The 2012 Designer Dozen: New York’s Best New Architecture Is a Celebration of Public Space

It has been an exciting year for architecture in the city, with bold projects unveiled and getting underway: the new Cornell tech campus by Thom Mayne and SOM, a vastly re-imagined (and boldly so) Hudson Yards and modular housing getting off the ground at Atlantic Yards.

But in terms of actual new, completed projects, 2012 has been a lean year. This is largely the fault of the recession. Downturns tend to stifle development generally, but especially when the heart of the slow down is a real estate bubble. Design can actually be at its best just after the bubble bursts, and the gaudiest visions are getting wrapped up. And so, there are no Frank Gehry towers or Diller, Scofidio + Renfro cultural confections this year.

Still, there are surprises to be found in the city, as always. Maybe a little humbler, a little less showy, but also perhaps better for New York’s character, its peace of mind, its future. This is sensible architecture for a wiser time.

In many ways, this was the year of the public space and the park, a development that makes all the more sense in light of Zucotti Park and the opening of Louis Kahn’s Four Freedoms memorial. Whoever knew what a POPS was until now, or that a grand vision from 40 years ago could ever get built, and be one of a celebrated architect’s best works, at that? And continuing a trend throughout the Bloomberg era, many of these public spaces are on the waterfront.

Another Bloomberg hallmark? Many of these notable projects are public works, civic architecture on the highest order, and an important reason the quality of life in New York continues to rise.

In line with the post-bubble brunt of design in the city at the moment, no housing projects made the list this year, after dominating it in the past, New York by Gehry, Jean Nouvel’s 100 11th Avenue and Neil DeNari’s HL23 among them. Another major development is the continued pull of gravity across the East River—barely half of the projects are in Manhattan, with five of them in Brooklyn. If there were any doubt the borough has arrived, look no further than its bold new buildings.

Observer

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