AN looks back at this year’s biggest architecture controversies

It’s Not All Fun and Games

AN looks back at this year’s biggest architecture controversies

76 Place is a proposed development by the Philadelphia 76ers and Gensler in the city's Chinatown neighborhood. (Courtesy 76 Place)

Some of the biggest controversies defining architecture and the built environment in 2023 included lawsuits, accusations, property changes, and real estate rumbles. From the streets of Philadelphias Chinatown where the community is fighting hard against 76 Place to New York Citys twice-auctioned Flatiron, here, in no particular order, are some of the most controversial, hair-raising stories AN covered this year. And in case you missed it we’ve also covered the top news stories, our favorite interiors projects, as well as highlighted books and exhibitions that piqued our interest as well.

A new Philadelphia 76ers stadium has the community and building industry professionals against one another

In June, drawings for a potential new arena in Philadelphia designed by Gensler for the 76ers were released. 76 DevCo, the developer behind the project, said the Wells Fargo Center, where the NBA team currently plays, has become inadequate and that a a ground-up facility is the best solution. Under their development scheme, 76 DevCo proposed to build over part of a shopping mall as part of a larger development referred to as 76 Place.

Even before the development was formally announced it was derided by community members, particularly those in Chinatown. A series of community meetings over the summer led to a revised proposal that includes a 20-story residential tower, in addition to sports and retail offerings. The saga continued when Design Advocacy Group (DAG), a coalition of 2,100 architects and building industry professionals in Philadelphia, came out against the proposed development in an open letter.

In an exclusive interview with AN, Gensler, the firm doing design work for the scheme, responded to inaccuracies stated in DAG’s letter. Protests and demonstrations against the development continued. In October, a banner that read “JOSH HARRIS. GO AWAY. XOXO. PHILLY CHINATOWN” was flown in the sky above an Eagles game. Harris is a 76ers managing partner and part of 76 DevCo.

Elon Musk, owner of X, forgot to file building permits at least twice

A defining news moment of 2023 came when Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind Tesla, purchased Twitter and renamed the company X, replacing the chirping blue bird with a simplified black and white letter X logo. Twitter, now X, has graced the homepage of AN in the past, the tech company recently also made headlines for its office bedrooms in a move that blurred the work-life balance spectrum. The city of San Francisco, where the social media platform is headquartered, later came out saying the office building needed permits to build bedrooms.

The office building on Market Square was in the news cycle again following the renaming announcement. Musk requested the exterior signage be removed, in yet another example of building permits not being filed for renovation work.

The Flatiron went up for auction twice this year. (Paul Griffin/Unsplash)

New Yorks Flatiron went to auction twice

Arguable one of New York City’s most recognizable buildings, the triangular Flatiron Building has been vacant since its last office tenant and street-level retail lease moved out in 2019. The owners—GFP Real Estate, Sorgente Group and ABS Real Estate Partners and attorney Nathan Silverstein—couldn’t agree on plans for the property. The Supreme Court stepped in and ordered that the building be put up for auction with bidding starting at $50 million.

Jacob Garlick emerged as the new owner following his $190 million bid during an auction held at the state’s Supreme Court in Lower Manhattan. In the days following the auction that captivated New Yorkers, Garlick failed to deliver the required ten percent deposit to secure ownership of the property. Under decree of the auction rules the next highest bidder, Jeffe Gural, was able to purchase the building. Gural speculated to reporters that Garlick was only there to drive up the purchase price. Gural declined to purchase the Flatiron and it went up for auction a second time.

As anticipated by forecasters, Gural bought it at the second auction. And for a much lower price: $161.5 million. Gural has plans to convert the Flatiron Building into residences.

Disney World lost its special tax privileges

Rumblings of Florida Governor Ron DeSantiss plan to rid Disney World of its special tax privileges, granted from its special tax district known as Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), began circulating in 2022. In March, DeSantis finally pulled the plug in belated retaliation for The Walt Disney Companyopposition to DeSantisDont Say Gay law.

Under this ruling Reedy Creek will be replaced with a new, state-controlled tax district called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which will be run by a board of directors appointed by DeSantis and the Florida Senate. This appointed board will oversee how Disney manages its corporate operations and theme parks, with reviews and limits on projects it may take on going forward.

The feud between the governors office and the theme park continued when Disney sued the state in federal court, followed by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board voting to sue the entertainment and theme park company.

David Adjaye was accused of sexual misconduct

An investigative report published in the Financial Times revealed architect David Adjaye has been accused of sexual misconduct by three former female employees. Adjaye denied the claims.

In a statement provided to AN from Kendal Advisory, a communications and crisis management firm, Adjaye said: “I absolutely reject any claims of sexual misconduct, abuse or criminal wrongdoing. These allegations are untrue, distressing for me and my family and run counter to everything I stand for. I am ashamed to say that I entered into relationships which though entirely consensual, blurred the boundaries between my professional and personal lives. I am deeply sorry. To restore trust and accountability, I will be immediately seeking professional help in order to learn from these mistakes to ensure that they never happen again.”

A number or projects disassociated with Adjaye and his firm Adjaye Associates following the news. Toni M. Isidore Smart, one of the survivors of alleged sexual misconduct, wrote on Instagram about her experience. The post alludes to larger issues related to work and labor in architecture.

Zaha Hadid Architect’s design for a condo building that will replace the collapsed Surfside building. (Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects)

A Zaha Hadid Architects–designed building is replacing the collapsed Surfside Condo, sans a memorial

The collapse of the Surfside condo building in Miami was national news when it fell to rubble. Following investigations on the site, plans for its redevelopment have now emerged. Luxury developer Damac International has submitted a pair of Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) designs for a residential project on the site of the Surfside collapse. The plans reveal a 12-story condo building with a facade that takes cues from the ocean.

The community had hopes a memorial, remembering the 98 people that lost their lives in the collapse, would also be erected on the site. Ultimately whether or not a memorial would be built on the site came down to zoning ordinances regarding setbacks. One proposed ZHA design featured a wedding cake massing, while another was more flat-fronted. Damac chose to move forward with the more tiered design, which leaves no space for the memorial on site and rejected the setback ordinance.