Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Section 581: Visualizing Undertaxation



SITU’s drawing highlights 50 of the most expensive luxury co-op or condos in a selected area of Manhattan. 50 of 700 such luxury sales in this area’s public records are visualized here.

SITU’s contribution to a new exhibit at the Storefront for Art and Architecture investigates inequalities incurred by New York State and City property tax code. Titled, Sharing Models: Manhattanisms, the show at Storefront exhibits 30 models and drawings by 30 international architects that represent various ways of reading, understanding, and analyzing the collective assets of urban life. For the exhibition opening on July 14, 2016, Storefront divided Manhattan into 30 section cuts across the city from the East River to the Hudson River, and assigned each to a participating studio. Containing significant residential sections of the Upper East and West Sides centered around Central Park, SITU’s assigned section for the exhibition is bounded by East 79th street to the north and West 62nd to the South. In response to the exhibition’s call to explore the effect of emerging sharing economies on the lived experience of cities, SITU set out to render visible the disparities in property tax code and the loss of shared city revenue through New York’s luxury co-op and condominium market.

Manhattan was split into 30 section cuts for The Storefront for Art and Architecture’s Sharing Models: Manhattanisms exhibition. In the above image, SITU’s assigned section #13 is highlighted in green.

Anachronistic tax code, anonymous shell companies and absentee residents are all distinct characteristics of New York’s luxury housing market. As the veils of limited liability companies are pierced and leaks from Panama converge on the same investments, it is illuminating to render visible the drivers of the built environment across a swath of Manhattan’s most valuable real estate and to project a future in which access and exchange of information play a greater role in shaping the City. It is also a moment to reflect on Michael Bloomberg’s enduring legacy of shoring up New York City’s standing as a hub of international luxury real estate investment and his largely unqualified conviction that concentrations of global capital are a net benefit to all citizens of the City. 1)Capps, Kriston. “Why Billionaires Don’t Pay Property Taxes in New York.” CityLab.

SITU’s project, titled “Section 581”, borrows its name from the component of New York state property tax law that sets the assessment practices for Tax Class 2 residential buildings (coops and condos) in New York City. Property taxes on condos and co-ops in New York City are calculated based on an assessment of the property’s value conducted by the Department of Finance (DOF) and are not based on the sales price.

Section 581 follows:

[R]eal property owned or leased by a cooperative corporation or on a condominium basis shall be assessed for purposes of this chapter at a sum not exceeding the assessment which would be placed upon such parcel were the parcel not owned or leased by a cooperative corporation or on a condominium basis. 2) N.Y. Real Prop. Tax Law § 581(1)(a) (McKinney 2013)

In accordance with this law, co-op buildings and condo buildings with at least four units are valued by the DOF as if they were rental properties. These owner-occupied units are some of the most expensive in the city, yet they are compared to rental units across variables such as location, date of construction, and building size to determine their market value. According to the report published by the Furman Center in July 2013 titled, “Shifting the Burden: Examining the Undertaxation of Some of the Most Valuable Properties in New York City”, the most valuable rental buildings in Manhattan are valued by the DOF at well under $500 per square foot. The market has seen luxury condo sales typically made at a much higher expense per square foot — often in the $4500 range. 3)Yager, Jessica, and Andrew Hayashi. “Shifting the Burden,” The Furman Center, July 2013.

The incongruities of such comps become evident even though a quick reading of the physical structures and amenities of the units themselves, as well as in the demographic characteristics of the people who live in them. In the case of newer luxury condos there are almost no rental buildings that are truly comparable. Furthermore, nearly 30 percent of rental buildings selected for comps are also rent stabilized, confounding the notion of arriving at co-op market values based on comparisons in rental income (rent stabilized income is artificially limited and therefore not subject to the market). The Independent Budget Office estimates that citywide, the discount this assessment system creates—which is referred to as the 581 discount—for condos is about 82 percent; for coops it is around 77 percent. In other words, only 18 percent of the market value of condos is included in the tax base. 4)New York City Independent Budget Office. “Twenty-Five Years After S7000A: How Property Tax Burdens Have Shifted in New York City,” December 2006,

While the inequalities engendered by the real estate market leave many signatures on New York City’s built environment, the arcane model of calculating property tax and the misalignment of this process with the realities of the contemporary market are particularly acute. This condition is concentrated in the most expensive properties in the city – many of which are located in the area assigned to SITU by Storefront. We set out to explore this in greater detail through both physicalizing the relationship between sales prices and assessed values in our model and creating a drawing that unpacks selections of the underlying data.

As part of our research for this project, SITU delved into available open data published by the NYC DOF and Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). Making use of NYC’s rich information commons, the model and drawings are based on analysis of available financial and geospatial datasets in the public record. Comparison figures for assessments draw from the Department of Finance’s property assessment roll for fiscal year 2017. Sales data were gathered through the DOF’s rolling and annualized datasets from the last 13 years (2003 to June 2016). Our process focused on the luxury co-op and condo sales in our section that were present in the data, of which there were 700.

SITU found significant discrepancies in valuation. One of the most expensive recorded sales in our section was $33,000,000 for a single co-op unit in an 111 unit building on Central Park West. The city assessed the entire market value of the building –all 111 units– at $60,722,00 for the fiscal year 2017, only $28,000,000 over the sales price for just a single apartment in a luxury building of many. The sale price of that $33,000,000 apartment is nearly 60 times its value assessed by the DOF for tax purposes.


Detail of the drawing focusing on Tax Class 2 luxury sales along Central Park West.

In SITU’s section of Manhattan, the highest disparities are concentrated along Central Park West and along Park Avenue, where some of the most expensive apartments in the entire city are located. Expanding this analysis across our area of interest reveals a total undervaluation of around $5.2 billion dollars in the luxury condo and coop market.

The drawing unpacks selections of the underlying data. It identifies the 50 most expensive of the 11,000 undervalued unit sales in our section and compares their respective sale prices to the values used for property tax assessment. This study represents a small fraction of the lost property tax revenue that could be captured across the entire city. As a general trend, the more expensive the sales price, the more extreme the disparity, in some cases numbering in the tens of millions of dollars for a single unit alone.


In SITU’s study section of Manhattan, the highest disparities are concentrated along Central Park West and along Park Avenue, where some of the most expensive apartments in the entire city are located (highlighted in green).

In the model, the height of the acrylic surface above a coop or condominium building represents the relative magnitude of difference between sales price and assessment value. It seeks to present a skewed reality wrought by Section 581 that is difficult to see: a real estate market that has benefited an elite class of New York home owners and disproportionately burdened the less wealthy with the funding of public life and works in the city.




13_SITU_Section581_Model_Detail6All photos are by Patrick Mandeville


References   [ + ]

1. Capps, Kriston. “Why Billionaires Don’t Pay Property Taxes in New York.” CityLab.
2.  N.Y. Real Prop. Tax Law § 581(1)(a) (McKinney 2013)
3. Yager, Jessica, and Andrew Hayashi. “Shifting the Burden,” The Furman Center, July 2013.
4. New York City Independent Budget Office. “Twenty-Five Years After S7000A: How Property Tax Burdens Have Shifted in New York City,” December 2006,

Making: James Turrell’s Three Saros

Video by SITU Studio

SITU Fabrication was brought on as a specialty consultant and contractor to engineer and oversee the construction of an installation for artist James Turrell which serves as the centerpiece of a new, midtown corporate office designed by Shelton Mindel & Associates and Architecture+Information. Working closely with James Turrell’s design team and the project architects, a number of formal and material iterations were evaluated prior to arriving at a 24′ tall, 2-story volume with a seamless GFRG interior and a polished solid surface exterior.

Three Saros

Photograph: Michael Moran/OTTO

SITU assembled a team consisting of Laufs Engineering Design for structural design and Art in Construction for GFRG fabrication to develop the means and methods for the construction. SITU worked with a 3D model to coordinate the variety of trades that had to fit within the doubly curved 14″ wall construction, including structural steel, light gauge framing, lighting, electrical, mechanical, and sprinklers. In addition to serving as lead coordinator, SITU also fabricated the thermoformed solid surface exterior cladding, all the molds for GFRG production, and any templates and precision mounting brackets.

Three Saros

Photograph: Michael Moran/OTTO

From the earliest phases of the project, SITU saw an opportunity to document the design and fabrication process as its own act of making. As with many of the artist’s large room-size installations the completed Three Saros project envelops the viewer in an immersive environment – free of surfaces, edges, light sources and vanishing points – capable of evoking a ganzfeld experience where information is subtracted from the visual field. Therefore, in the completed project, much of the architectural environment is only legible from sculpture’s exterior – as an object within the lobby volume. Over the course of the project SITU captured time-lapse, still and video content to both document and preserve the work that is, in the end, veiled by the beauty of the art.

Three Saros

Photograph: Michael Moran/OTTO

To learn more about Three Saros please visit our project page here.

SITU Research Launches SPEA Project

Bil In1

Image courtesy of SITU Research and Forensic Architecture.

SITU Research is pleased to announce the launch of Spatial Practice as Evidence and Advocacy (SPEA) – a project that will utilize spatial analysis and visualization in the service of human rights fact-finding and reporting. Mobilizing innovative applications of existing and emerging technologies, a primary goal of SPEA is to broaden the “tool kit” and culture of human rights work to include design as an integral component of legal and advocacy initiatives.

Made possible in part by the generous support of the John D. and  Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Oak Foundation, SPEA will undertake applied casework with human rights organizations, news outlets, legal counsel, scientists, and researchers to generate reports targeted at synthesizing diverse forms of evidence into precise, coherent and compelling spatial narratives. Further, the SPEA project seeks not only to represent consequential data in the most effective way, but also to extend the impact of these often technical and prosaic findings through public-facing, interactive reports.

As a cross-disciplinary project, SPEA has a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps that traditionally separate and segment the fields of human rights and design. SPEA will build upon the long-form textual structure of traditional human rights reporting with the integration of spatio- visual content that can enrich the analysis of specific human rights violations. Work will focus on the collection and synthesis of disparate forms of evidence, both quantitative and qualitative, that may be gathered in a specific case (e.g., satellite imagery, video footage, the verbatim testimony of witnesses, munitions specifications, etc.) Over the next 22 months, SPEA will collaborate on a series of reports that will be made available to the public. Examples of other human rights cases that SITU Research has worked on can be found here.

New Evidence Released in the Left-to-Die Boat Case

In a follow up to the Left-to-Die Boat report that Situ worked on last year with collaborators Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani (part of Forensic Architecture – a project funded by the European Research Council) that focused on the reconstruction of the events that lead to the death of 63 migrants in March/April 2011, a press conference was held today to present new evidence and announce a new legal cases that are finally being brought to court in Spain and France. After the Paris Prosecutor’s Office ignored initial complaints in April of 2012, two survivors filed the case as civil parties, forcing open a judicial investigation as to why French and Spanish military ships criminally neglected a vessel in distress, ultimately resulting in the unnecessary deaths of 63 people at sea.


The above image shows new Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data describing ships over 50 meters in length on the morning of April 4th 2011. Highlighted area indicates migrant vessel’s range of locations on that day. Below is the addendum itself that was released at today’s press conference in Paris held by International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).


Experts Report Life to Die Boat

At the press conference, Lorenzo Pezzani describes the inclusion of the new vessel detection data that is has been incorporated to strengthen the report’s spatio-temporal reconstruction of the events analyzed in the report. His description can be viewed at 30:00 of the below video.

Video streaming by Ustream

The addition of new SAR (synthetic aperture radar) data from the morning of April 4th 2011, the crucial time when a military ship is thought to have crossed within 10 meters the migrant vessel (see image at top of page), has been instrumental in gaining further insight into the provenience of the military ship the survivors recall encountering. While this new data narrows down the possibilites, the question remains – which ships were present in the area, informed of the vessel’s distress and failed to respond? Read FIDH’s most recent coverage of the report here.


Maker Meet-Ups

As we begin the next phase of development on Design Lab for the New York Hall of Science we’re continuing to explore the ways in which the Maker Movement is manifesting both in formal and informal contexts. We’re finding that many informal explorations of making, experimenting  and innovation are beginning to coalesce and turn into maker spaces around the country. In October, GE Garages pop-ed up at Story in West Chelsea for a weekend of learning about 3D printers, laser cutters, and injection molders to engage and explore curiosities about prototyping technology.

Image via Make Magazine

Makers at Story NY, Image via Make Magazine


In November, MAKE International used Google+  for the first  international 3D printing meetup online! Participants logged on from Sao Paulo to Seattle to join the conversation and to learn more about 3D printing from their fellow makers. Also in November, the Brooklyn company MakerBot opened a store on Mulberry street in Lower Manhattan. Coming up, more makers are using to plan ways to connect and to investigate this formative movement. In fact, last month, Shapeways hosted a meet up at the 3DEA Pop Up shop in New York.

Image via Make Magazine

3DEA Pop-Up NY, Image via Make Magazine




Fossil Lab at Princeton


Construction has begun on the digital fossil reconstruction lab we are working on with Adam Maloof, professor in the department of Geosciences at Princeton University. Situ and Adam are currently building an instrument that will become the centerpiece of the lab: an automated serial grinder/imager. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation and will be complete in January. We will be posting more images and fossil lab updates in the coming months, but in the meantime, check out the TEDxCooperUnion talk, where we spoke with Adam about the project.

Y-3 Projection Wall


On September 9th 2012, Y-3 celebrated their 10th Anniversary with their 2013 S/S Fashion Show. As a backdrop to the celebration, Y-3 commissioned artist Dev Harlan to create 200 foot long 3D projection wall with an array of 660 skewed pyramids. For the fabrication and installation of the wall, Dev turned to Situ Fabrication.

The pyramids were CNC cut out of light-weight Ultraboard and then folded and seamed as sets of three. Interlocking tabs were integrated to quickly attach the pyramids to a plywood substructure. Dev Harlan then mapped projections to the 3D geometry and brought the wall to life.

More photos of the project are available here.

“Spaces of Utopia/Dystopia” Seminar


Last weekend Situ presented some recent work on the Forensic Architecture project as part of the exhibition Troubling Spaces at the Zabludowicz Collection in London. The exhibition was curated by Helga Just Chistoffersen and Natasha Marie Llorens.

Photo: Tim Bowditch

Our talk focused on the ever increasing use of “Non-Lethal” weapons for operations in urban environments and situations of civil unrest. Two case studies were presented in which we explored the use of civilian video and photography in relation to the evolving and often murky legal contexts this type of warfare engenders. One of the case studies (above) is part of a report we are working on with Francesco Sebregondi of the Center for Research Architecture on the use of Air Burst White Phosphorus munitions in highly populated environments.

Photo: Tim Bowditch

On Friday, artist Avi Mugrabi screened his film Z32 and on Saturday he presented some of the work he is doing with the organization Breaking the Silence.

Photo: Tim Bowditch

Tom Keenan, Director of the Human Rights Project at Bard College, led a discussion on Sunday on the subject of battle and media-spaces of the Internet during the conflicts in Kosovo and Iraq.

Digital-Fossil-Reconstruction Software Tests


We’ve been making progress on the Digital-Fossil-Reconstruction project that we are working on for Adam Maloof’s new lab at Princeton University. Most recently we purchased the surface grinder that will serve as the center piece of the lab and will begin working on the hardware retrofit in the coming weeks. While we wait for the grinder to arrive we’re experimenting with some pretty incredible software that allows us to convert stacks of photographs into a 3d digital model by converting each successive image’s pixels into 3d voxels. This software, called Avizo Fire, is mostly used for applications in x-ray computed tomography but we are appropriating it for optical imagery reconstuction. Check out the video below, a test we ran on some of the images we had of the Trezona rock samples….pretty amazing tool!

Avizo from Situ Studio on Vimeo.

Invention of the Cable Cam – Jim Rodnunsky

When Jim Rodnunsky strung 1400 feet of steel cable between rocks at either end of Sudan Couloir at Blackcomb Mountain in Canada, he was hoping to capture footage of his ski simulator in action to use as a teaching tool. What he had prototyped was the CableCam, a camera with a series of mechanisms to take stable shots at speed, rigged with ropes, pulleys, and now computer controlled winches to move the camera in three dimensions.

It’s hard not to draw comparisons between the CableCam’s engineering and that of the chair lifts that carried Rodnunsky up mountains while a professional freestyle skier. The first attempt in 1989 suspended an aluminum basket from the steel cable, in which Rodnunksy laid facedown, feet first down the cable, reaching speeds of 50 mph and a height of 80 feet above ground. Just two years later, Steven Spielberg used the invention in “Hook,” and in 1994, Rodnunsky and his partner went to Lillehammer, Norway to film the winter Olympics. One-axis and hydraulically controlled, the original system had a 2,000-pound man-dolly, with one person driving and the other filming from it. Norwegian locals would line up at the end of the day to take 60-70 mph rides on the CableCam, what he called an “e-ticket ride” in a 2008 article in the LA Times. The sports world picked up on the possibilities for video game-like shots and the trademarked technology, CableCam now has contracts with FOX Sports, CBS, NBC, and NFL networks.

Rodnunsky died after a long battle with brain cancer on June 10 at the age of 54.

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