Architects Ponder BQE Options

IMG_2622 On Monday evening the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects (“AIANY”) presented a panel discussion, “The BQE in Context: Communities, Infrastructure and Public Space.” AIANY has formed a Task Force to study the plans for reconstruction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway below Brooklyn Heights. At the beginning of the program Robert Eisenstadt, chair of the Task Force’s Core Team, said the Task Force is working closely with the panel appointed by Mayor De Blasio to study the BQE issue. He said the Task Force had prepared a report that it has shared with the Mayor’s panel. After the event, I asked if I could have a copy of the report, and was told it is embargoed while the Mayor’s panel studies it, but would be released in about two weeks.

The panel discussion was introduced by Allen Swerdlowe, founder of the firm d7architects and a founding trustee of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. He said he thought the City Department of Transportation’s announcement of its “innovative plan” for BQE reconstruction, that would close the Brooklyn Heights Promenade and replace it with a temporary six lane highway for at least six years was “The best thing that could happen, because everyone got mad.” Mr. Swerdlowe

performed the first study in 1997 for the relocation of a two mile segment of the BQE [presumably including the cantilevered portion below Brooklyn Heights] into a tunnel with a faculty grant from Pratt Institute. It was determined to be viable by the NYSDOT.

The panel’s moderator, Ernest Hutton, principal of Hutton Associates/Planning Interaction, began by noting that rehabilitating the BQE is like “fixing leaky water pipes.” He expressed hope that it could include a connection from the Clark Street subway station to Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Panel member Thomas Balsley, a landscape architect and “lead designer at his SWA/NYC Balsley studio,” was intrigued by designs that would extend Brooklyn Bridge Park, perhaps over a buried highway. He was cautious about proposals that would put terraced landscapes on the former BQE cantilevered roadbeds, noting that people on terraces often feel psychological discomfort.

Susan Chin, Executive Director of the Design Trust for Public Space, cited the old adage that “to a hammer, everything looks like a nail” to criticize exclusive focus on engineering and construction considerations, although she noted these are very important. She stressed the need for “community connections” and noted that any BQE solution “must serve many purposes.” An important consideration, she said, is “social resiliency”; provision must be made for continuing upkeep. Economic considerations – funding – must also be taken into account.

Alexandros Washburn, “a global authority on the design of cities and the founder of DRAW Brooklyn, an innovative design firm,” said that to accomplish a project like the BQE reconstruction in New York City, “politics, design, and finance must be brought into alignment.” A Red Hook resident whose home was flooded by Hurricane Andrew, he said any design should take int account protecting low lying areas against flooding.

Andrew Lynn, former Director of Planning for the Port Authority, Executive Director of the New York City Department of City Planning, and Land Use Counsel to the City Council, said the BQE is “a vital artery for the city” and expressed doubt about any proposal to reduce the number of traffic lanes.

We will follow up and report further once the AIANYC Task Force’s report is released; and report on any reaction by the Mayor’s panel.

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  • Arch Stanton

    I hope none of them got paid for that drivel.

  • Nomcebo Manzini

    Thank you, Claude, for those thumbnails. Obviously, some are more “compelling” than others. One can only hope that they ARE being heeded – and not just asked for their thoughts – by the “commission” charged with charting a path forward.

    I guess it would have been hard for even a full time intelligent Mayor to have laid out “ground rules,” but this is even worse than the Muller investigation in terms of the power that one man (not elected, to be sure, and not without many conflicts of interest) to shape the City for decades into the future.

    NOT an exaggeration. Look at the photo of 14th Street in today’s Times. I’m not (only because I’m realistic) anti-car, but “4 lanes or 6?” is probably every bit as important a decision as “buried or not?”

    Right now, I believe there is a consensus among people who actually have a sense of what Robert Moses was responsible for that no un-elected figure SHOULD have that much power.

    Engineers – more than architects – have always prioritized “getting something done” (AND within some sort of budget) more than architects. [This is not putting them down – getting things done IS crucial!] But clearly, they didn’t actually GET THE BQE done with the cantilever, and the temptation in 2019 to prioritize “keep the price tag down” and “get the construction done soonest” has an enormous potential to bring us to “Take 3″ (in movie terms) 10-50 years down the road.

    And this at a time when (see yesterday’s Times) scientists agree that car-caused pollution is stable, not declining!

    Why should the best city in the world “punt” when it comes to prioritizing clean air and public health? At least, the architects quoted seem to be asking that and other “right” questions!