The latest news on New York architecture.


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Christopher Gray reports for The New York Times: The Courthouse That Escaped the Gavel. The Preservation of Greenwich Village’s Jefferson Market Courthouse.

The 1877 Jefferson Market Courthouse, as it appeared in 1906. Once considered dispensable, it is today a public library. 

Preservationists of the 1950s who sought to save the Jefferson Market Courthouse of 1877 had no landmarks law to back them up. They labored on the romantic Victorian’s behalf for almost 10 years, inventing strategy and recruiting allies as they went along.

The delicate, multicolored tower at the Avenue of the Americas and 10th Street is hard to look at now with fresh eyes, but for those just discovering New York’s history in the mid-20th century, it was manna — a wild, competing series of masses, materials and colors, one loud “Look at me!” statement.

The super-High Victorian Gothic courthouse, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, escaped demolition in 1910 when the planner Charles R.Lamb suggested clearing out the cobweb of streets in the West Village to create a new court center. Like many grand visionary ideas, this one sank like a stone.

The courthouse was next to a public market and a jail, both demolished in the 1920s for the Art Deco Women’s House of Detention, which by the ’50s was known for the inmates shouting out the windows at husbands, boyfriends and passers-by. For people who lived within half a block, this didn’t disturb the peace; it destroyed it. Neighbors clamored for its destruction.

The taint of the House of Detention, a crisp although hardly surpassing structure, clung to the courthouse, even though by the 1950s it was a civil defense office. So in 1956, when the architect Vito P. Battistaestimated the cost of converting the House of Detention into something else, he also included the price tag for redoing the courthouse — astronomical, he said. In that year the stars began to align in favor of the courthouse’s demolition. Its proximity to the House of Detention, and the lack of a plan for its reuse, would seem a death knell for any preservation project.

But the same year The New Yorker seemed to chime in for saving it, calling the courthouse “a dingy, invincibly romantic confection” and lamenting that “this is a city notoriously careless of what it possesses.” But the magazine acknowledged the typical mid-20th-century point of view that the building was “a comic blunder.”

Into this fray came Edgar T. Hussey, the president of the West Side Savings Bank, who proposed in 1958 clear-cutting the site for an apartment house, a 500-seat theater and a community center. The Village Independent Democrats were on a similar page, proposing an art center with a large plaza in 1959.

Evan Bindelglass reports for Curbed: Opponents Lambast Plan To Replace Parts of Park Ave. Church.

The word "epic" definitely applied to yesterday's meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The case at hand: prolific developer Extell's plan to replace the Park Avenue Christian Church's rectory and parish hall with a 16-story mixed-use apartment building, using some money from the development to fund an endowment to restore the church's sanctuary. (How on trend of them, converting a site from religious to residential.)

The hearing over the proposal took three hours because a whopping 38 people delivered public testimony, mostly against the design. By the time everyone finished airing opinions, it was so late that the commissioners' discussion and any subsequent decision had to be tabled for a future session.

The Park Avenue Christian Church (then known as the South Church or South Reformed Dutch Church) was designed by Bertram Goodhue of Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson and completed at the southwest corner of Park Avenue and East 85th Street, along with a rectory and parish hall to the south along the avenue, in 1911. In 1963, the rectory and parish hall were heavily modified and in-filled, leaving only a small portion of the original rectory façade in place.

Now the church, which boasts a lovely sanctuary inspired by Saint-Chapelle in Paris along with an attic festooned with Guastavino tile, needs some TLC, but says it doesn't have the money for it. So, they entered into a deal with Gary Barnett's Extell Development Company to demolish the parish hall and rectory, replacing them with the aforementioned 16-story building, which would have several floors devoted to the church and the rest as apartments (probably condos). The site is located in the Park Avenue Historic District, which was designated in April of this year, and that is why this proposal has to pass muster before the LPC. When the district was designated, the buildings in question were determined to have no architectural style.

Whatever people think of the current design, courtesy of historically sensitive superstars Beyer Blinder Belle, everyone has to admit that it's far, far better than a previous iteration, which was much larger and showed a glassy, angular structure cantilevering over a significant portion of the church.

Following the counsel for the church and Pastor Alvin Jackson, architect John Beyer made his presentation about the design side of the project. The new tower would be limestone with a granite base and terra cotta cladding on the upper floors. The rear would be brick. There would also be a terrace on the rear of the building, which is a space currently occupied by the expanded parish hall. Beyer said a light well, built using fragments of the remaining rectory façade, will allow some light into the sanctuary, along with some artificial light.

He noted his design's "strong verticality" and said the stepping and setbacks complement the church. He said he was using a "neutral palette" and that a streetwall building was, in his mind, "mandatory." He also said that leaving the rectory façade fragment in place and integrating it into the building was not practical. In addition, a new ADA-compliant entrance would be constructed along the 85th Street side of the church.

Most of those who spoke in support of the project, a numerical minority, had a direct connection to the church, including Rabbi Ari Fridkis, whose Temple of Universal Judaism (Congregation Da'at Elohim) shares the sanctuary with the church. He gave it his "spiritual" and "ethical" blessing. Rick Bell, AIANY's executive director, praised the new building, the construction of new housing, and the streetwall design. Two Upper East Siders with no apparent direct connection to the church spoke of the project's "quality materials that will complement the stone of the church," said the church needs the development, questioned the need to preserve the church's supplementary buildings, and praised the new ADA entrance.

For many, preserving the parish hall was important. "While the damage has already been done as far as the building's designation is concerned, HDC would urge the LPC that this site's future begins with the preservation of the building which is already there," the Historic Districts Council's Kelly Carroll said. Tara Kelly, executive director of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts, wants the "no style" designation of the parish hall re-evaluated and the district designation report amended, saying the hall and the church "together form a monumental complex." The church was recognized by the LPC as "Gothic Revival," and Kelly wants the same recognition for the parish hall—and wants it integrated into any new construction.

Preservation architect Robert Bates of Walter B. Melvin Architects also said the parish hall should be deemed to have a style. A spokesperson delivering a joint statement from State Senator Liz Krueger and City Councilman Daniel Garodnick said the parish hall alterations were "rather sensitive" and neither of them were "able to discern any change when shown before and after pictures." One speaker opposed to the demolition said "our history is our future," and another said demolition would be "contrary to every principle of landmark preservation." One Upper East Side resident said the proposal asks the community to "split the baby."

For some, the size of the new building was the issue that loomed the largest; they called for a lower height and reduced massing overall. Latha Thompson, district manager for Community Board 8, delivered their 36-8 vote against the project. She said it was too big and diminished the church. A speaker named Mark Goldstein, who really talked down to the commissioners, called for a smaller building, but did so as a direct dig at Extell's Barnett, saying he would have no sympathy for him if he made a little less money off of this development.

Still on the size issue, HDC's Carroll called for at least a 12-foot separation between the church and the new building and the removal of the penthouse, which would allow more light in. Another issue was design. Some felt it was appropriate, and played nicely with the church's. Others were less enamored. HDC's Carroll found "the design creative and the materials laudable, but assembled in a peculiar style recognized by our committee as 'Gotham Gothic,' a cartoonist version of Art Deco skyscrapers best suited to animation, not the real world of Park Avenue." Friends of the Upper East Side's Kelly echoed that, calling the design "too angular and vertical in style" and adding that the crown was more evocative of an Art Deco office tower than the site's Revivalist neighbors. She pointed out that the district has only one Art Deco building, at 944 Park Avenue.


Not all of the commissioners made it through the three-hour-long hearing. It's worth noting that, with the exception of chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, all of the commissioners are unpaid for their public service. So, at about 5:45 p.m., Srinivasan realized that no decision could be made. She tasked the project's team to come back, ready to pick up with responses to the testimony and the following issues: incorporating a fragment of the remaining original rectory façade, the building's height, its setbacks, light issues, windows, and the way the views of the church would be affected.

Her request doesn't necessitate a re-design as the discussion will basically pick up where it left off. That means that after the project team provides some answers (or rebuttals), the commissioners will deliberate and decide whether to approve the project. Srinivasan said the written record will remain open for two weeks. If anyone wants to submit something, contact the LPC.

To see more images of the project click here.

Evan Bindelglass reports for Curbed: Landmarked UWS Hotel Is Getting a 13-Story Condo Neighbor.

With a scaled down proposal, the team representing Anbau Enterprises won approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday to build a condominium neighbor beside the landmark Lucerne Hotel on the Upper West Side. The new 13-story building will bear the address 207 West 79th Street and replace the existing five-story rowhouse located at 203-209 West 79th Street.

When the previous proposal went before the LPC on July 23, there was anoverflow crowd of objectors. This time, not so much. The presentation was given by Elise Quasebarth of the presentation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and architect Morris Adjmi. The new building is over 30 feet shorter than before and has no penthouse. It will be 18 feet shorter than the Lucerne. The terraces on the western corner (one of the bigger points of contention last time) were removed from the design and the building went from asymmetrical tosymmetrical, with the entrance moved to the center. There are now more windows on the western face (the eastern face will block the Lucerne's existing windows), which will be less visible from the surrounding area. The building itself will feature a mix of brick, limestone, and terra cotta.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said she was "pleased" with the reduction in height and the removal of the terraces and the building-topping penthouse. Commissioner Michael Goldblum said demolition of the existing building was appropriate and called the new design "typical." Srinivasan noted the written objections of both City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who said the new building would "irreparably harm the character of the district," and of State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, but the building was approved unanimously. Now for a little lesson in how the LPC works. When you first propose a new building or changes to a building in a historic district (or to change or replace an existing individual landmark), you have to go before a public hearing at the LPC.

At that hearing, any member of the community may address the commissioners with his or her feelings about the proposal and the commissioners are supposed to take that into account. If they decide not to approve the proposal, the applicant is told what was wrong with it and may try again. However, when the applicant comes back, it is usually for a public meeting, where no comment is accepted. The idea is that the commissioners already heard from the public and should be taking their sentiments into consideration in their decision. Well, at this meeting, a man named Samuel Leff, a past president of the West 79th Street Block Association, decided to, after the approval and closing of the hearing (and end of the day's LPC session), get up and scold the commissioners for what they had done. This is highly unusual and several attendees seemed quite surprised. He nearly had to be escorted from the room. Outside, he said he will investigate suing the commission for their decision.

David W. Dunlap reports for The New York Times: Promise Made for Harlem Watchtower’s Restoration, but Not in Ink.

Manhattan is about to lose its last antebellum watchtower.

The watchtower in 1986, left, and this month, right. The parks department is concerned it could collapse if its cast-iron elements continue to deteriorate.

Neighbors and preservationists are afraid it will never come back.

Before another word about the current controversy, however, let me assure a couple of astonished readers that, yes, a 19th-century watchtower still stands in Manhattan, complete with a five-ton bell, though it has not tolled a fire alarm for 136 years.

“The watchtower is an organic and visible part of Harlem,” CouncilwomanInez E. Dickens said last month, “but more than that, it is an irreplaceable New York City icon.”

In an era without alarm boxes or telephones, watchmen scanned the city from lookout towers for any sign of smoke or flame, letting fire companies know where to go by the number of bell tolls. In 1857, a 47-foot, cast-iron tower, designed by Julius B. Kroehl, was constructed atop the 70-foot Snake Hill, an otherwise unnavigable outcropping roughly where Fifth Avenue would have intersected with 122nd Street.

“The entire upper end of Manhattan Island was guarded by this tower,” The New York Times recalled in 1896. Three bells meant the fire was in Yorkville; four bells meant Bloomingdale, to the southwest; five bells meant Harlem; six bells meant Carmansville, to the northwest.

The watchtower in 1986. It was decommissioned in 1878.

The tower was decommissioned in 1878 after the advent of fire alarms. Snake Hill’s steep terrain defied development. It became Mount Morris Park, which was renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973. The tower was designated a landmark in 1967.

Like an octagonal cast-iron skeleton, the watchtower still rises over Harlem rooftops from a landscaped plateau called the Acropolis. It was once used as a jungle gym by neighborhood children, including Ms. Dickens, but is now fenced off.

More than 75 years have passed since it was last rehabilitated. Restoration was promised in 1986. Steel bracing was added in 1991. This fall, the parks department plans to dismantle the structure and store the components atFort Totten in Bayside, Queens. Eventually, the pieces are to be restored and returned to the park.

“The continued deterioration of its cast-iron elements and connections raises concerns that the structure is likely to be further destabilized and could collapse, especially with recent increases in major storm activities,” said Phil Abramson, a spokesman for the parks department.

It’s the storage part that has neighbors and preservationists worried, because the agency has a $2.483 million dismantling contract but has not yet signed a restoration contract.

“I am afraid that once the watchtower is dismantled, there will be no urgency to restore it,” Ms. Dickens said in an Aug. 19 letter to the parks commissioner. “Without the watchtower, the Acropolis will become more isolated from the rest of the park and a haven for more criminal activities.

The watchtower rises over Harlem on a plateau called the Acropolis. The tower was once used as a jungle gym by neighborhood children but is now fenced off.

(When my colleague Ozier Muhammad and I were visiting the Acropolis on Sept. 4, a police officer shot and wounded a man during a confrontation about 100 yards from where we stood.)

Angel Ayón, a Manhattan architect and longtime advocate of the watchtower, said that when the city announced last year that $4 million had been allocated for disassembling, testing, restoring and replacing structural elements, no mention was made of storage. Storage, he said, will deplete the funds available for restoration.

Mr. Ayón also recalled the brazen theft in 1974 of the panels from an 1848 building by James Bogardus, an inventor and designer who is widely credited with popularizing cast-iron architecture. (Mr. Bogardus designed watchtowers, too, and sued the city in 1858 for using his methods at Snake Hill without pay.) Looking for scrap to sell, thieves made off with the disassembled cast-iron panels from a vacant lot downtown in which they were being stored. Reporters were alerted when Beverly Moss Spatt, then the chairwoman of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, ran into City Hall and shouted, “Someone has stolen one of my buildings!”

But Mr. Abramson of the parks agency said the watchtower would be safe. “The storage bunkers are in a very secure part of Fort Totten and are dry, well-ventilated and outside of any potential flood areas,” he said. Because it is on city property, he said, there will be no storage bill.

Dismantling and storage will be handled by Nicholson & Galloway, a “leading preservation contracting firm,” Mr. Abramson said, and Allen Architectural Metals. Their work will be reviewed by the engineering firmThornton Tomasetti, he said, “to ensure that all precautions are taken to minimize damage.”

As for restoration, Mr. Abramson said, “we plan to discuss the proposed design with community groups and the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the summer of 2015, to be followed by putting the capital project out to bid to secure a contractor, and having the restoration work begin immediately thereafter.”

Mr. Abramson said the agency was “fully committed to ensuring that any additional funds required for the restoration are allocated.”

Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, would like to see that commitment in writing. She noted that landmarks in Harlem were often neglected by the city. “Promises up there,” she said, “have had a hard time being kept.”

Nikolai Fedak reports for NY YIMBY: New Look: 403 Greenwich Street. YIMBY has a new set of renderings for the long-stalled project at 403 Greenwich Street, in Tribeca, where Morris Adjmi has designed an 8-story building. A tipster also notes that development of the site is finally about to begin, and the project has been sitting dormant since it went through the Landmarks Preservation Commission, back in 2011. The building is characterized by large casement windows and a black metal façade, and the overall look will be contextual within the project’s historic surrounds, offering a restrained exercise in refined simplicity. Permits indicate the structure will span 16,723 square feet, and the entirety will be residential, split between five units. While the building is relatively small, the (likely) condominiums will most assuredly be very large, with a triplex capping the project. 403 Greenwich was initially the site of a proposal for an all-glass-brick building, which would have been the first of its kind. While innovative, the scheme proved controversial as it traversed Landmarks, and the site’s eventuality will be a better fit. No completion date has been formally announced, but as mentioned, construction is likely around the corner. Permits list the developer as Anthony Coll of 403 Greenwich Street Realty LLC.  

Aaron Seward reports for The Architect's Newspaper: UNVEILED> THE SCHOOL AT FILLMORE PLACE. Christoff : Finio proposes a contemporary preschool for Williamsburg, Brooklyn's only landmarked block.

New York City–based Christoff : Finio Architecture has released preliminary designs for a preschool set to rise on a tiny corner lot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Known as The School at Fillmore Place, the three-story, 6,200-general-square-foot building’s design is derived from the Reggio Emilia philosophy of early childhood education, which posits that environment is an extremely important factor in learning.

Due to the site’s small footprint, each floor of the building is large enough to house only a single classroom along with the vertical circulation to access it. As a result, every learning environment will have ample access to views of the surrounding neighborhood. A glass and timber-framed curtain wall with integrated wood panels and furniture—storage bins, display cases, tables—provides open sightlines, offering children many opportunities to see out into their world, and feel a part of it, while engaging in their classroom activities. The roof is occupied by an open play area and greenhouse.


The project is currently going through Landmarks and Board of Standards and Appeals applications and will be further refined before construction begins. Located as it is in a designated historic district, the architecture has been designed to respond to its neighbors in massing and rhythm while providing a warm, contemporary expression.  

Evan Bindelglass reports for NY Curbed: Midtown Giant One Vanderbilt (Mostly) Wows at Landmarks.

Rendering of One Vanderbilt to the left and Grand Central to the right, looking north from 42nd Street up Vanderbilt Avenue.

As currently proposed, supertall tower One Vanderbilt will rise to 1,350 feet—1,450 at its peak—to become the city's second-tallest building. But its top wasn't the focus of today's Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing. It was its bottom. The LPC met today, not to rule on the proposed office building, whose size is allowable in part because of a partial Midtown East rezoning, but to issue an advisory report on the transfer of development rights (or air rights) from 110 East 42nd Street (better known as the Cipriani building) across the street to 317-325 Madison Avenue (the site of the proposed One Vanderbilt). (SL Green, the project's developer, already owns the air rights, anyway.)

The Commission was also tasked with deliberating on whether or not the Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed skycraper, which would sit on the full square block west of Grand Central between Vanderbilt Avenue, Madison Avenue, 41st and 43rd streets, would be a "harmonious" addition. Though the hearing didn't result in any vote or formal ruling, it offered the most detailed look yet at this divisive tower.

KPF architect James von Klemperer led the presentation, which included some new renderings. Here are some of the highlights: He pointed out how the building will be set back seven feet from the property line, allowing pedestrians a new view of Grand Central Terminal via One Vanderbilt's southeast corner at 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue, which he said was themost frequent exit point from the terminal. He spoke of how the use of terra cotta in the building's design would counter the existing office buildings on Madison Avenue and make a connection—a "selective recall"—to Grand Central. The building is slated to have direct access to multiple levels of Grand Central.

At the building's northeast corner on 43rd and Vanderbilt Avenue will be a 4,000-square-foot space separate from the building's formal lobby. Von Klemperer said that would serve as an extension of Grand Central's waiting space, which he said will be needed when East Side Access—which will extend the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central—comes online. He said the space would "recall the spirit of Guastavino" with a concave tile ceiling.

Rendering of public space on One Vanderbilt's northeast corner, at 43rd and Vanderbilt.

There will also be a terrace area in One Vanderbilt, for use by either a corporation or a restaurant, about three stories up on 42nd Street. Finally, von Klemperer did address the building's height, which he called "skyline-piercing," saying the way it tapers will maximize the amount of light that gets through to the street. Bill Higgins of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners also presented.

He acknowledged that the proposal is "complex," but noted that Grand Central is, too. He described the station as a "wonderful machine for the circulation of people." He said that the complex design of the building's base, with its slopes and setbacks, "doesn't need to be quieted down."

Rendering of One Vanderbilt, looking northwest from the viaduct above 42nd Street, just south of Grand Central.

Though most of the Landmarks commissioners liked the project, two of the were somewhat less supportive than the rest. Commissioner Frederick Bland said the presentation was "wonderful," but noted that there was a "lot of stuff happening" and said it was "distracting from the station itself."

Commissioner Michael Goldblum commended the "very interesting and very thorough" presentation, then asked, "What's harmonious?" He said the building's setbacks and height invite a relationship to GCT, but bypass it at every turn.

Another rendering of One Vanderbilt's northeast corner, at 43rd and Vanderbilt. Grand Central is visible through the windows.

LPC chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, on the other hand, was "impressed" with the presentation and proposal. Commissioner Diana Chapin said it was"appropriate" at street level (appropriate means approval, in Landmarks speak.) Commissioner Margery Perlmutter referred to Grand Central as beingthe most important building on 42nd Street, with a long history of being surrounded by towering buildings of different styles. She said that a vastly different building doesn't necessarily endanger the existing buildings. She said a new building should be "dynamic" and that this one "works." Commissioner Michael Devonshire said the building had a "well thought-out design."

Invoking an analogy to music, Devonshire added that you often have two things happening simultaneously at different vibrations, and that one doesn't rob the other. He saw the building as a "wonderful contrapoint." "Don't mess with a thing," he said. Commissioner Roberta Washington also said the design was "harmonious and appropriate." As for the neighborhood's opinion, which had been vocally against rezoning the Midtown East area in its prior iteration, Srinivasan said Community Board 5 sent a letter stating its support for the project.

Today, public testimony was mixed. The Historic Districts Council said that the proposal "does not share a harmonious relationship with Grand Central Terminal. The Committee feels that the cut-away feature in the base of 1 Vanderbilt is a hollow gesture to the grandeur of the Terminal, and it almost threatens to consume the shorter Individual Landmark. A solid streetwall typical of this area of East Midtown would be a more appropriate fit." Christabel Gough of the Society for the Architecture of the City said there is no real visual harmony between the terminal and the new building.

Andrea Goldman of the Landmarks Conservancy said that the new building's "busy base distracts [from the landmark terminal]." Meanwhile, representatives of the American Institute of Architects were extremely supportive, saying it would be a major job generator, replace an outdated building, and enhance the business district. Jordan Isenstadt of the Association for a Better New York said he supports the new project and the transfer of rights, saying the project pays homage to Grand Central and that, "architecturally speaking, the two buildings talk to each other."

The proceedings of today's public hearing will be summarized into an advisory report. But even if that veers toward the positive, there are all sorts of other hurdles out there right now. Grand Central Terminal's lawyers recently threatened a $1 billion lawsuit over its unused air rights, for one, so it's likely the road to construction won't be smooth for One Vanderbilt, SL Green, and KPF, despite their small victory before the Commission today.  

Henry Melcher reports for The Architect's Newspaper: BKSK-designed topper for the Meatpacking District gets Landmarks’ blessing.

BKSK's revised design for 9-19 9th Street.

And another glass and metal addition is set to rise atop a low-rise building in the Meatpacking District. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has voted to approve the BKSK-designed topper to the two-story building at 9–19 9th Avenue, which is best known for housing Keith McNally’s famous French bistro, Pastis.

The revised design from the north.

An alternate proposal by the firm was shot down by the LPC in May, in what Curbed described as a heated, and very, very crowded, hearing. According to the blog, local residents called the addition “garish,” “a disoriented layer cake,” and “an obliteration of a historic district.” BKSK has a positive track record of working with Landmarks, however, and the firm came back with a revised plan, which has just won the LPC’s blessing. Harry Kendall, a principal at the firm, told AN that the while the structure has largely stayed the same,  the “architectural language of the design” has changed. Essentially, BKSK is using less glass. “The metal frame has taken a more central role as an element of the facade and glass panels are clipped between the frames as a secondary element,” Kendall said.

Close-up of the addition.

He explained that at the hearing in May, the commission suggested BKSK work harder to do less. “We did that,” Kendall said. “We applied ourselves diligently to doing less.” But, according to Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, less is not enough.

“We are extremely disappointed with this vote, the last to take place under outgoing LPC Chair Tierney,” Berman said in a statement. “Once more the Commission approved a design in direct contradiction to their own prior recommendations, in which they told the applicant to substantially change the design, and that it was too large (the size of the addition is relatively unchanged).”

The facade looking west.

The street level.


The old design.

Tom Stoelker reports for The Architect's Newspaper: LPC approves Adjmi's concrete riff on cast iron.

With unanimous approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Morris Adjmi‘s deceptively subtle take on the classic cast iron building is on its way to becoming reality. What at first glance appears to be a cast iron facade is actually a reverse bas relief cast in glass reinforced concrete—essentially a form in which you could mold a true cast iron facade. “This makes  you think of how these buildings were built, from the initial casting to being assembled as components,” said Adjmi. “So this is really taking that and inverting it so it becomes a record of the process.”

The architect said that assembling the facade would be carried out in the same fashion as the nineteenth century buildings, as if ordered from the Bogardus cast iron catalogue — James Bogardus patented the cast iron building in 1850. Columns, lintels, and window arches will be cast separately and then individually secured to the facade. “It’ll sit right on the slab so you get the full effect of the inverted façade,” said Adjmi. If the effect on the street will command a double take then the interior will surely give pause.  

There, the positive of the facade will push into the interior, with the traditional exterior facade facing in living space. Adjmi said that he was inspired by the work of artist Rachel Whiteread whose 1993 piece, House, cast the interior of a house in London’s East End in concrete. “I’ve always loved her work,” said Adjmi, “and it was a natural progression from using historical references to reinterpreting them with modern materials.” Apparently, the commissioners agreed. As the building is slightly higher than the zoning law allows, the next stop is City Planning, with the hope of beginning construction in six to eight months.

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BKSK designs a warping façade for Soho

Branden Klayko reports for The Architect's Newspaper: CAST OF CHARACTERS. BKSK's warping tribute to Soho's cast-iron history.

The terra cotta façade of this new Soho building references both masonry and cast-iron precedents.

In the mid-19th century, a technological revolution was playing out in New York’s Soho neighborhood, as cast iron and the expanses of glass it allowed ushered in a new era of architectural expression. This transformation is clearly seen in two buildings, 99 and 111 Spring Street, the former an 1850's-style brick building with small punched openings, the latter an 1872 cast iron structure with enormous windows. BKSK Architects is celebrating this architectural evolution in a six-story development for Aurora Capital Associates, which is set to rise next door at 529 Broadway. The design features a dynamic, warping facade of terra cotta that gives way to modern expanses of glass.

“These two little buildings tell the story of a 20-year period when technology was evolving so quickly,” said Harry Kendall, principal at BKSK. “In that short period of time we saw technology changing so much and the emergence of modern architecture. We thought that story deserves to be writ large in our new building. We tried to tell a story that’s representative of the whole district based on these two smaller buildings.”


The building's facade warps across its facade, opening up to reveal a glass curtain wall.

Todd Poisson, partner in charge at BKSK, worked on the design with Eve Szentesi, David Ettinger, and Wil Rodriguez. He said the 34,000-square-foot structure begins with a “reunion of old and new” where it meets the existing buildings. Here, the new facade alludes to the patterning of the 1853 Prescott Hotel that once stood on the site. As the facade progresses east across a 150-foot frontage it warps to reveal a modern curtain wall building. At the east side, 529 Broadway references the rhythm and proportions of the Prescott using a frit pattern and thin aluminum fins. 529 Broadway is clad in a warm, cream-colored, open-joint terra cotta rain screen system over a glass and metal curtain wall.

English ceramics manufacturer Shaws of Darwen is casting each of the 700 unique shapes by hand. The design team used a variety of software, including Rhino with Grasshopper, to design the modulation of the facade. “Each floor warps at a slightly different rate to create a gradually unfolding rippling facade,” said Poisson. As the building deforms, intricately detailed spandrels turn into sun shelves that shade the glass. The spandrel pattern shifts to the underside of the horizontal fins facing Broadway. “We wanted our new decorative pattern to be a modern interpretation derived from a decorative pattern of the cast iron lintels of the old building,” said Poisson. “We digitally-enhanced old photographs of the building and used film-making software Blender to map it and digitally cast it to effectively create the molds for the terra cotta.”

The building would replace this two-story structure.

Located in the Soho Cast Iron Historic District, 529 Broadway was under the watchful eye of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The new structure replaces a two-story remnant of the Prescott Hotel that was re-clad in the 1980s, destroying any semblance of the original. “A big hurdle was to convince the commissioners that the existing two-story building was not contributing as much as our new building would,” said Poisson. The project was approved with glowing reviews in September 2013. “We’re gaining confidence with each approval that building in a historic district is a wonderful opportunity to tell a story.” BKSK is currently finishing up construction documents for the project, but a start date has not yet been set. The developer is sensitive to the needs of the existing tenants on the property. Once demolition gets underway, the new 529 Broadway is expected to be complete within 18 months.

On the east side of the façade, window apertures relate to the style of mid-19th century structures that predated the cast-iron district.