Last month, the Landmark Preservation Commission debated plans for an architecturally ambitious condominium-and-retail project designed by Morris Adjmi in the Gansevoort Market Historic District. While the commission lacked the votes to decide on the project, the commissioners sent a strong signal to the developers that the project would need to be significantly reworked in order to gain approval.
The project raised a number of questions about how and where contemporary architecture can fit into a historic district, especially one as unique as the formerly scruffy and low-slung meat market district.
Adjmi and developer Taconic Investments want to build a seven-story torqued apartment tower atop a two-story art moderne market building dating from 1938 at 13th and Washington streets. A massive masonry core anchors the addition, with each floor rotating within an exposed black metal frame that encloses the terraces and the apartments. “This particular site lends itself to something dynamic,” said Adjmi, who is also the architect of 450 West 14th, one of the last buildings to straddle the High Line. This project overlooks the High Line and draws on the forms and materials of that industrial structure, and compared to some of its more distant neighbors like the Standard Hotel or the architectural bobbles of far West Chelsea, the design looks comparatively low-key.
Both the High Line and the Standard fall outside the boundaries of the Gansevoort historic district, and the commissioners appeared unconvinced of their relevance to the new project barely a block away, and worried about setting a precedent for towers above the lowrise market buildings. “I need a better story. I need to understand why that building should be allowed to be turned into a base for a tower,” said commissioner Margery Perlmutter.
Other commissioners praised the project’s architectural merits, but felt they could not approve it, given their obligations to the landmarks law. “I love the project’s design, and I hope you have clients in other parts of the city, but Morris, I hated to have to say, not here,” said commissioner Libby Ryan. Several preservation and community groups seemed equally conflicted, praising the design but questioning its appropriateness for the district.
Adjmi remains undeterred for now, and may present the project again in only slightly modified form for a full up-or-down vote. “Each of these projects needs to be evaluated on its own merits,” he said. “Time doesn’t end when you get a designation. I feel very strongly about this design, and I hope we can figure out a way to keep it intact.”