South Street Seaport Edges into the Future

Event: ENYA Competition South Street Seaport Panel and Catalog Launch
Location: Center for Architecture, 08.05.08
Speakers: Sara Caples, AIA — Principal, Caples Jefferson Architects & Competition Juror; Sangmok Kim, AIA, LEED AP — ENYA Prize Winner; Anne Leonhardt & Sean Rasmussen — ENYA Competition Organizers; Michael Levine — Director of Land Use and Planning, Community Board 1; Barbara Mensch — Photographer, Community Member; Angelica Trevino — SHoP Architects
Moderator: Jessica Sheridan, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP — Editor-in-Chief, e-Oculus
Organizer: AIANY Emerging New York Architects

SHoP Architects’ proposal for Pier 17 (left), and Sangmok Kim, AIA, LEED AP, and Sungwoo Kim’s ENYA Prize-winning Fish Farm (right).

SHoP Architects (left); courtesy AIANY Emerging NY Architects Committee (right)

Once a bustling fish market and integral part of historic downtown, South Street Seaport is now a tourist magnet most New Yorkers prefer to avoid, especially with FDR Drive acting as a barricade, according to Angelica Trevino of SHoP Architects. As a member of the design team selected by the City of New York and real estate developer General Growth Properties to envision a “port for the 21st century,” SHoP is developing the area at Pier 17 to include high-end retail, dedicated community and cultural space, and a hotel/condo tower.

In light of the renewed focus on this area, the AIANY Emerging New York Architects (ENYA) Committee selected an adjacent site for its biennial competition, South Street Seaport: Re-Envisioning the Urban Edge. The international ideas competition invited suggestions to anchor the neighborhood’s rich history and envision its future edge condition: “to re-forge connections, both material and metaphoric, with the contemporary Manhattan urban fabric,” stated competition organizer Sean Rasmussen. Suggested program elements included a community center/gallery space for the competition’s client, the Seamen’s Church Institute.

Trevino explained that top priorities for SHoP’s design were to provide spaces and amenities for local residents, preserve significant historic elements including the Tin Building, and to re-establish view corridors to the harbor and the Brooklyn Bridge. The winning entry, a “fish farm” designed by NY-based Sangmok Kim, AIA, LEED AP, and South Korea-based Sungwoo Kim, took a similar approach in some aspects. The design consists of a system of pontoon crossings with modified modules containing fish tanks. The flexible framework is intended to promote social interaction within pockets of green space while axially reconnecting with the downtown grid. Jurors chose this project because it “projects a future form as a base for development” instead of focusing on how to develop a program, said competition juror Sara Caples, AIA.

Though both SHoP and the competition-winning team use similar strategies to reconnect the Seaport with the urban fabric, a real-world client and community impositions didn’t limit the competition entry. SHoP’s proposed restoration of the Tin Building and the removal of the existing 1980s-era shopping mall may be steps in the right direction, but both Michael Levine, the director of land use and planning for Community Board 1, and community member Barbara Mensch feel the proposed towering 495-foot-tall boutique hotel/luxury condominium seems out of scale with the area’s low-rise structures. They fear that the building will cater more to wealthy tourists rather than the longtime local residents. While built reality is rarely as pure as the original design intent, the ideas competition provides another way to consider the edge — as a site for reviving the fishing industry that made the area historically relevant.

The South Street Seaport: Re-Envisioning the Urban Edge publication is available for $30 at the Center for Architecture or online. For a limited time, ENYA’s 2006 competition publication, Southpoint: From Ruin to Rejuvenation, will be included free with each purchase. The “South Street Seaport: Re-Envisioning the Urban Edge” exhibition is on view at the Center for Architecture through 09.27.08. See On View: At the Center for Architecture for more information.