I started looking into the idea of these ‘stairs towers’ (like the building cores which we talked about and Danielle mentioned it again yesterday); the intervention for site 3 – which could eventually spread out into the LES and Manhattan, so for this site-specific intervention this core would be erected and rise above the city, into the airspace. 

In this text from Delirious New York, Koolhaas refers to the Latting Observatory tower (1853) – 350ft high – perhaps Manhattans first ’skyscraper’.

“For the first time, Manhattan’s inhabitants can inspect their domain, to have a sense of the island as a whole is also to be aware of its limitations, the irrevocability of its containment. If this new consciousness limits the field of their ambition, it can only increase its intensity. Such inspections from above become a recurrent theme under Manhattanism; the geographical self-consciousness they generate is translated into spurts of collective energy, shared megalomaniac goals.”

It also reminded me that whilst researching the LES history and cityscape, NYC once had eight fire watch towers (one was in the LES- Essex Street), which were built in response to the constant threat of devastating fires (18th C) they were the tallest structure around and were lookout points casting an watchful eye over the domain, perhaps mine is a modern version of the ‘lookout’ stair tower – keeping an eye over the domain ( LES).

NYC wtach towers


Perhaps this intervention will take shape like an unfinished tower – building core – which becomes the forensic evidence of present and future development- A cautionary tale of the LES and possibly NYC. Such as this Zumthor’s Berlin project that never was completed, only its cores were erected and became part of the skyline and they indicate heights and scale of its proposal – birth and death of his project – documented here  http://socks-studio.com/2011/11/14/zumthors-topographie-des-terrors-1993-2004-visual-history-of-birth-growth-and-death-of-a-project/

Zumthor’s Berlin project that never was completed, only its cores were erected and became part of the skyline and they indicate heights and scale of its proposal – birth and death of his project – documented here  http://socks-studio.com/2011/11/14/zumthors-topographie-des-terrors-1993-2004-visual-history-of-birth-growth-and-death-of-a-project/topographie-des-terrors-the-three-concrete


The Municipal Arts Society NYC  are creating interactive maps which precisely highlights the issues that I’m trying to project onto the skyline using these stairs – as an analogue representation of the potential or air rights.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 12.32.11

Their main web image shows a slide, which presents before and after possible developments and their maps (image below) show each building and its possibilities in terms of development potential.  http://www.mas.org/ourwork/accidentalskyline/

I will start some deign development of this proposal and how it may project itself in the context. I and came across this precedent that I thought was interesting and similar vision of how this core slim stairs which become  towers projecting upwards.

From the architect Homu – in Italy.

“Bologna was named “Silva Turrita” in the late Middle age. In a rapresentation of the city in the XII sec. Bologna was a little Manhattan.

Nowadays just few towers still exist.

The project investigates the Middle age tower-house typlogy in relation with the sprawl extension of the town.

Small proportion towers, working on the matrix of existing spaces, increase the potential and quality of life on the ground, experimenting a new model of urban relationships at 30 m of altitude


scale to the sky


  1. Hi Cris. I think this is a fruitful direction to develop and draws nicely on the very early work with the cataloguing of potential spaces. The Zumthor precedent is great and I like the Koolhaas quote – that sense of the city being set within the landscape (or not), and the opportunity to understand its limits or its sprawling drive. As well as marking the voids of potential above LES will you think about the views they may offer way beyond the city – as in Koolhaas’ quote – is there musing on the void to be had with that view to the city’s current edge? How tall would a stair need to be to see beyond the city?

    I like the stair as past and future evidence of the city’s development, it reminds me of Robert Smithson’s ‘ruins in reverse’ http://monoskop.org/images/8/85/Smithson_Robert_1967_1979_The_Monuments_of_Passaic.pdf
    I look forward to seeing how the designs develop. Is this a series of stairs, like a built catalogue of potentials to mirror your air rights catalogue? Think about how the design of the stairs will be dictated, do they suggest a future building form to be constructed around them, appearing like a circulatory system without its body?

  2. I agree, I think this is a great direction to progress in – your post reminded me what the invention of the lift/ elevator did for the creation of tall buildings – suddenly cities could become more vertical now that there was a means to quickly scale their heights. The core has become a sign of progress and change within cities. The core and the crane, are the two precursors to a building, almost permanent fixtures on the city’s skyline. It would be interesting to play on this – similar to the provocative image from Bologna – how tall are your stair-watchtowers? Do they vary in height and materiality depending on what building forms its base? Are they built atop buildings (like in the catalogue) or are they built on voids? or both?
    As you develop the design, try to answer this question – and in constructing the image of the project, make sure it doesn’t blend in too much into the surroundings like the diving board-image you created earlier – we should see these cores as a call to arms, marks on the horizon of future development, unlocked real estate potential and an alarm bell/ cautionary tale – in addition to a watchtower/ look out.
    Finally, all the references in your post are great evidence to support why your third site is important in the context of the pilgrimage as well as the LES so make sure they are well-documented in the portfolio! Keep going and I’m looking forward to seeing how you develop all three sites and the route between them next week!

Leave a Reply