Famous architects are no longer just in the business of designing signature buildings. They are also increasingly functioning as megascale planners, hand in glove with the biggest developers in the world and with local municipalities, usually with both.
Frank Gehry's controversial $4 billion, 22-acre project for Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, N.Y., for Bruce Ratner of Forest City Ratner Cos. with the Empire State Development Corp., is only the tip of the iceberg. In downtown Los Angeles, Gehry is working on the first phase of a $1.8 billion development plan by the Related Cos. to turn the nine acres around his Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in 2003, into an “arts district” including a hotel, residences, retail establishments, restaurants, and public amenities. Another potential Gehry project, for Lehi, Utah, will be located on 85 acres, with housing, hotels, an amphitheater, and a sports arena; the scheme, for the owner of the Utah Flash basketball team, is worth $2 billion and won city council approval last August.
Elsewhere in the world, Daniel Libeskind is at work on a 4.5-million-square-foot, “skyline-creating” waterfront development in Busan, South Korea; a master plan with office towers, condominiums, a hotel, and a cultural institute for a three-mile development corridor south of the historic center of Copenhagen, Denmark; and a huge shopping and entertainment center on the west side of Bern, Switzerland, scheduled for completion this year and boasting a hyperactive menu of amenities such as a theme-park swimming pool, a movieplex, and a senior citizens' residence. In Morocco, Jean Nouvel is projecting a 345-acre low-rise, high-density suburb of Rabat, as well as a new port complex in Tangier.
Norman Foster has been retained as master planner for the historic center of Duisburg, a deindustrialized city in Germany's Ruhr Valley where he previously completed a renewal project for the inner harbor. He is also working on the first of a series of five hill towns for 15,000 residents on the Black Sea in Bulgaria and a car-free, waste-free, carbon-neutral “green utopia” for 50,000 in Abu Dhabi. This last—a collaboration between a government-owned oil company and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)—is slated to cost $22 billion and be home to “international businesses and top minds in the field of sustainable and alternative energy.”
If some of these matches between private developers and public entities have entailed enormously complex financial and political handshakes, not to mention some strange bedfellows, the luster of big-name architecture is increasingly—and, when coupled with the rhetoric of sustainability, literally—providing a green light. Historically at odds, architecture and urban planning have found a rapprochement today on the terrain of high-profile, large-scale real estate development.