On first glance, I'd have to agree with Nicolai Ouroussoff's assessment that they "are not just a disappointment for their lack of imagination, they are also a grim referendum on the state of large-scale planning in New York City." Basically each scheme is a variation on the proverbial "towers in a park," with the design focus being on these two elements and a mandatory cultural center thrown into the mix. The schemes are evidence of top-down planning, meaning emphasis on plan over pedestrian-level thinking, in addition to little to no public involvement.
Developer: Brookfield Properties
Designers: SOM & Field Operations
SOM assembled a "dream team" with SHoP Architects, Diller Scofidio & Renfro, SANAA, and others to create a land of glass towers with soft edges.
Developers: Durst - Vornado Partnership
Designers: FXFowle and Pelli Clarke Pelli.
The FXFowle/Pelli team put softness in the sinuous park plan (and the watercolor renderings), with the equally glassy towers taking a page from Renzo Piano's Times Tower, where the glass parapets extend above the cooling towers at the top of each tower.
Designers: Steven Holl Architects
Where most schemes step the towers from high on the east to low to the river on the west, Holl's approach creates a wall of towers on 30th Street, a questionable move, as it would appear to leave the park in shade most of the day.
Developers: The Related Companies/Goldman Sachs
Designers: Kohn Pedersen Fox, Arquitectonica, Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Elkus Manfredi, West 8
Another dream team of sorts created the least cohesive plan of the bunch, resembling the organic growth of a city, though any points for this approach are lost on the pervasive malling of the site that Ouroussoff discusses.
Developers: Tishman Speyer/Morgan Stanley
Designers: Murphy/Jahn Architects and PWP (Peter Walker and Partners)
At the other end of legibility is this overly-cohesive (read: boring) design that is not only formal but overbearing. This design gets the award for most deceptive, for its large-scale model in the exhibition that cuts off the towers at about the tenth floor to focus attention on the park and not the mass of the towers; the model looks like a great low-rise scheme until one realizes what's going on.
For more information check out The Architect's Newspaper's coverage and head over to Cooper Union's Great Hall (7 East 7th at Astor Place) on Monday at 6pm for a public presentation of the five schemes.