When the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced their AIANY Emerging New York Architects design competition last summer, I knew we were in trouble. AIANY focused around designs for the QueensWay, but instead of encouraging emerging architects to think about any use, including rail, for the right of way, the organization urged designers to think only about an elevated park. And crazy renderings for an elevated park are what we have received.
AIANY released the results earlier this week, and New York seems awfully under-represented in the Emerging New York Architects competition. The big winners came from France, Switzerland and Canada while the student prize winner came out of New Mexico and only one Queens designer received an honorable mention. That’s not to say that outsiders can’t design architecture for New York City, but when we’re thinking about turning over a valuable and irreplaceable right-of-way to a rails-to-trails project, New Yorkers should probably be heard above all others.
While none of the proposal captures my attention quite like the underground swimming pool I discussed last night, they seem to underscore, in their disconnect from the surrounding neighborhood, just how unlikely any conversion of this rail right of way will be. In all likelihood, the Rockaway Beach Branch will remain as it has been for decades — the subject of numerous proposals to reactivate rail, the subject of conversion talks, and the subject of NIMBY opposition to anything happening at all.
Still, let’s marvel at the designs. All were designed at the abandoned Ozone Park station, one of the sites of the QueensWay that doesn’t back up onto residential properties and contains some wide open sight lines. It isn’t the norm for this right of way.
Here, we have the winner. From Carrie Wibert of Paris, France, the QueensWay steps took home the $5000 prize. This is the grand entry to the QueensWay park. These steps are located between 100th and 99th Streets, and 101st and 103rd Avenues in Ozone Park, Queens, and while not far from the A train, it’s in a spot that could use better rail service rather than a park. But we’ve been over that before.
The second place finisher is from Nikolay Martynov of Basel, Switzerland. It is called the Queens Billboard and appears to be a roller coaster for people without handrails. Your guess is as good as mine.
The third place prize went to Song Deng and René Biberstein of Toronto, Canada. Their entry called Make It! Grow It! seemed to capture the essence of what QueensWay organizers want. Underneath the structure is a market and above is a High Line-style park. Again, I’m not sure where all these people, or the yellow cab, would come from, but the general idea here seems to stem from Field of Dreams: If you build it, they will come.
The student prize comes from Jessica Shoemaker of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is underwhelming.
The honorable mention went to Hyuntek Yoon of Queens. In a Daily News article, Yoon explained that his design allows for a seamless integration from street level to the park. It’s an alluring concept and a pleasant design.
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Over the years, I’ve been highly skeptical of the QueensWay. It’s a long shot to believe that the Rockaway Beach Branch line will be reactivated, but as Joe Raskin’s book revealed, it’s not a new idea. The subway operators have long wishes to incorporate the Rockaway Beach Branch into the subway, and the only thing stopping integration in the 1950s was money (and Robert Moses). Today, there’s a clear need and a clear plan, but political, and more importantly, economic, support isn’t there. Residents will object; the MTA doesn’t have plans for funding. Same as it ever was.
If anything comes of the QueensWay, it ultimately won’t look like these renderings. Most proponents want a utilitarian park with a focus on a bike path that can help bypass the dangerous and crowded Woodhaven Boulevard. These plans, instead, bring the High Line sensibilities to an area that isn’t dense or popular enough to support another High Line. AIANY will host some panels on these designs, and I’m curious to hear what the architects and project proponents have to say. But if I were a betting man, I’d bet against movement, rail or otherwise. The city just isn’t ready for it, and that’s a commentary on the state of transit affairs.