How often does an urban city have the opportunity to build a city within a city? If it’s lucky, once. New York City has achieved this twice, with the development of the Hudson Yards. We may all remember the first time involving the luscious 96 acres of Battery Park City, which started with a landfill that came from our iconic structures of the World Trade Center. The Hudson Yards comprises 26 acres on the very west side of Manhattan that once belonged to the MTA. It extends from West 28th Street on the south, Seventh and Eighth Avenues on the east, West 43rd Street on the north, and the Hudson River on the west. Five years ago, Related, a dynamic company that designs, builds, and maintains developments, won the bid.

Following the success of the Time Warner Center, Related has proved itself in being master planners of residential and commercial spaces bringing together a diversified portfolio of A-class retailers, restaurants, food market, luxury residential homes, and office space. There was confidence that Related, as New York developers, could deliver something exceptional, facing a frontier that no other firm in Manhattan ever had – the ability to create everything New Yorkers need in these 26 acres. The Yards is very different from Battery Park City where a handful of developers from Brookfield to Brodsky had the opportunity to make their mark. In May, 2010, Related announced their 50% partnership with Canadian firm Oxford Properties Group; a firm that has never developed anything in Manhattan.

Related recently organized an AIA (The American Institute of Architects) event featuring an eight week speaker series. It has been the most visited exhibit and runs until August. I was fortunate to have a conversation with Michael Samuelian, VP of Hudson Yards and Bill Pedersen of KPF, the creative mastermind behind Hudson Yards. I felt compelled as a New Yorker to ask Michael Samuelian why they weren’t using a New York-based firm. Samuelian responded, “Oxford is a perfect partner for us. They are not looking for a short and quick turn game, they are looking for long term; the very big picture what they call patient money.” Oxford has been looking to strategically invest in New York to diversify their successful investments in Canada and London (Watermark Place and The Leadenhall Building). “We are lucky enough to get them to partner with us in looking for a great presence and they couldn’t have picked a better project. We get the development experience, we are the New York developer and they are our financial partner,” Samuelian added.

A successful relationship is powerful

In finding the roots of a new neighborhood’s needs, Related looked back to the successful relationship with David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) who were the firm behind Time Warner Center and had selected KPF for the overall Hudson Yards master plan in addition to the design of the two commercial towers and retail podium. In a collaborative effort, the other architects were chosen – Dillier Scofidio + Renfro and the Rockwell Group – to design the 72-story residential tower that will compromise half rental and half condominium. The tower is designed to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold standards and will consist of luxurious amenities such as a health club, indoor pool, dog spa, chef kitchens, business center, party and screening room with a landscaped rooftop terrace.

David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) are destined to set new heights in the development of the E Tower with engineering, science and art compiled in a graceful structure. SOM as always takes into consideration the habitat and Mother Nature’s gifts of sun and wind optimizing in keeping the building cool through its clever design and materials used. Refer back to the award winning and elegant Al Hamra Tower in Kuwait City, Kuwait how carefully the buildings curves are situated to block peak sun in a scorching city like Kuwait City. The shops and restaurants of the Yards will be a destination for everyone combining an unparalleled shopping and dining experience. The open space, created by internationally acclaimed architect and urban designer Elkus Manfredi Architects, will be a glass 750,000 sq ft retail center allowing spectacular views of New York. This will be a place where we go even if we have no shopping or no dining but an affectionate space to watch a magnificent sunset. It will be surrounded by The Public Square designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. Related has graciously dedicated six acres of space where people can gather, sit at the cafes or walk through the many gardens; an immense space where the sense of intimacy will be felt through the landscaping and a space where we will all find our favorite spot.

Additionally, Related will have seven buildings for residential apartments with an 80/20 program in place. An 80/20 program has a percentage of units that are allocated to lower and middle income families. This is classic of Related as many of their developments are designed this way. When I asked Michael Samuelian about Related supporting this structure for their rental developments he said, “It’s our testament to our faith in NYC and the basis means integrating affordable units into market rate units. The 80/20 is a great model rather than building housing projects. I live in an 80/20 myself and you cannot tell the difference. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s about creating a real neighborhood, not just a development; a reflection of diversity.” To add to the master plan, Related is including a public school with 750 seats. Whilst required by the city, Samuelian added, “We absolutely embraced the idea.”

When considering the west side of Manhattan, we think in real estate, because that is where the money is. Even up to a decade ago, no one thought the west side of Manhattan would be the place that attracted everyone 24/7. It was the Highline that broke down the barrier. Our once elevated train track was turned into an elevated park landscaped with seasonal flowers and plants; it became a meeting place for people to enjoy the views and relax. Michael Samuelian said, “The Highline was transformational in terms of the west side. It brought in a lot more people than normally and lot of attention in raising the design quality of the neighborhood.”

As the evening progressed, I was introduced to Bill Pedersen, Principal Design Partner of Kohn Pedersen Fox. The creative force behind the Hudson Yards, Pedersen is a handsome and towering man. Seeing how the two towers stand tall on the very west side of our island, what did Pederson desire for New Yorkers to connect with most? Pedersen’s response, “I designed it for the buildings specifically to connect to New York. The specific design that I am responsible for deals with two major office buildings and a retail complex in between; the relationship between those two buildings in the matter of which they interact initial relationship the way each of them are shaped and designed in such a way where they gesture both to the city and to the river with a complex dialogue…Our complex receives the energy of the Highline coming up and how in fact it terminates it. Then every corner of our complex receives a gesture in relationship to that specific aspect of the site and that is how we try to create a building that is part of New York.”

When we think of the scale of this entire project – not just a development of a building or a two block redevelopment like Canary Warf in London, but a whole new city – we are curious about Bill Pederson’s architectural principals for this project. “The principal of relationships that was the most important thing,” Pederson said. He continued, “How does one create relationship? Not only with the physical context but also with those who will be experiencing the entire development such that the relationship of scale from the human being to the individual component of the building becomes more intense and more differentiated the closer you come to the ground so as a result it becomes more inviting. You are creating intimacy.”

On the KPF website there is a description of the two towers that Mr. Pedersen described as “the two buildings tilt in opposing directions as if they are having a purposeful dialogue.” I asked, “Mr. Pedersen did you ever create a dialogue in your head?” Pedersen responded, “The West Side Story, it’s dangerous to speak about as an influence because it’s non-architectural.”

Raising standards for perfection

Anyone involved in The Hudson Yards upholds a certain responsibility to create a masterpiece that New York will never have an opportunity to create a city like this again. In asking Pedersen if he feels this is his masterpiece, his signature mark of all his philosophies designing all these years. He responded, “It certainly is. I have been working on tall buildings for over 50 years and I have been trying to find various ways to enable them to create a relationship and the context that they find themselves in. One can say this is the final exam. I have been trying to deal with this particular aspect of architecture for so many years and I feel I have a good understanding of what I have been trying to accomplish and I was given the opportunity that was allowed for that.”

The Hudson Yards is a space that will include a new commercial district, a new neighborhood, and new standards in design encompassing ground breaking aesthetics to the buildings that will bring brilliance to engineering. In reading what all the architects had to say with regards to the Hudson Yards, all their philosophies throughout the years in architecture, engineer, science, art and design blend together in a project where all had to reach new heights and frontiers in creating their masterpiece. As Samuelian cleverly ended the conversation, “The best of New York designs the best of New York.”

See you at the Yards,

Maria Hadjidemetriou

Maria Hadjidemetriou has been a passionate Downtown resident for more than 13 years. She enjoys life as a mom to her five-year-old daughter and being a Real Estate Sales Agent for the Leonard Steinberg and LuxuryLoft Team; she also contributes monthly to Downtown Mom TM. Maria has been an active Board Member for the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation (Thalassemia Organization) since 1998 and on the Executive Committee since 2013.

You can follow Maria on Twitter @downtownmomnyc.

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