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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
The Orange County Government Center in Goshen, N.Y., has been closed since it was damaged by storms in September.
By
Published: April 7, 2012
GOSHEN, N.Y. — As Modernist buildings reach middle age, many of the stark structures that once represented the architectural vanguard are showing signs of wear, setting off debates around the country between preservationists, who see them as historic landmarks, and the many people who just see them as eyesores. The conflict has come in recent months to this quaint village 60 miles north of New York City — with its historic harness-racing track, picturesque Main Street and Greek Revival, Federal and Victorian houses — where the blocky concrete county government center designed by the celebrated Modernist architect Paul Rudolph has always been something of a misfit. “I just don’t think it fits with the character of the county seat and the village of Goshen,” said Leigh Benton, an Orange County legislator who grew up in the area. “I just thought it was a big ugly building.” Completed in 1967, the building has long been plagued by a leaky roof and faulty ventilation system and, more recently, by mold; it was closed last year after it was damaged by storms, including Tropical Storm Irene. Edward A. Diana, the Orange County executive, wants to demolish it, an idea that has delighted many residents but alarmed preservationists, local and national, who say the building should be saved. The county legislature is expected to decide whether to demolish or renovate it next month. Those who want to save it call it a prime example of an architectural style called Brutalism that rejected efforts to prettify buildings in favor of displaying the raw power of simple forms and undisguised building materials, like the center’s textured facade. “Preservation is not simply about saving the most beautiful things,” said Mark Wigley, the dean of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. “It’s about saving those objects that are an important part of our history and whose value is always going to be a subject of debate.” A similar debate is going on in Chicago, where preservationists have been fighting to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a concrete, cloverleaf-shaped 1974 structure designed by Bertrand Goldberg that the National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed on its endangered list. In New Haven, the 1972 Veterans Memorial Coliseum was demolished in 2007 despite a campaign to rescue it. In Manhattan, 2 Columbus Circle, the 1964 “lollipop” building by Edward Durell Stone, escaped demolition but was renovated in 2008 in a way that stripped away its original facade. Preserving charming confections from the 18th- and 19th-century can be a struggle; convincing people to keep more recent, decidedly uncute structures built from 1950 into the 1970s can be a battle of an entirely higher magnitude, especially if they’ve sprung leaks. “The phenomenon of a building that’s about 30 to 40 years old being severely out of style and leading to people wanting to alter it or demolish it is very real,” said Frank Sanchis, the director of United States programs at the World Monuments Fund page, about the Orange County Government Center here. The fund put the Goshen building on its 2012 watch list. Opinions are even stronger when it comes to Brutalism, a style closely associated with the Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and one that tends to produce weighty monoliths like the F.B.I. headquarters in Washington and Boston City Hall. In an interview Theodore Dalrymple, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute who has written about the architecture of Le Corbusier, described Brutalist buildings as “absolutely hideous, like scouring pads on the retina.” “One of those buildings can destroy an entire cityscape that has been built up over hundreds of years,” he said. Barry Bergdoll, the chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, said: “Brutalism was supposed to bring back all sorts of things like craft — the concrete wasn’t smooth, you could feel the hand of the worker there. But it was perceived in almost the exact opposite way. It’s one of the great public relations failures of all time. Most people think of Brutalist architecture literally — as aggressive, heavy, boding and forbidding.” Rudolph, who died in 1997, was a prominent Modernist architect who also designed Yale’s Art and Architecture Building, among others. Architectural historians say the Goshen government center, which features protruding cubes and a corrugated concrete facade resembling corduroy, represents Rudolph at his best. “I would easily identify this as one of his top 10,” said Sean Khorsandi, a director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation. But Mr. Benton, the county legislator, called it “a world monument to inefficiency.” Each camp has its own estimate for how much it will cost to renovate the center — the preservation side says about $35 million, the county says $65 million. For an additional $20 million, county officials say, they would be able to build a new center (probably traditional) and to improve several other county buildings. The government offices that were in the center have dispersed around the county. “I’m a pretty modern type of person when it comes to architecture and paintings,” said Mr. Diana, the county executive. “If the building functioned in the right manner and was effective and efficient, I’d leave the building right where it is.” Economics aside, many say the Rudolph building simply has never belonged in Goshen and never will. “It’s just so out of place,” said Barbara Hatfield, a longtime county resident. “Goshen is the county seat. There’s a lot of history there.” But others argue that the building is part of the area’s history, too. “It reflects a snapshot in time in the late ’60s and ’70s, when our history was turbulent,” said Patricia Turner, a resident trained as an architect who wants to save the building. “Isn’t that just as relevant as something that happened in 1868?” John Hildreth, a vice president at the National Trust, said architectural taste changes over time and then can change again. “There was a time when people weren’t concerned about saving Victorian houses, bungalows, Art Deco buildings — all were not favored styles,” he said. “You have to focus on the significance of the building and not its style, because styles will come and go. We’re at a point where we’re evaluating the recent past and coming up against that.” Historians also say appreciating architecture can require an education. “It’s like saying, ‘I don’t like Pollock because he splattered paint,’ ” said Nina Rappaport, chairwoman of Docomomo-New York/Tri-State, an organization that promotes the preservation of Modernist architecture. “Does that mean we shouldn’t put it in a museum? No, it means we teach people about these things.” But Mr. Dalrymple said the notion that the public needs to be educated to appreciate Brutalism is like saying that people “need to be intimidated out of their taste.” No expertise is needed to decide that a building is ugly, he said, adding, “It’s an aesthetic judgment.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: April 10, 2012 An article on Saturday about a dispute over whether to restore or demolish the Modernist county government center in Goshen, N.Y., designed by Paul Rudolph, misspelled the surname of an influential painter cited by a preservationist who said people should be taught to appreciate some works of modern art and architecture. He was Jackson Pollock, not Pollack.
A version of this article appeared in print on April 7, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Architecture’s Ugly Ducklings May Not Get Time to Be Swans.
Modernism, despite the popularity of Mad Men and shelter magazines like Dwell, is under assault. Iconic works of architecture and landscape architecture from the 1960s and 1970s have a particularly high mortality rate, though because of cultural and other biases, it's usually the endangered buildings we hear about and not the landscapes. Two places, both recognized as Modernist masterworks, are currently facing complete destruction; one received front-page New York Times coverage on April 7, 2012, and the other deserves the same level of national attention.
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Orange County Government Center designed by Paul Rudolph. Image © Theodore Prudon and reproduced courtesy written permission of Theodore Prudon.
  The Paul Rudolph-designed Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York, writes New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin, is considered a landmark by some and an eyesore by others. However, the decision on whether to renovate or demolish it apparently hinges not on aesthetics, but on costs. According to Pogrebin: "Each camp has its own estimate for how much it will cost to renovate the center -- the preservation side says about $35 million, the county says $65 million." Obviously, someone needs to check the math -- budget figures, like economics, statistics and opinion polls, can be manipulated to yield a predetermined outcome. I'll leave you to read Pogrebin's piece and turn to the case that deserves national attention.
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Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN. Image courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  In Minneapolis, the M. Paul Friedberg-designed Peavey Plaza is also slated for demolition because the city says the site is in poor condition and restoration would cost too much money. For those who don't know about Peavey, it's located downtown adjacent to Orchestra Hall and a block from Target's corporate headquarters. Peavey is a two-acre "park plaza," as Friedberg calls it, "a mixture of the American green space and the European hard space" that was completed in 1973. According to the AIA [American Institute of Architects] Guide to the Twin Cities, "The plaza is considered a highpoint of modern-period landscape architecture in Minneapolis." Even today, nearly 40 years after its completion, the integrity of this Modernist gem is very high and the design largely intact. Nevertheless, officials at Orchestra Hall, which is undergoing a $45 million renovation, have decided Peavey doesn't work for them and should be replaced.
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Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN. Image courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  Peavey Plaza does need help. I know because, as I've written before, M. Paul Friedberg and I were on the team led by the Minneapolis-based landscape architecture firm Oslund and Associates the city selected to develop plans for the site. Unfortunately, Paul and I were shut out of the process before we could propose solutions that would maintain the integrity of Peavey's design while meeting contemporary demands and requirements, such as accessibility. The city seems to have skillfully stacked the deck against Peavey by creating a false set of choices; essentially, restore Peavey to its original condition or create something new. Strangely, the only people insisting complete restoration is an option are city officials. Friedberg and I never advocated that, as we explained in an October 27, 2011 Minneapolis Star Tribune commentary, and preservation organizations locally and nationally have all endorsed the idea of adapting Peavey to address accessibility and other issues, while maintaining the integrity of its major design elements. Indeed, Friedberg has offered to share design solutions that address these concerns with Mayor RT Rybak, the City Council and others who have been pushing to demolish Peavey.
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Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN. Image courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  Unfortunately, the city seems determined to get its way and has come up with some head-spinning lines of reasoning. For example, the city's Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (DCPED) in a recent report supporting demolition has implied that adding an accessibility ramp to Peavey's existing design is a bad idea. Why? Because DCPED says it "would substantially alter the original design." Their solution? Destroy Peavey altogether. Can someone explain the logic of this argument? That's about as sane as saying the light bulbs in your house aren't energy efficient, so we're tearing down your house to solve the problem. They city has also cited the poor condition of Peavey, yet in their recently filed demolition permitthey admitted their direct role in the problem:
An intentional effort has been made in recent years to hold the line on maintenance costs, including the decision not to repair some fountains and other infrastructure and to reduce the staff time at the plaza.
  The city also says complete restoration of Peavey Plaza, which they claim is the most expensive option, would cost $8.7 million. However, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, in their editorial endorsing a new park design, estimates the total cost for the new park at $8 to 10 million, which means the complete restoration false choice is comparable or possibly less expensive. Setting aside that complete restoration false choice thing, if the city insists on pushing this argument, someone needs to check the math. How did the city come up with this number? What's it based on? And, more importantly, against what other budget is this being compared? Where's the budget for the new park?
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Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN. Image courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  The city has also said: "Any rebuilding/renovation scenario will require millions of dollars in donations/private dollars." Shouldn't we ask those potential donors what they think? Let's go through the likely candidates, starting with those on the Orchestra Hall board: Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, General Mills, and RBC Wealth Management, or maybe their neighbor Target. OK, but the city has also said, "potential funders will not contribute millions of dollars to restore the plaza to its original design because it cannot address accessibility, safety, and sustainability issues adequately." A couple of problems here: 1. There's the circular logic of that complete restoration false option again (does anyone else feel like they're watching a cat chase its tail?) 2. It's sounds like the city has already poisoned the well for any options other than destruction. Once Rybak gets his big hole in the ground, funders will miraculously come tumbling of the sky like so many putti from the clouds in an Italian Baroque painting to pay for the new park.
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Peavey Plaza, Minneapolis, MN. Image courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.
  The next phase is a hearing before the city's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), which released the DCPED's demolition recommendation on April 6 (both Passover and Good Friday! Talk about burying a story). They can decide to approve or reject the demolition, or postpone it for 180 days to allow for additional review. One of the commission members is Linda Mack, a former Minneapolis Star Tribune architecture critic who helped select the architect for Orchestra Hall's renovation and was, as the Star Tribune noted, a "communications adviser to Oslund and Associates," who led the Peavey redesign process. I think it's fair to ask if Ms. Mack has had any involvement whatsoever, including any formal or informal discussions with other commission members and staff, about the future of Peavey, and whether she will be voting on the DCPED's demolition recommendation. The city, if it offers any rebuttal, will go through its usual litany of talking points about open and public process, and so on. Sorry, but repeating something often enough doesn't make it true -- remember that whole thing about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Friedberg recently told me that while working on Peavey in the 1970's he, "was so impressed with the integrity that [Minneapolis] had, [it] stood out as a special place, their politics, their civic duty. They made sure everyone had a voice." Not anymore.
 
 
 
Follow Charles A. Birnbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TCLFdotORG
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It's A Steel

Steel windows present a challenge in many restoration projects. By Martha McDonald When restoring historic buildings, the question of what to do with the existing steel windows is often a serious concern. Architects may want to turn to replacement windows for energy conservation reasons, and there are firms that can provide historically accurate new windows. On the repair side of the argument is John Seekircher, owner and founder of Seekircher Steel Window Repair, Peekskill, NY. The firm repairs and restores thousands of steel windows every year, for commercial and residential projects. The family-owned and operated firm has been in business since 1977, and has a long list of projects to its credit, including Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. One of the advantages of repair versus replacement, Seekircher notes, is that it is usually quite a bit less expensive, "and the craftsmanship and lifespan of historic and steel windows is really unmatched by most replacement windows on the market today. Once restored, the historic windows are as good as new, even better." One such recent example is Ely Hall at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, where Seekircher restored 24 steel windows of various sizes ranging from 4x5-ft. to 7x11-ft. "Here at Vassar College, we make a great attempt to restore our historic building envelope systems," says Jeff Horst, Director of Special Projects at the college. "Many of our buildings are older so that involves masonry restoration, replacing roofs, and either refurbishing or replacing the windows. One of the considerations is improving energy efficiency. Ely Hall has a mix of window sizes, some with divided lites, and some with no divided lites." "The work is the same in all of the jobs," says Seekircher. "The windows are primed by hand, (we don't spray paint) and putty-glazed by hand, the same way it was done years ago. Then we add two finish coats and clean the glass and you have windows that are as good as new. The alloys in those windows are incredible. At Vassar, we only replaced about six feet of steel. The windows were still in very good shape. That's what we come across generally." "The task was to restore the envelope system, the copper roof and the masonry," Horst notes. "The windows – both wood and steel – were a bit of a challenge. There was no question about the wood windows – they had to be replaced. At first we decided to replace the steel windows, but after further investigation, we found that the steel was in good condition; the paint and the glass were not." "Seekircher made it clear that these windows were certainly worthy of restoration. He told us that the steel from this era is very good. We saw very little rust," says Horst. "The bottom line is that Seekircher completely restored the windows, with paint the same color as the original. We have gotten many compliments on the windows. They look really good, just like the original windows." The college brought in CVM Engineering, a Philadelphia building restoration consultant for the project. "Vassar is one of the older campuses in the country and they have a lot of historical buildings," notes Matt Ridgway, architectural engineer, CVM. "Ely Hall is not on the National Landmark list, but it was built in 1889, with an addition in 1906. Our understanding is that the windows were original to the building." "Our preference is always to salvage historic fabric in these historic buildings," he adds, "but one of the big questions is energy efficiency. What are you sacrificing energy-wise with restoration?" CVM looked at different options, including new thermally-broken aluminum windows that would replicate steel, and offer increased insulation values. He found that the cost of replication was two to four times the cost of restoring the historic steel windows. A decision was made to use laminated glass, rather than single-page glass, to provide more energy efficiency. "The steel windows at Ely Hall were in fair condition, needing only to be scraped down, primed and painted," he notes. "So we restored them all in place. Fortunately, Seekircher also had a collection of historic hardware for replacements where needed." "When looking at historic windows, there is always that decision to see if something is worth salvaging from financial standpoint and how important is original fabric. This project married these two thoughts. When we can, we like to try to get the best of both worlds." While the windows at Vassar were restored on site, those at Columbia University Hospital in New York City were removed from the building and restored in the Seekircher shop. Another difference was the pricing structure – it was more expensive to restore rather than replace the windows, but the decision was made to restore because of the significance of the historic material. "The Physicians and Surgeons Building is the flagship building for Columbia University Medical Center, and is the main entrance to the center," says Richard H. MacDowell, CSI, CDT, partner, Grenadier Corp., Bronx, NY, the general contractor for the project. "It is also one of the earliest buildings, constructed in the mid-1920s. The three monumental windows are right in the front. They are enormous – three stories high." Richard Pieper, director of preservation at Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, NYC, the architect for the Columbia University Medical Center project, notes: "We are a preservation firm, so we are very, very sensitive to changes in design. In this case, we felt very strongly that aluminum extrusion windows would significantly impact the look of the building. We spoke to the client about it and they agreed." "These are definitely the biggest steel windows we have worked on," says Seekircher. "It was a challenge taking them apart. When they are this big, it is usually easier to work in place, but because they had to do some repairs on the limestone, we would have been in the way, so the work was done in the shop." The windows were dismantled, loaded into Grenadier trucks and taken to the shop. "We made several trips to the shop to monitor the work and talk about certain repairs," MacDowell notes. "At some point, a decision was made to replace all of the glass rather than just broken planes." Grenadier workmen set the repaired steel windows in place and then Seekircher did the final painting and glazing (1/4-in. laminated glass) on site. "The client was thrilled," says MacDowell. "We got so many comments from people who said they were such beautiful windows. They didn't realize that they were the old windows. Even some engineers thought they looked like new windows. John also added some new hardware. The windows really stood out. It was a big 'wow' factor." TB
April 23, 2012 08:30AM
L&L Holdings Chairman David Levinson and 425 Park Avenue (building credit: PropertyShark)
L&L Holdings has taken a major step towards erecting the first new office tower along Park Avenue in more than 30 years. The Wall Street Journal reported the firm has reached out to 11 big-name architects, including three Pritzker Prize winners, for design ideas on a new skyscraper at 425 Park Avenue, between 55th and 56th Streets. L&L Holdings acquired the long-term lease on the existing building in a partnership with Lehman Brothers Holdings in 2006. In an effort to boost revenue on the prime Park Avenue site, it wants to demolish the existing 31-story, 567,000-square-foot, circa-1950s office tower and replace it with a new $750 million building. The property is currently mostly leased with rents of about $50 to $70 per square foot. The Journal speculated that a new building would attract rents of more than $100 per foot. To build as tall as possible per building codes, L&L Holdings must keep 25 percent of the existing structure, although Bloomberg is working to change those rules. In the meantime, L&L hopes to have the building vacant by 2015 so that demolition can start and the building can be complete by 2017. The land underneath the building was purchased last year by TIAA-CREF for $315M. [WSJ]
Posted by on Monday, April 30, 2012 · 1 Comment
The City Council is holding a public hearing at on Wednesday, May 2 at 10am at 250 Broadway to contemplate 11 bills which, if passed, will greatly change the workings of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in some very damaging ways. The first batch of bills are ones which were previously proposed and have been sitting in committee for a number of years. They are as follows: Intro 20 (CM Mendez, lead sponsor) – which empowers LPC to intercede in cases where unused Buildings permits are still active on Landmark buildings.  HDC supports this bill. Intro 80 (CM Koppell, lead sponsor) – requiring better monitoring of construction near landmark buildings.  HDC supports this bill. Intro 220 (CM Lappin, lead sponsor) – requiring the LPC to maintain a survey department. HDC questions if this bill is especially necessary, as many of the departments within LPC are not mandated by law and there is no funding necessarily attached to it. Intro 357 (Public Advocate De Blasio, lead sponsor) – allowing more flexibility about “green” rooftop mechanicals on landmark buildings.  HDC does not support this bill since we feel that all rooftop mechanicals on landmark buildings should be positioned to be as minimally visible as possible.   Then there are four bills which together seek to impose a strict timeline on the LPC’s deliberation of potential landmarks and historic districts. Intro 222A (CM Lappin, lead sponsor)– requires LPC to respond to Requests for Evaluation within a maximum of 180 days (6 months). Intro 532A (CM Garodnik, lead sponsor) – mandates a publicly accessible online database of RFEs and dictates language for LPC’s responses to requests Intro 849 (CM Lander, lead sponsor) – creates an appeals process for denied RFEs Intro 850 (CM Lander, lead sponsor) – creates a 21/33 month maximum timeline for landmark and historic district designations.   These bills would seem to answer the longtime community complaints about lack of attention to community requests.  In truth,  if these bills are adopted in tandem as written, they would risk overwhelming the LPC scant resources and could result in thousands of potential buildings in dozens of historic districts being rejected out of hand. Currently, there are literally thousands of buildings in potential historic districts across the city including:
Bainbridge Avenue Kew Gardens
Bedford Stuyvesant  Madison Square North
Boerum Hill  Morningside Heights
Broadway Flushing Moshulu Parkway
Bruckner Boulevard Mount Morris
Carroll Gardens  Murray Hill
City Island  Park Slope
Clinton Hill  Parkway Village
Crow Hill Richmond Hill
Crown Heights North Ridgewood
Far Rockaway  Riverdale
Fort Greene the Bowery
 Fort Hill the Grand Concourse
Greenpoint the Upper East Side
Greenwich Village  the Upper West Side
 Inwood Victorian Flatbush
Jackson Heights Wave Hill
 Jamaica Estates Westerleigh
to name only the ones which spring immediately to mind.  Imagine if the LPC HAD to make decisions and designate all those districts in 33 months.  They couldn’t even if they wanted to – and that would result in thousands of buildings being permanently prevented from becoming landmarks based on a mandated schedule rather than merit. Please also note that there is no funding guaranteed to actually provide for the staff necessary to enact this scheme. This plan is almost ensured to create paralysis at the agency. If this timeline was currently in place, one could easily imagine that Crown Heights North,  the Park Slope Extension, the Grand Concourse, Douglaston Hill, Murray Hill NoHo,  and Dumbo would have never been designated since all of those designations took longer than 33 months to complete. This is clearly a case of an attempt to legislate around a concern where the cure is much more damaging than the problem. For a full timeline of what we think this will look like, see here. Finally, there are two bills which seek to inhibit LPC’s powers to designate or regulate properties. Intro 845 (CM Comrie, lead sponsor) – allows for replacement materials on landmark buildings to be those present at time of designation. Intro 846 (CM Comrie, lead sponsor) – mandates City Planning Commission to analyze economic impact of designation on the development potential of proposed landmark and instructs City Council to strongly regard this analysis in their deliberations.  The bill also requires the LPC to issue very detailed draft designation reports  early in the public hearing process and promulgate rules for historic districts immediately after designation. These bills are aimed at making the LPC ineffectual and providing faulty intellectual rationales for the Council to reject designations at the behest of developers. Intro 845, the Replacement Materials Bill, undermines the basic benefit of LPC oversight in helping to gradually return areas to a more historically-appropriate condition.  With the advent of new material technologies and the growth in skilled building artisans, it is easier and cheaper than ever before to replace failing building materials with appropriate replacements of high quality.  What this bill would result in would be the endless replacement of white vinyl windows in designated historic districts with more of the same. Intro 846, the Economic Argument Bill, deliberately misconstrues the economic value of landmark designation by emphasizing the false value of “property strictly as development ”. By enabling the sole criteria of economic value to be the highest use of a site,  the bill strives to denigrate the economic value of landmark designation to property value. The most highly valued and most desirable property in New York City falls within historic districts. There are a number of factors why these areas are so successful and one of them is their landmark protection.  People want to live where there is certainty and protection.  Under this bill, the recent Park Slope extension could be found to have an negative economic effect on the neighborhood because it could potentially affect the FAR of rowhouse blocks, whereas commonsense and actual real world data will show the opposite to be true. This is a deliberate attack on the Landmarks Law , which was intended by its drafters to “stabilize and improve property value; protect and enhance the city’s attractions to tourists and visitors and the support and stimulus to business and industry thereby provided; and strengthen the economy of the city”.  This is how Landmark designation worked in 1965, and it’s how Landmark designation works today. That the City Council is hearing all these bills with almost no notice is very disturbing.  That each speaker is only going to have THREE MINUTES to comment on 11 bills is outright appalling. Regardless of the merit of these bills, the concerned public of New York City’s neighborhoods deserves a real opportunity to discuss the issues raised by these bills.  Under these circumstances, any germ of good policy in these bills simply cannot have a fair hearing or thoughtful discussion whereas the bad ideas risk slipping through unchallenged. HDC urges you to come to 250 Broadway on Wednesday, May 2 at 10am and tell the City Council firmly – this is bad public policy, bad for preservation and bad for New York! Written testimony is also permitted and should be brought to the hearing or sent to CM Comrie and Speaker Christine Quinn at 250 Broadway, New York, NY 10007. You can contact Speaker Quinn on the Council website at http://council.nyc.gov/d3/html/members/home.shtml or send your testimony to gbenjamin(at)council.nyc.gov
The lion's heads that once graced the cornice of 4195 Broadway. (Courtesy Trish Mayo) The lion's heads that once graced the cornice of 4195 Broadway, now in a dumpster. (Courtesy Trish Mayo) When the attention of real estate speculators diverts, sometimes old neighborhoods have time to acquire a majestic patina. The Washington Heights section of northern Manhattan has been neglected for some time, but is now getting a fair share of spillover interest from Columbia’s Manhattanville project and the university’s nearby hospital campus. In 2009, the Audubon Park Historic District was created to protect the area just behind Audubon Terrace, home to the Hispanic Society and the Academy of Arts and Letters. But just north of the district, years of landlord neglect has unwittingly preserved row after row of early 20th century apartment buildings festooned with ornate cornices. But the cornices are now in danger of disappearing.  
The decorative cornices of Washington Heights are dissapearing. Most of the decorative cornice at 4181 Broadway (right) was replaced with concrete, and the cornice at 4195 was replaced entirely with corrugated metal.
Provided you look up, there are still vistas in Washington Heights that recall the area’s heyday. In the early part of the last century a striving middle class made up of German Jews, Irish, and Greeks walked beneath striped fabric awnings perched at apartment windows, all topped with fanciful cornices.
More dumpster lions.
Most know that when Robert Moses plowed through the Bronx to build the Cross Bronx Expressway, neighborhoods were severed and died a slow death. But little attention is paid to the Cross Bronx’s connection to the George Washington Bridge, which severed Washington Heights too, providing easy access for suburbanites to swoop in and out of the neighborhood to buy drugs. Eventually, like the South Bronx, the area regained its footing. Now, the Pier Luigi Nervi-designed Port Authority Bus Terminal at the base of the bridge is set to undergo a $285 million restoration. And Starbucks, the ever present harbinger of gentrification, is just a few blocks north.
Planned renovation of the Nevi-designed GW Bridge Bus Terminal. (Courtesy STV Inc.)Planned renovation of the Nervi-designed GW Bridge Bus Terminal. (Courtesy STV Inc.)
But just as Washington Heights begins its reemergence, several building owners are stripping away the architectural features that make the area unique. Just next door to the bus terminal sits 4195 Broadway at the corner of 178th Street. Two weeks ago, the decorative lion heads that once reigned atop the 1920 edifice were stripped, thrown into a dumpster and replaced with corrugated metal. It’s indicative of a neighborhood trend. Over the past several years the cornices of Washington Heights are finally getting much needed maintenance attention. But instead of restoring them, many building owners are ripping them off and replacing them with steel, aluminum, and concrete.
The metal replacement. The metal replacement.
Photographer Trish Mayo noticed the latest affront on a bus ride home from the library. The shapes in a dumpster registered as something familiar to her. She got off the bus to investigate. Mayo said the dumpster was almost full with terracotta lion heads taken from 4195. The dumpster has since been carted away. “I think that after so many years of neglect the decorative details have become a safety hazarded and it’s just cheaper to destroy all the beauty that’s in these buildings,” she said.
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Preservation Nation

Photo: © Jorge Salcedo
The leafy streets of Boston’s landmarked Back Bay neighborhood.

Is landmarking a shield or a sword in the fight against overdevelopment?

By Ben Adler
Among urbanists in America, the advent of landmark-preservation laws in the 1960s is usually viewed as an inspiring time in urban planning: Concerned communities, academics, and fans of architecture banded together to protect beloved old buildings from the grand plans of rich developers and powerful politicians. And, remarkably enough, the Davids usually defeated the Goliaths. But have they acquired too much power? So say a growing contingent of critics who believe preservation has gotten out of hand. They include left-leaning economic policy wonks, architects, and architectural critics. Landmarking is under attack on two fronts: architectural and economic. Critics in the first category are not opposed to landmarking, but worry that architecturally undistinguished buildings and neighborhoods are winning landmark status for political or sentimental reasons. The result, they say, is a public that embraces architectural nostalgia rather than innovation. At the same time, some economists and policy experts maintain that cities are limiting their economic potential by constraining the supply of new housing and commercial development through too much landmarking. The outcome: Most desirable cities are too expensive for middle-class families. This past year, Harvard economist Ed Glaeser, in his book Triumph of the City, attacked landmarking, along with such restrictions as zoning that limits density or requires parking lots. Glaeser points to the case of a proposed 30-story addition, designed by Norman Foster, at 980 Madison Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, that was rejected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission even though it would have kept the original 1950 limestone gallery building as well. “The cost of restricted development is that protected areas become more expensive and exclusive,” writes Glaeser. Legions of urban policy bloggers around the country agree. The aesthetic critique of landmarking is also gaining currency. Rem Koolhaas mounted an exhibition at New York’s New Museum last spring that was a broadside against landmarking. “[Koolhaas] paints a picture of an army of well-meaning but clueless preservationists who, in their zeal to protect the world’s architectural legacies, end up debasing them by creating tasteful scenery for docile consumers while airbrushing out the most difficult chapters of history,” reported the New York Times. These issues may be most extreme in New York, where the razing of McKim, Mead & White’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963 still stings. But similar controversies have erupted in older cities across the country. What the Washington City Paper calls “the weaponization of preservation” includes the efforts of the Tenleytown Historical Society to prevent American University from expanding its campus by pushing landmark status for an entire block to protect the fairly banal 1904 Immaculata Seminary. In Boston, tradition often trumps the new. “The South End is very restrictive about what you can do to your buildings, in many cases with very good reason,” says architect and preservation expert David Fixler. Yet people can be prevented from making changes just “to keep things the way they are.” Sometimes officials require new construction be designed in an architecturally contextual manner, even when the building is an inherently modern structure. In San Francisco, on the other hand, the Historic Preservation Commission has responded to criticism that Modernism is underappreciated by seeking protection of such undistinguished modern buildings as the 1959 North Beach Branch Library. Critics and defenders of landmarking tend to agree on one key point: that the drive to landmark buildings of questionable significance is caused by a larger problem of communities feeling powerless to stop unwanted development. “Preservation has become an all-functioning tool for all sorts of operations,” says Sarah Williams Goldhagen, architecture critic for The New Republic. “It’s being used to prevent or to determine the direction of development because city planners are so disempowered, rather than because these buildings or districts are by any objective standards worth preserving.” Yet preserving historic buildings is important for cultural and even economic reasons. In the 1980s, New York City theater owners near Times Square were tempted to sell their buildings to developers who would put up office towers in their place. An economist like Glaeser might applaud such market efficiency. But New York’s historic theaters are part of the city’s identity. When the city landmarked the theaters, it allowed owners to sell development rights to adjacent parcels. Today, Times Square has tall office buildings as well as a vibrant theater district. “Tens of millions of dollars go into Broadway, and it’s a major economic engine for the city,” notes Simeon Bankoff of New York’s Historic Districts Council. “They’re only there because they’re landmarked.” Preservationists believe that central cities are economically successful because of landmark laws, not in spite of then. What Glaeser and others fail to appreciate is that there is excess demand to live in Manhattan or San Francisco precisely because of the architectural quality of the built environment. Ben Adler is a contributing writer for The Nation.
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Restoration Redux

Restoration Redux Photo © Christian Richters At the Neues Museum in Berlin, David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap saw history as a series of layers, both old and new.

Top architects are tackling historic buildings in surprising ways.

By Jorge Otero-Pailos Preservation has returned to the center of architectural theory and practice, after languishing in the margins for over half a century. Just a decade ago, it would have been impossible to think that the stakes of the field would be set by projects like David Chipperfield and Julian Harrap's restoration of the Neues Museum in Berlin, Diller Scofidio + Renfro's subtle morphing of Lincoln Center and the High Line in New York, Rem Koolhaas's forensic preservation of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, or Herzog & de Meuron's adaptation of the Park Avenue Armory in New York. Back then, such figures rarely involved themselves in preservation—not simply because they had defined their careers through new construction, but because they saw it as rather unimaginative work. Now these architects approach preservation projects with anxious care. It is as if preservation were the hardest move, the piked double Arabian with full twist, of architectural gymnastics. If so, then a profound reordering of the criteria for judging architectural excellence is taking place. What makes the Neues Museum shocking is the level of restraint the architects demonstrated, at a time when it was common to hire world-class designers precisely to intimidate preservation commissions into allowing egregious “adaptations” of historic buildings into contemporary “icons.” Against the grain of the grand gesture, Chipperfield and Harrap opted for the precision of discreet interventions. Their design consisted mostly of removing historically insignificant elements. When they did add, they did so to enhance what was there, as one adds salt to bring out the flavor of a dish instead of covering it with sauce. For instance, they added subtle tints to the lacunae in decorative patterns to reintegrate the losses into a complete image. Even the most emphatically new elements, like the grand staircase, echo the form of the lost original. This echoing approach to situating architecture is a key departure from previous models. An echo is by definition not a facsimile of the original voice, and therefore not a “restoration” in the traditional sense. It is the return of that voice from the future, transformed by the time that separates it from the original. An echo cannot return the original in its pure form. It returns a cleft original, bearing the dividing mark of a split temporality that cannot be easily located as part of the present. The Neues Museum was brought back deceptively intact, but in fact profoundly changed. Prior to the High Line, “adaptive reuse” was invariably understood to mean the process whereby an old building suffered changes for the satisfaction of new uses according to a fixed logic of contemporary architecture. With the High Line, the meaning of the term began to shift to signify the mutual adaptation of contemporary architecture and old buildings to each other. The shift is subtle but important because it implies a revision of one of our discipline's foundational ideas: that contemporary architecture comes into existence through its confrontation with building. We had taken it as a given that the word “building” stood for new construction. Now it is clear that contemporary architecture can also emerge by adapting an old construction. The old criterion that new architecture was only possible through a new building is dead. Koolhaas's master plan to update the Hermitage Museum, in time for its 250th anniversary in 2014, is another example of producing contemporary architecture through (as opposed to next to, or on top of) old buildings. Koolhaas claims to avoid “declarative architectural interventions,” and turns to preservation for a new form of expression. His strategy is to forensically retain all traces of the old buildings, even the dusty showcases, but to relocate every object, leaving some rooms empty in anticipation of what the future may bring. So he expresses contemporary architecture as an ephemeral process more than a permanent object, a way of opening (old) buildings to new meanings. The Hermitage signals another important new direction, away from the past as history and toward questions of temporality. In the wake of Postmodernism, we are more aware and critical of the way the past is constructed. Yet we are beyond the Postmodernist antics of simply denouncing the artificiality of the past, or reproducing it ironically. The past is never delivered pure, but always comes as reconstructed evidence. We know that our answer to what makes architecture emerge within a building will be incomplete. The last word will be delivered retroactively from the future. This circumspect attitude toward the past makes contemporary architecture not just more open to what the future might bring, but more concerned with temporality, rather than the “imageability” of space and form. The challenge is that our architectural understanding of the temporal is not as sophisticated (yet) as that of the spatial and formal dimensions of building. We are only beginning to develop the critical tools to understand the aesthetic expression of architectural temporality in political, cultural, and ethical terms. So far, time has been explored mostly as a “natural” aspect of buildings, manifested in weathering and other changes in their appearance. Yet it is also the enabling element of “cultural” aspects of buildings. Consider that the role buildings can play in collective practices of remembrance and identity formation is a function of their longevity. Preservation involves designing and formalizing such practices, and as such, it helps people use buildings to imagine themselves as part of local communities, and even larger societies. Perhaps this is partly why contemporary architects have turned with new urgency to preservation, precisely in this historical moment of crisis, when the ethical bankruptcy of banking and the dysfunctionality of politics strain the social contract to the breaking point. Preservation is our repository of over two centuries of experiments in how to think about the temporal dimension of architecture in political, cultural, and ethical terms. Think of Ruskin's romantic defense of architectural “time-stains,” the patterns of dust deposited on old building stones according to the chisel marks of ancient stone carvers. His championed aesthetic cannot be dissociated from his left-leaning politics, for he saw every modernizing effort to resurface old buildings as an attempt to deny working-class craftsmen their rightful place in the history of architecture. Ruskin's lineage ran through the Arts and Crafts movement, but inverted its political inflection in the American hands of Louis Comfort Tiffany, famous for opulently patterned interiors. Herzog & de Meuron's attention to pattern is perhaps the closest that any contemporary architect may comfortably come to Tiffany. In restoring the interiors of the Armory, they deftly adapted their architecture to the old building, in an effort to open it to new political interpretations. The Armory's original, refined aesthetic reinforced social segmentation within the military, by making uneducated servicemen feel unwelcome. As the army democratized, the interiors were remodeled accordingly. Rather than recreating Tiffany, or imposing a new architectural language, the architects created a contemporary architectural aesthetic by overlaying traces of the pedestrian elements they removed as ghosted outlines, such that their erasure seems incomplete. By keeping the ghosted layers of kitsch added by less refined middle-class officers, they both return the Tiffany originals and change their political charge to reflect the military's long (and imperfect) pursuit of social equity through meritocracy. Herzog & de Meuron return an echo of Tiffany in a palimpsest. Through preservation, they achieve an expression of architectural temporality that attends to the political ramifications of culture more than they have in any of their other works. Architects' shift from the pursuit of signature styles to a creative exploration of preservation enables them to deepen the significance of form and space through sharper expressions of temporality. In the process, architects are becoming more critically engaged in the inherited cultural, political, and ethical issues that define our moment, without feeling the need to celebrate or deny them. Our profession's current commitment to preservation will most likely not last long. Its impact on how we think about architecture and how we articulate our commitments through design, however, may well find echoes in the future. Jorge Otero-Pailos is an architect, artist, and associate professor of historic preservation at Columbia.
%PM, %23 %939 %2011 %21:%Dec

A Jewel Box for Translucent Treasures

A Jewel Box for Translucent Treasures
Michael Bodycomb/The Frick Collection
White Gold: Highlights From the Arnhold Collection of Meissen Porcelain is the inaugural exhibition in the Frick Collection's newly enclosed Portico Gallery.
By KEN JOHNSON Published: December 15, 2011
In light of the glass-box atrium plugged into the J. P. Morgan Library & Museum a few years ago, New York cultural custodians might have been understandably alarmed to learn of plans for architectural intervention at another great institution of Gilded Age ancestry. They need not have worried. The Frick Collection’s transformation of an outdoor colonnade into an indoor exhibition space, now called the Portico Gallery, is as subtly noninvasive as the Morgan’s addition is conspicuously anachronistic. This is admittedly an unfair comparison: the Frick’s new gallery is not a central thoroughfare but a lateral cul-de-sac that will be used for rotating displays of decorative arts and sculpture. From the outside the only visible change to the portico, which faces south over the Fifth Avenue Garden, are floor-to-ceiling windows, minimally framed in bronze, inserted between the columns. Though just 815 square feet, the space feels much more expansive and airy than it really is. French doors closing in the small rotunda at the end of the portico look as if they had always been there, and so does a life-size statue of a nude Diana, frozen in midstride on one foot, beautifully modeled in terra cotta between 1776 and 1795 by the French neo-Classical sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon. She has recently been cleaned and is back on view after a three-year absence. Elevated on a waist-high pedestal, she seems to gaze over the traffic on Fifth Avenue with divine disregard for mere human reality. All this was designed and carried out by the architecture firm Davis Brody Bond. Read more
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In Detail> Frick Portico Gallery

A Beaux-Arts porch transforms into an light-filled exhibition space.
Davis Brody Bond created a climate-controlled gallery from one of the Frick mansion's open air loggias.
Paul Rivera
Davis Brody Bond Architects & Planners with Renfro design Group Balanced on a pedestal at the end of the Frick Collection’s newest gallery, Diana, goddess of the chase, appears to have just leaped back across Fifth Avenue after a little hunting in Central Park. That this late-18th-century statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon was allowed to emerge from storage and strike a pose against an appropriately sylvan backdrop is one of the highlights of a thoughtful renovation led by Davis Brody Bond (DBB). The Portico Gallery for Decorative Arts and Sculpture, the museum’s first new exhibition space in 35 years, was created from a south-facing loggia running along the Frick mansion’s ample front yard. The project came about when a donor’s gift (an extensive collection of porcelain) required additional display space. DBB and former Frick director Anne Poulet decided to take a cue from the 1914 building’s original architect, Thomas Hastings of the firm Carrère and Hastings, who, just after completing Henry Frick’s main house, immediately began sketching up a proposal for a sculpture gallery addition.
   
Left to Right: Thomas hastings' 1916 drawing for a proposed sculpture gallery at The Frick mansion; a plan of the New Gallery with ITS Bluestone Floor; and a section showing DAvis Brody Bond's new glass curtain wall and ventilation system.  (right).
Courtesy the frick collection/DBB
 
Hastings’ scheme went on hold once the United States entered World War I in 1917 and never came to pass due to Frick’s death in 1919. But almost a century later, that plan to create a sculpture gallery connected to the main house led DBB to consider the disused colonnaded loggia, whose decorative limestone relief carving has been fading due to exposure to corrosive exhaust fumes from Fifth Avenue traffic. Part of the original house, the long and narrow 815-square-foot loggia was accessible from the library, but had long been closed to museum goers. The new gallery’s southern orientation means copious amounts of sunlight, an issue for paintings but less so for sculpture and ceramics. “We wanted to maintain the character of an outdoor space,” said DBB partner Carl Krebs, whose team specified low-iron glass panels to fill the spaces between the columns. The panels, some of the largest in production at approximately 14 feet by 7 feet by 2 inches, are cantilevered from below, resting in shoes secured 16 inches below the floor. Framed in bronze and set slightly back from the outmost edge of the loggia’s floor, the glass panels defer to the limestone columns, allowing the space to retain its original appearance both from the interior and the exterior.
   
LEFT TO RIGHT: Illuminated at night, the Gallery becomes a vitrine for sculpture and ceramics; the modernist Curtain Wall defers to the Loggia's Beaux arts Colonnade; from the Rotunda, Houdon's Diana The Huntress (1776-1795) overlooks the 815-Square-foot gallery.
Paul Rivera
 
The loggia’s stone paving was too damaged to be saved, but removing it allowed DBB to install power lines and a radiant heating system below for finely tuned climate control. Ventilation of the space was made easy thanks to a series of existing grates running along the floor of the interior wall, where the gallery’s main display cases are mounted. The grates originally allowed air into servant’s quarters in the basement, and DBB took advantage of the subterranean space to install new air ducts. Lantern-style custom lighting fixtures modeled on those found elsewhere in the house hang from the ceiling of a newly insulated roof; a striking bluestone floor replicates the pattern of the early 20th-century paving, running the length of the gallery and culminating in Diana’s oval rotunda.
Molly Heintz

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