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Photographer Aracelis Diamantis accompanied AN on a recent tour of Paul Rudolph's Orange County Government Center and produced a photo essay documenting the building's many details. View the pictorial essay here.
Passing through the colonial charm of Main Street in Goshen, New York, the last thing you expect to find is a Brutalist masterwork, but there it is: Paul Rudolph’s 1971 Orange County Government Center, a series of long windowless boxes stacked ajar as if blown by the force of the cars whooshing past. From the parking lot, the composition reorganizes—transformer-like—into dozens of glass-fronted boxes still unevenly stacked. Over 80 individual roof planes cover the boxes. They leak. They leaked from day one. On April 5, legislators will vote whether to grind Rudolph’s multilayered concrete composition to dust and build anew.
Needless to say, preservationists are alarmed at the prospect of losing yet another Rudolph building in Orange County, having just lost the battle to save Chorley Elementary School in nearby Middletown. Chorley’s delicately exposed trusses beneath opposing angled rooftops gave that building a birdlike appearance. If Chorley looks as though it were about to take flight, then the monumental effort at the government center seems to convey the gravity of complex decisions being made inside, particularly through the variety of concrete. Several distinct combinations of aggregate and formwork butt up against corduroy split block.
Courtesy Orange County
But after Hurricane Irene swept through last August, the mechanical room flooded and the county’s executive director, Eddie Diana—who had already been proposing a new building—had had enough. The building was vacated and the push to tear it down went into full gear. “I would never ask to take a building down because of what it looks like,” said Diana. “But I would for its effectiveness and the ongoing problems, or concerns for the building’s health and of the workers’ health.”
On March 5, Diana proposed a $75 million replacement of the 153,600-square-foot building in a style that would be more in keeping with the village’s colonial past. At 175,000 square feet, the proposed complex is scaled back from an earlier 330,000-square-foot proposal. That proposal would have brought all county government offices to one locale and closed several satellite buildings at a projected cost of $136 million. But preservationists argued that closing the older buildings would sap village street life, to say nothing of county coffers. Diana said the new plan addresses the concern by allocating $10 million to renovate existing buildings, with the total cost now coming in at $85 million.
Diana also presented two renovation estimates. One from LaBella Associates adds 22,000 square feet to the Rudolph building for $67 million. Another from Holt Construction, without an addition, came in at nearly $77.5 million. Both propose gutting the Rudolph interior and bringing the entire complex up to current energy codes and ADA standards. “The report pandered to Eddie Diana’s cause,” said Sean Khorsandi, co-director of the Paul Rudolph Foundation. “All the numbers for renovation were inflated, and the numbers for a new building are not qualified.”
In a subcommittee, legislator Myrna Kemnitz attempted to allocate $40,000 for another study, but the proposal was tabled until the LaBella report came out. Kemnitz said superficial efforts were made, such as core concrete samples and mold tests, but a true forensic study with recommendations was never completed. Instead, the emphasis was placed on new construction.
Frank Sanchis, director of U.S. Programs at the World Monuments Fund, gave LaBella the benefit of the doubt. “They don’t appear to be incompetent, but they just don’t understand the building,” he said. During a February 27 hearing, Kemintz said she had asked LeBella reps if they ever went to see other nearby Rudolph buildings, such as IBM or Yale, to better understand Rudolph’s significance and dwindling legacy. The answer was no.
The World Monuments Fund, Docomomo US/New York Tristate, and the Paul Rudolph Foundation are doubling up on efforts to get the word out in Orange County by holding public forums. The final forum will be held in Port Jervis on March 25.
UPDATE: The April 5 legislature vote has been postponed until May.
Public opinion of modern architecture has come a long way from the days of lambasting Boston City Hall and scapegoating architecture in the demise of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis. With its demolition in 1972 Charles Jencks, almost triumphantly, declared modern architecture dead. Today with our nostalgia for the first half of the twentieth century and all things Mad Men, PanAm, and such, we can say that this is far from the case. It is actually ironic that while PanAm is revived as a show, its terminal at JFK, now used by Delta, is scheduled to be demolished.
Over the last five years Docomomo US (the acronym of the US Chapter of Documentation and Conservation of Buildings Sites and Neighborhoods of the Modern Movement) has been organizing a national Tour Day. The format of a tour was selected because it is a good way to introduce people to what modern architecture actually looks and feels like and, after all, we are all mighty curious about places we are otherwise not able to visit. Focused around the second weekend in October, tours are conducted of modern buildings and neighborhoods across the country. This year is no exception. Participating in the event include Docomomo’s thirteen regional chapters as well as local organizations with similar interests such as Houston Mod, Historic Albany Foundation, Palm Springs Modern, Phoenix Modern, and the Chicago Architectural Foundation, to name a few. This year we are also collaborating with the National Trust for Historic Preservation for special events at the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan and with the Society for Architectural Historians (SAH) and its regional chapters. With 34 tours in 29 cities in 21 states, Tour Day is the nation’s largest annual architecture event.
Tour Day gathers a wide variety of people and organizations with similar missions and interests but who normally do not work together or do not even know about each other. Across the country tours vary widely in focus or building typology. Many of them are focused on single-family residences, one of the significant building types to emerge after the war. On one such tour in Rhode Island, we will be visiting homes designed by Ira Rakatansky, an early graduate of the GSD. The presence of the original architect on the tour will add an extra and interesting dimension to the visits. Similarly tours in Palm Springs, California, Maine, and New Orleans will give an opportunity to visit houses and buildings not normally open to the general public.
The New York regional area has always been an integral part of this event and the regional chapter Docomomo US/NY TriState is hosting a tour of Roosevelt Island. The island, unknown to many New Yorkers except for its unique aerial tramway completed in 1976, is actually an interesting example of modern architecture in both its planning and for many of its 1970s buildings.
The history of Roosevelt Island and its development is of note in both a social and an architectural sense, with discussions around its use that are sometimes reminiscent of those today around Governors Island. It is remarkable that an island that started off with the less than auspicious name of Varcken Island (varcken is the 17th Century Dutch word for hog), then Blackwell Island after the family’s farm, and Welfare Island given in 1921, finally emerges in the 21st century some 400 years later once again with a Dutch name, Roosevelt Island. In between, institutions such as hospitals for infections diseases, prisons, and facilities for the poor were banned from the city proper (in medieval times outside the walls), and the island became that location for New York.
In the late 1960s, Mayor John Lindsay appointed a committee to plan for the island, and in turn the committee recommended that it become a residential community. New York State’s Urban Development Corporation (UDC) began a 99-year lease in 1969 and Philip Johnson and his partner John Burgee created a plan that called for 5,000-apartment units housing some 20,000 people. The plan identified two major residential areas, Northtown and Southtown, with much of the 1970s development located in Northtown. The island was re-christened Roosevelt Island in 1973, at the same time that Louis Kahn was commissioned to design the FDR memorial, now called the Four Freedoms Memorial and currently under construction.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a commitment to interesting and affordable, quality housing still existed on a public level. In particular the Roosevelt Island project was one of two that benefited from a HUD program titled New Town-In Town, a provision in the Housing and Development Act. That particular program sought to stimulate large-scale multi-use development projects adjacent to, or in, existing cities. Cedar Riverside in Minneapolis designed by Ralph Rapson is another example of this program and well known as the fictitious home of Mary Tyler Moore in her eponymous show. As the title of the federal program New Town-In Town suggests, Roosevelt Island and its main artery called Main Street, is very reminiscent of the new towns in Britain executed under the various iterations of the Town and Country Planning Acts. This is also reflected in its original social goals of mixed income housing.
The list of architects connected with the project reads in many ways like a history of modern architecture in itself. The island almost becomes an architectural museum not only with its surviving examples from early farming and hospital days but also with these modern buildings. The first phase of the original plan to be built was Northtown and included four buildings: Westview and Eastwood as well as Island House and Rivercross, respectively the work of Jose Lluís Sert, Jackson & Associates, and Johansen & Bhavnani. Motorgate, the parking garage built adjacent to the bridge to Queens was the work of Kallmann McKinnell.
Architects and designers attached to what ultimately happened on Roosevelt Island include Johnson and Burgee; John Johansen (of the New Canaan Five) and his partner Ashok Bhavnani; Jose Lluís Sert (of CIAM, Harvard and Peabody Terrace), Kallmann McKinnell (of Boston City Hall fame); landscape architects like Dan Kiley (of Lincoln Center), Zion & Breen (of Paley Park), and Lawrence Halprin (of the now demolished Skyline Park in Denver). Rem Koolhaas submitted an entry for one of the competitions as shown in his book Delirious New York but was not selected. The FDR memorial as designed by Louis Kahn in 1974 will be the most recent addition and certainly adds to the idea of a collection of modernist architecture.
The significance of the architecture is not limited to modern buildings. The 1888 Chapel of the Good Shepherd, was originally designed by Frederick Clark Withers and described as “the most beautiful church in the city for its most neglected class of humanity.” Its restoration in 1975 was the work of Giorgio Cavaglieri, an early restoration architect known for his innovative adaptive use of the Jefferson Market Courthouse into a New York Public Library.
The island is changing again not only in the number of residential buildings but also in terms of moving away from the ideals that were once the underlying philosophy for its design. One of the factors to which the flight to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s was attributed was the lack of quality and affordable housing. The result was not only the Roosevelt Island plan but also many other architecturally significant buildings throughout New York. Today’s residential construction is mostly market rate and in condominium ownership.
Times have changed and, to contradict Charles Jencks, modern architecture is far from dead. In fact, interest in the period is growing and maybe, for once, we can learn from our mistakes and build better housing that is affordable but also architecturally innovative.
The Docomomo US/NYTriState tour will feature the participation of architects Theodore Liebman, once an architect working for UDC; and Bhavnani, who with his partner Johansen was responsible for the design of some of the residential buildings, among others. The result will be an inside view of the past and a tour of the present. For information on the Roosevelt Island tour or for a complete and up-to-date listing of other tours during the Docomomo US Tour Day, please visit www.docomomo-us.org.
The World Monuments Fund has named Bierman Henket architecten and Wessel de Jonge architecten the recipients of the 2010 World Monuments Fund/Knoll Modernism Prize for the restoration and rehabilitation of the Zonnestraal Sanatorium in Hilversum, the Netherlands, a complex of delicate concrete-and-glass structures with an elegant glazed tower.
Designed in 1926–1928 by Johannes Duiker and Bernard Bijvoet and completed in 1931, the sanatorium is considered a seminal work of early modernism. Though it was well known when it was built, the structure was eventually abandoned, and since then nearly subsumed by the surrounding landscape. Portions of the three-building complex were almost completely lost, so many parts of the sanatorium had to be meticulously reconstructed, including formerly mass-produced elements that had to be recreated by hand.
“The prize recognizes projects that are completed through a heroic effort,” said Henry Ng, executive vice president at the World Monuments Fund. Projects, which are solicited through an open call, are evaluated for their architectural significance, the urgency of the project’s plight, and the success and practicality of the solution. According to Ng, the architects directed a careful restoration, while simultaneously devising adaptation and funding strategies that would make the project succeed over the long term. “They crafted a practical and sustainable solution that was also programmatically possible,” he said.
Much of the complex is again being used for medical facilities. In addition, the Zonnestraal project is important not only for its architectural significance, but also for its pivotal role in the preservation of modernism. The project grew out of a cultural resources survey and preservation plan, which eventually led firm principals Hubert-Jan Henket and Wessel de Jonge to found Docomomo.
Jurors for the prize include chair Barry Bergdoll, chief curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art; Kenneth Frampton, Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia; Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture at New York University; Dietrich Neumann, professor of the history of art and architecture at Brown; Theo Prudon, president of Docomomo U.S., and writer, teacher, and critic Karen Stein.
“Now that Hubert-Jan Henket’s and Wessel de Jonge’s stabilization work on the restoration is complete, it reconfirms Zonnestraal’s standing as one of the most experimental designs in the fervently creative decades of modernism between the two world wars,” Bergdoll said in a statement. “It is at once a beacon of Dutch rationalism and a major work of modern architecture internationally, one that can now be experienced in a way that resonates with its architect’s intentions.”
This is the second time the biennial prize has been awarded, which, according to Ng, is meant to highlight the role architects play in modern preservation. “The preservation of modernism often requires the knowledge and advocacy of architects,” he noted. The winners will receive a $10,000 award and a Barcelona chair.
At a public hearing this afternoon, New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission denied an application by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to build a food kiosk outside the entrance of its Frank Lloyd Wright–designed home on 5th Avenue’s Museum Mile.
Designed by Andre Kikoski Architect, the proposed design called for a teardrop-shaped, double-skinned structure, clad in brushed stainless steel with an outer layer of cast resin panels. During the hearing, museum officials, including the institution’s council and deputy officer for operations, expressed the desire to clean up the area around the museum, which is popular with food and merchandise vendors, as well as capture some of the revenues that go to the vendors. Kikoski described the atmosphere outside the museum derogatorily as “carnival-like” and “cluttered.”
The proposal called for a 12-and-a-half-by-6-foot kiosk with a solid wall facing out to the street. The only opening in the 9-foot-tall structure would face the bookstore, just north of the entrance, and a series of menu stanchions would guide lines around the curved perimeter. The structure would be placed underneath the museum’s cantilevered entrance portico. Kikoski argued that the “diaphanous” effect of the steel and resin skin would differentiate the structure from Wright’s design, while paying subtle homage to his formal language.
Preservation groups ranging from the Historic Districts Council to the Friends of the Upper East Side to Docomomo all spoke against the project. Speaking on behalf of Docomomo, John Arbuckle warned that the kiosk would disrupt Wright’s famed entry sequence, the feeling of compression upon entering the portico followed by the release of entering the vast rotunda.
The size, location, and permanence of the structure all proved objectionable to the commissioners. “While I admire the design and find the material selection interesting,” said Fred Bland, a commissioner and principal at Beyer Blinder Belle, “at no level can I accept the design. The quality of the museum and particularly the cantilevered entrance would be violated.” Chairman Robert Tierney concurred: “All the standards by which we judge applications are not met in this proposal.”
Kikoski previously designed the eye-catching Wright restaurant inside the museum, as well as a discreet coffee and wine counter within the galleries. Several commissioners suggested that a movable cart, like those of the street vendors lining the sidewalk, would be more appropriate.
Dennis Sharp, who died of cancer on May 6 at age 76, was one of the most globally-minded figures in British architecture, with a ready internationalism that expanded the profession’s horizons. Whether working as an architect, editor, historian, or curator, his gregarious outlook both defined and enriched a remarkable period of postwar modernism in England and beyond.
Trained originally as an architect at the Architectural Association in London, which continued to hold a special place in his heart, Dennis went on to study architectural history at the University of Liverpool in the late 1950s before teaching there and at other schools. He returned to the AA in 1968, where among other duties he was general editor for publications until 1982 and served as founding editor of AA Quarterly. His links with America began with a visiting professorship at Columbia University in 1980, followed by his involvement in the Graham Foundation Lecture Awards.
Exhibitions were another of Dennis’ specialties, and again his open-minded, catholic tastes came to the fore. Dennis organized shows on Oscar Niemeyer and Kisho Kurokawa, among others, and his blockbuster exhibition on Santiago Calatrava in 1992 helped establish the architect’s global reputation while triggering the formation of the Architecture Centre at the Royal Institute of British Architects. Around this time, Dennis was appointed RIBA vice president for a two-year stint.
It is as an architectural historian of modernism that Dennis will be best remembered. His book Sources of Modern Architecture: A Critical Bibliography (1981) went into several editions, as did Modern Architecture and Expressionism (1966). In 2008, he brought out his magnum opus on the practice of Connell Ward & Lucas (written with Sally Rendel), a fitting topic in that the firm both designed the first truly modernist house in Britain—High & Over, near Amersham, in 1930—and was a combination of New Zealand and British architects.
Dennis was executive editor of the journal World Architecture for many years, as well as a nominator for the Aga Khan Awards. He was awarded the prestigious Médaille d’Argent by the French Academy of Architecture, and also the UIA’s Jean Tschumi Prize. Dennis loved the architecture of all countries, not least the U.S. In 1984, he mounted a bold exhibition about Alfred Bossom, a British architect who had run a commercial practice in Manhattan before returning home in the 1920s to become a Conservative politician (and the butt of Winston Churchill’s jokes).
As a natural enthusiast with seemingly boundless energy, Dennis was devoted to modernist architecture in all its guises. This passion drew his own practice into designing award-winning and ultra-modern buildings, as well as restoring modernist gems in Britain. He served for countless years as a lynchpin of DOCOMOMO UK, the modernist conservation group. In practice, Dennis worked closely with his partner, Yasmin Shariff, whom he had met at the AA.
Dennis celebrated the turning of the millennium in the Grand Canyon, and he was a long-term supporter of Paolo Soleri’s utopian desert experiment at Arcosanti, writing a major book about it with Jeff Cook. Just prior to his death, Dennis was writing a new book on Frank Lloyd Wright in Britain, one we sadly won’t get to read.
JFK airport is entering a new jet age—one without many of the iconic terminals that defined the previous one and established the cool, hyper-modern look of flying for generations of travelers. To that end, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced an agreement today with Delta Airlines for a $1.2 billion expansion of Terminal 4 that will lead to the subsequent demolition of Terminal 3, the former Pan Am Worldport.
Designed by Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton, the 1960 Terminal 3 is famous for its flying saucer–like shape and rooftop parking, and for receiving the Beatles for their historic arrival in America, though a 1972 expansion has marred its original character and led to numerous complaints about it being the worst of JFK’s eight terminals. The Port Authority and Delta insist the building is beyond repair, arguing that its replacement with taxiways and plane parking will improve efficiency at JFK, by some measures the most congested airport in the world.
“There are always people who want to preserve our heritage and I sympathize with that,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a City Hall press conference, where the new plans were unveiled today. “But you can’t preserve everything. You have to strike the right balance and make room for new airports, new parks, new development.”
Even if there were room for Terminal 3, Delta CEO Richard Anderson said the Worldport would not be worth keeping. “The terminal is fully depreciated,” he said. “It’s not an asset you can recover at this point. We put a lot of money into it to keep it going, and we will for three more years, but we can’t put anything more into it.”
Terminal 3 will not be demolished until 2013, when the expansion of Terminal 4 is due to be completed. That project is being designed by SOM, who designed the rest of Terminal 4, and will include nine new gates for Delta, for a total of 25, 16 of which will be used by Delta for its international flights. A connection will be built with Terminal 2, which will continue to serve Delta’s domestic passengers, and security and baggage handling facilities will be expanded to accommodate the additional passengers. Otherwise the terminal will look much as it did when it opened in 2001.
Port Authority executive director Chris Ward said there will be no interruption in service due to the project, nor would the expanded terminal cause additional delays at the busy airport. “If anything, it will improve it, providing Delta with a more efficient operation,” Ward said. This is because the elimination of Terminal 3 will allow for double taxiways for both Terminal 2 and 4, and parking for planes so they may move between the gates, runway, and hangar more readily.
The announcement has still given preservationists some pause. “Perhaps the Port Authority should have some preservation plan of action,” said Nina Rappaport, chair of Docomomo-New York/Tristate. “And not just for airports but all their properties. Because transportation involves so much modern technology and architecture, perhaps they need to look more closely at preservation.” As for the Port Authority and Delta’s contention that it would be a hindrance, financially and functionally, to keep even part of the building, she replied: “It just takes foresight.”
Rappaport said her larger concern remains the preservation of I.M. Pei’s Terminal 6, which is slated for demolition next year to make way for another expansion of JetBlue’s facilities. Susan Baer, who was named the Port Authority’s director of aviation last fall, said that neither has been deemed worthy of retaining. “In the environmental review, all our experts said that Terminal 6 could come down but that we should save Saarinen, the significant one,” Baer said. She added that the $20 million renovation of Terminal 5 is nearly complete, though a Port Authority spokesperson said an opening date has not yet been set.
John Morris Dixon, the former editor of Progressive Architecture, said he remembers Pan Am’s Terminal 3 fondly, from when he wrote about it for the magazine when it first opened. “You had this great statement, this canopy, with the planes nuzzling in beneath it,” he said. “But it was outdated almost immediately” due to the trend toward ever larger planes. He agrees that the 1972 addition has made the terminal “miserable,” akin to what Robert Moses did to Penn Station, and noted that mounting a case for its salvation will be difficult.
“It’s such a great idea, and so unique,” Dixon said. “I don’t know if there’s another circular terminal like it. But I just think it’s damned anyway. I don’t know if any amount of preservation lobbying would make a difference, and I don’t know what the argument would be. What are they going to do with another structure there with no assigned use? They’ve already got that with TWA.”
Preservationists have been trying for years to obtain a landmark designation for the 1970 I. M. Pei–designed Terminal 6 at JFK Airport, but they may have run out of time. On April 29, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced its intention to demolish the terminal, calling it “obsolete,” and arguing that maintaining it was not a prudent use of resources. “This came as quite a surprise to us, and a great disappointment,” said Pei Cobb Freed partner George Miller.
The terminal, which originally housed National Airlines and later JetBlue, is due to be razed, along with six cargo buildings and hangars, at a cost of $42.3 million, yielding estimated savings of $1.7 million each year thereafter. Although no precise date for the demolition has been set, the Port Authority predicts it will happen next year, after which time JetBlue will use the space to build an expansion for their growing international operations.
Terminal 6 sits next to another pedigreed building at JFK, the 1962 Eero Saarinen–designed Terminal 5, which the Port Authority agreed to preserve largely intact after heavy lobbying from the public and preservationists several years ago. However, without the landmark designation that Saarinen’s building enjoys, Terminal 6 will have a more difficult time obtaining a stay of execution. “The Saarinen building has historic status. The I. M. Pei building does not,” said Port Authority spokesperson Ron Marsico.
Pei Cobb Freed, along with preservationists like New York Tristate DOCOMOMO, disagree. They cite the terminal’s expansive, clear-span pavilion space, a style that set a precedent for later I. M. Pei buildings such as the Louvre Museum’s pyramid and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston. Its all-glass facade was created with an unprecedented use of glass mullions in place of the typical metal ones, above which hangs a series of glass panels, one of the first suspended glazing systems built in the United States.
To add to the terminal’s airy feel, Pei’s team devised an innovative drainage system that feeds into the terminal’s exterior concrete columns, to avoid having to extend a vertical column of ductwork down from the ceiling. “The transparency of the glass and the uninterrupted ceiling are what give the building its character,” said Pei Cobb Freed partner Michael Flynn.
The design is also notable for its approach to managing congestion, which in 1970 was just beginning to be a major pressure at airports. “We were designing just as there was this colossal expansion in the capacity of planes,” Flynn said. Rather than placing the arriving and departing passenger traffic in the same location at the front of the building as was the norm, Pei separated the main terminal from the airline gates with a raised walkway, creating space behind the building for arrivals and leaving the front of the building exclusively for departures. An innovative approach then, separation is now standard.
DOCOMOMO is now in talks with other local organizations to band together in support of Terminal 6, and is calling for public support for preservation or reuse. “It would be a total waste of energy and money and resources to demolish a building of this scale,” said DOCOMOMO-New York chair Nina Rappaport. JetBlue did respond to calls for comment.
In October, when members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission made what they called the hardest choice of their landmarking careers—whether or not to grant St. Vincent’s Hospital the right to demolish Albert C. Ledner’s iconic National Maritime Union in Greenwich Village and build a 300-foot-tall hospital tower on the site—the commissioners made two things clear. First, any votes in favor of the hospital’s right to build were not an endorsement of its designs for the new tower, which several commissioners deemed out of scale and character with one of the city’s oldest historic districts. And second, St. Vincent’s should do everything in its power to explore alternative proposals that could mitigate its impact on the neighborhood.
So when the hospital and development partner Rudin Management returned to the commission with their latest plans on December 16, some commissioners expressed shock and surprise when presented with essentially the same proposal unveiled in May. “For the better part of a year, we’ve been looking at this project, and I think it is as inappropriate as when we started,” commissioner Stephen Byrns told the applicant. “I cannot even begin to comment on the architecture given its out-of-scale bulk.” Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan even poked fun at the design. “Ever since you presented us with your designs, there has been talk about how the tower disappears from its base,” she said. “I think it needs to disappear entirely.”
Thus began round two in the saga of St. Vincent’s and the O’Toole Building, a project that is all but certain to drastically reshape its West Village neighborhood. Indeed, an alternative design presented for the tower caused almost as much anger as it was meant to assuage, though it also prompted several commissioners to offer their support for the hospital’s original plans.
The new proposal, presented by Ian Bader, a principal at Pei Cobb Freed, which is designing the hospital for St. Vincent’s, offered a rectilinear shape in contrast to the previous lenticular design. With its sheer facade rising from the street wall, the alternative would shave just 36 feet off its taller sibling, the maximum height the developers argued they could possibly trim.
“Pretty significant square footage has been taken out of the hospital already,” Lou Meilink, a principal and health care planning expert at Ballinger, told the commission. “We just couldn’t make any more cuts and still have a functioning level-one trauma center.”
But commissioner Margery Perlmutter said that the lackluster alternative—like one other mid-block strategy that had been presented over the summer—did not show appropriate deference to the commission or the necessary due diligence to consider all possibilities for a new hospital. “It’s a little bit frustrating when every time we ask for alternatives, we get an off-handed response that lacks the quality, details, and attention of the original proposal,” she said.
Instead, like a number of her colleagues, she endorsed a proposal put forward by Byrns that would either bridge or build over a section of West 12th Street, thus allowing the hospital to incorporate a 15,000-square-foot triangular lot that is planned to serve as a loading dock. The commissioners believe this could greatly reduce the height of the building, but the developer said that between the complexity of demapping the street and the parameters of making the hospital function properly, such an approach would be nearly impossible. “It’s like a Swiss clock,” said Shelly Friedman, the applicants’ counsel.
Furthermore, the developer believes it may already have the support it needs on the commission to pass its primary proposal. “We heard several supportive comments today,” Friedman told AN after the meeting. “Unless we hear otherwise, that is how we would expect the rest of the discussion to go, making the lenticular design a success for the commission.” Indeed several commissioners said that the alternative proposal obviously did not work, and that they favored the lenticular design. Commissioner Fred Bland called it “ingenious,” and commissioner Christopher Moore said, “I am inclined to support it.” And, perhaps most importantly, commission chair Robert Tierney seems to back the lenticular plan. “My sense is it’s headed in the right direction,” he said.
Michael White, a land-use attorney, blogger, and commission gadfly, said he had his own theory for why the hospital was fighting so hard to maintain the height of its tower. “At its heart, this is a real estate deal,” he said. “They want to bulk up as much here as they can so they can bulk up as much as they can on the Rudin site.” He was referring to the site of the old hospital building across 7th Avenue, which St. Vincent’s is selling to the Rudin family for $300 million to help fund hospital construction. The Rudins then hope to build an FXFowle-designed 20-story condominium tower on the site. White believes the developer will use the comparatively taller new hospital tower to defend the massive-by-Village-standards height of its new building.
In 2006, the Eero Saarinen-designed Bell Telephone Laboratories was in imminent danger of demolition by would-be developer, Preferred Real Estate Investments of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, who planned to replace it with smaller office buildings and housing units on the site’s pastoral 472 acres. Now, two years later, Somerset Development, a Lakewood, New Jersey, firm, has signed a contract with Alcatel-Lucent, the property owner. If redevelopment proceeds as planned, the 1.9-million-square-foot, six-story building, named to Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Sites” list in 2007, and recently declared eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, will be spared the wrecking ball.
In a statement made via email, Somerset president Ralph Zucker wrote that the firm does “not plan on demolishing any of the existing structures,” and is “approaching this with a preservationist attitude.” Somerset is still in the early planning stages, but feels the building lends itself to a mix of uses. Zucker, a proponent of New Urbanism, wrote that his vision is “a downtown-style, mixed-use environment created at [the] building.”
A three-day charrette, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects’ New Jersey chapter, Preservation NJ, the Docomomo-NY Tristate chapter, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, held in April, addressed problems surrounding the sustainable reuse and retention of the building, which was completed in 1962 and expanded in1985. Participants found the “building to be quite flexible,” said Michael Calafati, chair of the AIA-NJ chapter and a lead organizer of the event.
When asked about Somerset’s proposed redevelopment plan, Calafati cautioned that the devil is in the details. He questions whether Somerset’s plans to add buildings to the site will “maintain the monumentality of the Saarinen building,” an element charrette participants identified as central to the character of the building, along with its fully mirrored facade, its atria and corridors, and its relationship to the surrounding landscape, designed by Hideo Sasaki.
In its final report to the Holmdel Township Committee submitted on July 24, the Citizens Advisory Committee, a non-partisan group charged by the township to evaluate and make recommendations about the redevelopment of the property, cited several factors that could impact Somerset’s plans, the most important of which is the New Jersey Council of Affordable Housing’s (COAH) affordable housing requirement. “The COAH situation is very complex,” said Ralph Blumenthal, co-chair of the advisory committee. The third round COAH regulations were recently revised and are currently being challenged.
According to Blumenthal, before the rules were changed, if developers reused an existing building, the township bore no new obligation for additional affordable housing. If this changes, the “township’s affordable housing obligation due to the redevelopment” could increase “by hundreds of units,” which would change the finances of the Bell Labs project, and in all likelihood, influence its final form.