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This week David Chipperfield went back to the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a second time, hoping to get approval for his heavily revised design for a West Village condo.
The architects first went before the LPC in July with a white precast concrete residence at 11 Jane Street. This time they were hoping to get the commission’s blessings—but no such luck.
The new design swaps concrete for red brick, and knocks ten feet off the total height to better align with the block's townhouses. The residence, presented in collaboration with Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, would replace a one-story parking garage.
In an email to supporters last week, preservation advocacy group the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) said the design is not appropriate for the street or in keeping with the overall ethos of the Greenwich Village Historic District.
"[Unfortunately] the new design is not much better than the old one (and may even be worse in some respects)," the email said. "While the new design is slightly shorter and uses a more appropriate brick material, instead of looking like a corporate office building it now looks like a corporate chain motel."
The commission mostly agreed. Though it said the current design "plays better with the neighbors,” commissioners took issue with the sliding windows and door, especially the narrower vertical glass doors to a row of second-floor terraces. To many that spoke, the entrances that flank the sides of the building, closed off from the sidewalk by a low metal gate, lacked the egress signifier that a stoop, for example, would provide.
“I just don’t think this very capable architect has reached the mark," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire. “Articulation in the district is extremely rich and this building lacks it."
Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan echoed Devonshire and added that the LPC must “work within the concept and not send it in another direction."
The LPC took no action and will review a revised design at a later date. Third time’s the charm, right?
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"[We] must note the devastating cumulative effect which the loss of buildings like 11 Jane Street has on the scale and quality of the Greenwich Village Historic District. Such buildings have simple but handsome early 20th century detail and contribute to the sense of place and variegated scale of the Village. Their modest one and two story stature defers to the historic residential and commercial structures around them, allowing them to remain in the foreground. They are part of the quirk, charm, and surprise that one encounters on Village streets; each a little different from the next, but sharing common overall qualities.”
Outdoor Space is the Place
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On April 19, the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the $190 million renovation to the Ford Foundation Building at 320 East 43rd Street. The building, designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates with its iconic atrium by designer Dan Kiley, has been largely untouched since it was completed in 1967. In 1997, the LPC designated the exterior, atrium glass walls, and garden of the foundation headquarters as official landmarks. The new upgrades are mostly focused on bringing the building up to code and will be conducted by Gensler with Bill Higgins of Higgins Quasebarth & Partners as consultants, while Raymond Jungles Studio will handle the plantings.
This undertaking will include doubling conference space and dedicating two floors to other nonprofit organizations, creating a new visitors center, art gallery, and public event spaces, and reducing Ford’s own office area by one-third.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, said, “This means more accessibility for people with disabilities; [and a place that is] more open to visitors and the public, including a visitors center and art gallery; more open to our colleagues and sister institutions through expanded meeting facilities; and a more open working environment for our own staff to encourage collaboration and reduce hierarchy.”
However, at the presentation in April, commissioners and Historic District Council (HDC) director of advocacy and community outreach Kelly Carroll had reservations. Carroll pointed out that many of the buildings the HDC reviews have little evidence of their former glory, while the Ford Foundation still retains its original brass doors, planters, modernist tile pavers, and signature indoor-outdoor flow—a rare gift. “An approval [to remove features] today can easily be a regret a generation from now,” she said. In particular, she voiced concerns over removing planters—which are currently ADA compliant—and suggested that the team look into automating the bronze doors rather than tossing them.
Others, such as Tara Kelly of the Municipal Art Society, expressed similar concerns and suggested more greenery on the facade and entrance on 42nd Street. In the end, commissioners voted to approve changes. The renovation is expected to be complete by 2019.
Framed drawings of Aldo Rossi’s Modena Cemetery line the hallway at Morris Adjmi Architects in New York’s financial district. “Working with him was the most important experience I had in my architectural education,” Adjmi told me. After ten years in Rossi’s office, he founded his own practice in 1997 and has since become known for contextual but contemporary buildings—often built in historic districts. It seems he learned his lessons well.
In L’architettura della città (The Architecture of the City), Rossi advocates for an architecture that shapes, and is shaped by, the collective memory of a city. “Aldo’s work was very specific to his experience,” Adjmi said. “It was important for me to take his attitudes and his approaches and reformulate them into something that was relevant for me and the place and the time I was practicing.” For the most part, the place is New York, and the time is a moment when the city is being terraformed with anonymous glass high-rises. The buildings designed by Morris Adjmi Architects offer a refreshing alternative. In scale, composition, and materiality, they just feel like New York. Buildings like 372 Lafayette bridge the present and the past without reverting to historicism or relying on nostalgia, even when they incorporate architectural artifacts, as with the Wythe Hotel, the High Line Building, and the Sterling Mason residential building.
Developers are keeping them busy and future projects will have an even greater sense of continuity as the firm expands its interiors department, completes an upcoming line of lighting fixtures, and plans to develop its own furniture. And with recently completed projects in Philadelphia and D.C., they’re taking their contextual approach to other cities. When asked if he ever feels restricted by his chosen milieu, Adjmi said he finds it liberating. “There are so many different ways you can interpret a city. There are so many different ways to make the context work.”
New York City
A patina of time, paint, and hasty renovation was stripped away from this former printing house to reveal a brick structure with a street level cast iron facade. Historic preservation consultants Higgins Quasebarth & Partners unearthed blurry photos showing a missing pediment, which, combined with drawings of similar structures by the original architect, helped complete the building. Inside, 20 condo units surround a courtyard designed by Ken Smith. But the most striking feature are the brick and terra-cotta vaulted ceilings, which were restored carefully, but not too carefully. “The first time the mason fixed a piece, it was perfect,” Adjmi said. “And I was like, this isn’t going to work. It’s too perfect. It has to look like it was always there.”
41-43 W 17th Street & 38-42 W 18th Street
New York City
These two buildings share a lot and both respond to the context of the Flatiron District without resorting to slavish imitation. On 18th Street, the building’s structure gets thinner as it rises, a move inspired by evolution of the buildings in the neighborhood, from small masonry structures to much larger glass buildings. The 17th Street structure is the ghost of a building that never existed. A metal mesh, woven to imitate the architectural elements of a typical New York building—brick, stone, cornices, windows, doors—floats less than a foot in front the building’s glass facade, creating a translucent screen that can be experienced from both sides of the wall.
New York City
There’s a reason Morris Adjmi Architects’s new office is also an art gallery; one never knows when inspiration might strike, or where it might come from. This rental building in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods was initially inspired by New York’s cast iron buildings but when resolving its columns, Adjmi looked to one of the city’s great artists, Donald Judd. A Judd piece featuring a metal column partially embedded in a wood box inspired the combination of masonry and steel—a change from the original design made in response to the city’s Landmarks Conservancy, proving that, despite what many architects want to believe, sometimes elaborate bureaucratic processes can actually result in better buildings.
The Sterling Mason
New York City
Completed last year, this Tribeca condominium is two buildings—or, rather, one building twice. The original 1905 brick structure, a former coffee and tea warehouse, was restored and renovated while a dream-like metallic double was built next door using contrasting material. “I kept sketching buildings that look sort of like the building next door and then there was that moment when I realized, these are the exact same lots. And the building looked to me like it was cut.” So Adjmi completed building that never was. Perhaps more than any other project, The Sterling Mason recalls Rossi’s work: An ideal form drawn, quite literally, from the city around it, offering the opportunity to reexamine and reappraise the original architecture of the city and the effects of time.