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Thursday, March 03, 2016

What's Next for the DDC?

Two things related to New York City's Department of Design and Construction (DDC) landed in my inbox yesterday:
The second optimistically asserts that the DDC projects (police stations, libraries, fire stations, etc.), "strengthen thriving neighborhoods, bolster economic growth and create jobs," while the first questions the need for designs that "go far over cost and fall behind schedule." One example of ballooning costs in the DNAinfo article is Rafael Viñoly's 121st Precinct Police Station in Staten Island, which "surged from an original price tag of $3 million to more than $73 million by the time it opened in 2013."

121st Police Precinct Station House
[The 121st Precinct Police Station House on Staten Island, designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects]

That nearly 25-times cost increase sounds stupendous, but keep in mind the original cost estimate was made without a design; the same state of affairs applies to the other projects mentioned in the article, though they did not balloon to nearly the same degree. With DDC's focus on design excellence for public buildings across the five boroughs, it seems that establishing an estimate on a per-sf basis is a recipe for disaster: costs will increase due to materials and labor over time anyways, more so with "designer" buildings. Costs could come down if prototype designs were used (enabling bulk orders of steel and windows, for example), but that would be at the expense of civic pride toward one-of-a-kind neighborhood buildings. (Chicago is one case where decades of prototypes gave way recently to unique designs.)

But by focusing on cost and schedule over the intangibles that bespoke designs create, the DNAinfo article simplifies architecture to a service focused merely on meeting programs, budgets and timelines. Does something need to be done to keep costs from ballooning too much and deliver them in a timely fashion? Certainly, but the answer isn't just in how a building looks. It seems this topic should be addressed seriously in the DDC presentation at the Center next week.

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