No one has a résumé like Vishaan Chakrabarti, a planner who has darted between the public and private sectors: as a top executive at Related Companies; a director at the New York City Planning Commission; an associate partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; a transportation planner for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and, most recently, as the director of Columbia University’s Center for Urban Real Estate (CURE). In March, Chakrabarti became a partner at SHoP Architects. He will retain his position at Columbia while helping steer the Manhattan firm responsible for such projects as the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn. We recently reached Chakrabarti on his cell phone.
Architectural Record: Where are you right now?
Vishaan Chakrabarti: I’m walking on the High Line. I love seeing how the rezoning we devised at City Planning has engendered so much architectural experimentation. The only negative is that we worked very hard on an affordable housing plan for this neighborhood, but we may have underestimated the popularity of condos. I’m hopeful there will be more rental-building activity, and with it more affordability, during the next round of construction.
AR: Are you excited about the Cornell/Technion campus planned for Roosevelt Island?
VC: Yes, but the jury is still out on the key question: If we're going to bring this campus to New York City in an effort to diversify the economy, where will the businesses it spawns find space to grow? To fulfill the promise of the tech campus, there needs to be proximate, relatively cheap real estate, and the place I see that happening is Long Island City. It's just a few subway stops from Midtown Manhattan, but it's mostly one- and two-story buildings.
AR: So you favor increased density?
VC: Yes, in places that are well served by the subway, like Long Island City and Downtown Brooklyn. That’s why we need projects like Atlantic Yards.
AR: Designed by SHoP!
VC: Absolutely! The SHoP plan is tremendous'it's going to create a great new neighborhood. And the goal to build modular housing could be a game-changer. Prefabricating buildings within New York City, which is what's really being talked about, could become an important new industry.
AR: You're well known for a project that will never be built: LoLo, the land bridge connecting Manhattan and Governors Island proposed last year by CURE.
VC: There has been so much down-zoning in the outer boroughs that we've limited our capacity to meet the needs of a growing population. The proposal was asking: Do we have to create more Manhattan?
AR: Why did you decide to join SHoP?
VC: I’ve known the partners for years, and I’ve watched it go from an avant-garde start-up to a 90-person firm. Now it’s SHoP 3.0—a global practice interested in large-scale urbanism. The hope is that my coming to the firm will send a concrete signal that we’re poised to build the skyscrapers, museums, and transportation infrastructure of the future.
This story appears in the May 2012 issue of Architectural Record.