The latest news on New York architecture.


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Jane Levre reports for The Architect's Newspaper: WATERFRONT REVIVAL. Lower Manhattan's long-vacant Pier A to be transformed into an events space. Pier A, a landmarked, late 19th century structure in lower Manhattan’s Battery Park that has been vacant for decades and suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Sandy, will be reborn in July as an elaborate restaurant and event space. Renovation of the interior of the 28,000-square-foot, three-story structure, to be called Pier A Harbor House, is nearing completion by New York restaurant group HPH and developer Dermot Company. Architecture and interior design are by Green Light Studio of Manhattan. The New York City Docks Department built Pier A between 1884 and 1886, with construction overseen by its chief engineer, George Sears Greene, Jr., whose father, George Sears Greene, Sr., was a founder of the American Society of Civil Engineers. For many years the pier was used to greet distinguished visitors arriving by sea, including King George VI, who came here for the 1939 World’s Fair. After World War I, a clock whose chimes ring the hours in ship’s time was installed in its tower, the first permanent memorial to the war in the United States. In the 1970s the building was awarded a local landmark designation by the National Register of Historic Places and also designated a landmark by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, which called it “the last survivor of an impressive maritime complex on the site.” Occupied at various points by the docks department, the police department, and the marine division of the fire department, it has been vacant since 1992. Although it is still owned by the city, the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), a New York State public benefit corporation, has held a long-term ground lease for it since 2008. BPCA selected Poulakakos and the Dermot Company, said Gwen Dawson, its vice president of real property, because their concept “utilized the entire building and offered the building to the public for the first time in its history, which was one of our objectives.” In addition, she said their concept made “as few changes as possible to the second floor, the most historically significant part of the interior.” BPCA is spending $37 million—$30 million of which is from the New York City Economic Development Corporation—to renovate the building. Its core and shell have been restored and a new building envelope system and tin roof installed. Columns, beams, and arches have been replaced; interior basic finishes and fixtures have been repaired, restored, and replaced; and new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, as well as stairs and elevators have been installed. The BPCA is spending an additional $5 million to reinforce the promenade along the Hudson River and construct a new plaza adjacent to Pier A. Hurricane Sandy caused some $4 million in damage when four feet of water flooded the building. According to Dawson, after the hurricane, electrical equipment was elevated, pine doors were replaced with more water-impervious mahogany, and a second fire-alarm box was created on the second floor to be used in the event of a future flood. The default on elevators was set to travel to the upper level, rather than the lower level, if there is a power outage, while polished concrete flooring, resistant to damage from water exposure, was installed on the first floor. Green Light’s design for the first floor of the new building includes a new, 128-foot “long bar”; an oyster bar, whose wooden ceiling is meant to resemble the hull of a ship; a glass-enclosed wine tower that will be three stories high and incorporate the clock tower’s spiral staircase; and a take-out coffee bar. The second floor contains close to 9,000 square feet of dining space, including an octagonal aperitif bar overlooking the Statue of Liberty that will occupy the former commissioner’s office, containing original teak wall paneling and glass; a fine dining restaurant that will feature four consecutive dining rooms and an open kitchen with two chef’s tables; and a bar offering views of the Freedom Tower and financial district skyline. The top floor of the building will have a separate VIP entrance and stairwell and will be rented for special events.  
Henry Melcher reports for The Architect's Newspaper: COME HELL OR HIGH WATER. BIG, SCAPE, Penn Design/OLIN, OMA, MIT, and Interboro win HUD's resiliency competition, Rebuild by Design.
In April, when the 10 finalists in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild By Design competition presented their plans for a more resilient Northeast, the underlying question behind the initiative was: What’s Next? What—if anything—would actually come out of Rebuild By Design? Today, that question was answered.
At the Jacob Riis Houses, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Senator Chuck Schumer, Governor Andrew Cuomo, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Zia Khan of the Rockefeller Foundation announced that hundreds of millions of dollars are in place to implement BIG’s berm for Lower Manhattan, Scape’s living breakwaters off Staten Island, Penn Design/OLIN’s resiliency upgrades for the South Bronx, and Interboro’s strategies to protect Nassau County. Later in the day, in Little Field, New Jersey, Secretary Donovan and Governor Chris Christie revealed that MIT’s plans for new parkland in the Meadowlands and OMA’s comprehensive flood protection system for Hoboken would also receive federal funds. These six winning teams are out of an initial 148 who entered the competition last summer.
BIG'S PLAN PROTECTS MANHATTAN WITH A LANDSCAPED BERM. SEE MORE OF THEIR PROPOSAL HERE. “Implementing these proposals is morally the right thing to do because they will save lives,” said Secretary Donovan at the day's first announcement. “But it also makes economic sense because for every dollar that we spend today on hazard mitigation, we save at least four dollars the next time disaster strikes.” While the design and implementation specifics of each plan have not been finalized, the investment in these proposals is significant: $355 million for New York City, $185 million for New York State, and $380 million for New Jersey. The money comes out of HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program and is in addition to the billions of dollars already being spent on resiliency projects led by the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA.
At the announcement, Mayor de Blasio said that within the next four or five years, New Yorkers are going to see “a hugely different physical reality in this city.” And that is because these plans do more than protect against the water, they reimagine and reopen the city’s connection to it.
About 95 percent of New York City’s money goes toward realizing a section of BIG’s “Big U” proposal to wrap Lower Manhattan in a berm and green space. The new “bridging berm” along the Lower East Side will provide waterfront space for the neighborhood and protect 29,000 public housing units from the next storm. The city will also receive $20 million for continued study and planning as part of PennDesign/OLIN’s proposal for Hunts Point in the South Bronx, which is a regional hub for food distribution.
For New York State, $125 million will help fund Interboro’s proposal for Nassau County, which transforms the Mill River into a blue-green corridor. And another $60 million is set for SCAPE’s oyster reefs—or “living breakwaters”—to protect Staten Island’s South Shore.
In New Jersey, Hoboken will receive $230 million for OMA’s plan to flood-proof the city with a mix of hard and soft infrastructure. There is also $150 million set for the “New Meadowlands”—a public park designed by MIT’s Center for Advanced Urbanism.
THE PROPOSAL FROM A TEAM LED BY MIT PROPOSED NEW PARKLAND. SEE MORE OF THE PROPOSAL HERE. Secretary Donovan said that the winning projects were chosen not just for their feasibility, but because they could best serve as models of resiliency for other vulnerable parts other country.  
Emily Badger reports for The Washington Post: An economic defense of old buildings. Jane Jacobs, a woman akin to the patron saint of urban planners, first argued 50 years ago that healthy neighborhoods need old buildings. Aging, creaky, faded, "charming" buildings. Retired couples and young families need the cheap rent they promise. Small businesses need the cramped offices they contain. Streets need the diversity created not just when different people coexist, but when buildings of varying vintage do, too. "Cities need old buildings so badly," Jacobs wrote in her classic "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," "it is probably impossible for vigorous streets and districts to grow without them.” Ever since, this idea -- based on the intuition of a woman who was surveying her own New York Greenwich Village neighborhood -- has been received wisdom among planners and urban theorists. But what happens when we look at the data? The National Trust for Historic Preservation has tried to do just this, leveraging open property-parcel data in three cities to analyze the connection between the kinds of places Jacobs was describing and the numbers that economists and businesses would care about: jobs per square foot, the share of small businesses to big chains, the number of minority- and women-owned businesses. The novel geospatial analysis, drawn from the District of Columbia, Seattle and San Francisco, suggests that older, smaller buildings do matter to a city's economy and a neighborhood's commercial life beyond the allure of affordable fixer-uppers. In Seattle, the report found one-third more jobs per commercial square foot in parts of town with a variety of older, smaller buildings mixed in. In Seattle, it found more than twice the rate of women and minority-owned businesses. In the District, it found a higher share of non-chain businesses. The findings don't necessarily mean we should save all old buildings from demolition, or even that one old building is better than one new one. But they give preservationists (and Jane Jacobs enthusiasts) new data in fierce development debates over how rapidly changing and relatively older cities like Washington should grow. "For a long time, preservationists have been making the the cultural argument that these places feed our soul, and they connect us to our past," says Stephanie Meeks, the president and CEO of the National Trust of the National Trust. "But this is the first time we’ve had empirical data to show that these places perform better economically and on many livability factors, as well." The report divided each city into a grid of 200-by-200-meter squares to allow comparison across neighborhoods (city blocks tend to be different sizes even across the same city, making that unit a poor measure). This is Washington, with its main commercial and mixed-use neighborhoods highlighted: The Jacobsian quality of each grid square was measured by a "character score" combining three factors from county assessor data: the median building age there, the diversity of building ages (as a standard deviation), and the "granularity" of many small buildings versus a few large ones (think H Street instead of NoMa). "If you‘re walking for 30 seconds down a street, how many interesting things do you pass?" asks Michael Powe, the lead researcher on the project with the trust'sPreservation Green Lab. "That's a good measure of granularity." The report then compared the results to more than 40 metrics of economic and social life, accounting for differences across neighborhoods in median income, transit accessibility and private reinvestment. The trust looked at concentrations of social activity through cellphone use, at businesses per 1,000 square feet of commercial space, at population density and walkability scores. This is the map of small businesses in Washington: And here are new businesses launched in 2012: The trust acknowledges that these are sophisticated correlations at best; it's hard to say that old buildings cause small and minority-owned businesses to open shop, or that theycause twentysomethings to congregate on Friday nights. Still, smaller, older buildings don't lend themselves well to formulaic chain stores, making them a good home for other kinds of businesses that don't then have to compete for rent with Starbucks and Chili's. This means that the barriers to entry are lower on a strip like H Street. Neighborhoods with many small shops and restaurants side by side are also more conducive to foot traffic and the kind of unanticipated business that's created when you walk to a restaurant on Barracks Row in Capitol Hill and later wind up at a bar next door. The trust argues that these qualities inherent in older, smaller-scale building stock keep cities affordable for local businesses and lower-income renters, although economists like Edward Glaeser have argued precisely the opposite: that preservationists who oppose new development restrict the supply of new housing that might drive prices down. "The idea that building new is going to lead to greater affordability has been the standard economic model of supply and demand," Powe says, "and that may hold true in the aggregate at the end of the day. But it’s very hard to build new affordable housing, and this is a great natural stock of affordable stuff." For the whole report click here.
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Beautiful ceiling fresco finally unveiled

Hana R. Alberts reports for Curbed:  See a Glorious, Just-Uncovered Hotel Ceiling Mural From 1927 After one year of painstaking conservation efforts, a 1927 fresco hidden underneath over a dozen layers of white paint and plaster has been unearthed. Then-prolific artist Joseph Aruta painted the ceiling in the lobby of the iconic Sherry-Netherland Hotel on 59th Street in the Beaux-Arts style, but it was mysteriously covered up. The Daily News reports that it took five Evergreene Architectural Arts conservationists to unveil the 860-square-foot mural, which has all the customary frills, flourishes, and cherubs. (For aficionados out there, there's a video of the process)
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Remembering the former New York Club

Christopher Gray reports for The New York Times: Demolished Club Casts a Long Shadow

The former New York Club at 20 West 40th in 1945.

The developer HFZ Capital is proposing a new building for the empty lot at 20 West 40th Street, and the Historic Districts Council is not happy, protesting that the flat-topped 32-story tower is out of place on a street that has long had “a picturesque skyline.”

It is unstated, but the council is channeling the enduring bitterness of one of the most profound losses of the 1980s, the peaked-roof 1907 New York Club, on the very site of the proposed tower. Its demolition caught preservationists napping, and highlights a problem that, three decades later, remains: that an owner can eliminate the prospect of landmark designation for a property by simply damaging the façade.

Has anyone today even heard of the New York Club? At the turn of the century it was among the powerhouse social clubs in the city, founded in the 1840s and abbreviated by the New York Social Register simply as N, whereas other clubs were assigned more explicit abbreviations, such as Ny for the New York Yacht Club.

The New York Club was riding high in 1905, when it began acquiring land on the south side of 40th Street, opposite Bryant Park and the New York Public Library, which was then going up. The new library and the park created a civic prospect that was rewarded with the construction of half a dozen buildings of semipublic character.

The first appears to have been York & Sawyer’s super-Classical 1902 Republican Club at 58 West 40th Street, with an 11-story facade of light brick and terra cotta. Another was the becolumned Engineers Club at 32 West 40th, designed in 1905. That was the year when the New York Club arrived, buying and razing three rowhouses and retaining Henry Hardenbergh, soon to design the Plaza Hotel, for its 9-story clubhouse.

The club’s project cost nearly $1 million, and Hardenbergh gave it a façade of deep red brick spiced with bursts of terra cotta, like a red velvet cake decorated by an expert pastry chef; the stepped gables provided a definite old New York flavor. The interior was less distinctive, save for a Dutch-style tap room, but a great “morning room” ran across the entire front on the second floor. The New York Club had three floors of bedrooms, evolving into a near-hotel for its members, as opposed to the older model of purely social enterprise. It opened in 1907 with a substantial waiting list, and in 1914 there were 675 members.

The clubs of New York were hard-hit in the Depression, many folding or consolidating, and in 1933 the club had to take $220,000 for its house, which had cost around five times that in 1907. The buyer was Schenley Distributors, which bought the building in advance of the repeal of Prohibition, planning to use the grand interiors for sales and tasting rooms.

In 1945 Schenley sold to Freedom House, founded in 1941 as a consortium of organizations working for racial equality and human rights and against totalitarianism. Freedom House named its new headquarters the Willkie Memorial Building, after Wendell Willkie, the Republican who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 but then worked in F.D.R.’s administration. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was a tenant, and it was from the Willkie Building in 1946 that Thurgood Marshall, the N.A.A.C.P.’s special counsel, compared the brutal suppression of Negro protests in Tennessee to the actions of “German storm troopers.” Marshall later served on the Supreme Court.

At the 1945 dedication of the building to Wendell Willkie, were, from left, Charles Evans Hughes Jr., Ethel Barrymore, Herbert Bayard Swope and George Field.

In 1985, while the Republic National Bank, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, was in the process of acquiring the old New York Club for expansion, workmen started ripping off the decorative ornament, working day and night. Caroline K. Simon, the general counsel of Freedom House, said the bank was doing the work, and that it was necessitated by safety concerns. But Charles M. Smith Jr., the city’s building commissioner, said the work was unwarranted. After the bank took title, the building was demolished.

In 1986 the preservationist Roberta Gratz decried the demolition in an article in Newsday, saying the Landmarks Preservation Commission had identified the building “as having high priority for designation.” But in a 1984 survey, the commission had listed the building as only “of interest”; higher categories were “of significance” and “of outstanding significance.”

In any event, the bank had cause to believe the club might be designated. Pre-emptive demolition is still considered a major threat by preservationist groups, who say that owners should approach the commission before tearing down a historic building. That is quite a distance from the realities of New York real estate, where developers often keep their plans as quiet as they can, having paid millions for a building counting on a free hand.

The site today, for which a 32-story tower is planned.

Michelle Miller reports for Archdaily: New York State Pavillion / Phillip Johnson It is rare to find an architectural project whose history makes such strange bedfellows as the New York State Pavilion: a master architect and millions of exhibition patrons, roller skaters and rock stars, stray cats and Iron Man [1]. For three hours on April 22, in honor of the fifty year anniversary of the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the city of Queens will open the long shuttered gates to Phillip Johnson’s most futuristic work. The Pavilion is architecture as spectacle, and a relic of a past vision for the future.  Designed as an amphitheater and exhibition space, the New York State Pavilion was the largest and tallest at the fair, and is one of only two structures still standing.  After decades of neglect and deterioration, the future of this modern ruin is tenuous as officials and the public consider options for demolition or reuse. With the theme of “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe,”  the 1964-65 World’s Fair occupied a site of almost a square mile.  The grounds in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens had been the site of the 1939-40 World’s Fair.  While all pavilions were new, the infrastructure and overall plan were retained.  The New York State Pavilion inhabited a site in a thematic zone designated for Federal and State pavilions. Governor Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Philip Johnson to design New York State’s pavilion on the fairgrounds. Johnson had recently designed the New York State Center at Lincoln Center, home to the New York City Ballet. Prolific and ever evolving, Phillip Johnson was one of the foremost architectural practitioners and critics of the twentieth century.  Educated at Harvard in both the classics and architecture, he is perhaps best known for his role as director of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art and his residence The Glass House.  While Johnson’s earlier projects aligned closely with Modern tenets, during the 1960s he began to explore a more individual and sometimes referential style.  The futuristic aesthetic of his design for the World’s Fair reflects the trend of “Googie” architecture, which embraced space-age imagery such as the flying saucer. Johnson’s intent for the World’s Fair was to create “an unengaged free space as an example of the greatness of New York, rather than as a warehouse full of exhibit material.” [2]  To this end, Johnson designed three main components:  an open-air “Tent of Tomorrow,” a cluster of three “Astro-View” observation towers, and a cylindrical “Theaterama.” The “Tent of Tomorrow”, an ironic circus tent, encloses a  350’ by 250’ elliptical area, a form influenced by his appreciation for the Italian Baroque [3]. During the fair, this grand ovoid amphitheater hosted fashion shows, children’s rides, art shows, and informal entertainers. Upon entering the Tent, visitors traversed an enormous terrazzo road map showing New York’s cities, topography, parks and natural features, along with a marker for each location of corporate sponsor Texaco’s gas stations. Painted red and white stripes along the lower walls whimsically reinforce the circus allusion. Rising 100 feet, sixteen slip-formed hollow concrete columns, 12’8” in diameter, support a “bicycle wheel” roof with outer steel compression ring and inner tension ring. A double-diaphragm of steel cables slope gently down to a smaller central ring, giving the roof a convex shape. At the time of the fair, the cables supported colorful plastic Kalwall sheeting.  The roof was assembled on the ground and then hoisted into place.  Both the use of slip-form concrete and the roof construction were novel innovations at the time of construction. Three disk shaped observation towers reach a height of 226 feet.  A twenty second ride in a glass “Sky Streak” elevators provided an ever expanding panorama and brought visitors to the uppermost observation deck.  The next lower platform served the same function, and the lowest held a snackbar.  To Johnon, who regarded elevators as necessary evils that destroyed one’s experience of procession,  this was their only pleasant application [4]. The Theatreama, the only enclosed building onsite, featured a slide show panorama of images projects in 360 degrees.  Contemporary pop art by famous artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and James Rosenquist adorned the exterior walls. Overall, critics reacted negatively to the fair’s heavy-handed corporate influence and lack of unifying architectural scheme.  Johnson’s pavilion was an exception, receiving positive reviews from critics of the day who noted the architect’s successful marriage of lighthearted spectacle with gravitas. New York Times writer Ada Louis Huxtable called the Pavilion “a runaway success, day or night…. a sophisticated frivolity… seriously and beautifully constructed. This is ‘carnival’ with class.” [5] For several years after the fair, the Tent of Tomorrow housed art shows and music concerts.  In 1970 is was converted to a roller skating rink, but only a few years later was closed when Kalwall panels were found to be falling from the structure.  The building department ordered all panels be removed, and the structure has been abandoned every since. Johnson/Burgee architects were engaged for an interior renovation of the Pavilion in 1982.  The Theaterama was renovated in the 1980s and thrives as the Queens Theater in the Park.  A spiraling glass addition by Caples Jefferson Architects completed in 2010 provides a reception area and an additional cabaret at the foot of the observation towers. The uncertain future of the New York State Pavilion is a topic of hot debate as its fiftieth anniversary looms.  The parks department in Queens has commissioned engineering studies, held public workshops, and worked with architecture firms to image and plan for possible scenarios.  Costs range from $14 million for demolition, $43 million to stabilize the structures without allowing access, $52 million to restore it to it’s 1964 program, and $72 million to realize the reuse plan envisioned (pro-bono) by Perkins + Will.  [6] It was listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places as of June 2010. A group of volunteers has dedicated time each year since 2009 to repaint the exterior and interior to the original red and white stripes with yellow trim.  Another group called People for the Pavilion raises awareness through programs, events and online efforts.  The group was founded by Salmaan Khan, who works with Friends of the High Line, and Matthew Silva, who is working on a documentary on Johnson’s project. For more information on the New York State Pavilion, see the website of the People for the Pavilion or find them on Facebook. For more on Phillip Johnson, check out his other works featured on ArchDaily here.  
Julie Strickland reports for The Real Deal: Flatiron demolition plan met by preservationist pushback. A rush to defend a pair of Flatiron buildings may shift a developer’s focus from demolition to restoration. The two buildings at 51 and 53 West 19th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, lie within the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. Given the location, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, along with community leaders and preservationists, are trying to derail developer Panasia Estate’s plans to demolish and replace the structures with new construction. “These are contributing buildings in a historic district, and it’s the obligation of this commission to protect these buildings,” Robert Tierney, chair of the LPC, said during a presentation by Panasia’s architect Smith-Miller and Hawkinson earlier this week. “To allow them to be lost would, I believe, diminish the district.” The developer’s plan would replace the five-story buildings, constructed for residential use in 1854 and later converted to commercial and manufacturing, with one 14-story building that lead architect Henry Smith-Miller said would be an improvement on the current facades, which are relatively dilapidated. But Tierney, with the backing of all but one of the LPC’s commissioners, countered that the pair are suited to restoration. Whether Panasia will change course and opt to restore the two buildings was not immediately clear. The developer did not respond to Chelsea Now’s request for comment.  
Henry Melcher reports for The Achitect's Newspaper. Art Versus Real Estate on Vestry: Tenants push for landmark status for threatened New York City loft building. The old cobblestone streets of Tribeca meet the gray asphalt of the West Side Highway at the corner of Vestry and West. The uneven din of trucks making deliveries mixes with the constant whir of traffic peeling alongside the Hudson River. It is an unofficial border between the stately brick buildings of Tribeca and the glass towers being sewn into Manhattan’s West Side. At this corner is 67 Vestry—a nine-story palazzo—that is fighting to keep its place in time. In February, RFR, the building’s current owner, filed plans for an 11-story residential project on the site. Before new condos can rise, though, a significant Tribeca building must fall. To stop that from happening, the tenants of 67 Vestry—many of whom are working artists—are trying to get their building landmarked. Sixty-Seven Vestry dates back to 1897 and was designed by Frederick Dinkelberg, the architect who later worked with Daniel Burnham on the Flatiron Building. The building’s first life as a coffee and tea warehouse for The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company is still apparent today. Above the building’s rusted loading docks are Romanesque openings and alongside its soot-brushed brick are floral roundels. In 1910, Frank Helmle—an architect whose firm designed the Metropolitan Life North Building—added a two-story addition to the building. And by the 1970s, 67 Vestry had been transformed into a hub for artists like John Chamberlain, Marisol, and Andy Warhol. At first glance, what is happening at 67 Vestry is not entirely surprising. When a developer sees a lucrative opportunity, they will routinely bulldoze history to make way for granite countertops and floor-to-ceiling windows. But this building, which fostered some of the city’s greatest artistic talents, is threatened by a developer who is also a prolific art collector: RFR’s co-founder and principal, Aby Rosen. In press accounts, Rosen is described as a “real estate mogul and prolific art collector,” “developer and bon vivant,” “the merry prankster of the city’s real estate and art scenes.” He’s a “Page Six staple” and a good friend of Jeff Koons. Rosen collects architectural icons like they’re pieces of art; RFR owns both the Lever House and Seagram Building. He has recently faced backlash over his plans to remove a Picasso tapestry from the Seagram’s Four Seasons restaurant. For years, Rosen has seamlessly straddled the worlds of art and real estate, but now they are colliding at the corner of Vestry and West. He owns over 100 Warhol’s and once hosted a dinner in honor of John Chamberlain. When Robert Wilson, the playwright and director, moved into the building in the early 1970s, his studio was as raw as the neighborhood. "The concrete floor was painted battleship grey and the walls were cold, bluish white. There were blue exposed light bulbs hanging throughout the space," Wilson wrote in an email to AN. "Standing in the middle of the living space, one looked out at the Hudson as if one were on a ship." It was from on board this ship, docked eight floors above the Hudson, where Wilson and Phillip Glass developed their famous opera, “Einstein on the Beach.” Tribeca has, of course, changed dramatically since then, and the tenants of 67 Vestry say they helped make that happen. “We came in and toughed it out, and that eventually created this neighborhood,” said Roland Gebhardt, a sculptor and designer who has been in the building since 1974.  Aby Rosen bought 67 Vestry in 2005 with supposed intentions to replace it with condos. Tenants—and reports from the time—say he started emptying out the building by not allowing market-rate tenants to resign their leases. This reportedly happened to Robert Wilson. When asked about his departure from the building, he would only say, “When Aby Rosen bought the building I eventually moved out.” AN could not independently verify Rosen’s actions and RFR did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story. But, today, only 14 of the building’s 25 units are occupied—and all of the tenants have rent-stabilized leases. Cathy Drew, who runs the non-profit River Project, is one of those tenants. She is not surprised by Rosen’s actions. “He may be a patron of the arts in some ways, but this is business,” she said. Since Rosen purchased the building, tenants have been quite critical of its upkeep—especially after Sandy. When the storm hit New York, it hit 67 Vestry especially hard. Tenants accused Rosen of purposefully “dragging his feet” on necessary repairs. It took weeks for the water, electric, and heating systems to come back online, and the building’s freight elevator is still out of service. When tenants are asked about where they will go, or what they will do if Rosen’s plans move forward, they say they are entirely focused on getting the building landmarked. The Landmarks Preservation Committee told AN that their application is currently under review. If landmark status is not approved, it is not clear what will rise in 67 Vestry’s place. There are no renderings for the project, but SLCE is listed as the architect of record. Since Rosen tends to work with big-name architects, another firm could oversee the final design. To Gebhardt, it is not about what comes next; it is about what is currently there. “If [Rosen] really was interested in doing something iconic, the iconic thing to do would be to preserve the icons that created the neighborhood.”
Patrick W. Ciccone reports for The Architect's Newspaper. Set in Stone: How best to restore America's first concrete building?
American concrete begins in Brooklyn. The New York and Long Island Stone Contracting Company, formed in 1869, was the first U.S. company to produce concrete, and its headquarters, located at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street in Gowanus, is the earliest concrete building in New York City, dating from 1872. The Coignet Building—as it is colloquially known, for the name of its early concrete product, coignet stone—has become one of the most watched New York City landmarks in peril. Designated in 2006—likely sparing it from demolition—the building stood alone for years as brownfield remediation plans for the Whole Foods Brooklyn site dragged on. It was a frequent target for photographers looking for a slice of Detroit-like decay in the otherwise booming borough, and with the Whole Foods complex now complete, the Coignet Building is all the more prominent as a near ruin penned against the gleaming new grocery. Whole Foods is bound by a 2011 covenant with the building’s owner (who formerly owned the entire site where the grocery now sits) to restore the building’s exterior. Those who have been closely watching the building’s decay had expected any plans for its restoration to go to a hearing before the Landmarks Preservation Commission. However, with no fanfare, the New York Department of Buildings in early February issued permits for work on the site, following Landmarks’ 2013 issuing of a staff-level certificate of no effect for the proposed work, which means that there will be no public comment. News of the Coignet Building’s restoration should be welcome. However, the building has arguably suffered through attempted demolition by neglect in the past decade, and the Landmarks permit allows for “removing and replacing in-kind severely deteriorated cast stone units” including the “cornice, quoins, columns, pilasters, window surrounds, door surrounds, sills, and the entryway pediments, architraves and friezes”—i.e. much of the exposed original coignet stone on the building whose decay is directly attributable to this neglect. The building is of extreme historical importance for its role in materials history—it is the Genesis 1:1 of American concrete production. The Coignet Building’s significance is indisputably tied to the material from which it is constructed, the artificial stone produced at the concrete manufacturing yards located behind it, where Whole Foods now sits. Besides the Coignet Building, only three other known locations across New York feature the company’s concrete: the Cleft Ridge Span in Prospect Park, select locations in the arches of St. Patrick Cathedral in Midtown, and three surviving houses on Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn. Any replacement of the original material at the Coignet Building should be held to an extraordinary high standard. Kate Daly, the executive director of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and one of the researchers responsible for the discovery of the building’s significance and subsequent designation, maintains that alarm is not warranted, as Landmarks plans to work closely with the architects to evaluate the condition of the original material. However, an earlier iteration of drawings submitted to Landmarks by BL Architects—a firm with no consequential technical preservation experience in New York City—clearly indicates much of the building for replacement based only on a visual inspection. Though one hopes that Landmarks staff will hold the architects’ feet to the fire on the matter, as Daly promises, it is extremely disappointing that they will not be required to do so in public before the commission, or to submit a more detailed analysis of existing conditions as a condition for the building permit. The Landmarks approval conditions stipulate that the architects submit material samples for replacement in kind for concrete units that are deteriorated beyond repair. This issue is fraught with enormous questions of authenticity—should replacement simply match the appearance of the coignet stone, or does replacement in kind mean using the original concrete production process, presumably different from modern methods of producing cast stone? Since coignet stone belonged to a wider category of substitute stone denounced in the nineteenth century by Ruskinian adherents as sham imitations of stone, this question goes to the very nature of the material. (Indeed, Coignet company literature touted that its “artificial stone” was superior to nature’s own product.) The lack of care for the building (and the awkward abutment of the new Whole Foods complex around it) are ironic given the homilies to the sustainability inside the grocery store: prominently placed signs tout that the building is made from the reclaimed bricks and salvaged boardwalks destroyed in Sandy, and that it is located on a “remediated brownfield site to protect the environment” and “reduce blight.” Restoring the building in the most careful fashion likely would cost Whole Foods the least, as the building is eligible for historic tax credits worth up to 40 percent of project costs. This is a path that, to my knowledge, Whole Foods has chosen not to pursue, costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars. Indeed, the building’s apparent decay may be illusory. The exposed coignet stone is covered in a later stucco coating that easily flakes off to the touch, and, besides cracks in the underlying stone, may actually be in reasonable shape. Having closely watched the building crumble, we must even more closely watch its nominal restoration.  
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Bringing a ruin back to life

Chris Bentley reports for The Architect's Newspaper: Born Again: Destroyed by fire, St. Louis church finds new life as an art park. In 2001, an electrical fire ravaged St. Louis’ National Memorial Church of God in Christ, destroying all of the historic structure except for its perimeter walls. Rebuilding the interior from scratch was not possible. Instead, as part of a broader plan to revitalize the Grand Center neighborhood, a local nonprofit hired New York–based Gluckman Mayner Architects with Michael Van Valkenburgh to help local architects John C. Guenther and Powers Bowersox resurrect the ruins. The congregation sold the Spring Avenue property to the nonprofit Grand Center. Since the fire, the church has played host to a series of installations. German artists Rainer Kehres and Sebastian Hungerer stitched together pieces of old lamps donated by neighbors, constructing a scaffold that served as a roof for the Spring Avenue church. They named the piece “CHORUS.” With a bit of restoration work, Gluckman Mayner Principal Richard Gluckman said the church could become a permanent space for public art and recreation. They plan to touch up some of the stone, and replace the structure’s wide flange shoring with something “more detailed and less intrusive,” said Gluckman. But the design team is not going to replace the roof or restore any interiors. “It’s intended to be a ruin, basically. A restructured ruin,” he added. “It’s memorializing a moment in time, and providing a public amenity.” Temporary diagonal bracing holds up the walls now, but the plan is to replace that with a cantilevered structural steel frame that could also serve as a trellis for climbing vines and other plants. The design lowers the threshold of the original church windows along the north wall to meet the new ground plane of stone and gravel. More park and public art gallery than building, the church could become part of the infrastructure of the Grand Center arts and culture district. “It’s sort of a tabula rasa for clever art installations,” said Gluckman. One such installation is an acoustic work by Ann Hamilton that emits “music that once filled the site” through 36 in-ground speakers. A historic and predominantly African-American neighborhood in midtown St. Louis, Grand Center is rife with vacant land, but also theaters and a vibrant art scene. The Spring Avenue church project is a soft-spoken addition to the larger cultural district, intended to support chance meetings and creative installations. “It’s this unusual combo of landscape architecture, architectural fragment, and artwork,” said Gluckman. “In some ways it’s more accessible because it’s un-programmed space.” Most of the site is an open lawn. Monitored cameras and minimal architectural lighting could provide security for the 24-hour park, but the designers are wary of overloading the space. They have not determined if the church itself will remain open at night. The project won an AIA St. Louis Award of Merit last year. Still seeking funds both public and private, the team hopes to start construction this year.