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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Postcard Thursday: Skyrise for Harlem

Skyrise for Harlem; Esquire magazine, April 1965
There's a terrific exhibit at the Queens Museum called "Never Built New York," that features dozens of plans for unbuilt architecture that would have remade the city. (The show only runs through February 18, so catch it while you can.)

When we were visiting the show in October, we were struck by the plan from 1965 to tear down much of Harlem and replace it with giant, 100-story towers (seen above). James researched the subject further and his essay on "Skyrise for Harlem" appeared yesterday in Curbed NY. The story not only outlines the plan -- which architect Buckminster Fuller created with writer June Jordan -- but also looks at how Harlem real estate transformed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

You can read the story here:

From the ARCH/CAEHT plan for the East Harlem Triangle redevelopment; from the Louisiana State University archives

Fuller and Jordan weren't the only planners who were trying to figure out how to improve housing conditions in Harlem in the 1960s. The drawing above is from the Architects’ Renewal Committee in Harlem's suggested plan for the rezoning of the East Harlem Triangle. As James notes in his article:
In 1964, the Architects’ Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH) was founded to serve, in the words of architectural historian Brian D. Goldstein, as a “community design center” but then transformed—as the influence of black nationalism became more prominent in Harlem’s political life—into a way to “resist and revise official urban development plans".... Take, for example, the ARCH proposal for the East Harlem Triangle redevelopment.... The city’s plan was to turn the area—the triangle bounded by Madison Avenue, 125th Street, and the Harlem River—into an industrial zone. Pushback from the newly formed Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle (CAEHT) convinced the city to consider alternate proposals. Working with CAEHT, the planners at ARCH, led by its director, African-American architect J. Max Bond Jr., produced a plan that would not only radically transform the East Harlem Triangle, but would create a “distinctively black and democratic urban space.” 
As opposed to “Skyrise for Harlem,” the East Harlem Triangle plan advocated the preservation of newer townhouses and tenements, while new construction would preserve “positive features of the present living patterns".... On a reconfigured 125th Street, most of the traffic is eliminated in favor of wide sidewalks and tree-lined medians with bench seating. Typical examples from the urban planning wishlist are present, like a dedicated lane for bus traffic, while very specific symbols of Harlem abound: the bus boasts an ad for Muhammad Speaks, the newspaper of the Nation of Islam. A man in a dashiki stands in the median, while a woman on the sidewalk raises a black power salute.
The Queens Museum panorama, with some of the Fuller/Jordan Skyrise towers superimposed over Harlem

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Speaking of Curbed, three of James's pieces were singled out for the "Best of 2017" lists for both the local and national sites this year:
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