Manhattan Mountain, by Ju-Hyun Kim, is a design speculation over five of the most debated plots of vacant land in New York City. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Architect: Ju-Hyun Kim, AIA Location: Seward Park Urban Renewal Site(SPURA) in Lower East Side, New York, USA 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