Reaching for the Sky in Queens

Reaching for the Sky in Queens

Planned towers at Hunters Point South will include affordable housing.
Courtesy SHoP

Over one week in mid-February, SHoP Architects was selected to design the first two residential towers at Hunters Point South, add a 429-foot residential tower and school to the recently rezoned Hudson Square, and design the first residential tower at Atlantic Yards. Of the three projects, Hunters Point South developed by Related and the non-profit Phipps Houses stands apart. There, the firm will be designing apartment towers where 75 percent of the units will be permanently targeted toward low and middle-income households. It will be the largest affordable housing complex built in New York since the 1970s.

“They’re very different areas. At Hunters Point it’s almost like inventing a new neighborhood,” said SHoP’s Gregg Pasquarelli. “In Atlantic Yards it’s a vibrant community with a hole in the center and at Hudson Square, we’re knitting together what are probably three of the most important neighborhoods of the city.”

The rooftop courtyard in Hunters Point South.

Speaking for Related, where he is currently VP for planning and development, Vishaan Chakrabarti said Hunters Point will have all the ingredients needed to become a successful neighborhood, including subway access, new ferry routes, and enough density to activate retail and restaurants. “Related has been a proponent since the Olympic bid, so we were very bullish on the site,” said Chakrabarti, noting that the prime views across the river of Midtown, the United Nations, and the Chrysler Building are “an amenity that you usually associate with the super rich.” Chakrabarti added that part of the reason SHoP was selected was based on their ability work well with contactors. “They create a kind of architecture that is ultimately clear for contractors to build, because it has to do with a technologically-based design process,” he said.

Two street level views of proposed Hunters Point South development. [Click to enlarge.]

The design is still in the conceptual stage and many technical issues need to be ironed out. According to City Planning regulations, Hunters Point South falls within a special purpose zoning district where base heights must be 50 to 75 feet before setting back to towers not to exceed 400 feet. The two mixed-use buildings, separated by 51st Street, are expected to be completed in 2014. They include 900 apartment units, a school and 20,000 square feet of retail space concentrated along 50th Street and Second Avenue. Attempts were made to maximize views by massing the buildings around a courtyard incorporated into the larger of the two buildings, although that part of the design has not been finalized. The courtyard, actually a green roof, would rest about four stories above the street, nestled between two small wings to the east and west and on larger mass to north, somewhat recalling the roof terraces of Rockefeller Center. As the building sits on a flood plane, parking could not be placed below ground, so it is buried within the core of the larger building. “There’s nothing more neighborhood-killing than seeing five levels of parking before you get to peoples’ homes,” said Pasquarelli. Center Boulevard will separate the buildings from a five-acre waterfront park, so as to encourage public access. “We did look at Battery Park as a model,” Chakrabarti said, “but this will have more diversity of design and socio economic makeup.”

The towers will appear related but distinct. “We asked, should they be twins, sisters, cousins, friends or strangers? And I think we ended up with friends,” said the architect, apparently with an eye to Queens’ emerging skyline. “This was not a tower in the park,” he said. “We thought about this as the first phase of many buildings.”