Re-envisioning Harlem's Waterfront

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July 20, 2012

Manhattan has 32 miles of accessible waterfront, and traditionally these spaces have acted as gateways for the comings and goings of its inhabitants. The river portals have largely brought food and other goods in while the resulting end product of trash is sent off the island. One of these waste management points used to be the West 135th Street marine transfer station, along the Hudson River in Harlem.

Recent development projects in New York City have celebrated the link to the Hudson and East Rivers, providing new parks and better access to relax and play by the water. Yet few of these projects address the challenges of the city's current system of importing food and exporting waste. A biennial design ideas competition put forward by the American Institute for Architects New York Chapter's Emerging New York Architect (ENYA) program builds on this potential. "While there's been a lot of improvement along the waterfront, certainly along Hudson River, this site is one that's a missing link," AIA President Joseph Aliotta said.

Open to emerging professionals and students with less than ten years of experience, 98 entries from 16 countries addressed the opportunities provided by the decommissioned building. An accompanying exhibition at the Center for Architecture, "The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections," provides visitors with a variety of information to explore, from proposal models and images to a library filled with books on the importance of the waterfront.

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  "The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections" is currently on view at the Center for Architecture in New York City. It is the fifth Biennial Design Ideas Competition put forward by AIA's Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA).
    "The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections" is currently on view at the Center for Architecture in New York City. It is the fifth Biennial Design Ideas Competition put forward by AIA's Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA).
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  The decommissioned 135th Street marine transfer station was chosen for the basis of the competition, which was open to emerging architects and students.
    The decommissioned 135th Street marine transfer station was chosen for the basis of the competition, which was open to emerging architects and students.
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  Access to green spaces and availability of fresh food is an important issue in New York. A large aerial map illustrates the many large buildings and concrete grid structure of a small section of Manhattan. 

Nourishing USA, a not-for-profit organization based in Harlem, was chosen as the competition client. "One of the things that came up when we were developing what the program could be was distribution, and the idea of bringing back the marketplace on the waterfront," AIA regional director and competition organizer Venesa Alicea says. "There's a search for nutrition, access to the public, and educational opportunities. There are community gardens but the infrastructure is not there."
    Access to green spaces and availability of fresh food is an important issue in New York. A large aerial map illustrates the many large buildings and concrete grid structure of a small section of Manhattan. Nourishing USA, a not-for-profit organization based in Harlem, was chosen as the competition client. "One of the things that came up when we were developing what the program could be was distribution, and the idea of bringing back the marketplace on the waterfront," AIA regional director and competition organizer Venesa Alicea says. "There's a search for nutrition, access to the public, and educational opportunities. There are community gardens but the infrastructure is not there."
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  Competition winner "Sym•bio•pia" by Ting Chin and Yan Weng of Linearscape Architecture tackle the issues of lack of food production and abundance of waste by proposing a series of self-sustaining towers for growing and harvesting food, filtering grey water, and providing essential real estate space. Here, the transfer station becomes a transportation hub with bike and kayak rentals and public amenities such as a gym, swimming pool and farmer's market.

"One of our main ideas was to be able to grow food next to the neighborhood and to reduce the transportation costs associated with bringing food from outside the city," Chin says. "And the local community will have a direct source to healthy food."
    Competition winner "Sym•bio•pia" by Ting Chin and Yan Weng of Linearscape Architecture tackle the issues of lack of food production and abundance of waste by proposing a series of self-sustaining towers for growing and harvesting food, filtering grey water, and providing essential real estate space. Here, the transfer station becomes a transportation hub with bike and kayak rentals and public amenities such as a gym, swimming pool and farmer's market. "One of our main ideas was to be able to grow food next to the neighborhood and to reduce the transportation costs associated with bringing food from outside the city," Chin says. "And the local community will have a direct source to healthy food."
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  Towers are designed to be split in half. Southwestern facing sections house hydroponic farms, while north facing halves provide real estate opportunities. "The idea is a symbiotic relationship between the two sides," Weng explains. "Another important idea we were thinking with this type of facility is that it could be replicated anywhere," Chin said. "Towers all along the edge of Manhattan could provide food for the neighborhoods."

Chin and Weng received a $5,000 prize for their winning entry. "I hope this can open a discussion for revitalizing the waterfront," Weng says. "We're hoping that even something small scale can change the situation."
    Towers are designed to be split in half. Southwestern facing sections house hydroponic farms, while north facing halves provide real estate opportunities. "The idea is a symbiotic relationship between the two sides," Weng explains. "Another important idea we were thinking with this type of facility is that it could be replicated anywhere," Chin said. "Towers all along the edge of Manhattan could provide food for the neighborhoods." Chin and Weng received a $5,000 prize for their winning entry. "I hope this can open a discussion for revitalizing the waterfront," Weng says. "We're hoping that even something small scale can change the situation."
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  The exhibition layout is organized around several themes encapsulating the various approaches the entrants took in regards to the program. 

ENYA's concern with the waterfront has stretched across each of the five previous competitions. The Department of City Planning has since caught up, introducing its "Vision 2020" waterfront plan in 2010, which itself is a response to a mandate from the City Council.
    The exhibition layout is organized around several themes encapsulating the various approaches the entrants took in regards to the program. ENYA's concern with the waterfront has stretched across each of the five previous competitions. The Department of City Planning has since caught up, introducing its "Vision 2020" waterfront plan in 2010, which itself is a response to a mandate from the City Council.
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  Models and proposal descriptions fill the basement space of the Center for Architecture, including that of 2nd prize winner "Hudson Exchange," by Eliza Higgins, Andrea Vittadini, Chris Starkey and Cyrus Patell.
    Models and proposal descriptions fill the basement space of the Center for Architecture, including that of 2nd prize winner "Hudson Exchange," by Eliza Higgins, Andrea Vittadini, Chris Starkey and Cyrus Patell.
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  "Harlem Harvest" by New York-based, Tyler Caine, Ryan A. Doyle, and Guido Elgueta, places an emphasis on education and research and is the 3rd-prize winner. Their proposal is comprised of floating community gardens, year-round vertical garden, onsite kindergarten, and water taxi stop.
    "Harlem Harvest" by New York-based, Tyler Caine, Ryan A. Doyle, and Guido Elgueta, places an emphasis on education and research and is the 3rd-prize winner. Their proposal is comprised of floating community gardens, year-round vertical garden, onsite kindergarten, and water taxi stop.
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  Various books about waterfronts and a commissioned video about the site are located in the lounge area of the exhibition.
    Various books about waterfronts and a commissioned video about the site are located in the lounge area of the exhibition.
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  Accompanying catalogue, open to the winning submission for the Student Prize, "Stairway to Harlem," by Daniel Mowery of University of Virginia.
    Accompanying catalogue, open to the winning submission for the Student Prize, "Stairway to Harlem," by Daniel Mowery of University of Virginia.
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  Two mentorship programs associated with AIANY and ENYA used the Harlem Edge program to teach high school students about the architectural profession. studioENYA involves art, design and engineering high schools located in the city, and ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) provides students with mentoring from groups based out of around 20 different firms. Photographs of the students' learning and approach to the site are included in the exhibition.
Here, Amanda Rivera, an ACE member with Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, mentors a student.
    Two mentorship programs associated with AIANY and ENYA used the Harlem Edge program to teach high school students about the architectural profession. studioENYA involves art, design and engineering high schools located in the city, and ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) provides students with mentoring from groups based out of around 20 different firms. Photographs of the students' learning and approach to the site are included in the exhibition. Here, Amanda Rivera, an ACE member with Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, mentors a student.
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  "We helped them understand the site and let them know what it takes to be an architect, and what it takes to be in construction," Rivera says. "It's cool to see what they come up. They say 'we could make this major move' and you say 'I didn't think of that.'"

The high school mentorship programs, as well as the ENYA competition and the New Practices Competition, are part of a larger scope envisioned by AIANY President Aliotta: “Future Now,” which aims to show "new directions in the design profession," in particular those related to "innovative technologies and sustainability."
    "We helped them understand the site and let them know what it takes to be an architect, and what it takes to be in construction," Rivera says. "It's cool to see what they come up. They say 'we could make this major move' and you say 'I didn't think of that.'" The high school mentorship programs, as well as the ENYA competition and the New Practices Competition, are part of a larger scope envisioned by AIANY President Aliotta: “Future Now,” which aims to show "new directions in the design profession," in particular those related to "innovative technologies and sustainability."
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  The stairwell leading to Harlem Edge displays facts about exhibit.
    The stairwell leading to Harlem Edge displays facts about exhibit.
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  A view through an installation from Emily Abruzzo of Abruzzo Bodziak Architects shows a glimpse of the space. Abruzzo was a juror of the competition, and is a winner of 2012 New Practices New York, also on view.

"The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections" runs through October 31 at Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, New York City. Further discussion of the 135th Street marine transfer station, the competition, and issues concerning waterfront access will be discussed at a Design Trust for Public Space Potluck Picnic, Sat. August 11 from 2-5 at the West Harlem Piers Park.
    A view through an installation from Emily Abruzzo of Abruzzo Bodziak Architects shows a glimpse of the space. Abruzzo was a juror of the competition, and is a winner of 2012 New Practices New York, also on view. "The Harlem Edge: Cultivating Connections" runs through October 31 at Center for Architecture, 536 LaGuardia Place, New York City. Further discussion of the 135th Street marine transfer station, the competition, and issues concerning waterfront access will be discussed at a Design Trust for Public Space Potluck Picnic, Sat. August 11 from 2-5 at the West Harlem Piers Park.

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