A Radical Approach to Adding Density in New York's Outer Boroughs

Picture octopus-like high-rises engulfing transit hubs.

Image
AMGLM

The urban planning community is constantly touting the benefits of building dense communities around public transportation. But according to designers Chad Kellogg and Matt Bowles, few solutions have been ambitious enough to do the whole Transit-Oriented Development idea justice. So they came up with their own. 

Behold the Urban Alloy Towers, a proposal to take over spaces immediately surrounding transportation infrastructure like elevated train lines and highways.

Exterior view of the Urban Alloy Towers rendered onto the site.

To develop their concept, the pair picked the intersection of the Long Island Railroad and MTA 7 Train in the New York City borough of Queens as their test site. According to the project description, this intervention is an opportunity to "draw the energy of Manhattan out into the four other boroughs without disrupting existing land use."

The proposed structure would offer convenient access to Manhattan as well as amenities for work, play, and rest -- all within a pedestrian zone. Sound tubes, as employed in Rem Koolhaas’s IIT McCormick Tribune Campus Center, would negate noise from the trains. And instead of concrete, the typical material found in the city's mid-rise residential buildings, Urban Alloy Towers would use glass and steel. This choice maximizes cantilever possibilities and enables facade panels to be mass-customized for daylighting and shading.

Rendered view of the interior.  
Rendered view of the interior atrium. 


Programmatic diagram 

Building facade diagrams. 

The project, which recently won honors in a few design competitions, is certainly far from implementation. Its potential, however, is very much grounded in reality.

According to Jonathan Miller, a New York City real estate appraiser, building high-density housing near a Queens transit hub is logical and may appeal to early adopters among developers.

”Queens is Brooklyn 10 years ago,” says Miller. As people priced out of Manhattan and Brooklyn continue to funnel into Queens, developers have indeed begun hunting down cheaper land for dense residential development in the borough.

Miller notes, however, that if a development were to offer cutting-edge architecture with “futuristic” branding — as something like the Urban Alloy Towers might — it would be more expensive than the surrounding housing stock. So while it could address some housing demand spilled over from Manhattan and Brooklyn, true affordability wouldn't necessarily follow.

Site map -- The designers have plans to envision a network of similar projects along transit lines in Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. 

In some ways, the Urban Alloy Towers concept is comparable to the ongoing Hudson Yards and Atlantic Yards projects, both of which plan to build atop active rail yards in New York City. The designers deem the Yards projects relevant examples, but contend that the Urban Alloy Towers would require far less demolition of surrounding areas. 

For Miller, the presence of any radical, high-density tower at all would be disruption enough at the proposed site in Queens. Whereas Hudson Yards will sprout among clusters of similarly dense high-rises, the Urban Alloy Towers presents a much bigger contrast to the immediate neighborhood, comprised largely of single-family structures. The huge contrast would undoubtedly mean even more push-back from local residents.

And neighborhood push-back would hardly be the only concern. In an email, the designers admit that the building doesn't comply with current zoning standards.

“But that’s not to say it won’t at some point down the road as the zoning evolves. Zoning responds (albeit slowly) to the pushes and pulls of market forces,” they write. 

All images courtesy of AMGLM

About the Author