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Hudson Yards is Transforming West Side Manhattan

Posted December 02, 2014 11:03 AM by HUSH

"Air rights" isn't a term that's likely well-known beyond those who use it: primarily property owners, real estate brokers and civil engineers in congested cities. It specifically refers to the empty airspace above a building and how the building owner can administer his or her authority over it. In the example at right, located in Manhattan, the building owner has sold some or all of his air rights to the apartment complex next door.

The overcrowded nature of New York City has evoked some of the more creative applications for air rights. And in a recent incarnation, a 99 year lease of the air rights over the MTA's West Side Yard-where Long Island Railroad trains sit between rush hours-has spurred the construction of the largest private development project in U.S. history.

The West Side Yard was converted from a freight terminal to a rail yard in 1987, and during construction space was intentionally left between tracks to accommodate columns for potential overbuilds of the yard air rights were negotiated. At one point or another, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium and a new stadium for the New York Jets (blech!) were all considered for the spot. After a stadium never materialized, the space was rezoned and many developers expressed interest in the air rights, which were ultimately awarded to the joint venture Hudson Yards.

By the end of this year, Hudson Yards will erect an enormous, $680 million platform over the rail yard that consists of 16 different bridges and will serve as an artificial foundation. Three hundred concrete-sleeved caissons will be inserted 40-80 feet into the bedrock between West Side Yard tracks, and construction will halt during transit times so trains can continue unobstructed. On top of this platform will sit six skyscrapers ranging between 780 and 1,255 feet-high, consisting of offices, hotels, retail and affordable residential units (though the definition of "affordable" is absurdly different in New York City). This entire structure will only utilize 38% of the rail yard surface area for support.

Hudson Yards also will be one of the most sustainable developments in history once completed. Buildings will be monitored via heat mapping to track crowd sizes and energy usage. Mobile apps will connect users to building data systems. New York University has installed sensors and a monitoring network to carefully manage all building resources and pollutants. At the same time, engineers have installed energy redundancy so if a Superstorm Sandy Part 11 happens, Hudson Yards can still be turned on. Then there is the pneumatic garbage chute. Waste from each building is removed by vertical trash chutes that feed into a pneumatically-powered network that will accumulate trash at an off-site dispensary. Lastly, Hudson Yards is also incorporating green space into its design by becoming the terminus of one end of the High Line, the famous defunct subway line that has been transformed into a modern park and trail.

There you have it. Hudson Yards is transforming the New York skyline, innovating the overbuild construction game, and becoming a world-leader in sustainability despite building over a grimy rail yard. Let's hope MTA decides to renew the lease in 2108.

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