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Policy Changes Yield Better Buildings in New York

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New York’s new program for encouraging better public architecture has just born fruit, in a new community center designed by George Ranalli. As the Wall Street Journal’s Ada Louise Huxtable writes:

…the Saratoga Avenue Community Center…deserves to have its presence shouted from the rooftops as a seriously
fine demonstration of the art of architecture, and as an example of the
radically revised standards that are being successfully implemented
under a new city policy.

How’s that? As Huxatble points out, City buildings were previously commissioned based only on cost. The lowest bid automatically won, and that encouraged all the wrong behavior–hack builders won contracts because they knew how to cut every corner. Thus you get sprawling housing projects crowded by towers that look like prisons. The new “Excellence in Design” process, first announced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004, represents a subtle but powerful change. Prospective architects compete on both their portfolio work and prior experience; the long-term benefits of their designs are part of the judging process. The building budgets themselves are also more realistically calculated, to include complicated factors such as difficult sites. Thus, the costs are more transparent and easy to budget. All city agencies follow the new guidelines.

In the Saratoga Avenue project, the process yielded a building with real architecture ideas–subtle nods to Frank Lloyd Wright and Art Deco–which came in at a paltry $300 per square-foot, well within in the range of most New York pubic buildings. It’s not a masterpiece or an international showpiece, but it’s a vast improvement over the grim standard so prevalent in cities such as New York.  

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Read more about the building’s design at The Wall Street Journal.

[Via Arts Journal]CK