Monday, September 28, 2009

[street level | public realm]

[image taken from developer's website]

Armory Square, as everyone is well aware, is a neighborhood full of lively sidewalk life where people are encouraged to wander the streets -- absorbing the vibrancy and culture through all five senses. Nothing contributes to this more than the density of buildings in the area, and more specifically the places in which one interacts with on the street level. These places of interaction take many forms -- restaurants, retail stores, galleries, seating areas, active lobbies... the list can go on. The point is, these are spaces in which anybody can come and go, lingering for as long as they'd like.

The new and nearly-completed Jefferson Clinton Commons, just south-east of the Armory, has caught everyone's attention with the prospect of extending some of the square's vibrancy around to the "far side" of the oval. Look at all that ground floor space, just screaming for the passer-by to be enticed in by the what lies just behind the near-full-height glass. The prominent end of the building has three street frontages -- a perfect anchor space for, say, a small grocery or a trendy new clothing store. As the building pulls away from the curve of the street to the west, the wider space seems to be tailor-made for a future restaurant's outdoor seating. The balconies to the apartments above add just enough activity to the upper floors to catch one's eye and draw them nearer to the excitement below.

Unfortunately, as the story has since unfolded, the pedestrians who are drawn over by the people shooting the breeze or reading on their balconies will only find a series of ground floor windows that are merely allowing the office dwellers within to see the lack of street life immediately outside. In a rather bittersweet move, a well respected marketing firm is taking over the entire ground floor of the building. Although it will surely be exciting to have the creativity of the firm and its employees constantly engaging with Armory Square, it's rather tragic that they chose to take over the street level of a building that could have housed a good handfull of diverse public-oriented businesses. There are a few buildings less than a block away that have completely vacant upper floors could have been the perfect space for an office such as this. Instead, I worry, they're probably going to put up blinds to gain the privacy usually associated with upper floors, privatize the patio area, and become very introverted... effectively leaving the ground floor with nothing to look at or interact with. I really want them to prove me wrong.

As Armory Square continues to expand and densify, drawing in more housing and businesses, there will be ever more people engaged in the street level activity. It's too bad they will be faced with these pocket "dead zones" that they will have to quickly pass by to get to the next thing... if they even have a reason to pass by at all [the Sibley's building, the Atrium garage, and the pinkish radio station/offices on Walton are some other nearby examples of this]. I hope the new building going up just to the north of A.S. lures in some good ground floor tenants to draw some of the activity in that direction. How great would that be to have an active, pedestrian-filled Franklin Street connecting Armory to the Dinosaur, and even beyond to Franklin Square and Little Italy? The potential is growing... lets hope that the developers can follow through and make it really happen.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

[attitude adjustment]

An observation... that I think will surprise many people:

Over the course of the last year, my firm has been fortunate enough to continue growing despite the economic downturn. Nearly two dozen talented people have moved to the city of Syracuse from all over the country -- west cost, south, midwest, new england -- to take a job at this firm and call Syracuse their new home. They range in age from eager recent gradutates, to experienced and storied professionals. They've settled in a geographically diverse cross-section of the city; interestingly, all but two or three chose to live within the city limits and a substantial proportion of this group found downtown apartments to call home. This may be surprising to some, but its something we've all been made aware of, whether through our own observation or through stories in the news: People want to live in the city. People want to have a short commute to their jobs and places of recreation. People want other people around.

And this isn't even the surprising point I'm referring to. This merely adds more backing to the claim that there is far more demand for downtown and urban housing that there is supply in Syracuse... although housing really is a topic for another day. What long-time Syracusans may find odd or amazing, is what these new residents think about their newly adopted home.

Every one of the new transplants -- I'm pretty sure across the board -- loves the city and the CNY region. They love the convenince of the area, the natural beauty, the affordability, and are awed by the amazing building stock we have downtown [most of them are architects and designers, so are very aware of their built surroundings]. These expressions of admiration and enjoyment apparently boggle many locals' minds, since the local response is often something like "why the hell would you move here?" or "haven't you heard about our winters? you're not going to survive." This boggles my mind -- here are intelligent, creative new people, excited to be living in our city, and we immediately start telling them they've apparently made a horrible decision in coming here? Aren't these the very people that we're trying to attract back to the region?

People need an attitude adjustment. They need to open their eyes and see all that Syracuse has to offer, just as these new residents are doing. They need to realize they are all diplomats for the city -- attracting new residents adds life and vitality to Syracuse, so new arrivals should be embraced, not discouraged. Some people actually like it here. And many more people love it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

[i thought this thing was dead]

If you pay attention to any of the hundreds-of-thousands of blogs floating around the web, its no surprise when a shiny new one pops up, or 5 others fizzle out to dormancy or disappear altogether. In a way, this one now fits the bill for both scenarios, almost at the same time. It has been an indeterminable amount of time since I last touched this blog [unless you're clever enough to check the dates and realize it has actually been 761 days] -- far too long for someone who has strong opinions about the future of this city -- so I decided it was time to resuscitate SyraJason.

I will be filling this minimalist page with my thoughts, critiques, praises, and occasional incomprehensible confusion about the state and direction of the city of syracuse. I don't expect many to venture back to these pages in the near future, but for those that do, please chime into the discussion -- I can't be right all the time.

Friday, July 20, 2007

[it's about time]

I've safely returned home--readapted to the timezone, the culture, the city. I have visited old friends, old places I love. I've recounted stories to friends and family and listened to theirs, catching up on all I've missed. I've walked, I've run, I've explored all over, and now, I sit down to catch my breath, once again in the city of Syracuse.

I'm ready to start blogging again---my temporary 20-seconds-to-design logo affirms it---and my first new entry is in the works. Adjust your eyeglasses and lean in closely. I'm back.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I must write a quick note of apology; I had not intended to virtually abandon this blog as I had. I still intend on rekindling it in the coming months; I've merely taken a hiatus to study in Italy for the semester.

I am having an amazing time in the new and refreshing urban environment of Florence, as well as the countless cities I have been visiting, and have been taking note of the ways the Europeans resolve various urban conditions. It is fascinating how big a role the city center plays a role in life here as opposed to its role [or lack thereof] in the states.

I feel very disconnected from Syracuse at the moment [for obvious reasons], and rarely am able to check the news online, as my access is very limited. I've heard bits and pieces here and there about such projects as the Shoppingtown renovations and murmurings about the new building at the corner of Jefferson and Clinton, yet I know no details and therefore cannot reflect. If anyone still has the dedication to check into this blog, it would be much appreciated if you could perhaps post some news here for me about the goings-on in our lovely city.

And if anyone is still interested in the design work I did last semester, I could potentially scrape some of it up off my laptop here and post it.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

[historical context]

By simply looking around the city of Syracuse, it's blatantly obvious that there is an immense amount of history rooted in our great city. The beautiful historic architecture that can be found on every street downtown offers a glimpse into its thriving past--the days when the trains and trolleys ruled the streets. One can witness the ghosts of extravagant theaters and movie houses, robust department stores, elegant hotels, and significant civic buildings, as many still exist today. Some still serve their same purposes, while others have been adapted to new uses, yet sadly a good number of the most magnificent pieces of architecture have been relentlessly torn down.

In the years before the railroad lines through Syracuse were elevated (to where 690 runs today), the rail line used to run east-west along Washington St. right through the heart of the city. The Washington Street site was the home to relatively large rail yard to accommodate the adjacent train station--a beautiful romanesque building occupying the northwest corner of Fayette and Franklin. The station was tragically demolished not long after the tracks were raised above the levels of the street, and now we have only the photographs to remember its glorious past.

I wanted to capture some bit of this past, allowing it to influence my design. Dennis Connors of the OHA brought it to our attention that, although the the station has been razed, the underground connecting tunnel still exists under the site since it has remained a parking lot ever since. "It had a mosaic tile floor, an arched ceiling of Gaustavina tile and walls of white enameled brick imported from England." This was an amazing surprise to stumble across, and I want to somehow showcase this surviving bit of history.
Also, I used the notion of all the activity coming and going from the station as a starting point for my concepts, which I'll detail in my next post.

Stick with me; there is little more than a week until I pitch my design to Michael, so I think I'm going to be debuting all my fancy renderings and drawings around the same time. In the meantime, I'm going to fill in my background process and set you up to be wowed and amazed. Or so is my goal.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

[creek parks]

A park is a vital component of urban livelyhood: They offer a place of gathering, a place of recreation, a place of solitude. Syracuse has a multitude of parks, from big to small, some beautiful, some in need of repair, many brimming with life in the warms weather, others completely underutilized.

Onondaga Creek, while rather inaccessable in itself, has a good number of parks along its banks. Well...a good number through the Valley and the South Side, but between there and the Inner Harbor, there is a great dirth through the most urban areas of the city. The diagram to the left tries to exemplify this [the orange pieces are the 2 building sites], hopefully well.

My design seeks to help this situation--the lack of parkland attached to the creek [and the future creekwalk]--by incorporating some greenspace both on the ground, and on the roof tops of the buildings. Might I reccomend tossing the frisbee around on the ground rather than the roof--the wind can carry those suckers pretty far.

More to come soon.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

[sophisticated contemporary design]

In a recent comment, a request had been posted calling for a "sophisticated contemporary design." I wanted to give a quick response to this, noting that my design is defintely going to be something different than the existing surrounding fabric [which actually is mostly open space and parking lots]. Much thought has been put into my concepts and designs [and much more thought ensues as it evolves] in order to come up with something completely new and unique for Syracuse. It's not going to be anything like the bland, overbearing architecture of the 60s and 70s in the city; rather, it's going to be a fresh new look--or potentially even catagorized as a new style, as the way the building is used is completely different than anything in the area.

As I whet your appetite, I should mention that likely this coming week I shall be unveiling my designs as they stand now. Keep in mind, they are not the final versions and will continue to develop over the next few weeks. Our final pitches to the developer will take place right before Thanksgiving...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

[urban vitality]

Urban vitality is characterized not only by visiting pedestrians roaming the streets, but also by the people who occupy the buildings--living, working, and palying within, and without, their walls. It's the people who live downtown, the people who eat there, the people who shop explore there, the people who interact and socialize there, the people who persue their latest adventures there.

Imagine yourself having just moved into a new apartment/loft downtown [unless you already live downtown, then no imagining is required]. If you could have anything at your fingertips, within walking distance of your downtown living space, what would that be? What is downtown missing [you're not allowed to say parking]? What amenities would you want & need? Your dreams and desires could be as basic as a grocery store to something as far-fetched as urban bungee-jumping. Don't hold back; with this project, anything has potential to become reality.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

[emerging from a parking lot]

Sitting just west and north of armory square, two vacant lots [highlighted in orange] are currently being used for parking. Some may argue that this is exactly the use the plots should remain serving, as parking is a high-demand commodity in the downtown core. Indeed, parking is needed to allow people from the suburbs to visit and interact with the city, yet the apparent parking shortage is merely a false perception. More land downtown is actually used for parking cars than is occupied by buildings for people. The reason parking is such a big issue could be any number of sources--public transportation is underutilized as its scheduling is inconveniet while the car allows a greater range and punctuality; there is an apparent need to park as close as possible to the destination, rather than stroll for a few blocks [partly due to weather, but moreso due to the suburban strip malls that have trained us in this manner]; the actual downtown population isn't very great, so few people live within walking distance of work and amenities; most garages, while appropriately densifying parking spaces, are more pricey than their open-lot counterparts. Not all these problems can be addressed in a cure-all project, but my current design work is attempting to tackle some of these issues, among others.

Sure the project may not be able to replace all the parking it consumes, but it will add so much more benefit to the area than its cost in parking spaces. Actually two buildings [one on each site], the program [an architectural term that basically means the uses of a building] will be mixed use in nature, expanding and adding to the existing vibrancy of adjacent Armory Square. Striving to create another pocket of 24 hour vibrancy hinging on the Warehouse [highlighted in yellow], housing--both market rate, and affordable student--office space and retail space are the staples of such an endeavor. The design shall accomodate not only these uses though; any number of additional programmatic elements can be inserted and created--bowling alley, movie theater, botanical gardens, rockcliming, etc...I'm still wrestling with all the possibilities.