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Salt Shed Stirs Strife in Soho
Edgy design for proposed salt shed meets resistance from residents
A proposed concrete shed would contain 5,000 tons of salt.
Courtesy Dattner Architects

On November 15, the Public Design Commission approved an icon-striving design for a salt shed, effectively clearing the way for its crystalline form to emerge just north of Canal Street in Soho. Designed by Richard Dattner, the multifaceted concrete form with more than $10 million allocated toward its completion will be by far the most expensive salt shed yet. Michael Kramer, a lobbyist and member of the Community Sanitation Steering Committee, opposed the structure at the hearing, saying that the design was not the issue.

“No matter how much money the city has decided to spend on this design project, it’s in the wrong place, and we wish they’d consider otherwise,” he said.

Proposed salt shed.Rendered view of a proposed salt shed on Manhattan's west side.

Concerns of rock salt toxicity to people and trees in the nearby Hudson River Park persisted at the hearing, backed by a lawsuit filed by area property owners at the appellate State Supreme Court. The proposal includes a truck garage for the Department of Sanitation to be placed adjacent to the shed, exacerbating the not-in-my-hood outcry. Kramer argued that the design precludes an opportunity for adopting an alternate and more contained plan—known as the Hudson Rise and proposed in June 2009—that would include a rooftop park over the garage and eliminate the salt shed.

Dattner said the two buildings were designed together as part of a cohesive whole. For the garage with a “diaphanous, scrim-like surface,” the firm teamed with WXY Architecture, but Dattner claimed the shed for himself.

Proposed salt shed.Opponents of the crystalline salt shed question the appropriateness of its location.

The building takes up 7,700 square feet of the 14,575-square-foot site situated in a manufacturing district, and holds 5,000 tons of salt. Most of the mass remains above the sidewalk, fluted outward and rising to heights ranging from 43 to 67 feet. Various panels contain concave triangular facets. Dattner, whose father was a diamond cutter, explained that convex facets would have made the structure look as though it were bulging and ready to burst. At the base, a 4-inch moat of roughly textured glass contains a series of lights that skim the form from below. Little flakes of mica embedded into the cement are intended to play off car headlights rolling on West Street, as are slightly protruding glass plugs at the seams. Dattner said the overall effect would be like “a thousand nonpolitical points of light.”

Nina Bassuka, professor of urban horticulture at Cornell, submitted a protest letter presented at the hearing. “With all the best of intentions, it’s impossible to stop rock salt from blowing, spilling, or leaking out of the storage shed, particularly when trucks are being loaded,” she wrote. Once the Public Design Commission takes a last look at the plans on December 12, Dattner expects construction to begin in 2012.

Tom Stoelker