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Competition: Gateways to Chinatown, New York

The New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) has launched an open international competition for a $900,000 gateway structure in Manhattan’s Chinatown (Deadline: 30 June)

The competition, backed by the Chinatown Partnership and Van Alen Institute, seeks proposals for a new landmark meeting place and information centre within the historic district’s Canal Street Triangle.

Planned to complete in 2018, the project aims to bring together existing communities in the area, respond to evolving cultural and generational demographics and forge new connections with other gateway sites within the surrounding city and wider world. As part of the initiative, NYC DOT is also planning to deliver a series of temporary installations at six other gateway sites within Chinatown.

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

According to the brief: ‘The overarching goal of the project is to provide a new marker for Chinatown, Little Italy, and the surrounding neighbourhoods in Lower Manhattan to engender pride of place, foster connectivity and cultural and social identity, and stimulate economic development.

‘Straddling art and architecture, symbolism and function, the new structure and public space aims to become a vibrant place of exchange at the centre of one of New York City’s most dynamic and historically rich areas. Gateways to Chinatown challenges design teams to reimagine the use and layout of this space, create a multifaceted meeting place and information centre, and manage the transformative project from design through construction and installation.’

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

Contest site: Canal Street Triangle, NYC

Located on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Chinatown is home to the largest enclave of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. The contest site is a triangular traffic island – bounded by Canal Street, Baxter Street and Walker Street – which currently hosts a small information kiosk and five gingko trees.

The contest calls for an ‘engaging, unique, technologically- advanced structure and sustainable public space commensurate with the site’s prominence’. Proposals will be expected to reflect local history and identity and harness contemporary digital and interactive technologies, lighting, media and multidimensional graphic design.

Schemes that integrate innovative wayfinding and green spaces while promoting digital connectivity, cultural identity and social interaction are also encouraged.

The project is funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, through the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation; the Manhattan Borough President’s Office and New York’s City Hall.

The overall winner, to be announced in the autumn, will receive $900,000 to design and deliver their scheme.

How to apply

Deadline

The deadline for submissions has been extended to 2pm local time on 30 June.

Fee

$50

Contact details

David Maco
NYC DOT
Contract Management Unit
55 Water Street
Ground Floor
New York
NY 10041

Tel: (212) 839-9400
Email: dmaco@dot.nyc.gov

Visit the competition website for more information

Rain Bow Gate case study: Q&A with Anna Liu

The co-founder of Tonkin Liu discusses lessons learned designing a landmark gateway for Burnley, England

Anna Liu

Anna Liu

Anna Liu

How did your Rain Bow Gate project create a landmark entrance and social space for Burnley?

Three perforate arches form a gate that welcomes people from three directions, where three routes converge. Our proposal took on board the geometry of the site, sculpting views from three sides. In the distance could be seen the heroic red brick arches of Burnley Viaduct, which carries the East Lancashire Railway. It is a beautiful structure whose strength came from its mass. By contrast, advanced digital tools have enabled us to create structures whose strength requires the consumption of minimal material.

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Source: Image by Anna Liu

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Burnley is a forward-looking town whose past textile industry has left a strong infrastructure of engineering expertise and skill base. From this rose a new advanced digital manufacturing industry, making precision parts for aeroplanes and cars. Our site is in front of a sixth-form college and at the periphery to the town centre. To signify Burnley’s reinvention as a cutting-edge manufacturing hub, and this particular site, which is the aspirational Gateway Education and Enterprise Zone, we wanted to position a structurally innovative sculpture.

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Source: Image by Greg Storrar

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Which architectural, material and other methods did you harness in your design?

Rain Bow Gate is a corrugated vaulted shell structure supported on three inclined columns. Constructed from 3mm stainless steel that arches over the 7m span, the single-surface structure gains strength from its form. The pioneering structural and fabrication technique ‘shell lace structure’ had been in development since 2009, by a team of architects at Tonkin Liu in collaboration with Ed Clark at Arup, advanced through research and experiment with digital modelling, digital analysis, and digital fabrication tools. What better place to demonstrate such an innovation, than a place in Burnley where future designers, engineers, and entrepreneurs are being nurtured? The material had to be a self-finishing one, requiring minimal maintenance, showing off its beauty by being ultra-light and ultra-thin, in this case, 3mm thick. The rain in Burnley was pivotal to its industrial past, and it was the first place in the UK to record its rainfall. The rain filled the rivers, the rivers powered the first mills, the moist air kept the cotton supple for weaving. Rain and sunlight are used here not as symbols but as a series of experiences – the sound of the rain on the thin drum-like steel roof, collecting rainwater and channelling it into the ground. Into the perforated 3mm-thin plates we inserted 133 glass prisms that would cast, with sunlight, rainbow coloured light underneath the canopy. After the rain comes the rainbow, a fitting symbol for optimism, regeneration and learning in Burnley.

What advice would you have to contest participants on designing a landmark gateway for New York’s Chinatown?

There are two very exciting strands to chase: the idea of the gateway, and the idea of what it is to be contemporary Chinese. Gateway is a fantastically provocative subject matter, by nature assertive, expressive, defensive, contentious, welcoming. Taxes are collected, human migration controlled, deals made, battles fought, stories told. Gateways should be visible from afar and engaging up close. I lived in New York City for many years and know this to be a fantastic site where new and old communities merge. Although the longstanding Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese communities are strongly-defined, there are always new mini-communities forming on the fringe. What are their aspirations, identities, and how do they negotiate their boundaries? What are the qualities of a contemporary Chinese landmark – instantly recognisable as Chinese but not a cliché. We have to do better than lanterns and dragons. This gateway isn’t just about Chinatown, it is about Chinatown in New York, here, now, in 2017.

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Source: Image by Anna Liu

Rain Bow Gate by Tonkin Liu

Q&A with David van der Leer

The Van Alen Institute’s executive director discusses his ambitions for the contest

David van der Leer

David van der Leer

David van der Leer

Why are you holding an international contest for a new Chinatown gateway?

Not all gateways within cities need to—or should—look the same. We want to find new ways to organise and celebrate public space, and reconsidering what the ‘gateway’ means in the 21st century and what it can achieve is an exciting way to tackle this challenge. The Gateways to Chinatown competition asks teams to think through what makes a gateway to Manhattan’s Chinatown unique from an entry to another neighbourhood, and how that difference can be interpreted through symbolism and function.

We’re seeking international participation in this project because a global array of submissions will present the broadest array of ideas, and as a neighborhood characterised by internationalism, Chinatown’s next landmark merits input from around the world. New York City has been enhancing its public realm continuously over recent decades, from new parks to bike lanes and plazas. We’re proud to have been a part of this process by developing competitions that led to the TKTS booth in Times Square, the park on Governors Island, as well as our annual Flatiron Public Plaza Holiday Design Competition. Gateways to Chinatown fits within these improvements to the public realm that enhance the everyday lives of residents and visitors.

Moreover, Van Alen has an increasingly global presence through initiatives including Opportunity Space, an international design-build competition challenging multidisciplinary teams to propose a temporary, mobile structure that will support economic opportunity and social inclusion in Malmö, Sweden; Ecologies of Addiction, a research initiative exploring correlations between the built environment and addictive behaviors, organised with Imperial College London’s Sustainable Society Network; and the Van Alen International Council, a platform for exchange among leading architects, designers, developers, and planners, representing practices across more than 26 cities and 15 countries.

What is your vision for the new Chinatown gateway?

Now that is the exciting thing. We are challenging competition teams to develop their own visions for an implementable design for the gateway, which will be sited on the 100-foot by 39-foot [30m x 12m] Canal Street Triangle in Manhattan. These teams can build on the results of public engagement and outreach efforts that Van Alen, the New York City Department of Transportation, and the Chinatown Partnership launched in 2016 to gauge neighborhood preferences for what local residents would like from the gateway. Architectural innovation and quality and environmental and social sustainability will of course be important factors, and we also expect teams to apply an interdisciplinary lens as they determine how their design proposal will shape the experience of visitors to the site and the city.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

This is a great opportunity for designers from a wide variety of career levels to team up with professionals from other disciplines. The winning team will gain exposure that comes from designing a permanent built work at a prominent intersection in Manhattan.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects be procured?

We have numerous concurrent and upcoming design opportunities, including the UrbanSOS: hOUR CITY student ideas competition, presented by AECOM and Van Alen with 100 Resilient Cities. This challenges students to redefine the one-hour commute by proposing housing, transportation, and economic development solutions. There is also the To the Streets one-day flash competition to imagine how a distributed network of protest spaces could be designed for the streets of New York City’s five boroughs. In the near future, we’ll be launching a multitiered design competition looking at environmental, economic, and social resiliency in south Florida.

Are there any other similar gateway projects you have been impressed by?

We prefer not to provide entrants with precedents that might influence their own designs, and we’re looking forward to seeing the ingenuity that comes from the range of international submissions. The winners of our recent competitions have developed innovative new approaches to public space, and that is what we expect to see in Gateways to Chinatown. Ecosistema Urbano proposed transforming alleyways into vibrant thematic corridors with features including a rock-climbing wall, interactive exhibition space, and immersive foliage for the Shore to Core competition, which asked teams to design downtown West Palm Beach as a dynamic, resilient waterfront city. For the Memorials for the Future competition, which reimagined how we think about, feel, and experience memorials, landscape architects Erik Jensen and Rebecca Sunter proposed a park at the confluence of Washington DC’s Potomac and Anacostia rivers commemorating landscapes lost to sea level rise, which itself is designed to be subsumed by water.