Manhattan Mountain: Re-Imagining SPURA on the Lower East Side / Ju-Hyun Kim

Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim

Manhattan Mountain, by Ju-Hyun Kim, is a design speculation over five of the most debated plots of vacant land in .  Collectively known as SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, the five parking lots on the Lower East Side, just South of Delancey Street near the Williamsburg Bridge, were once the site of tenement housing until they were acquired by the Urban Renewal Plan in 1965 and demolished.  Since then, the other lots that suffered a simular fate and have been developed into various iterations of low-income and mixed-use housing developments.  But, for nearly 50 years these five sites have remained vacant as a continued debate rattles the community boards.  As the debate rages on between low-income housing developments, mixed low-income and commercial housing, and strictly commercial housing, these five lots serve as parking.  This is the largest undeveloped city-owned development south of 96th street.

Ju-Hyun Kim’s speculative proposal serves as an alternative to the current state of the land.  Read on after the break.

Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim

Manhattan Mountain challenges New York City’s current zoning regulations, or completely ignores me them in order to challenge the visual quality of architecture in an attempt to disguise programs that are necessary and relevant to the urban fabric.  Kim’s biggest criticism is the big box retail store.  Often criticized for being an evil influence on local businesses, Kim defends big box retailers for drawing more visitors to a location where local businesses with different specialties can develop and serve customers.  Large stores bring in foot traffic, and foot traffic is what energizes a community.

Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim

With that being the case, Kim chose to look at the site on a large scale and decided that the best use, in terms of its visual identity for the neighborhood, would be to develop the site into a large park.  The Lower East Side is well known for its lack of public spaces, as touched on by the development of the Lowline, which incidentally, is just a block away.  In this design, Kim decided to use retail as the monetary draw factor for this location, which would be disguised by a “Mountain”, a unique environment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan which will include a forest habitat for birds and insects and an environment for hiking, mountain biking, picnics, rock climbing and snowboarding.  The design also includes a residential tower whose residents would have full access to the “mountain’s” facilities.

Diagram; Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim

The typology proposed by Manhattan Mountain is very unique.  It incorporates the elements of a landscape, housing and commercial activity in an unconventional form.  Many architects and urban planners have commented on the stifling regulations of the Zoning Code, which was last revised in 1961.  Ju-Hyun Kim’s proposal, though far-fetched, offers a fresh look at design possibilities that are uncompromised by the Zoning Resolution.

Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim

Architect: Ju-Hyun Kim, AIA
Location: Seward Park Urban Renewal Site(SPURA) in Lower East Side, New York,
Title: Manhattan Mountain: Re-Imagining Seward Park Redevelopment (SPURA) on the Lower East Side, New York
Project Area: 7 Acre
Year: 2012
Type: Speculative Research
Collaborators: Euno Cho, Bohyun Kim

Site; Courtesy of Ju-Hyun Kim
Cite: Vinnitskaya, Irina. "Manhattan Mountain: Re-Imagining SPURA on the Lower East Side / Ju-Hyun Kim" 27 Apr 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 21 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down +4

    The inclusion of big box stores as a fundamental part of this proposal just destroys the whole thing for me. There are much better ways to draw people than to opt for this easy and ready-made solution of suburbia, the big box store. Not only is it a lazy solution, but its also a horribly detrimental one to the urban fabric of NYC that makes it so unique and vibrant.

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      I agree entirely Axio. It’s not only far-fetched. It is simply ludicrous and can’t be taken seriously. I am all for finding opportunity in what would otherwise be considered a design restriction in the local zoning codes in this case, but it is very clear that the architects refused to consider the importance of the context in which they were building, let alone its importance in such a dense urban locality as the lower east side. Second year architecture students know better. This is not the 1960s, design to place…or go back to school.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    But.but.but… the nice salesman promised me this expensive software I just bought off him would make me a better architect…!

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    This is a terrible solution. It in no way creates the pedagogy and institutions necessary for the community needed here. Instead it is a marriage of monopolist capitalism and rockstar architecture at its worst; is that roof top serious? Please Keep America Beautiful.

  4. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    It’s the IFCCA-Penn station competition (think: Eisenman, UN Studio, Reiser+Umemoto) of 1999 all-over again and I thought we finally got over that horrible phase in architecture….

    I know we’re doomed to relive the past again, but this fast?

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    This project demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the urban contect of the LES–or any urban context for that matter. And in his heart the designer knows this, which is why his efforts to “completely ignore NYC zoning regulations” are only documented with high angle aerial views. Include a street level rendering of those big boxes stores lined up on Delancy St. and see what kind of feedback you get. Less offensive but equally as disdainful of the neighborhood are the number of people shown using the parks in the renderings. Ever been to the High Line on a nice day? There’s a line to get in.

  6. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    As a resident of New York myself,I wondered why there’s no big box retailers in the city, where I can save money, time to shop. So, big YES for me.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I am a snowboarder and just the logistics of the ski hill are a bit farfetched. Sure a beginner / intermediate slope could be achieved but when vermont state is only 4 hrs away with other fields even closer the negatives are much more substantial than the positives.

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