The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 established the grid as the principal ordering mechanism for the speculative territory of Manhattan.
The regularity and homogeneity of its 2,028 proposed blocks functioned as a limiting device that has largely prevented the imposition of larger more dominant systems that would evade its constraints – ensuring an ease of vehicular and pedestrian flow that aerates the dense porosity of the city. Where this system breaks down or is interrupted, pathologies can develop in the local urban tissue and the social vibrancy that typifies street life in New York is subject to retardation and stagnancy.
Hudson Square exists at the periphery of three of the city’s most vibrant historic and developing neighborhoods: the West Village to the North, Soho to the East and Tribeca to the South. To the West is the newly dynamic landscape of Hudson River Park and Pier 40, which (whatever its fate) will continue to attract activity and traffic.
While relatively porous along its north and east edges, the characteristic scale of the Manhattan grid is interrupted in Hudson Square by two massive structures the UPS facility and the St. John’s Center, which cumulatively produce a massive barricade to east/west movement and sever any possible meaningful connection to the river and park.
While recognizing that these monoliths are likely to remain for economic and logistical reasons, our proposal for Hudson Square focuses on how these apparent impediments to the urban vitality of this emerging neighborhood might be re-imagined and even exploited to produce a new form of metropolitan sectional density combining housing, park space, commercial and retail activity in a dynamic mix. The proposal asks: rather than recourse to a nostalgic vision of Manhattan, can the very idiosyncrasies of these anomalous structures sponsor an unprecedented urbanism that reconciles the logic of the grid with the expansive territory of the superblock?
Raising Washington Street
Recognizing that Washington Street at ground level is dominated by the activities of UPS operations, our proposal elevates Washington Street a full story. This both reinstates north/south automotive passage and produces the possibility for a more active retail avenue freed from the industrial traffic below.
The new Washington Street is lined by commercial space that can accommodate the myriad components missing from this quarter of the city – drug stores, coffee shops, laundries, markets and other residential amenities – inserted into the second level of St. Johns and the parking deck of UPS. Unloading and loading activities for UPS and the new single-district DSNY garage are contained below this new level, allowing traffic to operate independently from the street life above.
Greening the Superblock
The vast, underexploited roof surfaces of the superblocks are reimagined as inhabitable green space. Developed to take advantage of the unprecedented length of these buildings, these roof landscapes accommodate both linear activity – swimming pools, running tracks, and pedestrian walks as well as registering the patchwork geometry of the grid through a series of differentiated planting zones.
Voids and cuts within this new landscape allow for the penetration of daylight into the deep floorplates of the superblocks while rises register the sectional intrusion of the programmatic space contained just below this artificial ‘ground.’
Providing desperately needed accessible park space to the neighborhood, these planted surfaces also absorb runoff, provide insulation for the superblocks and help mitigate the poor air quality associated with the Holland Tunnel and Canal Street traffic.
Extending to the south of St. John’s this synthetic terrain forms the roof of a new single-district DSNY garage and visually connects to the green space of Canal Street Park. To the west, it links to the rooftop playing fields of Pier 40.
Extending the Street
The four block UPS facility is strategically opened up at the terminus of the East/West street grid, pulling King, Charlton, and Vandam Streets through the building to the elevated Washington Street. The North-South movement of packages along the multiblock conveyor system can be deflected below the rising car ramps while maintaining the operation largely as is.
The sidewalk is stretched into a diagonal ribbon that winds above the roofs of the superblocks – spanning above Washington Street to St. John’s and providing access to a system of housing units.
A series of five story walls provide both structural and infrastructural support to the housing cantilevered over the rooftop park. Suspended off of these walls, the ramping corridors for the housing are partially enclosed by a screen of vertical steel strands that allow the growth of the park to climb upwards, forming a series of porous green membranes to the North.
The height of these bars mirrors the scale of the existing buildings to the north and east albeit in a radically different form. The northern-most of these linear housing bars slices through St. John’s Center at Houston Street – visually opening this major axis through to the West Side Highway and the Hudson River Park. Above, the bar doubles back on itself to span Houston Street and rises vertically to provide a 12-story hotel on the St. John’s Center’s North end.
Additionally, this bar extends as a bridge over the West Side Highway to link the rooftop fields of Pier 40 into the neighborhood.
client: Friends of Hudson Square
project team: Paul Lewis, Marc Tsurumaki, David Lewis, Partners; Clark Manning, Jason Dannenbring,
Diana Martinez, Laura Cheung, Mia Lorenzetti
All material for the article are courtesy of the Architects.