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A city for the rich, built poorly: The construction of Hudson Yards (villagespoke.com)
219 points by jsjohnst 11 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 80 comments

I live across the street from the Shed (and Hudson Yards).

1) Since opening, the mall has added a ton of indoor seating. The place is so popular that sometimes people still sit on the floor. This is success not sour grapes.

2) The escalators seem purposefully designed to make you wander around the mall. If you want vertical speed, there are many elevators, which the author neglected to mention.

The place is very popular. I’m certainly happy to have world class dining, shops and arts instead of a rail yard.

The article is basically a hatchet job.

The entire article reads as someone specifically searching for something to criticize, and some of these are a real stretch. The sloppy cladding and bricks is surely not ideal, but is it really a big deal at all? It's hardly noticeable unless you are specifically looking for things to nitpick. The "damaged wheel" picture in particular is literally just paint chipping on a piece of machinery that hardly anyone will actually see. Who cares?

As for the design criticisms, it's clear this person doesn't know much about actual design principles, despite criticizing the designers for it.

1) The escalators are almost certainly purposefully designed like this. This is common in many places, and I especially have seen this design used in many malls. Along with the fact that it guides people to product display areas, it also prevents dangerous traffic jams on the landings between escalators (it takes longer to get on an escalator than it does to get off, so in high traffic situations, you can end up with a lot of bunching at the top of an escalator, which can mean dangerous situations like this [1]).

2) Stairs are a common bottleneck since it takes longer to go up/down stairs than it does to walk on a level walkway. To prevent bottlenecking, the stairs should be wider than the walkways they connect to. This is the same principle you see when tollbooth plazas have more lanes than the highways they connect to.

3) The complaint about the gap in the railings again seems like an incredible nitpick. The author claims it is a 6 inch gap, but based on the photo, unless this person has massive hands, it looks more like a 3-4 inch gap, and I think it's a real stretch to call that "dangerous".

1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVqg6sjJK-M

If there are problems like this with the finish work, it's likely that there are problems with the stuff you can't see as well. Just like a slow, buggy piece of software is more likely to have security issues than one that runs smoothly and presents a good user experience.

People in the construction industry in the /r/nyc subreddit are saying that finish issues are common when a building first opens, and that overall quality should be judged a year out from opening, when everything has been addressed. The logic goes that there are lots of custom-fab components required in any sizable construction, some of which will inevitably be damaged during transit or install. It may take months to replace them, and you don't want to hold up the entire opening for months for some insignificant fit & finish issues because you'd be losing huge amounts of money.

So you get the place to the point where it opens, and then you do a trickle of night work over the coming months as replacement parts come in and you can finally get everything perfect.

Hell, this happened to my parents' house remodel recently. They scratched a custom-order door in a way that wasn't repairable. Rather than leaving my parents without a door for a month, they left it as-is and then came back a month later with a new door (once it was ready) and installed it.

That really doesn't follow. A building with a beautiful, perfect finish can be shoddy inside, and vice versa.

The software analogy doesn't hold, because security issues are often a consequence of buggy software, whereas shoddy finishes don't have much casual connection to the interior structure.

Also, software that "runs smoothly and presents a good used experience" can be just as prone to security problems, again because there's no necessary casual connection between the two.

You could argue that if the same team is responsible for everything, that the user experience, or finish, may be indicative of the internals - but it's common in both software and construction for different teams and even different companies to be responsible, and there can also be reasons to prioritize the areas differently and devote more attention and resources to one than the other.

> it's clear this person doesn't know much about actual design principles, despite criticizing the designers for it

I don't know how you came that conclusion, it seems irrationally combative. He is in good company.

> Klaus Jacob, a professor at Columbia University, has stated approval of the project stems from the "shortsightedness of decision-making" by its developers


Jacob's criticisms of the design stem in broader architectural designs of the structures and how the overall development fits into the surrounding neighborhood. The author of the OP is talking about specific nitpicks of things like escalators and railings. They are not at all in the same company.

If the author wants to talk about how the glass buildings and their shape don't fit into the neighborhood, or that they lack a certain aesthetic, then fine. But he's not doing that. He is arguing against functional design principles that are not only commonplace across many similar developments, they are also in place for a reason.

Klaus Jacob's full comment pertains to the inability of the development to sustain changes from climate change, his criticism is not at all aesthetic but functional. He is a geophysicist.

These are, again, not at all in the same ballpark as the criticisms in the OP article. It is apples and oranges.

author seems astonished at the escalator placement that has been standard practice for over a decade.

> To prevent bottlenecking, the stairs should be wider than the walkways they connect to.

That walkway does look ridiculously narrow, though. Seems to be just one person wide.

The standard for luxury malls in the Middle East and Asia can be pretty high, so if it is some sort of international play it matters for sure.

I have been to many 'luxury' malls in places in Tokyo, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and they suffer from the same small insignificant 'flaws' just like the ones mentioned in this article. In fact, many of the luxury developments in Asia and the Middle East (Singapore, Qatar, and the UAE especially) are notorious for cutting corners by using underskilled, underpaid labor to build these luxury developments, causing cut sloppy work. I would say the standards are only 'pretty high' if you only look skin deep.

There is of course plenty of random luxury developments in those places, but high end malls tend to be pretty good. At least in the elaborate-sloppy ratio, as different developments will be competing for the high end brands. But looking more at Hudson Yards it looks more like a random mall, in which case it probably doesn't matter much.

Going by your judgement, Boeing too had underskilled and underpaid labor ? Because they too cut corners.

I'm not sure how you arrived at that conclusion. I said that certain malls that are known to use underpaid and underskilled laborers suffer from cut corners. That does not mean that all cut corners are a result of underpaid and underskilled labor.

> it takes longer to get on an escalator than it does to get off

How so? Everyone who gets off the escalator had to get on at the same pace earlier.

If everyone who got on the escalator stayed in their position on the escalator until they got off, this would mitigate bunching at the top. But practically, when people get on the escalator, many people walk (while other people just stand) which can throw off the rate that people arrive at the end of the escalator. If two people get on an escalator 3 seconds apart, but then one of them moves forward on the escalator so that they are both on the same step, then they would exit the escalator at the same time rather than 3 seconds apart.

Additionally, the people getting on the upwards escalator, at, for example, Floor 1 aren't the only people that will be getting on the upwards escalator on Floor 2. There will be other people from Floor 2 that want to go upwards as well.

The design should also account for unusual situations as well. Just because someone got on the first escalator with no problem doesn't mean they won't accidentally trip or fall when trying to get on the second escalator. And if that happens, you don't want people getting hurt just because a sudden traffic jam caused a huge bunch of people on the landing between the escalators.

I was curious so I did some additional reading. Based on promo material from escalator manufacturers [1], there is mention of safety issues regarding the amount of space on escalator landings, but there is also a lot of talk about optimizing traffic flow through product display areas. My guess is that the mall's decision to place the escalators the way they did is primarily driven by that, but as someone who used to work in a building where the exit to one escalator was directly next to the entrance to the next escalator, and personally witnessed huge traffic jams (and had the awful experience of being uncontrollably pushed towards such a jam by an escalator), I do appreciate the design for safety reasons as well.

1 (PDF WARNING): https://www.schindler.com/content/in/internet/en/mobility-so...

I also live in NY and the opinion expressed in the article is a common one. The NYT tore it apart in an article (with particularly well-executed visual effects)[1].

The fact that a lot of people visit it is just a factor of Manhattan being an ever-expanding series of tourist traps. Along with the 9/11 Memorial Shopping Mall the island is looking more and more like Mall of America. Madame Tussaud's is popular, yet it is generally reviled among residents and frequent visitors along with the knock-off Broadway characters at Times Square that will kick your teeth in if you take a selfie with them without paying (yet they remain a popular attraction). New Yorkers will tolerate crappiness if it is at least convenient and will tolerate opulence if it is at least nice to look at. Hudson Yards is neither.

If you have a dire case of FOMO then it might seem like a nice addition but it's just a shinier version of the malls that you see at every highway exit in the country. The city's venerable institutions have not changed and still quietly offer arts and music and there was certainly no shortage of world-class dining before Hudson Yards went up. Unless you've been pining for Thomas Keller's latest take on a thousand-dollar bowl of bong water[2], who needs it?

1. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/03/14/arts/design/h...

2. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/13/dining/pete-wells-per-se-...

"the 9/11 Memorial Shopping Mall"

I think those words should not be ever strung together, and as they are it kinds of says way too many things about a culture that would use them as such.

Not to condemn all of New York, but the implications of that sentence is way beyond kitsch.

Maybe this is the way NY has always been: it changes, it hustles, it moves. It's never been about a quaint kind of perfection. Maybe it's always been a kind of a rugged, slightly aggressive New World place that maybe should offend the senses of anyone expecting a more refined serenity?

So maybe that's just NYC.

I'm sure a guy like Trump and his tastes is not some random outlier ...

> "the 9/11 Memorial Shopping Mall"

I was disgusted the last time I went there. I was there with someone who lost a family member in 9/11. They were clearly still emotionally burdened by their loss, even in 2017. Yet just a few feet away people were taking smiling selfies next to a literal memorial! I've been to many public memorials, and they are somber places. The 9/11 memorial feels like an almost fitting monument to crass 21st century capitalism.

I've seen people taking selfies there with an insta approved smile. Word from a local university professor is that many of the current young adults who grew up in NYC don't even know what 9/11 is.

Lots of memorials in DC are on the Mall. Maybe they just misunderstood here....

Mall (classical), not 'Shopping Mall'.

I assume they were referring to the Oculus which is a high-end shopping mall building in the rebuilt WTC complex.

> but it's just a shinier version of the malls that you see at every highway exit in the country.

So what's the problem with that? If you look to malls as a source of transcendence, you're bound to be disappointed.

> who needs it?

If nobody needed it, it would be a ghost town. Your objection is not that it's not needed, it's that you don't like it.

In isolation it my be great that this is better than a rail yard, but it's important to note that Hudson Yards was financed in part by a diversion of a year's worth of funding from low-income housing elsewhere in New York: https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/hudson-yards-financin... ... and in that context, it's notable that it's not a set of constructions that's built to last.

Previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19644880

The EB-5 visa isn’t an affordable housing program and NY state doesn’t have a fixed allotment from it.

Yeah OP has to develop an LVT mindset. It's not "is the development good" or "is the development better than what was there before", but "is this the best use of the space".

The real good design is the rail yard person who left space for pilings to put something above in the 70s. (Some NYT article led with this fact.)

I can't find anything in that article about "diversion of a year's worth of funding from low-income housing elsewhere in New York".

Though it certainly discusses some questionable gerrymandering of the targeted economic area.

> All in all, Related solicited investments from some 3,200 foreign visa-seekers. This figure is significant, since the number of new visas that the U.S. issues each year under EB-5 has a hard cap of 10,000. Given that each eligible investor may claim visas for immediate family members—and since these family visas (an average of three) also count toward the overall cap—the Hudson Yards development may have easily claimed an entire year’s worth of visas issued under EB-5.

And why on earth would those EB-5 visa holders have invested in low-income housing? Nothing in the visa requirements description seems to mention 'low-income', 'distressed', 'economically disadvantaged' or anything of the sort. [0] Here:

> All EB-5 investors must invest in a new commercial enterprise, which is a commercial enterprise:

> Established after Nov. 29, 1990, or

> Established on or before Nov. 29, 1990, that is:

> 1. Purchased and the existing business is restructured or reorganized in such a way that a new commercial enterprise results, or

> 2. Expanded through the investment so that at least a 40-percent increase in the net worth or number of employees occurs

The closest thing is how it specifies amounts - $1m in general, or $500,000 in rural or high unemployment areas. Which is closer, but still doesn't require low-income housing...

0: https://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/permanent-worker...

I think the questions of building quality are a bit broader than just this project. It causes me to ponder how ambitious new construction projects always end up very expensive and showing issues. It feels like the US has lost its knack for big ambitious construction that it had in the 20th century.

This seems independent of whether or not it's a popular attraction.

Having read a lot, and listened to podcasts, about BER, the takeaway seems to be that quality control is of utmost importance. The amount of money you spend on quality control almost can't be high enough. 30% or more of the budget just for quality control now seems entirely reasonable to me. And it can't be just at the end, it has to be an ongoing thing where everything is sanity checked as it is being done by people who preferably know their shit better than the people actually doing the work. Starting with the fundamental assumptions of the architectural drawings and ending with the carpets. Because we see the alternative and it's just depressing how far over budget things can go.

The article is basically a hatchet job.

I have a theory that writers in the media are disposed towards complaining, or rewarded for it with readers. It's also easier and frequently more fun to be negative than positive. So on almost any topic (Facebook, Hudson Yards, Tesla, whatever) there's a tendency to needlessly accentuate the negative.

Meanwhile, the writer has no idea what he (or she?) would've done with Hudson Yards, given the same opportunity and budget. Neither do I, for that matter.

Good. That is they way they should be. Maybe you would prefer if they were all optimists just talking everything up, ignoring issues? No, I prefer them to point out issues.

I'd expand that negativity not only to the media writers but societal culture in general. We live in a culture of snark where anything done is torn down and picked apart. These critics have never built anything, accomplished anything themselves. I suppose though, this is better than the alternative of people slurping and ingratiating themselves to everything.

People sit on the floor b/c of a lack of seating which is by conscious design so as to inhibit people lounging around.

Since lack of seating is forcing people to sit on the floor, they can try some other anti-seating technologies that have been deployed in London and New York.

In other words, hostile design. If you're not doing a New York hustle walk on your way to or from spending money, you're not welcome. No sitting down to chat, not even if you've bought food. Because the unforgivable sin in a capitalist culture is engaging with your fellow humans for free, instead of paying money to engage with goods and services.

The article is accompanied by several pictures, and what they show is shoddy build quality for what is supposed to be a luxury development. Would you accept that level of quality if you were having your own house built?

Given that what they're saying is the plain, visible truth, what's the objection?

> The article is basically a hatchet job.

Also labor propaganda.

Come on, as if "retail" was intrinsically a good thing. High-end shopping destinations are not part of the solution to the capitalism/consumerism situation we are in, and, most importantly, they don't even cater to the majority.

There's a Cartier and a Dior there, but there's also an H&M and a Uniqulo. There is plenty there to cater to the majority.

Whether or not we need more retail, the article offers no basis for its conjecture that the quality defects are due to use of non-union labor. (And given the raging tire fire that is the MTA, there is ample reason to believe the opposite.)

It's almost routine for high-end architects to produce substandard buildings. Zaha Hadid's work in Guangzhou is a good example. It's not necessarily the fault of the contractors, particularly with complex buildings, but the general message is that you get what you pay for.

Unions can be dysfunctional, resisting new tech, but construction is a pretty simple business.

So basically the skyscraper version of a McMansion [1] or even, given the talk here of money laundering, an example of Narcotecture creeping into America [2].

[1] https://mcmansionhell.com/

[2] https://stephanierogers.typepad.com/stephanie_rogers/2007/07...



Been a long time since I visited McMansionHell.com. It seems to have jumped the shark a while back. I used to think it was funny.

It's also possible that the web page design is intentionally ironic.

It's a smug and mean-spirited site, even though what it says about McMansions is generally true.

'Narcotecture'. I like that.

It seems to me that to get 100 on that scale you need flesh colored Greek statues in the front yard. ( (prophylactic) yes yes, I know that they used to paint statues. Thanks.)

As an actual architect, this article is pretty hilarious. There are a couple of egregious things, such as the entry portal panel misalignment - that should have been (or will be?) fixed. Too important of an area to let that slide. The other items like small panel gaps, overextended saw cuts in pavers, etc... come on. I challenge anyone to go to any building ever and not find imperfections. Maybe surprisingly, building buildings is complex, and i'd rather goofballs complain about non-walkable rock areas then a building collapsing on itself. or its facade falling off.

also: per code, railings can be gapped by 4" - its pretty much one of the only things installers need to make sure of so i'd be pretty surprised if that rail gap is > 4" last, one of the images has a piece of blue tape indicating a "fix this" marker. Looks like they (arch? owner? contractor?) said "nah".

I don't know if you've been to the UK, but you should look at some Victorian building projects - town halls, libraries, theatres - for comparison.

It's easy to ignore imperfections with a modern sensibility, but those older buildings were crafted in a way that modern buildings don't seem to be.

The driving ethic was typically local pride, and the buildings were designed and built as public statements to showcase that.

Modern mall projects seem to be the opposite. There's no pride among either designers or builders. Everyone is there to do a job, including the building - which is primarily a cash extraction machine optimised for ROI, ineptly dabbed with superficial signifiers of status so it can appear appealing to people with money they can be parted from.

At a guess, that's what this article is really objecting to.

Those buildings survived, lots of haphazard buildings were not crafted, but bungled together overtime, most didn't survive; so there is a selection bias at work. I actually like the imperfections. I would prefer that we build and tear down so that our cities are dynamic as opposed to creating things that can never be changed and never adapt. Sometimes that's ok, but if that is the only way we build, large areas will end up stuck in time and useless.

Is it a better use of public money to have one grand, expensive, and meticulously crafted library for tourists to gawk at, or 10 cheap and uninspiring ones that regular people can use on a daily basis? Old buildings were fancy because they were built by peacocking aristocrats with no accountability to and zero concern for the unwashed masses.

Can we have a little bit of both? I’d like to be able to study in a university-grade library (it doesn’t need to be a starchitect tourist trap). I understand that people need local libraries too. I don’t know why so many things have to be either or. Could we have 5 neighborhood libraries and 1 university grade library?

If that's the real objection, it seems pointless to pick on a specific project like this. The author should be writing pieces railing against mass-market capitalism's prioritization of profit over craftsmanship instead.

You get the distinct sense that you’re walking through a computer rendering rather than a real place. Aesthetic is prioritized over function everywhere you go.

In the Shops and Restaurants at Hudson Yards, escalators are not positioned to allow a seamless flow up and down the levels of the mall, but rather, to make the complex photogenic; often requiring you to search at each level for the next escalator down in order to exit.

We seem to have generally begun to err in this direction. We are surrounded by visuals 24/7 via TV, magazines, internet, etc in a way that wasn't the case when I was a small child and didn't exist at all when, say, my dad was a child.

I think this is a consequence of that. Our focus is much more on looks than on other aspects of the design experience or life generally.

I don't know what the solution is. I keep toying with the idea that I want to, for example, blog about clothes or home related things without jumping on the bandwagon of filling it with appealing photos. It seems like a non-starter though.

But we have women undergoing cosmetic surgery because we are so focused on these photo shopped images of women who are already statistical outliers in some way and whose look was developed by a combination of a professional makeup artist, professional wardrobe person and professional hair stylist. Then they taped up her breasts and put 30 bobby pins in the jacket so it would fall a certain way. Then a professional photographer took 300 pictures, only one or two of which are going to be used in the publication.

Let me reiterate: After all that, they are photo shopped to boot to achieve some completely unrealistic notion of beauty or perfection or whatever.

We think that's what real people are supposed to look like. The magazines that do this literally try to sell us on the idea that they are in the business of telling us how we are supposed to look, never mind that no one can actually look like that in real life, not even the professional models who were used in the shoot.

We do the same thing with housing, home decor, etc ad nauseum.

And it is going bizarre places in a manner that is negatively impacting how we conceptualize and create real spaces, clothes to wear and so on. Then we wonder why so much stuff out there is dreck.

What’s unclear is the degree to which these construction problems are unusual for a project of this magnitude, especially given some fairly one-off designs.

> Unsafe railing gaps

what is unsafe about a space between railings at a corner that not even a hand can fit through?

I am unable to understand how people in Manhattan are so divided by this development. It is just a bunch of buildings.

People are mad that $4B was spent building this tacky thing instead of on improving the city for not multimillionaires.

Did the government fund it or where's the problem?

Well it is Harlem South. They needed a luxury mall too.

people aren't, it's just the media.

Some people are kinda meh about the financing behind this because it used gerrymandering to get funding diverted from say Harlem, but no real conversation daily.

There is not really much division to speak of.

The real problem with Hudson Yards is that it’s walled up so it’s separate entity from the rest of the city. It completely breaks congruity with the rest of the island. This was likely a purposeful design choice similar to how Lincoln center was walled off before it’s redesign. The walls make you feel that what’s in side the walls is protected from the rest of the city as if the city and it’s people are hostile. At least that’s how it makes me feel as it dominates the only view of the city I have from my apartment window 10 blocks from it.

We aren’t a hostile people but are upset about how this was funded:

“As I reported back in 2017, records obtained by CityLab under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the gerrymandered map that Empire State used to qualify Hudson Yards for EB-5 financing. This particular TEA snakes up from the West Side and includes Central Park. (Think about that: a map of Manhattan that claims Central Park as an economically troubled area.) Beyond the park, the qualifying zone for Hudson Yards captures several census tracts in Harlem, where public housing projects boost the overall unemployment figure.” https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/hudson-yards-financin...

What I find is that a lot is so-called "luxury" new residential blocks in London (often high rises) have pretty much no sound insulation between flats, which for a modern construction is shocking, let alone a luxury building. I am not convinced that upmarket constructions give you any guarantee of build quality. In fact many of these luxury flats were sold off-plan in Asia to people to whom it was a financial investment and had no intention to ever live there, I can see why the developers wouldn't bother.

Site is down for me but http://archive.is/tURdz has the article.

It seems to me that they need to work harder at building temporary structures.


I would imagine on most new construction you could find little things like that if you look hard enough. They should be noted and fixed by the contractors but such items don’t constitute the whole complex being “built poorly.” That seems a bit of a stretch with an alternative agenda.

the things he points out are indeed pretty janky.

It’s my favorite part of NYC. The more the old complain about it the more affinity I have for it.

They New York is to Europe as San Francisco is to Asia.

Hudson Yards stands in stark and stunning contrast to that analogy.

Every empire goes down eventually. The derision of the crown jewel (NYC) of the US empire perfectly resembles the fact that the sun is setting.

"Eschew flamebait. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


Hudson Yards has little to do with the rest of NYC, as stated in the article. Many of the residences were sold to foreign owners. It did succeed at extracting a billion dollars from foreign investors.

That sounds like a terrible thing for New Yorkers and make just a bad thing for Americans at large. Why do you categorize this as a win?

It's not a win.

> Many of the residences were sold to foreign owners.

There isn’t a section of NYC to which this does not apply.

All over Manhattan and in 7+ figure properties in every borough, the percentage of foreign buyers is higher than ever.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the phenomenon of foreign investors in the multi-family rental and flipping market.

Did those properties gerrymander NYC zoning to allow the buyers to get green cards in exchange for purchasing residences?


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