Hot, Hot, Heat: NYC’s Government-Approved Architecture


Say what you will about third term victor Bloomberg’s politics, or financial largesse, but his mayoral legacy is solidified in large part by his Design and Construction Excellence Initiative (DCE) and subsequent Department of Design and Construction (DDC), which have turned what was once the “ugly stepchild” of the architecture profession – government bids – into one hot ticket. New York magazine profiled several institutional projects in this week’s issue, highlighting libraries and firehouses in the outer boroughs. As especially fond fans of firehouse design (seriously, check out the fonts on even the crappiest 1970s iterations), we’ve selected a few after the jump.

So how and when did these projects come to fruition? Bloomberg first announced the DCE in 2004 and appointed Design Commissioner David J. Burney, a British architect who is credited with spearheading the forward-thinking design projects now spotted from Sunset Park to the Bronx. New York reports that the DDC agency currently has “over 600 building projects in its portfolio, valued at $6 billion,” AKA a lot of money to allocate to architecture both good and bad. One of Burney’s first acts as commissioner was to deny a vanilla plan for Engine Company 277 in Bushwick, challenging the architects at STV to design something more inventive. The jaunty result “resembles a building-size fire truck with a rounded body and a windshield expanded to a curtain-wall façade.” That year, the building was one of six projects to receive the 2004 Art Commission Award for Excellence in Design from the Art Commission of the City of New York. See how that works?

(Parenthetical aside: the Arquitectonica-designed Bronx Museum of the Arts won the same art commission award in 2003 and became the model for the New York’s DCE program. Balancing out the agency’s portfolio with high-profile cultural institutions tends to free up peripheral focus for other, underrated projects like… firehouses.)

Burney revamped the archaic approval model by instilling a competitive process in which local firms were “short-listed on the basis of their achievements, then paired with a specific project later on,” instead of taking the cheap and easy route via a simple selection of the lowest bidder.

A recent commission under the DCE, Sunset Park’s Engine Company 201 was designed by local firm RKT&B Architecture, which originated in the 1960s and has undertaken a fair share of city commissions. According to the Architect’s Newspaper, “the building’s red glazed brick and backlighted Maltese Cross telegraph its function to the neighborhood, while the glass apparatus doors — a first for a firehouse in the city — maintain a close connection with the community.”

New York has details on another shiny new firehouse, this one in the Bronx:

The fireshouse stands out on its block of Washington Avenue like a bright plastic bucket on a rainy day. It’s not just the flame-colored aluminum façade, or the jaunty way the zinc cladding is slung across the roof, that makes it distinctive; it’s a combination of toughness, efficiency, and whimsy. Instead of the classic rowhouse with a big red door, the architects at Polshek Partnership have made Rescue Company 3 a showpiece of logistical economy, a tightly organized locker for equipment, vehicles, and men. The upper story looks as if it were hinged to the ground floor; you want to flip up the top and pop out the trucks.

Up next? A Rafael Vinoly-designed police precinct on Staten Island, the first police station built in the borough since 1962 and on track to garner a LEED Silver rating upon its completion in 2012.