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08.29.2011
Project Fund Ways
New building for FIT's Chelsea campus needs $52 million in local funding.
Inside FIT's proposed new building designed by SHoP Architects.
Courtesy SHoP Architects

In a 2003 design competition, SHoP architects won over the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and the school’s Chelsea neighbors with a proposal for a slender glass building on 28th Street that contrasted with the brooding Brutalist buildings of the existing campus. The same year, the state (FIT is part of the SUNY system) allocated an additional $74 million toward the $148 million project, to be matched by local funding no later than March 2013. Since then, the proposal has fallen off the radar. In 2006, the city and state put up $4 million ($2 million each), and SHoP completed the design. But after budget battles this summer, the city allocated just $20 million to be distributed over the course of the next four years. That leaves FIT coming up about $52 million short.

“The city chooses its priorities,” allowed FIT treasurer Sherry Brabham. “It’s not like spreading peanut butter, everybody doesn’t get a piece of it.” Brabham expects that a combination of working with the city, value engineering, and private donations will see the project through.

   
Exterior views of FIT's proposed new building by SHoP.
 

It’s not surprising that Community Board 4 supports the project. The side streets just south of Penn Station between Seventh and Eighth avenues compose a seedy stretch of Chelsea. FIT’s inward facing buildings don’t help matters, particularly on the “back” side of the campus at 28th Street, where a 220 by 75 foot lot sits empty. City Planning recently addressed the issue by rezoning the area for residential development from the north side of 28th Street to the south side of 30th Street. Edison Properties is already planning a through-block residential complex to be designed by Handel Architects.

Detail of the building's facade.
 

The SHoP design promises to fill the empty lot with a ten-story glass building that holds 100,000 square feet of classrooms, studios, and a three-story-high student lounge atrium at its heart. SHoP’s William Sharples described the facade as a 12-foot-wide “woven wall” that is suspended over an extra-wide sidewalk below, with various stairs and halls jutting out like “shuttles in a loom.” A green roof and south-facing HeliOptix glass wall on the ninth and tenth floors aid in an effort for LEED Gold. At street level, visitors can glimpse through glass panels onto machines in the Bill Blass Weaving Labs, and a runway situated directly behind plate glass windows offers a catwalk and display area to showcase student designs.

Sharples said that the company’s SHoP Construction division, formed in 2007, got plenty of experience in value engineering at Barclays Center. “We just don’t throw it over to someone else and say you figure it out,” he said. “We feel we can do that without sacrificing the look and the feel or the programming of the project.”

The building’s working title is C-Squared, as it connects to an older structure known as the “C-Building.” But naming rights could also help close the gap, the schools says. Hopes are high that an illustrious alum will step forward to help with the financing. If not, FIT will have to forfeit the funds.

Tom Stoelker