Nearly two years after the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) first revealed that they were working with Robert De Niro to design a “vertical village” of a film and television studio in Astoria, Queens, new design details have finally emerged. Two weeks ago, the $400 million Wildflower Studios film campus won approval from Community Board 1 and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, key endorsements required before the project can rise.
Astoria and neighboring Long Island City have been centers for New York City’s film and television industry for over a century; the Museum of the Moving Image, for instance, tracks the area’s local productions, including Sesame Street. Wildflower Studios, which is co-owned by De Niro, intends to further that legacy by expanding production capabilities on a five-acre plot along Steinway Creek, a site the company purchased from the Steinway Piano company in July of 2019.
The all-in-one solution at 87 19th Avenue has changed dramatically since the project was first unveiled. Originally, the facility was supposed to come in at 650,000 square feet; the bulk of the building has since shifted, and now the seven-story building is slated to be 715,000 square feet. The floors are all extra tall, which was necessary to accommodate the vertically oriented programming, as BIG has stacked the complex’s 11 sound stages under one envelope rather than scatter them across a wide lot.
The project’s design has also changed quite a bit from when we last saw renderings in 2019. When first unveiled, the Wildflower Studios campus resembled an oversized warehouse, in reference to the industrial remnants still found across Astoria and Long Island City, complete with punched recesses for planted terraces. Now, the refined design more closely resembles a large, extruded letter “L” with beveled edges and a monolithic massing with only two cutouts for vegetation along the exterior.
The facade patterning has amped up the visual contrast, going from long, plank-like panels to a checkerboard of light and dark panels that flow towards the multistory front entrance for cars and trucks and similarly converge on the window that overlooks the creek on the opposite side. The studios have been raised to start at the second level, allowing both delivery truck traffic to remain off the street and out of sight but also protecting the vulnerable portions of the complex from flooding.
In addition to the 310 off-site parking spaces, the Wildflower Studios complex will also add a landscaped waterfront esplanade that will be open to the public. This all, of course, depends on the project receiving a complex series of permits and approvals to build so close to the creek, as New York YIMBY pointed out last month. The undeveloped site, currently littered with industrial debris and garbage, is currently being prepared in the “as-of-right” areas that the Department of Buildings signed off on last year, but work along the water’s edge will require permission from the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If everything goes as planned and the project receives the necessary permits this year, the studio is expected to open in 2023 and bring over 1,000 jobs to the neighborhood.