also call for an entrance to the No. 7 subway extension between 33rd and 34th streets, with a domed glass canopy designed by Mori. The park would terminate within the Hudson Yards site, focusing on a yet-to-be-determined cultural center.

Local residents have questioned how the boulevard would link to the large public space planned for the heart of the 26-acre railyard site, which Related is developing with Goldman Sachs. Asked about the plans at the community board meeting, Vishaan Chakrabarti, Related’s executive vice president of design and planning, described the boulevard as flowing seamlessly into the complex, although details within Hudson Yards remain to be refined.

“We’re still working on exactly how that’s done,” Urbanski told AN. “It flows south to the cultural center, then there’s a movement west to the river. It’s an interesting design challenge to figure out how to create a series of spaces that aren’t all one gesture—that would be kind of boring—but flow naturally from one to another.”

Given the economic meltdown, the full build-out may take a while. But plans are optimistically afoot to begin razing the dozens of structures in the new boulevard’s path, including the 65,000-square-foot former FedEx building on 34th Street, that the city has been busily acquiring. The HYDC aims to complete the project’s first phase, between 33rd and 36th streets, by 2013.