The Chelsea-Elliot houses in New York sacrifice density and street life for the idea that everyone in the city might own their own car.
The car-city paradigm was introduced to New Yorkers in an exhibition called Futurama at their 1939 World’s Fair. The idea was to make buildings tall and thin so that down at ground level there would be space for much wider roads—mobility for mobility’s sake.
What they got were towers in a car park, where people felt frightened to walk.
These blocks could be redeveloped in the manner of their pre-WW2 neighbours elsewhere in Chelsea, with walk-up flats and walkable streets... BUT WE DON'T AGREE!
Too few New Yorkers have the luxury of walking to work. Most have to use trains.
More though, are swapping walking and trains, for another mode that can get them to work, school, shops... even the beach! It also burns fat and is good for the city.
Let's return to the site of the New York Worlds' Fairs and imagine New York as a city where almost everyone cycles.
Originally conceived as a city for walking New York has a street grid that funnels people down a limited number of avenues where they can find all the shops, and the shops can find them. Take the shops that cyclists can't see as they are riding by quickly and use them to bring life to the side streets.
Let the gaps between shops be ground-level through-ways.
Use the shops to hold up the buildings, so at ground level cyclists can ride as the crow flies.
To save cyclists from having to brake to slow down, lift all the shops onto mounds.
Design gradients for riders with shopping and children to carry.
Separate strollers from rollers with an elevated network of bridges connecting the crests.
Low will mean go...
...and high will mean slow.
Canopies would give people on bikes the same protection from the sun and the rain as they would have if they were driving or going by train.
Now let's look at the apartments above. They are entered from on top of every 4th mound.
Each building occupies precisely one Manhattan block, restoring the rhythm of the city grid plan.
But these have a twist. Starting in diagonally opposite corners of each block, two ramped aerial streets rise in a double-helical coil.
From as high as the 12 floor, it is a short (two revolution) ride to the ground. This new building type, that we have invented, belongs to a family of buildings we think of as "start of trip" facilities for the future bike city.
Because we use interlocking cross-over and cross-under apartments, we only need to provide gallery access (here coloured blue) to one third of all levels. Here is a large cross-under apartment.
And here is its neighbour, a cross-over apartment. There would be a few single storey apartments in any block for the disabled. But as a society we are building too many of these, and not enough two-storey/dual-aspect apartments with better access to sun and cross-ventilation.
The site falls within a 15km diameter part of New York with ample "cycle-space" plus sites that can be redeveloped with a bicycling focus. Accounting for circuity the average riding distance between any two randomly selected points in this zone is 9km. Access to two thirds of jobs in the district would on average take 24minutes for the slow, 15kph, bike rider (and much less for the fast one!) The average commute for New Yorkers right now is 30minutes.
The Chelsea Bike-Lovers' Housing proposal is part of our future vision for the world's bellwether city, as it turns away from driving, and even walking and trains, toward a bicycle mobility platform. Steven Fleming has lived in New York and spoken at the Centre for Architecture there. With fellow architect David Holowka, who assisted with fieldwork for this project, Steven has explored the post-industrial wastelands of Brooklyn and Queens with an eye to their bike led renewal.
A radical rethink of the New York city block and that city’s ground plane.
Designer: Steven Fleming. Assistant: Charlotte Morton