Campus Shuffle in Greenwich Village

Aerial view of NYU’s expansion plans with the Silver Towers on the left.
Courtesy NYU

On March 16, NYU announced updates for their latest expansion plan, part of NYU 2031, that seemed to say the University had heard the public’s criticism and was ready to be a nicer neighbor. Previously, the school proposed a 400-foot tower on the Silver Towers site, where three concrete towers designed by I. M. Pei and completed in 1966 currently stand; two are owned by NYU while the third is a is a middle-income cooperative. In the new rendition, the proposed fourth Silver Tower is gone. This hotel/residence raised an outcry before being scrapped in November and has now been replaced in part by something called the Morton Williams tower, a 14-story building structure for the site on the corner of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place currently occupied by a Morton Williams supermarket. This will be a two-tiered building with a seven-story public NYC school below and seven stories of dorms above.

Now and proposed: Corner of La Guardia Place and Mercer Street looking north.
[Click to enlarge.]

NYU wants to add 6 million square feet of building to their campus over the next 25 years, with 33 percent of that planned for its current campus, 17 percent for the surrounding neighborhood, and 50 percent for remote locations. The masterplan for the three sites already part of the campus, including three acres of outdoor space, was drafted by Grimshaw Architects, Toshiko Mori Architects, and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.

Now and proposed: Diagonal view of Washington Square Village.
[Click to enlarge.]

The March 16 meeting highlighted new building outlines and proposed landscaping plans. The square footage in the defunct plan for Silver Tower’s hotel and residential complex is spread over four new buildings, including the Morton Williams Tower, and totals 2.2 million square feet of new space. A building with many different interlocking heights at 181 Mercer Street has been dubbed the Zipper Building, and would replace the current NYU Sports Center. At the tallest part of the Zipper, a 150-bed hotel remains in the plan in a portion that will rise to 275 feet; the rest of the building will be used for faculty offices, classrooms, retail, and student housing. Two more buildings between 3rd and Bleeker streets and Mercer Street and LaGuardia Place have been nicknamed the “Boomerang Buildings” for their curving shapes, which open onto an enhanced plaza in the newest plan. Formally called the LaGuardia Building and the Mercer Building, respectively eight and 14 stories, they will be a mix of classrooms and faculty offices.

At the meeting, Van Valkenburgh principal Matthew Urbanski talked about wanting to attract the community to walk through NYU with a new playground and dog run, and by making the plazas more accessible and garden-like. The landscaping plan described by Urbanski, which specifically involves land near Silver Towers at 505 LaGuardia Place, received a nod of support from I.M. Pei’s firm, and, despite some dissent from community members, was approved by the Landmark and Preservation Commission at a meeting on April 5.

Now and proposed: Portal through Washington Square Village.
[Click to enlarge.]

In further efforts to win over the public, NYU has set up an exhibit on NYU 2031 at the new Open House gallery at 528 La Guardia Place with renderings and models. The exhibit was designed in house by NYU and is now open to the public. However, none of this seemed to help much at a community board meeting on March 21, according the New York Times. “A slide presentation by university spokeswoman Alicia Hurley was greeted by hostile interruptions, catcalls and hisses,” wrote Kim Davis for the Times’ “The Local East Village” blog. The only supporters in attendance appeared to be NYU faculty, while critics still felt that this new plan just reshuffled the same components of the Silver Towers plan they previously opposed.

Now and proposed: Green Street Walk looking East.
[Click to enlarge.]

Davis reported that Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation, wanted NYU to take its expansion elsewhere, meaning downtown: “You can’t meet your needs to grow by asking residents to sacrifice their quality of life,” he told the board. Urbanski, who attended the meeting, told AN that “people did not seem to understand that access to the site is currently impeded and that we need public passage. [In the 2031 plan] we can add nice movement and a holistic approach to make it more useful and beautiful for everyone.”

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