The latest news on New York architecture.

  • Gas Station on Houston to Go

    The gas station on the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets is one step closer to being demolished, a step that would remove one of the last vestiges of SoHo's grittier past. The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission has unanimously approved a plan to demolish three buildings—a BP BP.LN -0.82%PLC gas station, the bar Puck Fair, and a former mechanic shop—and replace them with a seven-story office building with a retail component.

    Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street JournalThe BP gas station at the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets, which will be redeveloped by the real-estate development firm LargaVista.
    The commission, which designated the site as part of the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District Extension in 2010 because of its prominent location, says it approved the demolition of the buildings because "they are atypical of the structures found elsewhere in the district," said a landmarks spokeswoman of the Tuesday vote. The neighborhood, once home to venues like Mars Bar, antique shops and an outdoor flea market, has gotten a makeover in recent decades as it has attracted a number of retail chains and office tenants ranging from technology companies to designers. Ten years ago, the area offered "all no-name stores," said Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of the retail group at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Today, she calls it "the denim corridor,"—a reference to jean retailers that have moved in like G-Star Raw and Supreme.
    dboxA rendering of the proposed development.
    The gas station, which was a Gaseteria before it was a BP location, has been owned by Marcello Porcelli's family since 1976. Mr. Porcelli, president of real-estate development firm LargaVista, decided he wanted to redevelop the site when BP's lease was up at 300 Lafayette St. The project, designed by CookFox Architects LLP, will contain 30,000 square feet of retail space and 40,000 square feet of office space. Mr. Porcelli—whose portfolio is represented by CBRE Group Inc.'s CBG -0.82%tri-state region head Mary Ann Tighe and Vice President Tom Duke—expects the project to be certified under the city's land-use approval process, which usually takes several months, According to CBRE, the average asking rent for office space in SoHo and NoHo was $79.44 a square foot in the first quarter, up from $49.78 in the year-earlier period. "It's got the exposure of Times Square and yet it's in a neighborhood like SoHo that's so exciting and dynamic," Mr. Porcelli said. Mr. Duke says he expects that the building would have some of the highest rents south of midtown for office and retail. "This is a trophy of LargaVista's portfolio," he says. But not everyone is a fan of his proposal. "We are an icon, I believe, in the neighborhood," said Fernando Dallorso, a manager at Puck Fair, one of the buildings that would be torn down. "I think it would be a loss, but nothing we can do about it." Mr. Dallorso says that the bar is currently in a lease, but he wouldn't discuss its terms. On Wednesday afternoon, the proposal to replace the gas station drew mixed reviews. The corner, which is surrounded by chains ranging from Adidas to Brooklyn Industries, was filled with shoppers and tourists with cameras strapped to their necks. How Zan, a 38-year-old architect who works across the street from the gas station, said good riddance. "It's creating too much traffic," said the Jersey City resident. "People in line, the cabdrivers, they think this is theirs. They occupy this place." But Miranda Santiago, a 31-year-old veterinarian who has lived in SoHo for two years, disagrees. "It's a bummer to see it go," she said. As for the grit and graffiti that SoHo was known for decades ago? "I almost feel like that's not even associated with SoHo anymore," she said.  

  • MoMA to Raze Ex-American Folk Art Museum Building

    Robin Pogrebin reports for The New York Times, When a new home for the American Folk Art Museum opened on West 53d Street in Manhattan in 2001 it was hailed as a harbinger of hope for the city after the Sept. 11 attacks and praised for its bold architecture. “Its heart is in the right time as well as the right place,” Herbert Muschamp wrote in his architecture review in The New York Times, calling the museum’s sculptural bronze facade “already a Midtown icon.” Now, a mere 12 years later, the building is going to be demolished. In its place the adjacent Museum of Modern Art, which bought the building in 2011, will put up an expansion, which will connect to a new tower with floors for the Modern on the other side of the former museum. And the folk museum building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, will take a dubious place in history as having had one of the shortest lives of an architecturally ambitious project in Manhattan. “It’s very rare that a building that recent comes down, especially a building that was such a major design and that got so much publicity when it opened for its design — mostly very positive,” said Andrew S. Dolkart, the director of Columbia University’s historic preservation program. “The building is so solid looking on the street, and then it becomes a disposable artifact. It’s unusual and it’s tragic because it’s a notable work of 21st century architecture by noteworthy architects who haven’t done that much work in the city, and it’s a beautiful work with the look of a handcrafted facade.” MoMA officials said the building’s design did not fit their plans because the opaque facade is not in keeping with the glass aesthetic of the rest of the museum. The former folk museum is also set back farther than MoMA’s other properties, and the floors would not line up. “It’s not a comment on the quality of the building or Tod and Billie’s architecture,” Glenn D. Lowry, MoMA’s director said. Mr. Lowry personally went to the architects’ offices to inform them of the museum’s decision, a gesture that Ms. Tsien said she appreciated. “We feel really disappointed,” she said in an interview. “There are of course the personal feelings — your buildings are like your children, and this is a particular, for us, beloved small child. But there is also the feeling that it’s a kind of loss for architecture, because it’s a special building, a kind of small building that’s crafted, that’s particular and thoughtful at a time when so many buildings are about bigness.” The folk art museum, which had once envisioned the building as a stimulus for its growth, ended up selling the property, at 45 West 53d Street, to pay off the $32 million it had borrowed to finance an expansion. It now operates at a smaller site on Lincoln Square, at West 66th Street. Mr. Lowry said the expansion would complete the MoMA campus, which will ultimately consist of five buildings, four of them on West 53rd Street between Fifth Avenue and the Avenue of the Americas. Still to be built is an 82-story tower just west of the folk museum that is being developed by Hines, a Houston company, and was designed by the French architect Jean Nouvel. It will include apartments as well as exhibition space for the museum. When the projects are finished the museum will gain about 10,000 square feet of gallery space at the former folk art site and about 40,000 in the Nouvel building, officials said. The Modern’s second, fourth and fifth floors will line up with those in both buildings. (The second-floor galleries are double height.) “We’ll have a completely integrated west end to the museum,” Mr. Lowry said. “Floor plates will extend seamlessly.” Precisely what will be displayed in the new galleries has yet to be determined, but Mr. Lowry said they would include work from the Modern’s “midcentury collections, early Modern collections and temporary exhibitions.” The cost for the project has not been announced, he said, and fund-raising has yet to begin. MoMA’s 2004 renovation, designed by the Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, increased the museum’s gallery space to 125,000 square feet, from 85,000 (and the overall size to 630,000 square feet, from 378,000). But the museum still needs more room for exhibitions. “We have a lot of art that we own that we would like to show,” said Jerry I. Speyer, the real estate developer who is the museum’s chairman. “When we built what exists today we didn’t get as much exhibition space as we really need.” Ms. Tsien said she and Mr. Williams, her husband, wished the Modern had found a way to reuse what they designed and to realize its value. “It’s a building that kids study in architecture school,” she said. “They study it as a kind of precedent to understand how buildings are made and to understand the kind of space it is because it is a complex and interesting building in a very small site.” But, she added, “it doesn’t seem to make sense to second-guess how they might have used it.” The Modern will interview architects to design the new addition, Mr. Lowry said, and hopes to select one by the end of this year. It expects to have the building demolished by then. Construction of the Nouvel project is expected to start in 2014, with both new buildings being completed simultaneously in 2017 or 2018, Mr. Lowry said. The museum has been aggressive about expansion. In 1996 it bought the Dorset Hotel, a 1920s building on West 54th Street, and two adjacent brownstones, using much of the sites for its extensive renovation in 2004. In 2007 the museum sold its last vacant parcel of land for $125 million to Hines, which decided to develop the Nouvel building and include space for the museum. Mr. Nouvel originally designed the tower, at 53 West 53d Street, with a spire rising 1,250 feet — matching the top floor of the Empire State Building — and Nicolai Ouroussoff predicted in The Times that it would be “the most exhilarating addition to the skyline in a generation.” But residents protested the height and the Department of City Planning demanded that Mr. Nouvel cut 200 feet from the top. He did so, and in 2009 the City Council approved plans for a tower that is to rise 1,050 feet. The museum is deciding what to put at ground level at the former folk art building site — perhaps additional retail or another restaurant, Mr. Lowry said. (Its upscale restaurant, the Dining Room at the Modern, received three stars from Pete Wells in The Times last month.) “We bought the site,” Mr. Lowry said, “and our responsibility is to use the site intelligently.” Ms. Tsien said she could not recall another example of such a high-profile architectural project being demolished so soon after it was built. “Museums have opened and closed and buildings have shifted,” she said, “but I don’t know about being torn down.”