Archive for the ‘Visualization’ 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,

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.

Uneven Growth: The American Community Survey (ACS)

All121. 2012 American Community Survey Information. Median age, median income, median rent, percent Black or African American, percent Asian, percent foreign born, percent Hispanic or Latino, percent senior citizens, percent vacant residential units, percent White, percent under 18, median commute via public transit.

This entry marks the second in a series of blog posts on research conducted for The Other New York, SITU’s contribution to the MoMA exhibition Uneven Growth. In the prior post we focused on a largely hidden and unaccounted for component of the housing crisis in New York City. Here, we look into the metrics that can shed some light on the household composition of illegally converted dwellings – spaces that are by definition hard to document. Working in collaboration with Citizens Housing and Planning Council and using their Making Room Household Model, SITU visualized data from the American Community Survey with respect to housing demographics. This study was instrumental in identifying neighborhoods that would become the focus of our design strategy and proposal for the Uneven Growth exhibition.

Politicians and researchers have argued that in the most recent decennial census, conducted in 2010, New York City’s population was undercounted by upwards of 50,000 and perhaps as high as 400,000 people.  Much of the discrepancy is believed to have occurred in communities within the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn – vibrant neighborhoods such as Astoria and Jackson Heights, Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst – that experienced high population growth between the 1990 and 2000 census. An undercount of this magnitude results in a wide gap between community needs and city funding for key initiatives such as affordable housing and transportation – calling into question the accuracy and practicality of the decennial census.

The American Community Survey – an annual supplement to the decennial census – captures vital information cities such as New York need in order to determine long-term planning and financial decisions.  Think of it as a yearly physical for the government – a check-up for how well it is serving the American population.  Information obtained through ACS correlates with the long-form survey on the decennial census; yet because it is administered yearly, changes in housing characteristics and demographics are more easily traced than by simply referencing the decennial census.

Wall3Edit2. American Community Survey housing demographic information. Source: NYC Citizens Housing and Planning Council, “2012 American Community Survey, using CHPC’s Making Room Housing Model” (2012)

For Uneven Growth, SITU worked with the CHPC to visualize data from the American Community Survey with respect to housing demographics. The above diagram shows the 13 neighborhoods in New York City with the highest rates of shared spaces per 2012 ACS data. When superimposed on the map to show locations of reported illegal conversions (in blue) a correlation can be seen between concentrations of informal housing and shared living conditions. Citywide, only 17.65% of housing units are occupied by what the Census Bureau considers “nuclear families.”  However the City’s housing stock consists largely of 2-3 bedroom apartments with a “master bedroom.” This disconnect between demographics and existing typologies provided an important starting point for our exhibition research. Overall, the percentage of singles living alone is 31.4% and the percentage of housing units that are shared either with or without family members is 25.4%. Given these trends, SITU focused on strategies dedicated to realigning living space and demographics realities by focusing on the needs of individuals living alone as well shared housing arrangements.  In this sense, The Other New York focuses on a model of incremental growth and flexibility in the type of housing stock as a direct response to the shifting demographic trends within neighborhoods expressed in the American Community Survey.

Situ Research: Division and Website Launch

Last week we launched Situ Research, a site dedicated to interdisciplinary design work that addresses urgent contemporary spatial issues. Over the past few years we have collaborated with human rights organizations, scientists, city planners and lawyers on vide range of projects, all collected on our new website

Situ Research associates McKenna Cole and Charles-Antoine Perrault share a few words about their investigations on two current research projects.


Deforestation patterns, militarization, and urban development in the Ixil territory are strongly correlated. This map illustrates how Guatemalan government’s “Model Village Program” participated in the destruction of Ixil people’s natural environment.

Charles is working on the investigation of a genocide case in Guatemala – A project undertaken in collaboration with Forensic Architecture and Paulo Tavares.  From March 1982 to August 1983, General Efraín Ríos Montt ruled the country with an iron fist during one of the bloodiest periods of its long civil war. Montt is now facing accusations of crime against humanity and genocide against Mayan groups before the National Court of Guatemala. Charles is producing a set of time-based maps and visualizations representing Rios Montt government’s intent to destroy a particular ethnic group. “Leveraging a broad range of evidentiary material (military logs, exhumation data, historical pictures, satellite images…), we reveal intersections between military operations, indiscriminate violence against civilian populations, systematic destruction and relocation of indigenous communities, and transformations in the urban and natural environment.” This work is intended to enter as evidence in Ríos Montt’s trial and will be integrated in a publicly accessible online geospatial platform.

Explore more Situ Research projects on Human Rights issues here


Image of PLUTO Dataset joined with building footprints translated into a 3d model of the Jackson Heights section of Queens.

McKenna is engaged in the development of the research for Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities a fourteen-month long workshop series culminating in exhibition at MoMA in November 2014. Situ is collaborating on this project with Cohabitation Strategies. Mckenna explains: “We’re reaching out to other practitioners, organizations and non-profits in the process of trying to formulate a clear understanding of the unevenness in New York City as it is physically manifested in disparate housing conditions, access to infrastructure, and policies at large. We’re analyzing and manipulating publicly available datasets to help us understand housing conditions on both a city-wide and neighborhood scale. Mapping and modeling are being used simultaneously in order to visualize the spatial implications of the data being used.”

Learn more about our participation in the first workshop at MoMA PS1 and keep an eye on the blog for updates as we visit Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture in mid-December.

Explore past blog posts on Situ Research projects 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.


White Phosphorus Impact Analysis

The above is excerpted from the forthcoming Forensic Architecture/Situ Studio report on the use of White Phosphorous in densely populated urban environments. This animation is based upon footage from the Jan 17th 2009, White Phosphorus strike on the Jabalya UNRWA school in Gaza. The incident was documented by the AFP photographer Mohammed Abed. These photographs are analyzed here in relation to a digital model of the surrounding context to elucidate a series of scenarios, as well as their potential effects, that may be expected at the architectural scale when air burst white phosphorus munitions are deployed.

More information about the project can be found HERE

GIRI (Griding, Imaging and Reconstruction Instrument)

The digital fossil project we are working on with Adam Maloof now has a name – GIRI (Griding, Imaging and Reconstruction Instrument)

We’ve been testing out a few medium format digital back cameras and macro lenses for GIRI. These cameras provide the highest resolution imaging you can achieve before moving to microscopes. Check out what our Limestone specimens look like at 80 megapixels….Holy Cow!

 Each of the holes shown in this image are 1mm in diameter.

A photo of the specimen zoomed with the area in the previous image highlighted.

“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.

Landform Building


A book launch/roundtable for Landform Building, a book co-authored by Stan Allen and Marc McQuade, was held on Sept. 17 at the BMW Guggenheim Lab. The book offers a fresh look at the definitions and distinctions (or lack thereof) of site and building and “traces an alternative history or architecture understood as artificial landscape.” A collaboration between Adam Maloof and Situ Studio on the mapping and modeling of the Lonar Meteor Crater is included in the book. Landform Building is designed by Thumb and Published by Lars Mueller Publishers.  More information here.

Return top