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AN Investigates

Landmarks cites nonexistent permits for iconic Citicorp Center plaza
Last month the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) sidestepped a crucial discussion of a developer's plans to overhaul a plaza at the Citicorp Center (now 601 Lexington Avenue), citing permits that were, in fact, never issued (Update 5/8/17: see note at bottom). The opaque and irregular approvals process for these renovations—detailed below—deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the landmarked Citicorp Center, one New York’s most essential late modern buildings. Those changes especially impact a plaza and fountain by Sasaki Associates, one of the firm’s only surviving works in New York. In March The Architect's Newspaper reported on the planned changes to the building, one of the city's newest landmarks. The 59-story tower, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977, commands a busy corner in East Midtown, Manhattan. The landmark designation includes three interrelated structures—a 59-story, 915-foot-tall office tower on the western portion of the site, a six-story mixed-use structure nestled into the main tower, and St. Peter's Lutheran Church of Manhattan—all connected by a series of indoor and outdoor spaces that are privately owned but open to the public. At the Midtown East building, though, proposed changes to those spaces—known to city planners as POPS—have attracted attention.  The LPC put the Citicorp Center on its calendar for landmark consideration in May 2016, and, after one hearing on September 13, the commission declared 601 Lexington Avenue—three buildings and the POPS—a New York City landmark in December 2016. Typically, calendaring puts all renovations on hold—but not this time. In July of that year, just two months after calendering, the owner, Boston Properties, filed plans with the DOB for a $46.8 million renovation that included changes to the POPS and the six-story office-retail building at the base of the main tower. Fast forward to a March 21, 2017 hearing to discuss a proposed renovation, designed by Gensler, that included work on the building's facade. At this hearing, LPC commissioners twice stated that they couldn't comment on the plaza renovations because they were "already permitted" (5:38:01 and 5:41:40), while LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan said the owner "already got the permits" for the plaza reconstruction. But where are those permits? The permits the LPC referenced could only been approved by one agency: the Department of Buildings (DOB). For this project, the DOB approves development plans, while the Department of City Planning's (DCP) City Planning Commission oversees and approves changes to privately owned public spaces. Neither agency can approve major changes to a landmark or potential landmark without LPC approval. Today, a DOB spokesperson confirmed to AN that the agency rejected Boston Properties’ plans (just this week, in fact) but stated that the owner may file new plans at a later date. With no permits on file, was the LPC referencing approvals from City Planning? At the March 2017 hearing, the commission stated that, because the DCP oversees privately owned public spaces, any changes to the POPS had to be—and were already—approved by that department. That’s true: At DCP, public review of the project commenced September 14, 2016—a day after the LPC’s September designation hearing—and garnered departmental approval on November 2, 2016, months after the May calendaring and a little over a month before designation. This bizarre dialogue between Landmarks and City Planning left no opportunity for the public to comment on major changes to a landmarked public space. The LPC was unable to confirm what permits the commission was referring to at the March 2017 hearing, despite repeated requests. The designation report (PDF) confirms that the DCP has oversight over the POPS, but it incorrectly says Boston Properties received DOB approval to modify the sunken plaza. (The designation report contains an additional error: The Citicorp Center's calendaring is listed as August 9, 2016 but an LPC press release pegs its calendaring to May 10.) The DOB confirmed that it had not issued a permit for the renovation of the POPS at the site. With regard to the plaza changes, "I'm not sure what the Landmarks Commission thinks it is doing," said Michael Hiller, Esq. Hiller is the founding principal of Hiller, PC, a New York City firm that litigates zoning, preservation, and land-use issues. At press time, the LPC issued the following statement:
The application before the Commission on March 21st was limited to the building’s façade. The applicant represented to the Commission that they had valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza that pre-dated designation and, as a result, that portion of the work was not before the Commission. During the process, the Commissioner’s reference was based on the representation by the applicant. If there were no valid DOB permits for the work on the plaza issued prior to designation, the applicant would be required to obtain an LPC permit prior to the issuance of a DOB permit.
A site visit this week revealed that there is construction fencing surrounding the perimeter of the plaza, though the stair to the subway through the sunken plaza remains unimpeded. Signs show a Gensler rendering of the revamped plaza and office building, above, but the only permits posted are for work on the 29th floor: Boston Properties could not be reached for comment on the current status of the renovations or the approvals process. The changes that DCP approved in Boston Properties’ land use application would add benches and would not reduce the total area of the POPS's sunken plaza. (Technically, to the DCP, the plaza is an "open air concourse," an exposed area that sits more than 12 feet below-grade and provides access to the subway. Here, at its lowest, the tiered public space sits 13 feet below grade.) Its 6,000 square feet of tables, chairs, and concrete gave the Citicorp Center a FAR bonus of almost 59,000 square feet. In exchange, the public received six trees, 19 tables, 76 chairs, and a designer fountain, plus retail at the western edge of the concourse. The DCP-approved changes would add two tables, eight chairs, and 153 feet of benches to the count, and a new fountain would replace the Sasaki fountain in "approximately the same location." Among other changes, the plans call for a stairway from the concourse to the sidewalk would be widened, and repositioned to improved pedestrian circulation from the subway to the street. The land use review application says the changes would "improve public access, provide better circulation and connectivity, and create a more visible and vibrant Public Spaces [sic]." This fountain-for-fountain, space-for-space tradeoff is acceptable per City Planning but for preservationists, the thought of losing Sasaki fountain is devastating. “The Citicorp Center is about public space—that’s what makes it architecturally interesting and designation-worthy,” said preservation activist Theodore Gruenwald. “We are seeing all of these changes done very much behind the scenes, without public oversight.” Designed by Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, the Citicorp Center's plaza and fountain is just one of the city’s 333 POPS, the essential New York City micro-spaces that make public places out of office building plazas, atria, and concourses. Introduced as a development incentive in the 1960s, POPS let developers build taller than zoning allowed in exchange for open space. Recently, though, the public-ness of these public spaces has come under threat. The election propelled Trump Tower's inaccessible POPS into the limelight, and the loss of the Water Street arcades last year has further highlighted the vulnerability of POPS, especially those that are more marginal. Though not a POPS, the owners of SOM's landmarked One Chase Manhattan Plaza tried—and failed—to build three glass pavilions on the building's plaza, a move that would have segmented the public space and blocked views of a massive Dubuffet sculpture. Rule-breaking POPS have caught the attention of the law, too. This month the office of the New York City comptroller released the results of a POPS audit (PDF), which found that more than half of the city's privately owned public spaces did not provide mandated access or amenities (though the POPS at Citicorp Center was in-compliance—at least by this measure). UPDATE 5/8/17: The DOB initially represented to AN that there were no permits issued for the work on the sunken plaza and Sasaki fountain. On May 5, 2017, the agency informed AN that an ALT–2 permit to remake the plaza was filed on November 18, 2016 and issued on December 2, 2016. The LPC signed off on the permits that same day, four days before Citicorp's landmarking on December 6 and well after the conclusion of the public comment period. AN plans to update readers on this developing story.
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Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

Sasaki fountain at Citicorp Center may be demolished
One of Hideo Sasaki's few remaining works in New York is set to be demolished as the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved changes to the exterior of 601 Lexington Avenue, formerly known as the Citicorp Center. The building, designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1973, features a stepped public plaza by Sasaki Associates. As it dips into 601 Lexington Avenue, the plaza, built in exchange for a taller tower, reveals a fountain and entrances to the subway. Amid a dense urban setting, many consider the cascading design a welcome sight. Its corner location encourages passers-by to look up in tandem with steps towards the building's open vertices made possible by Stubbins's unusual column arrangement. Dubbed “super” columns, the four skyscraper supports rise above 100 feet and cover 24 square feet each. The resultant cantilevers articulate space in a way not commonly found in Manhattan and in the space, one is seldom aware of being situated below the 915-foot-tall structure, once described by critic Ada Louise Huxtable as a “singularly suave blockbuster that comes down to the street with innovative drama." This feature has prevailed for almost 40 years and subsequently, the sunken space works in an established harmony with the skyscraper. At the time of Stubbins’s death in 2006, critic Paul Goldberger called the Citicorp Center “probably the most important skyscraper built in New York in the 1970s because of its elegant and memorable shape, but also because of its engagement with the city at the base.” Tuesday's review included building entrances along 52nd and 53rd streets, as well as skylights and rooftop mechanical equipment. The Sasaki plaza, designed by principal emeritus Stuart Dawson, was included in the landmark designation, but DOB permits to alter the plaza were approved prior to the designation, and so the plaza changes were not under review by the LPC. In a March 23 email, a LPC spokesperson clarified that the permits are unrelated to the designation report's statement of regulatory intent (page 14) that states that the City Planning Commission is responsible for approving all changes to the plaza. The plaza design depicted in Gensler's renderings was not being considered at the hearing that day, a situation infuriated some preservationists who came out to speak the meeting. The renderings Gensler presented depicted the plaza without the fountain that was initially intended, in the words of the architect, to "mask much of the street noise and add to the feeling that the passerby is free from the congestion of the street." In a statement to The Architect's Newspaper (AN) Dawson commented on the situation:
I was and am incredibly proud of the work we did on the sidewalks, plaza, cascading fountain, and interior atrium of the Citicorp Center. The response from the public was immediate and strong: they loved it. As the fate of this work is up in the air I cannot help but to return to the original idea that carried through all aspects of the project: the idea of connection. At the time, we asked why not carry the fountain and broad steps all the way from street level; to chapel and atrium entrance level; to the subway level? While it required difficult permitting and multiple bureaucratic maneuvers, it seemed well worth the effort—and it was. It was a first! And today, as I learn that the plaza we designed is in danger of demolition I ask that we consider connection once more. I would like to see the plaza live on, connecting one era of design into the next. Once again, it may take some persistent maneuvering but I believe it will once more be worth it.

Christabel Gough of the advocacy group Society for the Architecture of the City told AN that the Sasaki project has "fallen between the cracks of arcane inter-agency procedures and is not protected. Boston Properties would earn the gratitude of so many New Yorkers by abandoning the demolition plan revealed today." 

According to the LPC, the changes put forward by Gensler and Boston Properties were approved by the City Planning Commission prior to 601 Lexington Avenue’s designation as a landmark in December 2016 and that permits to alter the plaza had already been filed with the Department of Buildings (DOB). Despite an extensive search, at press time AN was unable to locate the permits on the DOB's website.

At the hearing, preservationists and commissioners raised questions about the missing foundation. "The HDC wishes to express its regret at reports that the water feature may be removed from the space, which seems like an unfortunate loss," said Barbara Zay, of advocacy group the Historic Districts Council. "We would suggest that the LPC retain a seat at the table in discussions for the fate of courtyard by working closely with the owner, and perhaps the MTA, to find an alternative or return this decorative feature which provides an element of civility and whimsy to the space.” Echoing Zay, Commissioner Michael Goldblum expressed regret about the turn of events. "It’s a shame that the plaza will be changed and the fountain lost," he said, adding that the fountain was a "key element of how the public experience this complex." Fellow commissioner John Gustafsson clarified that no decision on the plaza could be made. "We’re not expressing an opinion here because we can’t," he said. The only changes on the agenda then, were to that of the facade, particularly on 53rd Street. Here, a recessed entrance would be eradicated, but the LPC voiced weariness ahead of this decision.

AN asked representatives from Gensler and Boston Properties at the hearing about why they are eliminating the plaza. Both declined to comment.

In her closing statement, chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that "the Citicorp Building has a long history of changes... We recognized that these spaces will continue to change." She concluded that the proposed modifications were consistent with the building's history, and retained the spirit of the original design intent, particularly with the building's zoning history in mind. Prior to granting its approval, the LPC suggested that the proposed changes to the recessed entranceway be reconsidered. But questions remain as to why a plaza so integral to the landmark is beyond the LPC's oversight in the first place. AN will keep readers updated on this story as it develops. Update 3/22/17: This article originally stated that Sasaki's plaza was not included in the building's December 2016 landmark designation. It was in fact included in the designation. The post was also updated to include clarifying information about the plaza's jurisdiction and additional background on the statement of regulatory intent. The text was updated to reflect that Sasaki Associates principal emeritus Stuart Dawson designed the fountain.
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601 Lexington Ave.

New York’s angled icon, the Citicorp Center, in line for a 200,000 square foot renovation
601 Lexington Avenue, widely known by its former title as the Citicorp Center, may be the subject of a revamp totaling 200,000 square feet, courtesy the New York office of global architecture firm Gensler. The recently landmarked building (designated in December) could see a new exterior plaza and array of terraces added if the design is approved by the Landmarks Preservation Committee (LPC) next week. Further changes include an atrium located inside (and thus exempt from LPC endorsement) that will house a coterie of retail outlets and dining facilities. Speaking to The Architect's Newspaper, a spokesperson for Gensler clarified that the plaza is indeed "being redesigned" as renderings suggest. 601 Lexington Avenue was designed by Hugh A. Stubbins & Associates in 1977 and completed the following year. The resultant angular apex created a silhouette that has become an icon of the Manhattan skyline and was a feature that led the building's landmark designation last year. It's at the other end of the building, at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street, however, where the changes will be made. Critic Paul Goldberger was complimentary of the existing ground-level features at the time of Stubbins's death in 2006: “[It is] probably the most important skyscraper built in New York in the 1970s because of its elegant and memorable shape, but also because of its engagement with the city at the base," he said. According to Gensler, the building's owners, Boston Properties is "focused not on increasing rents, but on increasing the value of the entire neighborhood by making a distinctive plaza and atrium space." The firm continued: "To this end, the new outdoor plaza and terraces make room for more dining and retail options, while enlivening the staid office component. The resulting 200,000-square-foot redevelopment transforms an internally focused space into a bustling urban oasis for Manhattan’s Midtown East neighborhood." 601 Lexington (c) Gensler_4 Changes date back to as recently as 2010 when a new office lobby was installed. Twenty years ago, the existing atrium and open-air concourse were renovated. The LPC hearing for the changes will be on Tuesday, March 21.
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At Citicorp Center

Landmarked Sasaki fountain at Citicorp demolished
Today bulldozers eviscerated the sunken plaza at Citicorp Center, eliminating its late modern fountain and plaza, one of the last surviving works by Hideo Sasaki's firm in New York. The destruction of the fountain is tied to renovation plans for the public spaces that surround Citicorp, the late 70s tower at Lexington Avenue and 53rd Street  distinguished by its angled top and four silvery legs. At its base, welcoming commuters to and from the subway, sat a stepped concrete plaza and fountain designed by Sasaki principals Masao (Mas) Kinoshita and Stuart Dawson. The Landmark's Preservation Commission (LPC) designation report calls the fountain out as a historic feature, which signals a degree of protection. In this case, though, changes to the designated plaza were approved without the public's input. Charles A. Birnbaum, president and CEO of advocacy and education nonprofit The Cultural Landscape Foundation, walked by the plaza today and sent a video of the demolition to The Architect's Newspaper, below: Though shocking to those used to seeing the fountain on their commute, the bulldozer was in the picture months ago. Last year owner-developer Boston Properties hired Gensler's New York office to produce a new (and flatter) plaza that met requirements for its POPS status, one of the city's hundreds of privately owned public spaces that developers erected to build taller than zoning allowed. Here and elsewhere, the Department of City Planning regulates POPS; it requires part of the Citicorp POPS to include a fountain, and a fixed number of chairs and trees, among other amenities. The agency leaves all aesthetic and historical concerns to Landmarks. In this case, there is nothing original or historic about the new plaza Landmarks okayed. The approvals process for the plaza re-do was done by the letter of the law but not its spirit: Through a series of behind-the-scenes approvals, the public was deprived of the opportunity to weigh in on permanent changes to a public space. "When I see what has happened to the landscape architecture at Citicorp," Birnbaum said, "all I can think is 'Who dropped the ball?' How could a project like that go through Landmarks? How could a significant work of landscape architecture be destroyed and rendered tabula rasa?'" Some in the preservation community were just as displeased, with failure a running theme. "This news profoundly depressing. It's a failure on the part of Boston Properties—a failure of imagination and taste—to demolish a one-of-a-kind late modern water sculpture. They had something of incalculable value," said preservation activist Theodore Grunewald. He believes the stewardship of the historic property, too, was lacking. "It's mostly, though, a failure of [LPC chair] Meenakshi Srinivasan and LPC staff for cynically abdicating their responsibility to protect and defend a designated landmark." (At the last public Citicorp hearing, many Landmarks commissioners seemed surprised that the fountain's fate was pre-determined.) "This is a failure of civic governance," said Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City. "Millions of New Yorkers enjoyed passing Sasaki's cool cascade, a fountain beside a busy subway station—now smashed by philistine investors." The Society is a historic preservation advocacy group that regularly testifies before the LPC. At Citicorp's last public hearing, in March 2017, Gough maintained that the plaza's steps and angles, complemented by the geometry of the fountain, are essential to the experience of the site at street level, especially in relation to the tower's angled top. Is there a lesson in this loss, a way forward through the wreckage? There might be. Gensler itself is leading the way at a nearby building, Kevin Roche and John Dinkerloo's nearby Ford Foundation headquarters, completed in 1967. At that project, Birnbaum pointed to what he believes is a sensitive treatment of the plant-filled atrium as a foil to the Citicorp plaza, which will soften the plaza's deliberate angles with flowerbeds and a subdued fountain. Grunewald believes the fountain's loss boils down to transparency. "This was an opaque process. Further evidence of Landmarks's subservience to New York City's development community. Boston Properties got what they wanted, at the expense of the public. This is a tragic loss of one of New York's best public works of art." AN is planning a follow-up story on what happened at Citicorp, because the editors believe the approvals process that led to the fountain's destruction deserves explanation beyond the scope of this article. Stay tuned.
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Year in Review

The good, the bad, and the ugly: Best preservation stories of 2017
In the trenches, preservation can feel cyclical—historic buildings are defended and saved, others destroyed, and public appreciation grows for once-loathed styles (looking at you, Brutalism). This year’s brilliant adaptive reuse projects are worthy of their own list, but we chose to highlight the epic sagas—new landmarks, victories against out-of-scale development, priceless buildings pulverized, and the controversies that will shape preservation debates through next year and beyond. (See the rest of our Year in Review 2017 posts here.) New York City is losing its modernist public spaces 2017 was rough on New York City's modernist landscapes. In June, bulldozers unceremoniously demolished a landmarked Sasaki fountain and plaza at the Citicorp Center—a move that was sanctioned by the city without input from the public. Over in Battery Park City, officials are considering a total redesign of Machado Silvetti and Hanna/Olin's Wagner Park, a public postmodern marvel. Out in Brooklyn, the Parks Department is set to replace a rare public commission by landscape architect A.E. Bye in Fort Greene Park with a bland promenade. At least no one here is turning Brutalist landscapes into climbing walls...

Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park slated for major overhaul

Seattle’s Freeway Park, a pioneering work of modernist landscape architecture by Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva that's widely recognized as the world’s first freeway cap park, is undergoing a series of wayfinding-oriented renovations. Nonprofit park stewards Freeway Park Association (FPA) hired Seattle-based landscape architects SiteWorkshop to add a bandshell, new restroom facilities, a food kiosk, a playground, and even a bouldering wall to the Brutalist landscape. The interventions are meant to soften the verdant but austere park, a move that some say runs counter to Halprin and Danadjieva's original design intent. New York Public Library interiors landmarked The New York Public Library’s (NYPL) main branch in Midtown Manhattan is a definitive New York building, but until recently, its splendid interiors were mostly unprotected. That changed this summer when the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) added the Rose Main Reading Room and the Bill Blass Catalogue Room to its roster of interior landmarks. (The exterior of the Carrère & Hastings–designed building was protected 50 years ago.) Now, the structure is slated for extensive remodeling by Mecanoo and Beyer Blinder Belle, who debuted a master plan for the changes in November.

Edward Durell Stone gem gets a comprehensive rehab

Halfway between Chicago and Denver along Interstate 80, Grand Island, Nebraska is perhaps best known as the home of the Nebraska State Fair, but it also hosts an important work of modern architecture. Designed by Edward Durell Stone in 1963, the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer documents the lives of Europeans who first settled in Nebraska. Recently, the museum underwent a comprehensive renovation and rehabilitation, led by Lincoln, Nebraska–based BVH Architecture. Snøhetta takes on the AT&T Building   Architects took to the streets to protest changes to the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s iconic postmodern tower. Among other changes, the Snøhetta-led redo would glass in the building’s signature 110-foot-tall arched stone entryway. Denise Scott Brown, Sean Griffiths, Adam Nathaniel Furman, Paul Goldberger, and others took to AN‘s pages to weigh in on the design (TL;DR most folks think glassing in the base is a bad idea). Thanks to activists’ efforts, the pomo marvel on Madison Avenue is now up for landmarking. OMA menaces Gordon Bunshaft's Albright-Knox addition When it was revealed that OMA would design an $80 million expansion of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, preservationists were concerned. OMA's concept design—new galleries and parking organized around a huge class lobby—would eliminate Gordon Bunshaft's suave 1962 addition to the Buffalo, New York museum. Over protests, the museum is now raising money for the project, which it has dubbed AK360 (perhaps in reference to the assault on good taste). Helmut Jahn's Thomson Center still imperiled  Designed by Helmut Jahn and completed in 1985, the James R. Thompson Center is the hub of Illinois state government in the City of Chicago. From the moment it was constructed, its vertiginous interior has turned heads and sparked debate. Today Governor Bruce Rauner is keen to see the building either demolished or converted into a private property. This year saw the premiere of Starship Chicago: A Building on the Brink, a new documentary on the oft-misunderstood building.

Louis Kahn’s endangered floating concert hall is headed to Florida

This summer it looked like Louis Kahn's concert-hall-on-a-barge was headed to the scrap heap. The 195-foot-long boat, dubbed Point Counterpoint II, was commissioned as a floating venue for the American Wind Symphony Orchestra (AWSO) for the Bicentennial, and it's traveled the country's waterways ever since. Despite its design pedigree, longtime owner Robert Austin Boudreau struggled to find an owner for two decades, and was going to chuck the boat if he didn't find a suitable buyer. In early December, the Hudson Valley's Daily Freeman reported that Boudreau sold the vessel to a consortium of Florida businesspeople. This winter, it will be restored in Louisiana and will eventually dock in Lake Okeechobee, about 50 miles west of Palm Beach, Florida. Master plan for The Alamo stirs debate A $450 million plan for the treasured historic site of The Alamo in downtown San Antonio is causing a stir. Architects, planners, professors, patriotic preservationists, and the public are in disagreement over a rejuvenation scheme that looks to open up the plaza but relocates a historic cenotaph in the process. House of Tomorrow is saved  The House of Tomorrow, the first residence to be clad with a glass curtain wall, is set to receive a much-needed update from a team of Chicago firms. Originally designed by Chicago architect George Fred Keck for the city's 1933 World’s Fair, the 12-sided glass-and-steel home sports an open floor plan, also a rarity for the time. After the fair, the early modern home was moved to Beverly Shores, Indiana, to be incorporated into a vacation village that was never completed. Now, Indiana Landmarks is spearheading the renovation of the National Register–listed property in collaboration with chosen firms. Monument removal After white nationalists provoked violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and amid a national climate of heightened bigotry, cities and towns across the county are re-evaluating their public monuments. With little fanfare, under the cover of night, the City of Baltimore took down four Confederate monuments in August. After protests, New York City established an independent commission this fall to review the city’s public monuments for "symbols of hate." Should these monuments be saved in the name of history? Or should they be altered—even destroyed—because they no longer positively embody contemporary values?
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Plazas in Peril

Why are we wrecking our best modernist landscapes?
This is a feature article from Issue 8 of The Architect's Newspaper. If you’ve seen the movie Columbus, you’ll remember, among all the nerdy dialogue about modernist bank branches and James Polshek’s buildings, that scene where the two protagonists passionately discuss the Dan Kiley landscape outside the Eero Saarinen–designed Miller House. No? That’s because landscape architecture, though intrinsic to the experience of some of the best modern buildings, rarely gets the conversation it deserves. Despite being featured in all the film’s promo shots, the landscape by one of the last century’s best landscape architects got zero shout-outs. This snub, brought to light by the Cultural Landscape Foundation Executive Director Charles Birnbaum in a Huffington Post op-ed, reflects larger attitudes toward landscape architecture in the United States. It’s a long-held and frequently heard complaint inside the discipline that even successful landscapes by the very best designers are treated like scenery for architecture. While New Yorkers love Central Park, concrete plazas between modernist skyscrapers—even though they are essential to the experience of the buildings themselves—don’t elicit the same joy. Modern and late-modern landscapes in American cities are the least appreciated and least understood outdoor spaces, though they shape day-to-day experience in the contemporary American city more than leafy 19th-century destination parks. These modern spaces contrasted with—and challenged—the platonic ideal of the American urban park, established by Frederick Law Olmsted and largely unchanged since the 1860s. Urban renewal gave designers the opportunity to think up supersize projects (New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Boston’s Government Center, Pittsburgh’s Gateway Center, Philadelphia’s Penn Center) that afforded new ways of experiencing space and the city. Instead of offering the faux-countryside, 20th-century designers summoned concrete and right angles to create dynamic public spaces rooted in modernist functionalism. In the postwar years, as industry abandoned cities en masse and corporations moved white-collar workers to lush suburban campuses, cities and captains of industry commissioned the best landscape architects in practice to activate declining downtowns with plazas and parklets. In smaller urban projects like Heritage Park Plaza in Fort Worth, Texas, Fountain Place in Dallas, and Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, designers like Lawrence Halprin, Kiley, and M. Paul Friedberg offered contemporary city experiences that both responded to and represented these profound changes in the American urban form. This not only applies to plazas from the boomer or Gen X era, but to Millennial landscapes, too. Just as chokers and platform sandals are cool again, designers are expressing renewed interest in successful 1990s postmodern landscapes, like Wagner Park or Pershing Square. Despite their significance, these parks are now threatened by thoughtless development. Unlike their forbearers—most of which were baked into city plans or carved from large swaths of open space—modernist landscapes like Freeway Park in Seattle shaped vestigial areas, harnessed from leftover space (like vest-pocket Paley Park in Manhattan), or repurposed former industrial land (Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco). In their comparatively tiny areas, designers deployed textural materials like concrete, gridded trees into mini urban forests, and masked obtrusive city sounds with water features. Despite their historic significance, these sites are constantly imperiled by bad maintenance, and the public antipathy that follows—“What’s with all that concrete, and where are all the flowers?” While it can take decades for an artist’s work to be appreciated, as Halprin noted, landscapes and the land on which they sit are often at the mercy of changing real estate interests and don’t have time to mature in the public perception. Though some, maybe most famously Boston’s Government Center, are wildly unsuccessful and are being (sensitively) adapted right now, many upgradeable landscapes whose potential could be teased out with thoughtful changes are instead being plowed over with heavy-handed schemes that dishonor the original design intent. Maybe because they are underappreciated, many postwar urban parks and plazas are threatened by market forces and dumb human decisions: out-of-place nearby development, revamps that turn parks into front lawns for speculative real estate, rising downtown land values, and, paradoxically, resilience measures that anticipate future coastal flooding. Compared to buildings, landscapes have fewer protections afforded to them. Since June, there’s one less: The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the demolition of a Sasaki fountain and plaza that anchored the base of Citicorp Center, a suave Hugh Stubbins–designed 1970s angle-topped tower on Lexington Avenue at 53rd Street. The architect would faint if he were around to see the flowerbeds proposed for the base of his building. Though developments like these can be jarring, the cities around these landscapes have changed substantially, too. After fleeing in the mid-20th century, people and prosperity have returned to cities. Though regional development is always uneven, there’s a persistent and widespread demand for walk-to-work neighborhoods with a healthy mix of day-into-night life. Downtown is hot. And tastes have changed, too. As megaprojects like Hudson Yards and smaller regional ones like SWA’s San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, Texas, demonstrate, there’s a desire for more programmed space, with Ping-Pong tables and colorful, interactive public art. These landscapes reflect a turn from urban production to urban consumption; though the social life of these public spaces still includes people-watching and book-reading (or phone-staring), spaces are increasingly programmed around shopping, tourism, and scenery that’s good content for Instagram. Planners today promote infill housing and mixed-use everything, so visitors to these downtown parks are, increasingly, residents too. Outside of a few true classics that have never lost their luster, how do modernist landscapes fare against their newer predecessors? For this feature, we chose some of the notable urban landscapes of that era currently under redevelopment to assess where they are now, and how they’re being adapted—or not—for the future. Their designers never intended for their landscapes to be built and forgotten. There’s little to love in badly patched concrete, treeless planters, or dry fountains. We’re looking anew at famous landscapes by the best of the best and at those that are less familiar. Some honor the landscape architect’s original design intent, while others…don’t. Preservation isn’t about ossifying landscapes in some vintage ideal, but framing updates around the original design intent. Across the country, designers are looking at landscapes with consideration of their significance while adapting them for contemporary knowledge of ecology, accessibility, and programming. In a May 2017 talk at the National Capital Planning Commission in Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Meyer, professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia, explained why landscapes of the 1950s through the 1980s are significant today: They are a record of postwar modernization and urbanization, and they should be reimagined—not cast in amber—for the 21st century. “Adapting modernist landscapes does not require demolition and redesign,” Meyer said. Just like the designers who revamped the 19th-century city park in the 1970s, these projects will need careful updates for today’s users, made with intelligent materials, to facilitate life in the present while looking back to history, not to pickle the past but to energize urban life.
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200 Water Street

Water Street public space is one city vote away from a private retail takeover

In lower Manhattan, a prominent developer wants to convert a public space into private retail, and the city is at least a week away from a vote that could allow the project to move forward. Rockrose Development's bid to completely enclose and privatize the arcade at 200 Water Street comes just months after the city permitted the destruction of the landmarked Sasaki fountain at the Citicorp Center, and is yet another example of a public outdoor space the city could cede to a commercial interest.

Rockrose wants to take advantage of new zoning rules that would allow the company to fill in the public arcade on Fulton Street with retail and restaurants, reducing the public space by half.

When they were built in the 1970s, the Water Street Arcades were a covered network of walkways linking office buildings in the area, which extends three blocks in from the East River, north to Fulton Street and south to Whitehall Street. The arcades and accompanying plazas were built as tradeoffs that let owners build taller than existing zoning allowed. The target area contains 20 buildings, with 225,000 square feet of open plazas and 110,000 square feet of arcades. In exchange for building and managing these privately-owned public spaces, or POPS, developers near Water Street got to add more than 2.5 million square feet of extra floor area to their buildings.

In June 2016, the City Council approved a zoning change that opened up these spaces to commercial development. The Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment allows existing arcades to be infilled for retail and encourages "improvement" of existing plazas. In total, the new rules place more than 167,000 square feet of the POPS up for redevelopment.

The city maintains that the arcades are dull and underutilized because they push ground-floor retail away from the sidewalk, are obstructed by thick structural columns and poorly lit, and often terminate in dead ends. It also asserts that the plazas mostly open onto lobbies and feature little greenery, a combination that is uninviting to passersby. 

While some public spaces in the Water Street area do affirm these concerns, the ones at 200 Water Street are an exception. They originally featured exuberant public art, and are open to traffic on all four sides, a necessity for pedestrian circulation in an increasingly lively neighborhood.

From a design perspective, it would be hard to top the space's first incarnation, which was cool enough to land on the cover of Progressive Architecture (PDF) one year after opening.

The original owner was the Kaufman Organization, a New York developer known for above-and-beyond stewardship of its POPS. Emery Roth & Sons designed 200 Water Street (also known as 127 John Street) in 1971 as an office building in the International Style, but CEO Melvyn Kaufman playfully messed with its gravitas, ornamenting the glass curtain wall from street to roof.

"One twenty seven John Street is neither imposing nor distinguished in the usual sense of those words," said PA Associate Editor Sharon Lee Ryder. "It is imposing because you can’t forget it once you’ve been there and distinguished simply because there is nothing like it."

Designer Pamela Waters used roofing gravel to craft a cheerful cat chasing a bird on opposite sides of the seventh floor setback, an almost wraparound terrace. Viewed from above, it's clear that the terrace's gap permanently prevents the cat from catching its prey (though there's another wire mesh bird that covered the window-washing rig). On the roof, mechanical equipment was painted kindergarten colors and decked out in lights to illustrate water and air flowing through the HVAC system.

On the plaza level, metal benches in the same colors sat beneath Op Art murals that zigzagged through custom scaffolds all the way up to the edge of the sidewalk. Visitors could ascend the scaffolding to access seating on above the street. Around the corner at John and Water streets, Kaufman pasted mirrored walls onto two buildings that couldn't move for the 32-story tower's construction, while an inset digital clock on the Water Street side of the old building mimics the grid of the new tower. Melvyn Kaufman even installed a wax likeness of himself on one of the benches (it was removed after some unspecified "hostile reactions"). The arcade's whimsy, capped off by a water feature and a neon-banded purple-and-blue light tunnel to the inside, was meant to enliven a long walk from the main entrance on Fulton Street to the building's elevator bank.

Since the Kaufman Organization sold the building in the mid-1990s, the space's cheerily excessive amenities have given way to a boring plaza that some believe is willfully neglected. Today, most of the remaining art from the Kaufman days is in serious disrepair: the white scaffolding is a blank skeleton, stripped of its canvas, while the original pool and fountain are empty. (The impossible-to-miss Water Street clock now graces a Starbucks, in front of a well-maintained but unoriginal public space occupied by wood benches and concrete planters.)

Rockrose maintains that the Fulton Street arcade is beyond rehabilitation, and proposes restaurants and retail as a way to enliven the front of the structure, which it converted to rental apartments in 1996. As soon as the end of this month, the City Planning Commission could hear Rockrose's application to infill three of the building's POPS, totaling more than 4,700 square feet, per rules outlined in last year's zoning text amendment. The developer would like to add almost 1,800 square feet of new residential space in the double-height arcade facing Fulton, and on the ground floor, the plaza would lose about 3,000 square feet of public space. New York–based MdeAS is working with the developer to design the new spaces.

In return, Rockrose estimates it would receive $600,000 in annual rent from the new spaces. Members of Manhattan Community Board 1 (CB1), whose district includes the property, held meetings with Rockrose this summer to ask if the developer would consider compensating amenities. Rockrose refused, saying that, by law, it was not obligated to provide additional amenities.  

CB 1 maintains that building into the arcade could interrupt the flow of connected spaces that distinguish the Water Street POPS and its buildings from the rest of the neighborhood. Though the city contends that the plazas are underused relics from bad midcentury planning, lower Manhattan is in the midst of a development boom that's slated to bring more foot traffic at all hours to the traditionally 9-to-5 neighborhood. The intersection of Fulton and Water streets is a heavily-trafficked corner, the gateway to the South Street Seaport. Likewise, the South Street Seaport's restaurant and tourist revival, including a new mall at Pier 17 and ferry service from nearby Pier 11, herald an increase in pedestrian traffic at Fulton and Water streets at what is already a busy intersection. According to CB1, Rockrose hasn't submitted a pedestrian traffic study on the impact of enclosing almost 4,000 square feet of space at this corner.

At press time, multiple attempts to reach Rockrose for comment on its plans for 200 Water Street were unsuccessful.

Mindful of the precedent-setting nature of Rockrose's request, and its dissatisfaction with the developer's concessions, the community board voted the whole proposal down last month.  The board released a statement, "CB 1 should urge the owners of the site and all stakeholders to maintain and keep the critically needed open space at 200 Water Street open for the public's use consistent with the original agreement made between the developers and the citizens of New York."

In a March 2016 resolution, just before the City Planning Commission passed the Water Street zoning rules, CB1 recognized the property as distinct from its neighbors, and asked the owners to not enlarge chain stores, but instead offer the community additional benefits:

"Owners of properties similar to 200 Water Street, where the benefit to the property owner clearly outweighs the community benefit from plaza upgrades, should be required to provide benefits in addition to the plaza upgrade, such as enhancements to surrounding sidewalks and the nearby Pearl Street Playground. CB1 requests that the arcade infill at 200 Water Street not be used just to expand the existing large box retail, and prefers retail that positively activates Fulton Street." 

(Despite this shout-out, CB1 nevertheless supported the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment last year.)

Multiple nonprofit urban advocacy groups have weighed in on Rockrose's proposal. In an open letter, the City Club of New York suggested Rockrose's "lack of enthusiasm" for maintaining the POPS was an aegis for redevelopment-by-neglect. "In this case, converting half the space of the POPS to rental floor area and reducing the area maintained for the public by half is clearly a win-win for the owner," it said. 

Echoing the City Club's statement, the Municipal Art Society praised the original character of the spaces, adding that “[the] plazas and arcade have been allowed to deteriorate to the point that, instead of preserving these valuable community assets, Rockrose stands to benefit from the loss of public space.” This is not the first time Rockrose's stewardship of public space has been in called into question. The original designers sued Rockrose back in 1996 over its alleged failure to maintain the plaza and its art, which Rockrose owns. The parties reached a court-approved settlement that required the firm to maintain the artwork in the POPS through 2011. In a brief, the plaintiffs' attorney, Robert Ward, described the significance of the agreement: “When the building was built back in 1971, the owners got a plaza bonus. They were able to build a bigger building because of the plaza. The new owners of the building want to build in that plaza, but they do not want to take some of the building down. That is an important issue in terms of balancing the equities.” There may be other options for reuse, though, that preserve the public space. In a letter to Marisa Lago, chair of the City Planning Commission, the group Friends of Privately Owned Public Spaces suggested three ways that Water Street Arcades could be creatively repurposed without reducing the total amount of public space. The owner could glass in an arcade to make a public interior and collaborate with a public entity like the New York Public Library for programming, or create a POPS with a food service component a la Lincoln Center’s David Rubinstein Atrium. As a last option, the owner could cede space to a city-run concession (like the ones operated by NYC Parks) whose proceeds would fund improvements to other POPS in the area.

At the earliest, the City Planning Commission could review the application on October 30, although no public testimony will be heard at that meeting. To comment on Rockrose's proposal, members of the public may email the commission at centralintake@planning.nyc.gov with the subject line "Application N 170284 ZAM 200 Water Street Arcade Enclosure." The commission's website is updated regularly, so readers should check back there for the latest hearing schedule.

Editor's Note: Last year, The Architect’s Newspaper sponsored a design charrette for the Water Street POPS to envision how they could become the vibrant gathering spots and successful corridors they once were. In May 2016, AN Managing Editor Olivia Martin also provided testimony opposing the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment at a meeting of the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises. Martin had no role in reporting, fact-checking, or editing this story. 
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Past and Present

Saving our heritage: top historic preservation stories from across the U.S.
Historic preservation stories always stir up a conversation: What parts of American architectural history should be preserved? What doesn't need saving? Since our last coverage of 2016's top historic preservation articles, many new buildings have become imperiled or found respite from demolition.As we celebrate America on July 4, here's an updated list that includes a unique Brutalist building in Southern Florida under threat, a recently-saved Frank Lloyd Wright home, and As we celebrate America on July 4, here's an updated list that includes a unique Brutalist building in Southern Florida under threat, a recently-saved Frank Lloyd Wright home, and many more. Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture's latest addition Without homebuilding entrepreneur Zach Rawlings, this 2,500-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright–designed concrete home would have succumbed to developers who wanted to bulldoze it and replace it with more profitable housing. But Rawlings, along with architect Wallace Cunningham, saved the David and Gladys Wright home. Now it's being transferred to the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture; students will have the opportunity to engage with the building and its renovation process in a design studio specifically designed for the site. New York's landmarked Citicorp Center Plaza demolished Designed by Sasaki Associates in 1973, the Citicorp Center’s plaza and fountain were just recently demolished, despite their landmarked status. The opaque and irregular approvals process deprived the public of the opportunity to weigh in on highly visible changes to the iconic plaza. It was eventually revealed to The Architect's Newspaper that Boston Properties, the owner proposing the changes, had received permits from the Department of Building (DOB) just four days before the site was landmarked, which technically allowed the changes to be made. Fate of iconic Kenneth Treister-designed Miami tower unclear  A building that heralds back to Miami's "Tropical Brutalism" era, this Brutalist tower known as "Office in the Grove" is threatened with demolition if it is not saved and landmarked. Designed by Florida's modernist architect Kenneth Treister in 1973, it is among the first buildings to be constructed of post-tensioned concrete slabs and a completely prefabricated concrete facade. While Brutalism may be hard for the public to appreciate, the concrete style intended to create openness in public buildings while responding architecturally to the climate. According to Docomomo US/Florida, “this was Miami’s first office building to give the community an eye-level, landscaped grass berm as its facade.” The hearing for the building's landmark status will be held on September 5. New master plan proposal for The Alamo in San Antonio raises debate A $450 million plan for The Alamo Mission, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wants to declutter its plaza, which involves relocating an historic cenotaph. Architects have expressed tentative approval of the plan, but have also voiced concerns that the current proposal—which includes glass walls separating the Alamo grounds from the rest of the city—inhibits the use of space for the public. The public was also skeptical of the glass walls, raising questions about a modern design in San Antonio's historic downtown. Philip Johnson's New York State Pavilion revamp A modernist icon, the New York State Pavilion was originally designed by architect Philip Johnson for the 1964 World's Fair. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but years of neglect have left the structure in abandoned, despite a new coat of paint in 2015. The National Trust for Historic Preservation, preservation group People for the Pavilion, and New York City government began soliciting ideas for a bold new take on the structure, ultimately selecting the design "Hanging Meadows" last August. Meanwhile, a separate $14.25 million renovation is underway to re-open the Pavilion to the public in the fall of 2019. America's first glass house, a National Treasure, will be restored  It's often referred to as "America's First Glass House." Now, the House of Tomorrow (a remnant from the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress World's Fair) by Chicago architect George Fred Keck is set to receive an update from a team of Chicago firms. There was a $2.5 million campaign to restore the house last year led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Indiana Landmarks. The building's design features glass curtain walls for passive solar heating (coming well before Philip Johnson's 1949 Glass House and Mies van der Rohe’s 1951 Farnsworth House), an "iceless" refrigerator, and the first-ever General Electric dishwasher. The restoration plan includes removing deteriorated surfaces, replacing the current glass walls with modern glass, and the revealing cantilevered steel girders that give the house its open floor plan. Gordon Bunshaft–designed addition to Albright-Knox Art Gallery threatened While he was at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Buffalo native Gordon Bunshaft created this addition to the original 1905 Albright-Knox museum; it included an auditorium with jet-black windows (seen above), galleries, and a courtyard that extends between the addition and the original building. Now, as part of a plan put forth by OMA's New York office, its courtyard and galleries would be demolished while the auditorium would remain. OMA contends that the courtyard divides the park in which the museum sits; removing it and the galleries will restore circulation to the site while making way for bigger exhibition spaces. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery still needs $20 million for the expansion, though groundbreaking is planned for April 2019. The City of New York wants to raze Wagner Park One of the best places to see Lady Liberty is Wagner Park, a small green slice of Battery Park City on the lower edge of Manhattan. Two decades ago Boston-based Machado Silvetti, in collaboration with landscape architects at OLIN, unveiled the park, an open space that ushers people towards the water’s edge with sweeping views of New York Harbor and that famous freedom statue. Now, in response to the specter of Hurricane Sandy and the threat of rising seas, the agency that oversees the area is planning a total park overhaul. The Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) is set to replace the existing landscape that architects and residents love with a park it says will align better with new resiliency measures that are reshaping the Manhattan waterfront. Illinois Governor ransoms Thompson Center for public school money In an act of political wrangling that typifies the relationship between the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced that if the city would allow the sale of the Helmut Jahn–designed James R. Thompson Center, he would provide the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) with additional funding. Last week Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that he would block the sale of the postmodern building out of fear of having to replace the large CTA subway station beneath it.
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Niche Tactics

An examination of the relationship between architecture and the site by Caroline O’Donnell

Niche Tactics, a collection of essays edited by Caroline O’Donnell, approaches architecture as a living entity with a symbiotic relationship to its environment. She starts with contrasting bubble metaphors, the “ecological bubbles” of biologist Jakob von Uexkull, who studied creatures’ particular stimuli—blood for ticks, pollen for bees—with the Corbusian bubble that focuses on interior space shaped by program. External forces will burst the bubble rather than merely deform it if it isn’t designed for its ecology or able to adapt.

O’Donnell also bases her studies on Greg Lynn’s evolution of formalism unleashed from typological constraints. To this strategy, she adds the tactical niche, which references the components and resources of a habitat that influence survival. She takes us through a breadth of history, theory and cultural studies—from the Renaissance and the Picturesque, to Vitruvius and Palladio, to Colin Rowe and Peter Cook, and from sustainability and phenomenology to film and comedy—examining objects’ relations to their contexts and how this relates to architecture. Along the way she shows that basic principles of symmetry, proportion, and typology are not antithetical to an ecologically responsive architecture.

However, radical practices often get slapped with the “weird shape” or formalism label, so it’s encouraging to trace a trajectory from Rudolf Wittkower to Nikolaus Pevsner and Rowe, whose own studies of the analytic and the collage are found in O’Donnell’s research of context. Ideal Palladian villas are reintroduced to their country settings, and churches yield their historically typological forms to exaggerated responses to wind, solar, and urban orientation. Considering the urban, O’Donnell speculates what would have emerged had Le Corbusier’s clean sweep of the Plan Voisin grid considered cultural and civic landmarks as interferences. However, none of this is really all that new, foreign, or radical. The original Citicorp Center tower gave way to its site, the economics and air rights of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and O’Donnell shows how Manhattan’s gridiron deforms when confronting natural features, such as those of Morningside Park.

Moving into contemporary practice, O’Donnell reminds readers that the iterations initiated by Lynn grew from specific conditions, often dealing more with environment and evolution than more recent strategies such as application scripts and parametricism. A couple chapters addressing monsters and notions of ugliness are useful in describing how appearances that deviate from our expectations may actually indicate something more in tune with their environment or be on their way to a new “species” of architecture.

While O’Donnell laces her text with examples of analyzing and implementing contextual forces in projects, she saves the final chapter for examples of her own firm’s works. While some are no more than a paragraph, others elicit a more thorough explanation, such as her firm’s MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program winning entry Party Wall, to show how one can design to respond to site, urban context, history, and program.

The book is a welcome mix of the multidisciplinary—theory expands beyond formal analysis or historical indexing. O’Donnell combines those aspects with examples of projects in their environments, incorporating ecological and contextual referents into a living, evolving design practice. Ultimately O’Donnell argues for an ecological responsiveness to inform firmitas, utilitas, venustas contemporary architectural design.

Niche Tactics: Generative Relationships between Architecture and Site Caroline O’Donnell Routledge $59.95

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AN Exclusive

Landmarks chair shares exclusive details on her resignation
After less than four years, Meenakshi Srinivasan announced yesterday that she is leaving her post as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the city agency that stewards New York City’s historic built environment. During her time at the agency, the LPC designated 3,800 buildings, a total that includes 67 individual landmarks, nine historic districts, and three interior landmarks. On June 1, Srinivasan is trading government work for a job in the private sector after an almost three decade career in public service. Before she joined the LPC in 2014, Srinivasan chaired the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for ten years, and prior to that, she worked in the Department of City Planning (DCP). The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) sat down with the outgoing chair to talk about her tenure, her next steps, and the (sometimes controversial) decisions she presided over. AN: Why are you leaving the LPC? Meenakshi Srinivasan: I’ve been very fortunate to have been at three land use agencies and also very fortunate to have chaired two commissions, the Board of Standards and Appeals as well as Landmarks. It’s been incredible, but it’s been 28 years. It really seems like the right time to move to the private sector and use my skills elsewhere. I feel emotional about the fact that I’m leaving government, but I think we’ve achieved a lot in the last four years. What have you accomplished as Chair? There are three areas I’m very proud of. I’m very, very proud of our designation agenda. I’m proud of our transparency initiatives, and I’m proud of our ability to reorganize the agency to be much more efficient and [move] the agency forward through the lens of equity and diversity, transparency and efficiency. Within that agenda, our strategic plan has been faithful. It has been to be more efficient within the designation process, [particularly with regards] to the backlog.* The second thing is just for me as a planner, personally, is to really allow preservation to be a critical part of the planning process. And the third is, we want to continue to look at areas that are not represented by designations, but there are stories to tell that really speak to histories of all New Yorkers. The agency has this wealth of knowledge and scholarship that people should have access to, and we have all this information about our regulatory process and that should be transparent and accessible, too. The first thing we did is we put all the information that comes before the commission on our website. In the last four years, we have put all our designation reports on our website so people can access them. We’ve created this interactive map, which includes all our designations and has the ability to connect and links to designation reports. Most recently, we’ve created a very, very robust database which provides data on each individual building that has been designated. We created a database that allows people to access information on staff level approvals as well, so you can find out the status of your project. This kind of information is very important to community groups who want to know what’s happening, what these buildings are about, but also to homeowners and property owners, so they can understand the basis for designations. Where are you landing next? I’m doing some work with New York Law School in their Center for New York City Law and working with the dean and founder of the center to develop curricula, and I’ll continue from there. Do you know who’s going to replace you at Landmarks? The vice chair position is vacant. I don’t, but I’ve been working with this administration and internally on the transition. I’m here for another five weeks. How would you assess the state of historic preservation in the city right now versus four years ago when you became Chair? You know, historic preservation is very critical for New York. I think it’s what makes the city diverse, dynamic, so I think that will continue. I think there’s always an issue of balance. The city should grow as well and we continue to survey areas that should be designated and should be protected. I think the other thing is that when we think about landmarking, it doesn’t really mean that nothing can change. I think the Commission, historically, has allowed for change within historic districts, and our role is really to ensure that those changes are consistent and compatible with the prevailing historic character. I think that will continue. One of your initiatives you alluded to earlier was a push for historic districts outside of Manhattan. How is that going? How will that initiative be continued under the next Chair? We have done some pretty significant historic districts outside of Manhattan, but I just would say that it’s not only outside Manhattan, it’s also areas that may not be as well-represented in Manhattan. We did a really interesting one in Ridgewood, Queens and a portion of Brooklyn, which is really a working class neighborhood that actually has a very strong architectural character to it and very uniform. We did Crown Heights North, I think it’s the third extension as well as the Bedford Historic District, which [overlaps with] one of the largest African American community in the nation. More recently, we did Mount Morris Park Historic District [Extension] in Harlem, and currently we are looking at Central Harlem Historic District, which is between 130th and 132nd Street—a microcosm of the Harlem Renaissance in the early part of the 20th century, that also includes the civil rights activities there. Even without me, I think we’ve got various things in the works that will be continued. The Commission often hears from passionate stakeholders on all sides. In March, Human-scale NYC, a coalition of preservation and neighborhood groups, wrote a letter that called for your replacement and claimed that you “serve the interests of big real estate.” How would you respond to those who believe the LPC placed real estate interests ahead of historic preservation during your tenure as Chair? I think there’s no truth in it at all. People have opinions—they may not like everything that I do, but I stand by all the decisions we’ve made. I think my agency has been very thorough and so has the Commission; I don’t see any radical shifts in the way we have regulated our historic districts. The Commission has always been open to modern buildings and contemporary buildings in historic districts. That hasn’t changed. If you actually go back and look at the projects that we’ve done, you’ll see that the scale of these buildings are very much consistent with the surrounding context and there’s a lot of rigor in how we evaluate these decisions. I would say that a group may come up and identify a whole series of reasons why I’m unpopular, but I think if you go beyond that and see for yourself, there’s nothing really there. Many people were upset, for example, at the way the changes to the Sasaki plaza at Citicorp were regulated, and about the approval of the demolition permits for the AT&T Building lobby, and the designation of the Ambassador Grill and Lounge that excluded a sunken lounge and connecting hallway. I know preservationists have made their concerns about these and other issues known to the LPC loud and clear. How would you respond to those who say there needs to be more transparency around changes to major buildings? Right, well I think that it’s interesting. There is transparency. The reality is that we do receive requests to designate buildings. Our research team evaluates them. We then bring them to the Commission. The basis of why we think they should be designated or what areas we’re considering is explained. We have standards and we want to apply them consistently. In the end, the reality is we did do Ambassador Grill. For AT&T, we calendared the building, so the issue over there was really about the lobby. That was discussed and there were reasons why the lobby was not considered meritorious. I just want to go back to one thing because you raised this issue about this letter. People can try and dovetail these things together, but I’ll just be very upfront with you. I’ve been thinking about [leaving] for some time, probably the end of December, early January. As a public figure, people will say things and [they] may disagree with you. I’ve been a public figure for 14 years. I don’t know if those things necessarily would make me back down, just in case you’re thinking that there could be something like that, but I’ve been doing this for 28 years and I think we’ve done great things here, but there are other things to do. In a different letter, leading preservation groups that the LPC consulted with on its proposed rules changes recently wrote a letter to you asking for those changes to be withdrawn. How will preservationists’ concerns be addressed as discussion around the proposed changes continues? We allowed the comment period to go on until May 8, but the outreach process that we’ve done many times before involves us summarizing these comments and bringing [them] before the Commission. The staff does that. Since the [March] hearing, we’ve continued to do outreach and explain to people why we believe the rules are beneficial and why they’re beneficial for preservation. What are you most proud of in your work here? One of the things that I’m very proud of is that we’ve put more emphasis on cultural landmarks. That’s been very important to me, because it has given us the ability to talk about more abstract things that are not necessarily related just to buildings, but are really important to the history of New York. The Stonewall Inn, for example, is a very modest building, but it propelled the LGBT movement. The Stonewall Inn is indicative of New York’s progressive values of tolerance and inclusivity. That means a lot to me. When we think about cultural history, we did two buildings on Broadway which are cast iron buildings. You see these in Noho and you see them in Soho, but what made them unique is that it had this amazing [tie to] the abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. And more recently, the historic district that we’re bringing forward in May in Central Harlem speaks to the Harlem Renaissance, but also about civil rights and social justice. And finally, Coney Island, which has changed over time, but it [remains] one of the most recognizable places in New York. I mean, everybody goes there. Cultural landmarks have always been a complicated issue, but I think we’ve been very—I wouldn’t say aggressive, but—I think we really wanted to advance that as a part of how we think about preservation in New York. Do you plan to stay involved in preservation in any way? My thoughts are really to go back to planning and zoning. That’s what my background is, but when you think about cities in general, preservation is just part of it. I think I’ve just been lucky to have this preservation experience as well, because I think it rounds off something for me. At City Planning and at the BSA, we were dealing with preservation issues all the time. It’s just part and parcel of New York. Any advice you’d give to the next Chair? It’s a great place to be. Enjoy the experience. We have an incredible staff that you can rely on. Just be prepared because it’s definitely a field which, as you’ve pointed out, stakeholders are very passionate about. So, have your eyes and ears open to listen to all that, as well. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. *The LPC prioritized 26 properties out of 95 for designation that had languished on a list of potential landmarks for years, sometimes decades. This was completed over an 18-month period between 2015 and 2016.
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Out of Service

It’s official: The AT&T Building lobby is gone
Last night Manhattan Community Board 5's (CB5) Landmarks Committee unanimously approved a resolution in support of protecting the AT&T Building, Philip Johnson and John Burgee's 1984 postmodern tower on Madison Avenue. Although the objective was primarily to discuss building's historic merit and landmark eligibility, the committee's wide-ranging conversation returned repeatedly to the owner's decision to sledgehammer the building's lobby in the midst of talks with preservation groups, CB5, and other stakeholders. Much of the lobby talk focused on what constitutes interior or exterior space in a young-ish building whose public areas were cocooned by a major renovation less than a decade after it opened. In 1993, Sony Corporation, the building's new tenant, tapped Gwathmey Siegel (now Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman) to glass in a rear arcade as well as the loggias on either side of the Madison Avenue entrance, a move that created retail from previously open, public space. Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has already said it will not landmark the formerly exterior, now interior spaces, this didn't stop the Landmarks Committee from expressing its disappointment towards the agency's decision to okay demolition permits. The committee, seated before reporters and a half-dozen members of the public, heard remarks from the project team first. David Laurie, managing director for developer Chelsfield America, read a statement to the board on behalf of his company and Olayan America, the owner of the building and Chelsfield's partner in the redevelopment. "We have taken our role as stewards very seriously," he said. Their goal was to adapt the building, erected as the headquarters for AT&T only, into multi-occupant Class A office space for future tenants of 550 Madison, as the building is now officially known. On the ground floors, he said, renovations will "finally deliver on the building's promise for public space." Laurie explained his team has commissioned a public garden that will be "marginally larger" than the sculpture garden at MoMA, which is 21,400 square feet. Floorplans on 550 Madison's site give an idea of how the new spaces will flow together. The lobby, at center, remains in a similar configuration, as does the existing retail on either side. Behind that, plans show that the garden will replace an adjoining annex and the enclosed arcade between 55th and 56th streets. Despite these renovations, the lobby is—or rather, was—one of the best-preserved public postmodern interiors in New York. CB5 Landmarks Committee Chair Layla Law-Gisiko confirmed that, per permits the LPC signed off on in December, the lobby has been demolished. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) reached out to Chelsfield America for comment on its decision to alter the lobby but had not heard back at press time. On February 1, a representative for the developer confirmed the work described in the permit—the removal of interior partitions, ceilings, elevators, and finishes—has been completed. The representative could say whether the patterned marble floor remained intact. The ground floor plans are part of Snøhetta-led renovation of the building that was unveiled in October 2017 and immediately condemned by leading architects as context-clueless and disfiguring. Among other changes, the Oslo- and New York-based firm proposed a striking exterior alteration of the structure's monumental Madison Avenue facade that would have swapped the rosy Stony Creek granite, a contextual reference to the city's classic Beaux-Arts skyscrapers, for an undulating glass curtain wall. The outcry over the design prompted preservationist Thomas Collins to initiate the building's landmarking, which usually (though not always) stops the clock on major renovations. The LPC subsequently added the structure to its calendar for landmark consideration last November. Over objections from Collins and others, however, the LPC is only considering 550 Madison's facade and public spaces, not the lobby, for landmarking. Four members of the public spoke in support of landmarking. These included Collins, a representative of civic group the Municipal Art Society, and Liz Waytkus, the executive director of modern architecture preservation group Docomomo US. "The historic nature of AT&T is one whole design," Waytkus said. She decried what she characterized as "backroom lobbying" that led to the LPC's approval of lobby demolition permits. Others praised the building's completeness and its singular place in 20th-century architecture. "Beyond its 'period room' appeal, the AT&T lobby is a uniquely attractive space with exceptional materials and attention to detail," Collins said. "It has aged well and offers valuable lessons to a younger generation of designers bored with the antiseptic minimalism currently in vogue." Landmarks Committee Vice Chair Renee Cafaro largely agreed, calling the recommendation to landmark the (formerly) granite-walled, black-and-white marble-floored lobby "imperative." "The intent of the interior, historically, was to be the exterior—to be exposed to the elements was holistically part of the building. Even if some of the grandeur is gone, presumably the original height of the space is still there," she said. "All they really did here was throw some glass in the main archways." After some back-and-forth on the interior-exterior question, the committee drafted and approved a resolution that recommended the designation of the exterior and expressed disappointment at the LPC's approval of the lobby demo permits, saying the agency's move sets an "unfortunate precedent." The full board will vote on the Landmarks Committee's resolution at its meeting this Thursday. Although community board resolutions do not carry the weight of law, the LPC takes their decisions into account during its own deliberations. This post has been updated with new information about the state of the lobby. 
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On View> Dan Graham’s Rooftop Pavilion at the Metropolitan Museum Reflects on Public Space
Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout Metropolitan Museum of Art 1000 5th Avenue, New York Through November 2. 2014 One of the great gifts bestowed on New York in the summer is the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s roof garden. You are thrust into Olmsted’s Central Park from a promontory surrounded by the perimeter skyline on all sides. The trick with the rooftop art commissions is to play with the space, the views, and the interrelationships between the two. The goal is to make the viewer see them differently—you want to feel like the rooftop is your personal terrace in the sky while sharing it with others in a magnificent secret shared space. Dan Graham’s Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout plays with what he calls this “leftover space” of rooftop by framing the viewer's “elliptical experience” with various man-made and natural elements: glass, steel, stone, hedgerows, chairs, and ForeverLawn (definitely not AstroTurf). Stepping from the fake grass that covers the rooftop—green mixed with yellow and brown in different blade thicknesses—one climbs almost imperceptibly onto a slightly-raised platform of granite slabs that forms a square. These pavers support a sinuous bisecting slab of steel-trimmed, S-shaped, mirrored glass, a staple of modern skyscrapers, that is supported on the east and west sides by hedges, that, as Graham noted, demarcate property lines. If you enter from the north side, you can gaze through the glass barrier to those on other side and to Central Park South beyond. When you approach from the south side, you are struck by the reflections of the skyline behind. It’s a concave/convex funhouse, where one is constantly catching glimpses oneself. Graham has been working with “pavilions” for a long time, and Hedge Two-Way Mirror Walkabout feels like a more rural version of his much-missed Rooftop Urban Park Project (1991) atop the Dia Center for the Arts on West 22nd Street. You want to sit on the lawn and have a picnic. At the Met, Graham worked with Swiss landscape architect Günther Vogt, who also designed the stainless steel moveable chairs with recycled rubber coating manufactured by Burri. On the museum’s second floor are related projects by Graham which attest to his long-standing interest in architecture and public space. A 20-minute video called Two-Way Mirror Cylinder inside Cube and a Video Salon (1992), commissioned by Dia, investigates atria, shopping arcades, and winter gardens, both historical and contemporary ranging from the Crystal Palace, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, the Ford Foundation, Citicorp Park Avenue Atrium, Charles deGaul airport,  Parc de La Villette, World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, and the IBM Building. Graham narrates, as he does in Two-Way Mirror Hedge Labyrinth (1991), a short video centered on a pavilion installed at a private home in La Jolla, CA, where he muses on the city—how landscape architecture redefines it, how the labyrinth is a metaphor for it, and how two-way mirrored glass’ transparency and reflectivity mimics it. Graham’s concerns with movement and time, human interplay and asymmetrical procession, all take place on a mirrored stage.