LOWER MANHATTAN EXPRESSWAY
© keller | pasquarelli 1994
this text will be augmented in the future by image documentation. -ed.
In late 1965 Robert Moses, on behalf of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, urged that a long proposed lower Manhattan Elevated Expressway be completed. This expressway was to connect the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges with the fabric of the city, cutting a swath just north of Broome street, and link to the west side highways and the Holland tunnel.
The project had been in process since 1941, with some construction undertaken in the early 1960's to resolve the highway intersection around the then new Chrystie Street subway stop.
-THEORETICAL/TECHNICAL PREMISES OF PROJECT
"Construction of the expressway will relieve traffic on these streets and allow this locality to develop in a normal manner that will encourage improved housing, increased business activity, higher property values, a general rise in the prosperity of the area, and an increase in the real estate tax revenues therefrom. "-- Robert Moses,The Lower Manhattan Expressway , pamphlet published and distributed by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority
With this statement, Moses makes what seems to be a persuasive argument for the introduction of what he envisions as an economic engine- the highway, facilitating intra-urban travel and drawing commercial elements to a depressed neighborhood. He notes that
"Most of the buildings in this area are at least sixty years old, are in poor condition and have numerous violations against them, the owners repeatedly paying the relatively small fines to escape spending substantial sums to meet the legal standards."
Outlined in the pamphlet Moses produced and distributed in the mid sixties in support of the project are some of the issues that would be dealt with during its implementation. He minimizes the expected damage to the individual and commercial tenants in the local community, during their process of relocation, framing the question within the questionable view that the area is in need of sanitizing and upgrading.
Program to be added to the area in the vicinity of the 250-350 foot wide swath includes only a projected 1400 car parking area. Depressed roadways in contrast to the raised road are largely discounted due to the presence of subway lines, a high water table and poor soil conditions which would raise the expense drastically, according to the consulting engineer's report (Madigan Hyland, Inc., involved with the project since 1947), included in the pamphlet. However, there is a section that dips below grade, in connexion to the Williamsburg Bridge, between The Bowery and Pitt Street. In the perspective montage from the pamphlet a maneuver is detailed that is in happy contrast to the implementation of other urban 'percements', such as the BQE - floating over the depressed roadway is a series of links maintaining the finer grain urban fabric and continuing the streets on a block by block basis. However this move takes place for 7 blocks of the total length of the intervention and provides only narrow connections at block corners.
The fundamental distinction that Moses fails to make with this rationale is the recognition of a difference between the introduction of a major urban highway in an already highly developed area such as the one under consideration, and the 'successful' examples cited ('Grand Central Parkway, Shore Parkway, and other parts of the Belt System... (and) the Long Island Expressway...') which represent the extension of a highway system into a relatively undeveloped fringe zone. His argument that economic benefits result from the introduction of the highway make perfect sense when applied to an area with no preestablished infrastructure or urban fabric, but can only be construed as a disinformation on his part to obtain city support for the project, when applied to the Lower Manhattan Expressway; or, perhaps, a radical misunderstanding of the effects of such a project within an existing fabric. We level this criticism against the project due to the repercussions it has had as a canonical (though unbuilt) precedent, upon NYC and many other urban fabrics worldwide.
There are several built and unbuilt projects worth considering as precedents that could inform an future implementation of a project of this nature, with more positive results.
One of the factors present in all the precedents we will consider is an intensive involvement (to a greater or lesser degree) of 'disparate' programs, using the highway as a linkage device, somewhat akin to the way that Moses proposed (but naively and incompletely, as one can see from the typical urban dereliction under current raised highways) but deploying more sophisticated 'attractors' than simply a parking lot, and establishing a finer grain series of lateral connections and exit/entrance ramps.
Roberto Burle Marx
Flamengo Park, Rio de Janeiro
In this project for a waterfront park integrated with a highway, Burle Marx creates a large open park expanse through which a sinuous highway winds. This highway provides both views for the individuals driving on it, and is laterally negotiated by a set of gently curving pedestrian bridges that arch over it to numerous parks, gardens and museums deployed on the waterfront side of the highway. These programmatic attractors provide a motivation for pedestrian traffic to the far side; a similar condition exists, interestingly, though by default, at certain piers on Manhattan's West side, though the necessary circulation over/under the West Side highway only exists along Riverside Park.. The main operative element present here is an extended surface, which provides a site for various programs, and subsidiary pedestrian links that connect these fields of program.
Obus Plan, Algiers
Corb's two relevant innovations with this project were the weaving together of a superblock that allowed for individual building types (cf. Hertzberger's analysis in Lessons for Students in Architecture, Herman Hertzberger, p 108-110, Uitgeverij 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 1991) and the intensive combination of this infrastructural dwelling with a highway. The provocative notion of the road maintaining an intimate relationship with a zone of housing is one usually eschewed in favor of urban purging and dissection.
Alison and Peter Smithson
Haupstadt Berlin Planning project
This integration of a lower level of traffic, flowing under a series of perforated, open 'pancakes' which provide pedestrian circulation between buildings and city areas, begins to suggest a solution to the incomplete urban connections made by the thin pedestrian links over, for instance, the Cross Bronx expressway near the George Washington Bridge. The possibility for program to inhabit these open surface zones is much greater, and can be seen schematically proposed in some of the Smithson's sketches from 1957.
It is, however, incomplete as a solution to merely propose connective tissue; cf. Burle Marx's deployed program in the Flamengo Park in Rio as a partial answer.
Manuel de Sola-Morales
Moll de la Fusta, Barcelona
This project attempts to reconcile the presence of a fairly high speed urban circulation route with the provision of quiet urban areas for pedestrians, and linkages across that high speed urban road. It accomplishes the hiding and revealing of the highway through a sectional manipulation of the road surface, and creates links over the road for pedestrian traffic. The project also deploys various programs in close relation to the road, and in cases even over it, at points locating outdoor cafe type environments on platforms floating over the road and in connection to the pedestrian circulation.
OPERATIVE VOIDS SYNOPSIS
In a previous study, we have identified seven provisional urban typologies qualifying the notion of the urban void. These categories, surrounding, field, extending, surrounded, edge, under, and cutoff, each take on a particular operative nature in relation to infrastructure, dwelling zones, the time use manifestations of the life of the city. The typology that the Lower Manhattan expressway falls into is for the most part 'Under'. A definition of this field follows:
Program erasure. Raised highway through industrial, dwelling or void zones creates a field of potential underneath that varies according to the proximity to highway entrances.
One of the theses of the 'Operative Voids' project is that the void space in the city is formally empty but often programmatically activated, based on the overlapping fields of influence of disparate programs which cross over each other in the 'void'. Derelict zones thus become sites of performance, based on fragments of architecture and infrastructure, and their proximity to urban transport, dwelling areas, and the like.
In the case of the 'under' category, there is a confluence of highly local forces, such as the immediately proximate dwelling zones, or industry, or sanitation, etc., with the regional fields of influence that the highway itself brings to bear on the site.
As a starting point for a continuation of the Lower Manhattan Expressway and projects like it, we propose an urban analysis that takes into account time use based analyses of the urban fabric surrounding the areas in question. Drawing on the work outlined above, we feel that it is necessary to go considerably farther than simple traffic volume studies in the preparation for a major urban undertaking such as the Lower Manhattan Expressway.
It is possible to draw certain general conclusions about the intensive connections that one might want to make using a device like a highway, from an analysis considering economic factors, the current general zoning of an area (light industrial, residential, commercial), and a sensibility that assumes a heterogeneous mix of programs and space to be more useful than a monolithic bar of transport with thousands of parking spaces under it.
The use of a variety of sectional strategies is proposed schematically, incorporating devices to establish intensive connections between pedestrian links under and over the highway, surfaces for the deployment of new program that is affiliated with the regional fields of influence the highway brings, and lateral connections across the potential barrier of the highway between differently zoned areas that would typically be further isolated by the addition of a highway such as that proposed by Moses.
We also criticize the veiled polemic in Moses' agenda of middle class transport, at the expense of the lower class; like the Grand Central/Northern State Parkway to Jones Beach, which was optimized for the middle class car owner, but not for the urban dweller dependent on public transportation. As a highly intensive set of linkages both laterally at the local level, and linearly at the regional level, we feel that this more dynamic and responsive project avoids some of the pitfalls that Moses' proposal creates for itself.
This paper was developed with Richard Plunz during a seminar Keller and Pasquarelli took at the Columbia GSAP.
© ed keller | gregg pasquarelli 1994
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