Report: The New East River Science Park (& Mall?)

By October 11, 2010blog
East River Science Park: Entrance to the new Alexandria Center

A brief report on the public space of the recently opened Alexandria Center for Life Science (ACLS), which is the initial phase of the East River Science Park being realized in the blocks directly south of the Bellevue Medical Center.

The clean modernism of the ACLS’s physical environment could have been airlifted in from present-day Berlin, and it reminded this observer of the spirit (if not the architecture) of the utopian plains of many La Jolla-based biotechnology industries: cool isolation.

But New York abhors cool isolation, and has provided a savory surprise – arriving at the base of the gleaming tower, one is enveloped in the noise and glares of the drivers on the FDR, as if the new plaza was supposed to focus our attention on the old Moses-designed East River Drive itself.

I found the experience both unnerving and, in an odd way, poetic: the decaying road and cars, as surely as the river, serve as a barometer of our own well being. This stretch of the FDR is, after all, a relic that seems held together with patching cement and layers of paint, a thoroughfare for solo humans being carted around by 4,000lb pollution machines, a virulent survivor, an old New York institution that has not been gentrified, a large-scale walking coronary that we have the privilege to view from behind delicate stainless steel guard railing, all which could help focus, for better and worse, deeper research into life sciences…

My reverie was interrupted by a guard telling my kids to get off some bench height stone walls. It was a mall-inspired moment (“kids can’t walk on there, that’s how they want it”) that does not bode well for public space; let’s hope it was merely opening week jitters.

Entrance to the new Alexandria CenterEntrance to the new Alexandria Center with the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital to the left and river side plaza straight ahead. The Psychiatric Hospital was supposed to have become a bespoke hotel but remains a homeless shelter, which like the FDR seems a living reminder: Attention Must Be Paid.

The FDR as extension of the river side plazaThe FDR as extension of the river side plaza.

East River Science Park: The Child moments before being told to live life off the wallThe Child moments before being told to live life off the wall.