Today, we often talk about the city as data—an immensely complex, intangible network of information. The city of bits is on the ascendent. Yet in New York, the physical infrastructure of the city is undergoing a major transformation, as well. At the 2016 Fast Company Innovation Festival, we got a glimpse behind three of major projects that may, over the next decade, transform the face of the city.
On the West Side, the largest private real estate development in U.S. is taking shape. Built over an operational rail yard, Hudson Yards is its own neighborhood, both in size and by design: 28 acres of skyscrapers, mixed-used buildings, and public space. Just as an infrastructure project, Hudson Yards is wild: It is built on what amounts to a steel bridge, constructed over the West Side Rail Yard. But as an urban design project, it's even wilder: Because it's not built on solid ground, its acres of public space and parkland have been carefully engineered by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architecture, which hosted one Innovation Festival event at its offices last week.
For example, because the rail yard can reach temperatures of 150 degrees, the park will have its own subterranean ventilation system to keep trees and vegetation alive, circulating a coolant below the plantings. "It’s like cultivating an oasis over a desert," partner Thomas Woltz recently told c's Diana Budds.
Meanwhile, across town, another inhospitable, forgotten fragment of urban space is being massaged into usable, public space: The Lowline. Abandoned since the mid-1940s, the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal sits below the Lower East Side—a curiosity for urban explorers until a few years ago, when Dan Barasch and James Ramsey proposed turning it into an underground park. In the time since, they've both collaborated with the city to work towards approval to develop the site, and worked with designers to prototype a system of "solar harvesters" that will bring light from the street level down into the cavernous space to nurture the park itself.
At the Innovation Festival, visitors checked out the prototype of this system at the group's Lowline Lab, where the public is free to come check out the technology under development for themselves. According to its founders, the Lowline's still-nascent technology could eventually become a fact of life for many other dense cities. "A lot of different kinds of entities in the real estate space have watched this project with keen interest and my hope is that we may be able to influence some new construction," Barasch told Co.Exist's Jessica Leber at the Festival.
Finally, on a sliver of an island in the East River between Midtown Manhattan and Queens, another major project is quietly taking shape: the new $2 billion Cornell Tech Campus. Innovation Festival attendees explored the construction site, which is being designed by a group of architects including Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, Weiss/Manfredi Architecture, Handel Architects, Morphosis, and more. Why does Cornell need a hub in the city? As Fast Company's Ainsley Harris reports, Cornell sees the project as a testing ground for both emerging technologies and a new kind of education that's tied to the city and economy around it. "We haven't just been building a physical campus out on Roosevelt Island. We've been rethinking the research and the teaching and the academic programs at the graduate level as well," Dean Dan Huttenlocher told Harris.
All of these projects could be completed in the next five to ten years; the Lowline is aiming for 2021 completion date, while Cornell is aiming for 2019. Hudson Yards, as the largest of the three projects, may be done as soon as 2024. Construction is expensive in New York City—and even when it comes to megaprojects, time is money.