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06.03.2014
Sacrificing Modernism
Two Lescaze buildings to be demolished in New York City.
Sean Khorsandi

As New York continues to evolve into a city catering to outsiders—courting the science and technology industries and luring foreign tourists from every corner of the globe—politicians stupefied and in awe of their development prowess congratulate one another: this, is progress! (Sorry Emma Lazarus, no tired and poor here—just give us your caffeinated and moneyed huddled masses!)

Soon, Roosevelt Island’s Coler-Goldwater Hospital for chronic diseases, a herringbone plan, designed with Deco patient wards capped by rounded day rooms and circumscribed by deep balconies for roll-out patient beds, will be absorbed into the greater NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC). Chevron-like gold brick wings, carefully offset to not cast shadows on neighboring patient areas will give way to Cornell’s twerked glass campus from a panoply of A-list architects including Weiss/Manfredi, Field Operations, Morphosis, SOM, and others.

 

As visitors to Louis Kahn’s FDR Memorial often pay homage to the James Renwick Small Pox Hospital ruin during their pilgrimages, most all unknowingly pass by two chapels—a synagogue and a mosque—within the hospital’s 1971 addition, the Activities Building. This structure was completed posthumously by Swiss-born American pioneer of Modernism, William Lescaze (1896–1969). Adorned with colorful mosaics and Emanuel Millstein-designed stained glass windows, these barely published, publically inaccessible spaces will soon be lost.

Over on Manhattan, where recent shuffling has finally consolidated Parsons, Mannes College, and various sundry divisions of the New School into the 16-Story Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill combination University Center/Kerrey Hall on 14th Street, another Lescaze building faces demolition. In the wake of the consolidation, parcels of the campus were de-accessioned, including the polite, oft-over looked Brotherhood in Action building on 7th Avenue at 40th Street. An understated box set atop a synagogue and held back from the avenue by a raised pedestrian plaza, this “building-next-door” gained national facade recognition through its many cameos for Project Runway.

After open bidding, it was sold to Soho Properties and MHP (the former Murray Hill Properties), and is destined to become a new Dream Hotel. Early renderings by SOMA show a Jenga-stack of glass volumes. Restrained, human-scaled, and civic minded buildings will again cede to denser development with less cultural purpose.

The first phase of Cornell NYC Tech is slated to open in 2017. Dream Times Square has no check-in date listed. As of press, both Lescaze buildings are still standing.

Sean Khorsandi