Arlington Journal: Amazon’s design proposal for HQ2

by Ron Bernthal

It was November 13, 2018 when Amazon announced its new co-headquarters (with Seattle), known as HQ2, would be built in Arlington, Virginia, a 26 square-mile suburb of Washington, D.C., located on the southwest bank of Potomac River. In early 2021 the company offered information and renderings of what the campany’s new campus would look like.

The Helix and other new buildings are proposed for Amazon’s HQ2 location in Arlington Virginia. (all images courtesy NBBJ)

After Amazon began its nationwide search for its HQ2 location, Arlington became one of the favorites to win the competition as Arlington County, with a population of about 240,00, already had many of the prerequisites that the company was looking for. Other than being close to a major airport (Arlington has two…Reagan National and Dulles); have an excellent public transportation system (DC area has the Washington Metro and Metrobus / WAMATA); proximity to residential housing, highly rated public schools and universities; and access to other technology companies (Arlington offers a great number of assets to technology companies looking to start up, expand or relocate, see below). And, of course, being just a stone’s throw from the nation’s top political leaders and national organizations doesn’t hurt.

In recent years Arlington’s startup ecosystem has been rapidly expanding, which, along with its established high-tech firms, has contributed towards the Arlington’s recognition as one of the country’s top innovation hubs. Since 2015, Arlington-based companies have generated 250 venture capital and merger and acquisition deals totaling over $35.7 billion covering several industries including software, cybersecurity, fintech, big data, digital media, and more. Amazon’s HQ2 is expected to add another 25,000 high-salaried tech employees, and an investment of $2.5 billion in over the next decade.

The project started with the demolition and excavation of several 1950s-era warehouses that once stood on the HQ2 site, located near the intersection of South Eads Street and 15th Street South. The over 3-million square-foot HQ2 project will also include ground-floor retail and more than two acres of open public space.

Although Amazon has already started some site demolition, the major construction work will begin in early 2022, with three 22-story office towers, and the HQ2 centerpiece building known as The Helix.

The Helix, an indoor-outdoor building designed by the international architecture firm NBBJ, will be a spiral-shaped glass tower covered in trees and walking trails that will merge alterative workspaces with two spiraling, “green” fresh air “hill climbs” that will, according to Amazon, foster creativity and wellness. A 2.8-acre public Metropolitan Park, 200+ seat amphitheater, and an artist-in-residence program in The Helix will encourage places for local residents and employees to connect. In addition, unique spaces throughout the project will provide restorative water elements and native trees for visitors and staff to recharge. With a focus on sustainability, the three new office buildings will be LEED Platinum certified and run on 100% renewable energy. Plans call for the complex to be powered entirely by renewable energy from a solar farm in Pittsylvania County, Virginia.  The green trail will be landscaped with trees and plants native to the state, specifically the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 550-mile range that runs through the western part of Virginia. When it opens in 2025, workers will be able to step outdoors on every floor and use the path to access other levels. The green spaces will be watered by rainwater runoff.

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NBBJ, which also designed the dome-shaped greenhouses for Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, known as The Spheres, said the company asked it to create an “environment that prioritises healthy work.” Amazon is expected to open The Helix and its green spaces to the public on certain weekends.

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Amazon employees will have access to onsite amenities including a childcare center, and retail shops, restaurants and a farmers market will be located in a plaza at the base of the glass spiral, and employee bike parking for 950 bicycles will connect to a quarter of a mile of protected cycling lanes. There will also be electric vehicle charging points on site.

Several community benefits were part of the HQ2 development proposal approved by Arlington County leaders, including the following:

  • Over two acres of public open space
  • A $20 million affordable housing contribution
  • Two new public streets
  • Sidewalk and streetscape improvements
  • Protected bike lanes on South Eads Street and 15th Street South
  • Floating bus islands with shelters
  • Street-level retail space
  • A shared underground parking garage
  • $225,000 for public art

Lindesnes Journal: Europe’s first underwater restaurant attracts visitors to southern Norway.

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Along the seabed, 16-feet below the surface, a 36-foot wide, 11-foot tall horizontal window offers a visual gateway to the sea (image courtesy Under/Ivar Kvaal)  

By Ron Bernthal

Located at the southernmost point of the Norwegian coastline, where cold winter winds and ethereal summer breezes blow over rocky beaches, an underwater restaurant, the first in Europe, is situated at a unique geographical confluence, where thousands of marine species flourish in the briny and brackish waters of the North Sea to produce a natural abundance in biodiversity at a coastal site in the municpality of Lindesnes in southern Norway.

The Snøhetta-designed restaurant, called Under — in Norwegian, “under” has the dual meaning of ”below” and ”wonder” — opened in 2019 and was awarded a Michelin star in 2020, the first restaurant in southern Norway to receive this prestigous designation. It also functions as a research center for marine life, providing a convenient location for marine biologists and others to study the wild and beautiful coastline of Norway’s southern tip, and what types of sea life lie beneath the sea. Leaning halfway into the North Sea, the building’s 112-foot long, uniquely designed monolithic form breaks the surface of the water to rest directly on the seabed 16-feet below.

Under is half submerged into the waters off the southern Norwegian coast, operating as a restaurant and research center. (photo courtesy Under/Inger Marie Grini/Bo Bedre Norge)

The structure is designed to fully integrate into its marine environment over time, as the roughness of the concrete shell will function as an artificial reef, welcoming aquatic snails and kelp to inhabit it. With the thick concrete and steel walls lying against the craggy shoreline, the building is constructed to withstand pressure and shock from the rugged sea conditions. Like a sunken periscope, the restaurant’s massive window offers a view of the seabed as it changes throughout the seasons and varying weather conditions. 

“Under is a natural progression of our experimentation with boundaries”, says Snøhetta founder and architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. ““As a new landmark for Southern Norway, Under proposes unexpected combinations of pronouns and prepositions, and challenges that determines a person’s physical placement in their environment. In this building, you may find yourself under water, over the seabed, between land and sea. This will offer you new perspectives and ways of seeing the world, both beyond and beneath the waterline”.

Under restaurant executive chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard (photo Under restaurant)

The restaurant seats 35-40 dinner guests every night, in a dining room protected by half-foot-thick concrete walls. Danish-born executive chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard, originally from the acclaimed restaurant Måltid in Kristiansand, Norway, runs the 16-person kitchen team. “Fresh ingredients and pure, naked flavors are of utmost importance to us. At the same time, we want to provide an unique dining experience that ushers our guests beyond their comfort zone. Just on the other side of our iconic window, the ocean is bursting with fresh delicacies from the sea, so the journey from the kitchen to the plate is minimal,” said chef Ellitsgaard. At the restaurant there is no set menu, but a 15-20 course seasonal tasting menu, with the fish and seafood coming from the cold sea just outside the windows. Could any restaurant offer fresher product? Perhaps that is one reason a table at this fine-dining venue must be reserved weeks or months in advance.  Monkfish and Norwegian fish soup are often part of the tasting menu, as are an assortment of crabs, oysters, calms, and lobster, and the beautifully crafted desserts always close the meal. For an extra cost, diners can add wine pairing to the cuisine. Like many upscale restaurants that offer a multi-course tasting menu, the price is high and portions tend to be small, but the quality of the food is high and creatively presented. And, as the saying goes, the scenery of this Norwegian coastal location is priceless.

The Lindesnes region and Under restaurant is located at the southern tip of Norway (image Google Maps)

An equally important part of the project is the building’s use as a marine research center. The restaurant will welcome interdisciplinary research teams studying marine biology and fish behavior, through cameras and other measurement tools that are installed on and outside the facade of the restaurant.

The researchers’ aim is to document the population, behavior and diversity of species that are living around the restaurant, through cameras and live observation. The goal of the research is to collect data that can be programmed into the learning tools that monitor the population dynamics of key marine species on a regular basis, thereby creating new opportunities to improve official marine resource management. 

The 19th-century Lindesnes Lighthouse is the last manned lighthouse in Norway. (photo Heidi Sørvig/SørlandetAS)

In addition to visiting Under, the southern region of Norway has lots of inlets along the coast where cafes, small seaside hotels, white-painted wooden houses and rocky, windswept coves offer visitors an opportunity to explore this beautiful, maritime region of the country. The Lindesnes Havhotell is located on the shore of the of the Njerve Fjordm, just a 4-minute walk from Under. Other properties are situated just a short drive away, either in the direction of Stavanger (about 2:30 hours NW) or Oslo (about 4:30 hours NE).  

Aerial view of inlets, bays and rocky coastline near Grunnesund, between Mandal and Lindesnes (photo Magnus Funset/

Top of page banner photo of Under interior © Tom Nordstrom 2020

Milan Journal: Proposed “skyscraper forest” building to be part of revitalized urban district.

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Part of the Pirelli 39 urban revitalization project, north view.  (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Stefano Boeri Architetti/Rendering by Aether Images)

By Ron Bernthal

In early 2021 COIMA SGR, Italy’s leading independent company in the asset management of real estate investment funds on behalf of institutional investors in Italy, announced that the architectural firms of Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+r) and Stefano Boeri Architetti won the international architectural competition for the Pirelli 39 project. More than 70 groups took part in the international competition with359 architecture, landscape / urban design and engineering firms representing 15 countries.

Wedged between Central Station and the Scalo Farini railyard, Pirelli 39 is home to an existing tower decommissioned by Milan in 2015 over the building’s unsuitability for modern uses and lack of seismic protection. The surrounding site is also in need of environmental remediation. Once complete, Pirelli 39 will join a larger collection of parcels making up the newly reinvigorated Porta Nuova Gioia area, which aims to better integrate the Porta Nuova business district with the city’s center.

Pirreli 39 provides an opportunity to develop a new model of mixed-use development and sustainable urban growth as the new project combines the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings with environmentally responsible new construction, and a vibrant ‘living’ cultural destination devoted to the art and science of plants.

Part of the Pirelli 39 urban revitalization project, south view.  (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Stefano Boeri Architetti/Rendering by Aether Images)

While the retrofit of the existing office building will reskin it from a clunky International-style office block to a more typical glass-enclosed tower, the real star of the Pirelli 39 project is the new residential tower planned for next door, where each will jut out to a heavily planted terrace. Already it is being called the “skyscraper forest.”

Another, earlier residential building project in Milan, about an eight minute walk from the Pirelli 39 project, also used planted terrances when it opened in 2014. Bosco Verticale are two residential towers within Milan’s Porta Nuova area, one of the biggest urban redevelopment projects in Europe. The building is placed in Porta Nuova Isola, an area which was historically dedicated to light industrial and craft activities.

That project created a new standard for sustainable housing to contrast Milan’s increasing pollution threat. As a new model for urban regeneration, the design creates a biological habitat that includes a total of 900 trees between nine-feet and 18-feet in height, planted on the terraces up to the 27th floor, along with 5,000 shrubs and 11,000 floral plants. The vast amount of greenery on the building encourages the production of energy. The plants produce oxygen and humidity and absorb CO2 and dust particles, thus improving the surrounding environment.

The new Pirelli 39 residential building will be adapted to meet the current standards of tower spaces in terms of innovation and sustainability. The renovation will maintain the building’s original character, while updating the structure to maximize efficiency. Most interestingly, in addition to the terrace plantings, the project will provide a biodiverse greenhouse space dedicated to providing an immersive, educational, interactive and innovative experience of various plant species, and will act as an extension of the neighboring Biblioteca degli Alberi Park.

The biodiverse “Greenhouse Bridge” with various plant species as part of the Pirelli 39 project  (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Stefano Boeri Architetti/Rendering by Aether Images)

Our studio is thrilled to have this opportunity to make a meaningful architectural contribution to the city of Milan, our first project in Italy,” said Elizabeth Diller, partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “As much of our work focuses on the future of cities, the Pirelli 39 project presents a great opportunity to develop a new model of mixed-use development and sustainable urban growth. The project combines the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings with environmentally responsible new construction, and a vibrant ‘living’ cultural destination devoted to the art and science of plants.”

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Pirelli 39 project bujildings, with proposed buildings and parks. (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Stefano Boeri Architetti/Rendering by Aether Images)

The 18,000 square-feet of vegetation, distributed across multiple floors, will express the changing colors of the seasons through flora and fauna that will also absorb 14 tons of CO2 and produce 9 tons of oxygen per year, the equalivent output of a 107,000-acre forest.

And with 29,000 square-feet of photovoltaic panels, the tower will be able to self-produce 65% of its energy needs. The building includes a wooden structure that will decrease its carbon footprint, including 64,000-cubic feet of wood floors that will save up to 3,600 tons of carbon dioxide in the construction phases.

The Pirelli 39 redevelopment project is part of the regeneration process of the wider area that started with the redevelopment of Gioia 22 and will be completed in the coming years with the development of Pirelli 35 and Gioia 20.

“This project will reinvigorate the iconic former Pirellino building, creating a new tower that mixes architecture and nature to create a green space that is open to the whole city,” said Stefano Boeri, founder of Stefano Boeri Architetti. “In such a difficult period, this project relaunches the vision of a forward-looking Milan and bravely faces the great challenges of the climate crisis.”

Nine Elms Journal: Along the Thames a neighborhood continues to prosper with regeneration projects and plenty of green space.

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Night view of new U.S. Embassy, Embassy Gardens Nine Elms and Thames River (photo EcoWorld/Ballymore)

By Ron Bernthal

A site called Nine Elms has existed on London South Bank since the mid- 17th century. Once just a row of elm trees, in the late 19th-century and early 20t-century Nine Elms was a notorious slum. Today, however, the area is a story of regeneration. With more than 40 interconnected development projects springing up in the past decade, and more to follow, this Thames riverside district continues to transform.

Nine Elms is steeped in history, as it is close to central London and on the Thames river, providing easy transport links for centuries. Fortunately, the Thames is still a key river route, the newest passenger piers opened in 2017 at Vauxhall (St George Wharf) and Battersea Power Station, connecting Nine Elms to London Riverbus services.   

Nine Elms Rail Station, c 1840’s (image © Nine Elms on the South Bank)

Until 1963, a Victorian neoclassical station structure by architect Sir William Trite stood on the site of what is now the New Covent Garden Market in Nine Elms.  The Nine Elms Rail Station above opened in 1838 as the London terminus of the London & Southampton Railway, and Queen Victoria was one of the first passengers to use the station when she travelled from Nine Elms to catch the boat for the Isle of Wight where she visited her palace, Osborne House.  

The station closed to passengers ten years later when the railway line was extended to Waterloo in 1848, making it easier to transport goods and passengers into central London.  Although the station was closed to the general public, the Royal family kept the station in use when welcoming visiting European monarchs and dignitaries. It became known as the ‘Royal Station’ and then part of a freight yard until World War II, where the area took hits in 1941 by German bombers during The Blitz.  

Remarkably, the structure stood proudly until 1963 when it was demolished,  to be replaced by the flower section of the New Covent Garden Market in 1974, which itself was then demolished to allow for the widening of what is now a busy auto road known as Nine Elms Lane.  

A big boost, however, to the ongoing revitalization of Nine Elms, and the nearby Battersea Power Station complex, will be the opening in fall, 2021, of the Tube’s Northern Line Extension (NLE), the first major extension to the London Underground since the 1990s.

Map showing Northern Line Extension route where new rail stations for Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms will open in 2021 (map credit Transport for London)

The NLE will improve quality of life in Nine Elms, Vauxhall and the Battersea Power Station areas, where new mixed-use, residential and cultural projects are rapidly progressing. Thousands of new jobs are being created, and travel times from Nine Elms’ new rail station to London’s West End or the City via the Tube, now about 30 minutes via train/bus, will be drastically reduced.

Rendering of proposed new town square project, Nine Elms (image courtesy Assael Architecture)

“Seeing a Northern Line Extension train travelling through the extension for the first time is a really significant milestone and demonstrates the commitment of our brilliant team who have been working so hard during such a challenging year,” said Stuart Harvey, Director of Major Projects for Transport for London. “We are now focused on making sure the signalling software and systems are ready, along with completing the final stages of fit-out of the two new stations [Nine Elms & Battersea] before the planned opening of the extension in autumn. 2021.” 

The Northern Line Extension is the first major London Undground line extension since the Jubilee line in the late 1990s. The extension will connect Kennington to Battersea Power Station, via Nine Elms Station, bringing those two South Bank neighborhoods to within 15 minutes of the City and West End districts. Three new residential buildings of 21, 17, and 16-stories are proposed to be constructed above and surrounding the new Nine Elms tube station, providing more than 9,700 square-feet of new public space and 1,200 square-feet of new retail space.

Nine Elms is also home to the regenerated Battersea Power Station, which offers trendy riverside dining and bars and pop-up food markets; a wide promenade along the Thames river embankment, and stalls at the wholesale New Covent Garden Market where vendors provide fresh fruit, vegetables, and flowers. The area’s modern developments include stylish residential apartment buildings, he new U.S. Embassy complex which opened in 2017, and Linear Park, a Huw Morgan-designed swarth of green that runs through Battersea, Nine Elms and Vauxhall.

U.S. Embassy London, located in Nine Elms (image courtesy U.S. Embassy)

In 2018, the U.S. relocated from Grosvenor Square to Embassy Gardens, and the land on which the new U.S. Embassy stands was sold in 2008 to the U.S. government by Ballymore Group, one of the developers of the adjacent mixed-use Embassy Gardens project (phases one and three delivered by Ballymore and phase two delivered by a JV between Ballymore and EcoWorld). The Netherlands also relocated their embassy to Nine Elms as well, and the publisher Penguin Random House announced an greement to lease space in One Embassy Gardens.

The Sky Pool (top of image) connects two buldings at Embassy Gardens project (image EcoWorld/Ballmore)

Several of the new developments in Nine Elms have impressive features, especially the Sky Pool, which will open in spring, 2021. The pool will be suspended 10-stories high between Embassy Gardens’ two Legacy buildings, allowing residents to swim between the buildings.  The pool is designed to appear as though it floats in the air and uses clear acrylic panes, 8-12 inches thick, so swimmers have uninterrupted views of the London skyline, as well as the terrain 115 feet below.

Swimmer in Embassy Gardens Sky Pool (image EcoWorld/Ballymore)

The Sky Pool is 75-feet long, allowing residents to swim across the 46-foot gap between the two buildings. The pool is entirely transparent and, according to the designers, the experience will be more akin to swimming within an aquarium than a pool. There are walk-in steps and filtration systems at both ends of the pool, and five modes of lighting will add to the magical feeling.

U.S. Embassy London overlooks Embassy Gardens Nine Elms Sky Pool (image EcoWorld/Ballymore)

Additional Embassy Gardens project amenities include a Sky Deck with spa, summer bar and Orangery dining venue, the Maureen O’Hara theatre, the Belmont indoor pool, working and meeting spaces, indoor retail shops and plenty of outdoor green space for walking/running/biking trails.

From the 1930s to 1980s, the Battersea Power Station (BPS) was a working power station. At its peak, it was producing a fifth of London’s power, supplying electricity to some of London’s most recognisable landmarks, such as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. After decades of sitting derelict in Nine Elms, it is now being redeveloped into a new destination for visitors and residents. The Battersea Power Station, with its four tall towers, is one of London’s most iconic restoration projects, and when fully completed will help grow the local economy with over 17,000 new jobs, and deliver 4,239 homes to the area.

Bicycle rider stops to view Battersea Power Station regeneration project in Nine Elms (image

Circus West Village opened within the BPS project in 2017 and is now a thriving area of independent restaurants, cafés, and bars as well as leisure offerings including The Turbine Theatre, Birdie’s Crazy Golf, Boom Cycle and Archlight Cinema with two distinct venues. Other retailers include Uniqlo, Jo Malone and Space NK.

Along with about a thousand residents living in this first phase, over three million people normally visit BPS annually to experience the wide range of festivals, markets and children’s activities available year-round. In 2016, Apple announced plans to renovate and eventually house 1,400 employees at BPS by 2021, occupying around 500,000 square-feet of space. Presently Apple has employees in several locations around London, and although Covid travel restrictions in 2020 delayed somewhat the original construction deadlines, Apple is setting its eyes on a 2022 occupancy.

Rendering of proposed Apple office space at Battersea Power Station (image Apple Insider)

“We are delighted to be partnering with these exciting brands which set the tone for our retail and leisure offering inside the Power Station,” said Simon Murphy, Chief Executive Officer at Battersea Power Station Development Company. “We entered 2020 with a very strong pipeline of retail and leisure brands intending to make the Power Station their home, and despite the pandemic, we have continued to work hard on the project, and have been counting down the days to the opening of new phases of this historic landmark in 2021.”

Nine Elms Park is located in the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area (VNEB). This project presents additional prime development opportunities in the heart of the Nine Elms regeneration area. Nine Elms Park covers 14 acres, with the park itself running the length of the site east to west. The new development is located just 1.5 miles from the Houses of Parliament and close to the older, traditional desirable districts of Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Mayfair.

The Nine Elms Parkside project will provide more new housing and public green space within Nine Elms Park and Linear Park (image Camlens Landscape Architects)

Benefiting from major city investments that include the Northern Line Extension, and the two soon-to-open new Battsea and Nine Elms tube stations, the Nine Elms Park project comprises seven serviced development plots within a park setting, with planning permission for up to 1,950 residential units.

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The Nine Elms Parkside project (image Camlens Landscape Architects)

A separate linear park has also been created to connect Lambeth Palace Gardens and Vauxhall to the Battersea Power Station, and was incorporated into the Nine Elms Park project, thus providing a continuous green corridor stretching through the middle of Nine Elms Park, offering a landscaped, green and car-free pathway from Battersea Power Station to Vauxhall Cross, allowing more green space for the new residential components.

Nine Elms Park will open out into a variety of open spaces and extends into various community projects, connecting with public squares, retail shops, and to public transport access. It will eventually contain 130,000 square-feet of retail and restaurant space, and be entirely open to the public as a focal point for leisure, sports, outdoor events and food markets. There will also be a new pedestrian and cycle route through the center of the VNEB area as an alternative to the main road. At four key points along the route the park will connect to the Thames River Path, enabling visitors and residents to move easily between the Park and the river’s edge.

New York Journal: Proposal to revitalize historic NYC park.

By Ron Bernthal

For nearly 170 years New York City’s Union Square has been a gathering place for commerce, entertainment, for labor and political events, and of course for recreation. The park owes its name to its location at the intersection, or union, of two major roads in Manhattan, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue).

Union Square, circa 1870 Public Domain / WikiCommons

When the famous gridiron of Manhattan streets and avenues was proposed in 1807, the former potter’s field at this intersection was designated as Union Place. The site was authorized by the State Legislature as a public place in 1831, and acquired by the City of New York in 1833. On July 19, 1839 Union Square opened to the public.

Its paths, situated among lushly planted grounds, were inspired by the fashionable residential squares of London. The design emphasized the park’s oval shape (enclosed by an iron picket fence) and focused on a large central fountain, which was installed for the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842.

View of Union Square, New York Public Domain / WikiCommons

As New York City’s downtown expanded northward, Union Square became an important commercial and residential center, with houses, hotels, stores, banks, offices, manufacturing establishments, Tammany Hall, and a variety of cultural facilities springing up on its borders.

In 1871 Parks Engineer in Chief M.A. Kellogg and Acting Landscape Gardener E.A. Pollard collaborated on a new plan for Union Square. A year later the park was redesigned by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Yes, those two! They removed the enclosing fence and hedge, planted a variety of trees, widened the sidewalks, and created a muster ground and reviewing stand, to meet the public requirement of mass-meetings at the time.

In 1928-29 the original Union Square was completely demolished to accommodate a new underground concourse for the subway. Alterations made in the 1920s and 1930s included the straightening of park paths, the construction of a colonnaded pavilion, and the dedication of a new sculpture called the Independence (Charles F. Murphy Memorial) Flagstaff (1926, sculpted by Anthony de Francisci). Earlier statues and fountains with their dedication date include George Washington (1856, Henry Kirke Brown), Abraham Lincoln (1868, also Brown), Marquis de Lafayette (1873, by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi), and the James Fountain (1881, by Karl Adolph Donndorf).

Union Square Greenmarket (image

Since 1976 the Union Square Greenmarket has served as a local landmark, offering fresh food and plants on the north side of the park, where a flower market flourished over a century ago. In 1985 major renovations under Mayor Koch included creating a new plaza at the south end of the park, relocating paths to make the park more accessible, planting a central lawn, and installing new lighting and two subway kiosks. In 1986 a monument to (1986, by Kantilal B. Patel) was dedicated on a traffic island southwest of the main park, two new playgrounds were constructed in 1993-94, and a restaurant opened in the sunken courtyard outside the pavilion in 1994. In 1997 the United States Department of the Interior designated Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in American labor history.

In early 2020 the Union Square Partnership released its Union Square-14th Street District Vision Plan, an ambitious new proposal that includes the Union Square-14th Street neighborhood and, when completed, will result in a 33 percent increase in public space, a benefit to all residents and visitors who enjoy the pleasures of one of New York City’s most inconic location.  

Union Square before Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)
Union Square after Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

“We are proud to unveil a Vision Plan that places the needs of the Union Square-14th Street community at the forefront by promoting openness, equity, safety, and accessibility. The ultimate goal here is for parkgoers to know they have arrived at a place that is special,” said Jennifer Falk, Executive Director of the Union Square Partnership. “Initiated as a response to the proposed L train shutdown, this Vision Plan evolved as COVID-19 upended our world, and with it, our relationship with public space. More open space, safer pedestrian and cyclist travel, better transit, and more outdoor seating and greenery – all of these changes are called for in this plan and will benefit our community immeasurably as we chart the district’s next chapter.”

Designed in collaboration with Marvel, the Vision Plan is the culmination of a two-year-long process working with community members, local business leaders, urban designers, landscape architects, transportation experts, and City and State agency partners. With over a thousand individuals engaged at twenty separate engagement events, it was the largest outreach effort in the Partnership’s 45-year history.

“For many New Yorkers, Union Square is the heart of the city, attracting a rare and vibrant combination of residents, shoppers, and office workers. Our design preserves the wonderful qualities that draw people to Union Square-14th Street and provides more room for pedestrians by extending the park to adjacent areas and reducing congestion. By finding a way for the park to grow and evolve with the city around it, we are maintaining the balance of the space, making it more beautiful and enjoyable for everyone,” said Guido Hartray, AIA, founding partner of Marvel.

The Vision Plan proposes five key projects within this vibrant neighborhood.

1.      Transform 14th Street into a world-class boulevard and transitway by building on the initial positive effects of the City’s busway program. This includes expanded pedestrian areas and designated bus boarding zones, as well as prioritizing access and connectivity to create an activated streetscape. New parklets, trees, planters, and other elements will enhance the walking experience, and sidewalks at Union Square will be doubled in width to alleviate congestion.

14th Street before Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)
14th Street after Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

2.      Convert Union Square West into a seamless pedestrian plaza by extending the park all the way to the surrounding buildings. Enlarging the pedestrian area along the full length of Union Square West will create a more unified “town square” feeling and help reduce pedestrian crowding. The plan proposes installing additional seating, encouraging active ground-floor uses, enlarging the subway entrance at 16th Street with an escalator and elevator, and building a permanent flexible infrastructure for the Greenmarket. 

Union Square West before Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)
Union Square after Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

3.      Create an expansive new open space at the park’s southeast corner. The Plan proposes opening the southbound side of Union Square East to pedestrians to join the plaza to the park and create a large new open space for walking, gathering, and programming.

Union Square Triangle Plaza before Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)
Union Square Triangle Plaza after Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

4.      Build a Broadway Gateway at 17th Street as a permanent extension of the park.  In 2011, the NYC Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) implemented a temporary plaza at 17th Street and Broadway, where the roadway widens to meet Union Square Park. The vision for Broadway Gateway Plaza makes this plaza permanent so that it becomes a welcoming “gateway” into the square with a unified paving scheme and park-like elements. This aligns with NYC DOT’s Broadway Visioning plan to complete a 2.5-mile pedestrian-friendly corridor stretching down from Columbus Circle.

Union Square Gatway Plaza before Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)
Union Square Gateway Plaza after Vision Plan (Marvel, courtesy of the Union Square Partnership)

5.      Develop a new Master Plan for Union Square Park.  A master plan will be a multi-year undertaking that will result in critical upgrades to the park’s infrastructure, including amenities such as bike parking and upgraded public restrooms, utilities like high-speed data, new lighting, and better drainage), and landscape improvements including a renovated dog run, improved wheelchair access, and a new accessible subway entrance. 

As mentioned above, Union Square Park has undergone several design changes since it opened to the public in 1839, each of which have incrementally made it a more welcoming and pedestrian-friendly urban public square. The new Vison Plan comprises reconstruction of roughly one mile of streets and 3.5 acres of existing park land, construction of a new accessible subway entrance with elevator and escalator, and installation of district-wide streetscape improvements in an area of 20 city blocks.

Having lived and worked in and around Union Square for over 35 years, I’ve experienced just about every moment of evolution and development in the Park and its surrounding neighborhood,” said Danny Meyer, Founder, and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. “Now, after a year in which so many in our community have been isolated and forced to be socially distanced, it’s refreshing to re-imagine a once again thriving Union Square made more commodious with additional public space carved out for people to be with people.  We crave and need that.”

Best Tall Building Awards

by Ron Bernthal

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has announced Award of Excellence winners of its Best Tall Building awards for 2020-2021, with Asian, Australian and American projects among this year’s standouts.

The CTBUH Annual Awards program recognizes projects and individuals that have made extraordinary contributions to the advancement of tall buildings and the urban environment, and that achieve sustainability at the highest and broadest level. The annual CTBUH Tall + Urban Innovation Conference will take place in May, 2021, where winning entries will collect their awards.

The objective is to deliver a comprehensive and sophisticated view of these important buildings, spaces, and technologies, while advocating for improvements in every aspect of their performance, especially those that have the greatest impact on the people who use them each day. This means that the buildings highlighted are often not the tallest in a given year, but represent the best qualities and innovations in the typology.

The total number of skyscrapers completed in 2020 fell by 20 per cent as the coronavirus pandemic affected construction, with 106 buildings over 200 metres tall completed compared to 133 in 2019. The year 2021, however, marked the completion of the Extell Development Company’s 131-story, 1,549-foot (472 metres) high Central Park Tower (on West 57th Street in Manhattan), now the tallest building in the world.

Some of the other 28 building categories in the annual competition include Best Tall Office Building; Best Tall Residential or Hotel Building; and Best Tall Mixed-Use Building. There were additional categories in engineering, construction, innovation and interior design.

All images below courtesy The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH).

Best Tall Building under 100 metres

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH)  Best Tall Building under 100 meters▲ 25 King, Brisbane (top left), Arc by Crown Group, Sydney (top right), UTS Central, Sydney (bottom left), Walan, Brisbane (bottom right).

25 King
Brisbane (AUS)

271 Spring Street
Melbourne (AUS)

Arc by Crown Group
Sydney (AUS)

Asia Financial Centre
Beijing (CHN)

Vancouver (CAN)

Gala Avenue Westside
Shanghai (CHN)

White Tree
Montpellier (FRA)

Amsterdam (NL)

Infinity by Crown Group
Sydney (AUS)

River City 3
Toronto (CAN)

Siamese Exclusive 31
Bangkok (THA)

U.S. Embassy
London (UK)

UTS Central
Sydney (AUS)

Brisbane (AUS)

Best Tall Building 100-199 metres

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Best Tall Building 100-199 meters▲ 60 Martin Place, Sydney (top left), Rosewood Bangkok Hotel, Bangkok (top right), Vancouver House, Vancouver (bottom left), Changsha Hua Centre, Changsha (bottom right).

18 Robinson
Singapore (SGP)

Changsha Hua Centre Phase II
Changsha (CHN)

Singapore (SGP)

K11 ATELIER King’s Road
Hong Kong (HKG)

San Francisco (USA)

Museum Tower Kyobashi
Tokyo (JPN)

Frankfurt (DEU)

Rosewood Bangkok Hotel
Bangkok (THA)

SHUIBEI International Centre
Shenzhen (CHN)

60 Martin Place
Sydney (AUS)

Sky Green
Taichung (TWN)

ToHA Tower 1
Tel Aviv (ISR)

Tour Saint-Gobain
Courbevoie (FRA)

Vancouver House
Vancouver (CAN)

Best Tall Building 200-299 metres

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Best Tall Building 200-299 meters▲ One Barangaroo, Syndey (top left), Leeza Soho, Beijing (top right), One Thousand Museum, Miami (bottom left), Aro, New York (bottom right).

110 North Wacker
Chicago (USA)

New York City (USA)

Atrio North Tower
Bogota (COL)

FIVE Jumeirah Village Dubai
Dubai (UAE)

Leeza SOHO
Beijing (CHN)

Telus Sky
Calgary (CAN)

Maike Centre
Xi’an (CHN)

NEMA Chicago
Chicago (USA)

London (UK)

One Barangaroo
Sydney (AUS)

One Thousand Museum
Miami (USA)

Best Tall Building 300-399 metres

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Best Tall Building 300-399 meters▲ One Manhattan West, New York City (top left), Zhuhai Tower, Zhuhai (top right), Poly Pazhou, Guangzhou (bottom left), Comcast Technology Centre (bottom right).

Comcast Technology Centre
Philadelphia (USA)

Hanking Centre
Shenzhen (CHN)

Hengqin Financial Centre
Zhuhai (CHN)

Jumeirah Gate
Dubai (UAE)

One Manhattan West
New York City (USA)

Poly Pazhou
Guangzhou (CHN)

Raffles City Chongqing
Chongqing (CNH)

Zhuhai Tower
Zhuhai (CHN)

Best Tall Building 400 metres and above

The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) Best Tall Building 400 meters and above▲ The Exchange 106, Kuala Lumpur (top left), Wuhan Centre Tower, Wuhan (top right), Tianjin CTF Finance Centre, Tianjin (bottom left), Central Park Tower, NYC (bottom right).

Central Park Tower
New York City (USA)

Beijing (CHN)

Lakhta Centre
St. Petersburg (RUS)

Suzhou IFS
Suzhou (CHN)

The Exchange 106
Kuala Lumpur (MYS)

Tianjin CTF Finance Centre
Tianjin (CHN)

Wuhan Centre Tower
Wuhan (CHN)

Køge Journal: A harborside eatery built with Danish practicality and simplicity.

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(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj – COAST Studio)

by Ron Bernthal

Designed for possible disassembly, the Braunstein Pakhuset (Warehouse) opened in 2020 and will eventually, after Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, welcome thousands of annual visitors who have been visiting the popular Braunstein Bryggeriet and Destilleriet (micro-brewery and distillery) adjacent to the Braunstein Pakhuset since 2005.

The new Pakhuset, owned by the same two Danish brothers who own the adjacent brewery/distillerey, now offer a well-designed cafe and bar on the lower floor, and an event space for local meetings and activities on the second floor. Located along the waterfront in the historic harbor town of Køge, the Braunstein Pakhuset is 27 miles southwest of Copenhagen (35-47 minutes by car or train; two hours by bicycle along a coastal bike path bordering Køge Bay).

Historic area of Køge (image Visit Køge)

The construction of Pakhuset was inspired by the old warehouses at the harbor, and is situated at the transition point to the harbor, making the building a natural part of its raw maritime identity, and emphasizing the historic connection between water and city.

The building sits on stretch of a city-owned harbor quay that is considered a potential part of Køge’s climate adaption strategy. Designed by the Copenhagen-based architectural firm Adept, the building itself is also part of the city’s climate’ strategy plan, which allows for buildings to be easily modified or moved if necessary for climate adaptation.

To integrate this possible temporary lifespan in its architecture, the Braunstein Pakhuset is ‘designed for disassembly’ to make recycling of its building components a realistic option if the building cannot remain, either by re-building the entire structure at a different location. or by using the materials in other projects.

For the next decade at least, Braunstein Pakhuset will act as a visitor center for the Braunstein Brewery & Distillery, and at the same time establish itself as a local meeting place supporting community initiatives and activities.

(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj – COAST Studio)

(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj- COAST Studio)

Pakhuset was constructed using sustainable building materials that, as far as possible, were not mixed together during construction. This has reduced the volume of waste considerably compared to similar constructions. The structure is based on simple tectonic principles and was completed with mechanical joints only.

(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj – COAST Studio)

The historic buildings and the raw industrial atmosphere at the harbor has inspired the new architecture and urban spaces around it. The result is a clean cut, simple design environment that strengthens the identity of the area and the beautifully anchored new building as well.

(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj – COAST Studio)

All primary wall surfaces in the Braunstein Pakhuset are without paint or grout. Wooden floors are laid with waste product from a nearby flooring manufacturer. The large roof surfaces are made from click-joint polycarbonate, while wood facades are made from the CO2 neutral accoya that is certified Cradle2Cradle Gold, FSC as well as the Danish eco-label Svanemaerket. In addition, the Pakhuset is partly self-sufficient with electricity from solar panels, and is naturally ventilated.

(Image courtesy Rasmus Hjortshoj – COAST Studio)

Toulouse Journal: New Exhibition and Convention Center built in city’s ‘innovation zone”

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MEETT Toulouse Exhibition and Convention (Photo © Marco Cappelletti )

by Ron Bernthal

MEETT, Toulouse’s new Exhibition and Convention Centre, is located in the innovation zone north of Toulouse. The project’s design firm, OMA, founded in the Netherlands, led by partners Chris van Duijn, Ellen van Loon and Rem Koolhaas, say that “MEETT is not only about architecture, but also about infrastructure, urbanism, landscape and public space. Both monumental in its scale and subtle in its overall impact, it will be a new gateway to Toulouse.” French practices PPA Architectures and Taillandier Architectes Associés were associated designers.

(Photo © Marco Cappelletti )

The 1.6 million square-foot exhibition and convention center is located between the countryside and the city, connecting the agricultural landscape to the north with the urbanized areas just to the south of MEETT, often called the city’s “innovation zone.” With many Toulouse comanies involved in aeronautics (Airbus Group has its operating headquarters here), high tech, artificial intelligence, robotics and autonomous vehicles, Toulouse has become an important European hub for these advanced technologies, especially within the growing innovation zone.

This somewhat rural area around MEETT is still close to the center of Toulouse, and well connected to highways and public transport. OMA’s stark design uses the massive scale and diverse architecture of MEETT as an antidote to the sprawl of a standard exposition park, in order to preserve the historic Aquitania look of the southern French countryside.

(Photo © Marco Cappelletti )

MEETT is conceived as an active strip, what the French call ‘une bande active’, a horizontal and compact project, divided in three parallel “bandes”…. a row of modular exhibition halls to the north; a convention center and multi-function event hall to the south; and a reception area to the center, featuring a car park for 3,000 vehicles.

Instead of banishing underground parking, or pushing it to the periphery of the project’s site, where it has no relationship with the surrounding landscape, OMA placed the parking silo at the center of the project, covering the area where amenities and access to the main convention hall are located.

By combining interior and exterior spaces, and establishing connections with the infrastructure – tramway, roads, airport – and surrounding countryside, a typically introvert typology, the expo, is transformed into an extrovert one.

(Photo © Marco Cappelletti )

Northern strip – Exhibitions

The exhibition building at the northern strip is impressive in scale as it can be enjoyed as a single, nearly 2,300 foot-long space. The building is composed as a series of black boxes (both on the ground and elevated in the air), white-colored steel profiles for the structure, and a polycarbonate skin for the facade. Together they form a regular composition which emphasizes the giant scale of the building but also creates a bright and pleasant environment for the exhibition spaces.

The Exhibition Hall provides a total of 430,000 squae-feet of presentation area, which can function either as one major exhibition space or be separated into seven modular halls, separated by a mechanized curtain. Two elevated mezzanines at either end of the hall provide space for a reception or VIP program, while overlooking the main spaces. MEETT is a project about the relationship between interior-exterior, and the Exhibition Hall is no exception, as the translucent façade provides the giant hall with generous daylight.

(Photo © Philippe Rueault)

The entire masterplan, including all buildings, is based on a 10-foot grid, following the standard expo distribution, which permits to dissect the building in 10×10 foot cells, like a Tetris board game, providing endless possibilities to split the use of the ground but also forming an underlying system for all architectural components.

Central strip – Reception area

At the center of the project, a 344,000 square-foot reception area on the ground floor welcomes visitors into the exhibition halls, the exterior expo and the convention center. This is called the Rue Centrale, and functions somewhat like a public street, a central circulation area with an information center and public space. Fully pedestrian, it can house lots of amenities, from ticket offices to food stands.

Cafe along Rue Centrale (Photo © Philippe Ruault)

Elevated above the Rue Centrale, and directly accessible from it, is the car park, a four-story elevated silo that sits right in the middle of the project. The silo building functions as an entrance directly into the heart of MEETT, connected to all the exhibition areas. It is an open building, to maximize the use of natural light and allow views into the expos from the parking spots.

Southern strip – Events

The southern strip of MEETT consists of a multi-function Event Hall and a Convention Center combined into a single building, directly accessible from the Rue Centrale. The entire building can also be transformed into additional exhibition spaces on two levels.

(Photo © Marco Cappelletti )

The Event Hall and Convention Center building is designed as a machine, with a system of movable vertical shutters and horizontal partitions allowing it to transform itself in few minutes into a large number of configurations, from small meeting rooms on the upper floors of the Convention Center to an open plan layout bathed in natural light on the ground floor.

Navigation around MEETT is simple, the routes are intuitive, which combined with clear information signs throughout the complex makes it easy for visitors to find their way. In addition, the compactness of the expo reduces the distances that the public need to cover during their visit. The entire area is accessible to heavy vehicles, with a separate entry and exit point, and an internal road surrounding the north, west and south facades facilitates distribution and venue management.

Outdoor dining in Toulouse at Place du Capitole (photo © Arnaud Späni) 

MEETT also features a transportation hub with a tram station, a bus station, a taxi stop and a reception area for cyclists. This hub on the Eastern side of the expo has the potential to accommodate more infrastructure, anticipating the further urbanization of the area. Directly in front of the transportation hub, a 600 foot-long plaza spans towards the MEETT, and provides one single entrance route to MEETT, and also functioning as an open public area.

Notre-Dame de la Delbade overlooks the Garonne river in Toulouse (photo © Arnaud Späni) 

The MEETT Toulouse Exhibition & Convention Center is located nine miles north of Toulouse (20-30 minutes by car), and just just five miles to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport (8 minutes by car).

The project is on the shortlist for the “Wallpaper* Magazine Design Award for Best New Public Building 2021” which includes world-leading culture, community and infrastructure spaces.

Lisbon Journal: New high-speed rail link to Porto proposed.

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by Ron Bernthal 

In 2020 the government of Portugal has confirmed its intention to press ahead with rail investments of more than $12 billion,  as part of a larger  national stimulus program.  The highlight of the package, however,  is the revival of a proposal for a true high speed rail link between Lisbon and Porto, which has been on going subject for more than two decades.  

It has been more than 20 years in the making but Portugal’s plan for a true high-speed train route connecting its two major cities of Lisbon and Porto is finally back on track, maybe.   Infrastructure minister Pedro Santos Nunes made the announcement as part of the government’s National Investment Program 2030, which has allocated $52 billion to modernize the country’s rail infrastructure.

Although the much-anticipated high-speed train link will cost about $5.4 billion and enable trains to travel at 180 mph, thus more than halving the current travel time between the cities to an hour and 15 minutes, there already is a rather fast rail connection between Lisbon and Porto called the Alfa Pendular. Operated by Portuguese Railways, it is the most convenient way to travel between the two cities.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Portos-Historic-Centre-photo-Porto-Convention-and-Visitors-Bureau-1024x512.jpgPorto’s historic city center is just a few hours away from Lisbon using the fast Alfa Pendular express train (photo Porto Convention & Visitors Bureau)


The Alfa Pendular train was completely renovated  March 2017,  and now offers travelers even more comfort.  The current rail service on the line travels the 206 miles in less than three hours, and offers first and second-class accommodations, with five daily departures.  The Alfa provides comfortable, spacious seats with generous legroom and individual power sockets, a wide range of audio and video channels, and is equipped with nice bathrooms, a dining car, and a small bar. 

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Interior of Alfa Pendular   (photo Liam Henderson, TransportingCities)

Because of the financial hit that all countries took from the Covid-19 pandemic it is hard to say just how much money will now be available for the expensive 10-year rail  investment plan recently announced.   Will the creation of more  metro and local train lines across the country, and rail station renovations, as well as new international routes connecting Portugal to Spain, now be possible following the economic issues caused by Covid?  


Lisbon’s Oriente Station was designed by the noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The Alfa Pendular has several departures a day from this station for Porto.

Some politicians in Portugal believe it will be more difficult to start on the new high-speed Lisbon-Porto rail project now because the pandemic is still ongoing, and leisure and business travel in still unpredictable. Others say that the failure of building a promised new international airport at Ota, 30 miles from Lisbon, which never got off the ground, should come before any new high speed track construction takes place.

However, infrastructure minister Santos is feeling very positive about the current proposal. “We’re not inventing anything new,” said Santos. “Twenty years ago my  predecessor, João Cravino, had already arrived at this conclusion. But unfortunately, we wasted a lot of time.” Santos believes that the funds will be available to complete the railway’s master plan, including the new high speed Lisbon-Porto link.

A modern Metro train links the city’s Aeroroporto Francisco Sá Carneiro with Porto’s city center. (photo Ron Bernthal)

Other government officials, especially tourism authorities and hospitality leaders, firmly believe that the money invested in the country’s future rail service infrastructure (including a faster express train service between Lisbon and Porto, will help Portugal’s tourism industry to maintain record levels of business and leisure visitor arrivals, especially when international travel restrictions are lifted and the country’s two major cities are again filling up their hotels, restaurants, beaches, wineries and cultural attractions with unmasked visitors.

Pena Palace is one of several historic palaces in Sintra, Portugal, a short drive from Lisbon (photo Joanna Tricorache)

Utrecht Journal: Two new residential districts – one with an “edible neighborhood” and one “car- free” – give Dutch residents good eco options.

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Aerial rendering of the new Rijnvliet neighborhood, in the Dutch city of Utrecht, where an “edible forest” is growing to provide food and educational opportunities for residents and their children (image courtesy De Zwarte Hond and Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners)

by Ron Bernthal


A neighborhood where every plant in the public space will be edible will soon be completed in the Dutch city of Utrecht. The “edible neighborhood” of almost four acres will be located in a new residential area of Utrecht called Rijnvliet, a development which itself has been an ongoing housing and landscape design project since 2010, and in the construction stage since 2017.

The edible neighborhood concept in Rijnvliet is quite different from any other ordinary suburban district in that it is composed of predominantly food-producing greenery. It consists of several layers of edible plants, trees and shrubs, and is an important habitat for insects and small animals. The forest, when completed, will be entirely integrated into the new residential area, which is a first for the Netherlands, and probably anywhere else in the world. It will thus be a place where children can play, and learn about nature from up-close.

It will provide a lot of space for recreation and education, with a neighborhood orchard and a soccer field, water play areas and an outdoor classroom at the primary school. The construction of the northern part of the neighborhood, which borders the primary school, is scheduled to start in early 2021.

The Dutch architectural firm De Zwarte Hond has been responsible for the urban design of Rijnvliet, and approximately half of the 1,100 proposed dwellings have already been completed. The landscaping design plan was developed by Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners.

Rijnvliet is one of the last sites to be developed in the Leidsche Rijn revitalization plan. Well integrated into its surroundings, the neighborhood connects seamlessly to the Strijkviertel lake and the Rijnvliet sportpark to the south, and to Rijksstraatweg and Voorn Park to the north. A large waterway, De Vliet, which connects Leidsche Rijn and Strijkviertel lake gives Rijnvliet a beautiful and distinct identity.

Collage rendering of Rijnvliet (image courtesy De Zwarte Hond and Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners)

As is typical in many Dutch landscapes, both the waterways and green spaces branch out into wider networks, creating generous areas of interconnected green public spaces in Rijnvliet. This lovely combination of green spaces and waterways becomes quite unique when an attractive edible landscape is inserted into the mix.

Biking through the center of Utrecht, just a few minutes ride from the new community of Rijnvliet. (photo Visit Utrecht)

The ecological properties of different types of plants, shrubs and trees are combined in a smart way to create a stable and resilient ecosystem. Besides providing an abundance of food, the “edible neighborhood” also provides different ecological services, such as a habitat for insects and small animals, mitigation of climate change and a pleasant environment for local residents to relax. And, perhaps most importantly, this former pasture area will be used to connect community residents with each other and with nature.

The main plan divides Rijnvliet into four small-scale neighborhoods, distinguished by different types of residential architecture. Ground-floor homes form the main type of housing, complemented by apartment complexes at different locations. All structures have access to green public spaces, either directly connected via ground floor access or indirectly through views. In this way residents will maintain close proximity to the adjacent environment.

The neighborhood’s second tree planting day took place in spring 2020. Like last year, the tree planting involved local children in the planting of the edible landscape in their own neighborhood. Most of the housing in Rijnvliet Zuid (South) has been completed, and stream banks will be prepared for a spring 2021 tree planting.

Image courtesy Felixx Landscape Architects & Planners

Most of the housing components in Rijnvliet Midden (Middle) and Rijnvliet Noord (North) have already been completed, and other owner-occupied houses are under construction. The design of the Rijnvliet Oost (East) and West neighbourhoods is being finalised, with new plots allotted and outdoor spaces developed.

“Our city of Utrecht and all its neighborhoods is growing very fast, which means that we must build a lot of new houses,” said alderman Klaas Verschuure, who is responsible for spatial development in and around Leidsche Rijn.  “Our starting point is a healthy urban life for everyone. That principle comes into its own in Rijnvliet with a beautiful new ‘edible’ neighborhood where there is plenty of attention for nature and sustainability. A neighborhood to eat!”

The district of Leidsche Rijn, which Rijnvliet is part of, is separated from the rest of Utrecht by the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal (Amsterdam-Rhine Canal) and the A2 highway, and for the past 20 years has been undergoing a regeneration to reflect its fast residential growth, as well as its interest in maintaining a progressive environmental ideology. The center of Leidsche Rijn now includes trendy shops, restaurants, cafés, and bars, and a new cinema as well as as educational and cultural facilities.

Maintenance of the edible plantings will be done by the local residents, supervised by a forester. New residents receive a cookbook, filled with recipes based on the local ingredients growing in their street (each street is named after the dominant plant growing in it), and accompanied by an educational note explaining the use of the plants.


Residents and city planners of Utrecht have long understood that healthy, vibrant cities with lots of cars doesn’t really mix well. The city first experimented with temporarily closing streets in its city center to vehicles in 1965. Today, a pedestrianized city center is the norm in many Dutch cities, and Utrecht is of course a very bicycle-friendly city. However, vehicles sometimes still dictate the design of many public spaces, even in Utrecht. The designers of Merwede, another newly proposed neighborhood, want to change that by giving its residents everything they need within walking distance!

Utrecht is easy to navigate by bicycle. (photo Visit Utrecht)

Merwede is another example of Utrecht’s ambition for sustainable and healthy urbanisation in the city. The new neighborhood includes 6.000 housing sites, various services and is characterized by high-quality greenery in public spaces, courtyards and top roofs.

This is made possible by its design as an unusally car-free neighborhood that truly prioritises pedestrians and bicyclists. Residents and visitors can make use of a large selection of shared cars, shared bicycles and good public transport. ​

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The new neighborhood of Merwede will offer resisdents use of a shared car fleet to reduce congestion and pollution (Merwede images courtesy marco.broekman and OKRA)

According to BURA Urbanism (formerly known as Marco Broekman Architects) the design team for the project, Merwede’s mission can be summarised in five themes:

  • Mobile Merwede: Allowing residents of Merwede to move freely without their own car.
  • Healthy and sustainable: Designing Merwede to contribute to a healthy planet with healthy people.
  • Lively city district: Offering Merwede the liveliness and amenities of the city.
  • Green domain: Creating a Merwede that combines highly urban, green and relaxation at the same time.
  • Coulisse city: Merwede is a highly urbanized neighbourhood with respect for the human scale.

​Different routes for slow traffic connect Merwede to the surrounding neighborhoods and center city Utrecht city. A central spine connects the different squares and local parks. Merwede includes a diversity of environments from quiet residential areas to busier meeting places and is the culmination of a series of city blocks that are composed of multiple buildings varying in both width and height. “Merwede contains over 200 buildings in total, creating a diverse roofscape and unique cityscape: a Coulisse City,” said a BURA release. (Merriam-Webster’s Coulisse is defined as “side scene of a stage”; or the space between the side scenes”; or “painted pieces of scenery that give a stage set its dimension”)

​The Urban Plan and image quality plan for Merwede is the result of intensive cooperation between eleven landowners, including the municipality of Utrecht. BURA has been involved in the planning process since 2016 as leader of the design-team and has been collaborating with different advisors.

Merwede will eventually be home to 12,000 people on a nearly 60-acre site in southwest Utrecht, with a focus on pedestrians and cyclists, and with public transportation that connects to all parts of the Netherlands. A fleet of shared cars and bicycles will be available to everyone living there. Instead of one (or multiple) cars per household, filling the streets with congestion and parking spaces, Merwede will have one car for every three household’s.

[Image: marco.broekman and OKRA]

About one-third of Utrecht’s 1.4 million people already bike to the city center daily, but Marco Broekman, the architect whose firm led the design for the urban plan, says that many in the Netherlands are still stuck on the idea of owning a row house with one or two cars out front, “but in new urban-oriented generations and groups, we see people with a different mindset towards cars, from owning to sharing,” said Broekman.

“By having this car-free area, we can design spaces without the straightjacket [or] rules of the car, and thus focus on essentials for a high density area, which is the quality of public space, city on eye level, green, biodiversity, climate adaptation and meeting places for social interaction,” Broekman adds. “With the car-free area and low parking norm, we want to set a standard for new high density neighborhoods, and want to set the right conditions so people can change their behavior; from a car dependent to more sustainable and healthy ways of transportation.”

[Image: marco.broekman and OKRA]

This design for Merwede will transform what is currently a business park full of offices into a complete neighborhood, with 6,000 dwellings in more than 200 buildings. The motto of the design, according BURA, Is “green, unless” — every building block will have a courtyard garden, and a new Merwedepark will provide a walking area along the canal. As Utrecht alderman Kees Diepeveen said, “It will be a city district with everything for daily provisions, like a supermarket, primary and secondary schools and medical services, all within walking distance. People can do their shopping, work and play sports in the neighborhood, and relax at a terrace on a city square.”

That greenery will extend to the building roofs as well; greenery and solar panels on the roof are part of Merwede’s sustainability efforts, and water from the nearby canal will be used in “the largest underground heat and storage facility in the Netherlands,” said Diepeveen, to heat and cool the district. BURA says it will be “almost energy-neutral,” and specialists are researching how the district can become circular as well.

[Image: marco.broekman and OKRA]

Utrecht is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, home to the country’s largest university, and is a central hub for transportation, and it is only going to get more crowded. It’s one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and local officials expect to have 100,000 new residents by 2040, for a total population of 450,000. “This neighborhood design is important,” said Diepeveen, meaning Merwede. “It will give people a chance to live within the city, within bicycle distance of its amenities, instead of building new suburbs on the outskirts.”

More than just this one neighborhood needs to adapt, though. “Until Utrecht is a real cycling city, driving cars will still be popular,” he said. “A big change in the mind-set of inhabitants is needed to change a city into a car-free city as a whole or at least a city where driving cars is not so common anymore. The new city district of Merwede is a good start for a shift from cars to cycling and walking and from private ownership to sharing.”

The Merwede design teams are now taking public comments from residents. Many residents are excited about the proposal, but others are concerned that the number of cyclists living there will slow traffic on the bridges, and too many new routes will be needed to connect it to other districts. “If all goes according to plan,” Diepeveen said, “the first residents can move in in 2024.”