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
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.
601 Lexington Ave.
New York’s angled icon, the Citicorp Center, in line for a 200,000 square foot renovation
At Citicorp Center
Landmarked Sasaki fountain at Citicorp demolished
Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park slated for major overhaulSeattle’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 rehabHalfway 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 FloridaThis 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?
Plazas in Peril
Why are we wrecking our best modernist landscapes?
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 email@example.com 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.
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