Posts tagged with "LPC":

The AT&T Building is now a New York City landmark

It’s official: Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s postmodern Manhattan skyscraper 550 Madison, better known as the AT&T Building, is now a protected landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously this morning to landmark the 1984 tower, making it the youngest building to receive landmark status in New York. A movement to protect the building began last year when developers Chelsfield America and Olayan America revealed plans to renovate the base of the tower. The contested (and protested) scheme from Snøhetta to strip the pink granite from the 110-foot-tall arch and loggias at the tower’s base and wrap it in glass drew immediate criticism when revealed in October 2017. The proposal would have unbalanced the tripartite arrangement between oversized openings at the base, in the central tower, and through the ornamental “Chippendale” topper, and preservationists and Johnson’s contemporaries rallied to prevent alterations. Before designating the AT&T Building as a landmark, commissioners noted the outpouring of support from residents, critics, and architects at the public hearing on June 19. Special attention was drawn to the building’s relatively recent completion date; Fred Bland, the interim chair of the commission, remarked that it was one of the rare buildings of which commissioners had experienced the original intent. To that end, commissioner Kim Vauss recounted that on a tour of the building in college she was struck by the grandeur of the original lobby. It was only years later that she would learn the original lobby was gone, AT&T’s Golden Boy statue having been removed by Sony in 1992, and the arcades having been converted into enclosed retail spaces in 2002. Keeping retail off of Madison Avenue and confined to the passage between East 56th Street and East 55th Street (now enclosed by a Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman-designed canopy added in 1994) was Johnson’s original intent, something that Sony disregarded during their occupation. The lobby was ineligible for landmarking as the ownership consortium–including minority partner RXR Realty­­­­–demolished the ground floor interior in February. The demolition is part of ownership’s plan to reorient the building by creating a large enclosed garden and seating area in the rear and to open up sightlines through the new lobby. The tower’s interiors, originally designed for 800 single-tenant employees, will be converted into Class A office space for up to 3,000 workers. 550 Madison’s ownership team released the following statement to AN: “We are proud that 550 Madison is now an official New York City landmark, claiming its place in our city’s architectural heritage. Ownership strongly supports designation of the iconic office tower and applauds the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision. Since acquiring the building, we have taken our role as stewards of this important building very seriously. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with the LPC and other stakeholders to preserve 550 Madison's legacy as a commercial Class A destination in East Midtown, with smart and sensitive modifications to serve modern tenants.” When reached for comment on what exactly the designation covers, the LPC issued the following statement: "The landmark site for the AT&T Corporate Headquarters Building is the tax block and lot (Tax Map Block 1291, Lot 10), and includes the exterior facades of the office tower and the annex, and the exterior facades of the enclosed covered passageway."

Revised Frick expansion clears Landmarks but still faces challenges

A revised scheme for the Selldorf Architects-designed expansion of Manhattan’s Frick Collection with Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) acting as executive architects has gained approval from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). While commissioners voiced their concern over the addition’s fenestration and whether enough was done to move the proposed programming underground, they ultimately voted to approve the presented plan. That approval still faces resistance from local residents and preservationist groups, including an injunction hearing scheduled for this September that could slow the project down further. In approving the expansion, landmarks commissioners noted the support the project had drawn from the public, including from architects, preservationists, art historians, curators, and landscape architects, but acknowledged they had also received emails in opposition as well. Four grandchildren of Henry Clay Frick have signed letters signaling their support, and the commissioners were quick to mention their prior approval of the more experimental, Jeanne Gang-led expansion at the American Museum of Natural History. Community groups such as the City Club and Landmarks Conservancy have also voiced their support. In the Conservancy's testimony before the LPC, they stated that their Public Policy Committee had “found that the new limestone-clad additions are appropriate in their height, massing, and materials. They draw inspiration from the historic buildings in a respectful manner. The rooftop addition to the Reception Hall will rise gracefully from the building, in the manner of a conservatory. The connecting link is modest, but well-considered. There will be no loss of historic fabric, and while some façade elements of the Library Building will be less visible, they will not be removed or altered by this project.” The original scheme for the Frick's latest expansion was presented at a May 29 hearing where the public was invited to openly comment. Selldorf and BBB had proposed increasing the floor area of the Frick by 10 percent­­­­(18,000 square feet) to provide room for new conservation areas, offices, and gallery spaces with 1,800 of that square footage to be placed underground. Perhaps the most debated portions of the expansion plan touch on the Russell Page-designed garden on East 70th Street which was added in 1977. Installing the proposed 220-seat auditorium below the garden will require removing the garden above and reinstalling it exactly as it was before. The north wall of the 4,100-square-foot garden, part of the 1977 Bayley, Van Dyke & Poehler addition that originally created the garden, is also on the block to be rebuilt. As the scheme calls for the library to rise directly over the garden’s northern wall, a series of hornbeam trees behind the wall that were planted in 2010 (replacing pear trees placed by Page to mask the back of the existing library building) would need to be removed. The original plan had placed the new library almost flush with the north wall, but the trees were ultimately spared in the final version. Annabelle Selldorf was on hand for the follow-up LPC meeting on June 26 and explained that by setting the addition’s massing back three feet from the north wall’s edge, they were able to carve out a shelf behind the cornice for replacement trees. The smaller hornbeams would be located in the same positions as their predecessors and are intended to recreate the trompe l’oeil, the sense that the garden stretches on past its confines, that the current trees bring to the landscape. Selldorf was adamant that shaving three feet off of the addition was the most that can be done, and that tightening the massing any further was impossible due to programmatic requirements. The circular John Russell Pope-designed Music Room, set to be dismantled to make way for more special exhibition space, was briefly discussed as commissioners prodded the Frick to explain why the space couldn’t be repurposed. Museum representatives explained the difficulty in staging exhibitions inside of a round room and the associated temporary architecture required, and that more space was needed to display their collection. The Music Room’s Versailles-patterned wood floors and non-structural wall panels will be reused in the replacement gallery space, and the entire room will be 3D scanned and included in the Frick’s collection. That is, if the room is actually taken apart. As the commissioners noted during this week’s meeting, an active Request for Evaluation (RFE) to designate the Music Room, West Gallery & Enamels Room, and the 1977 Reception Hall as interior landmarks is currently being processed. Questions were raised over whether approving the expansion would preclude the music room’s designation, but commissioners received clarification that the two items were not in conflict with each other. It was entered into the record that the LPC takes a meticulous approach to interior designations and that if the RFE is approved, the scheme will have to be retooled to include a circular music room. Though the commissioners questioned the design team on whether more of the proposed programming could be moved underground­, the plan presented was approved with six votes for, one against, and one commissioner choosing to abstain. The Frick is an individual landmark within the landmarked Upper East Side Historic District, but commissioners highlighted the fact that the Frick Collection is a campus of separate buildings from many different time periods when making their final decision. Opponents have compiled a laundry list of complaints against the Selldorf and BBB plan. The Stop Irresponsible Frick Development (SIFD) coalition, a collection of architects, preservationists, and activists gathered on the steps of City Hall on June 25 to make their voices heard about why the expansion should be halted. Citing the lack of time given to the public to review the revised scheme, the LPC’s failure to consider landmarking the Music Room first, the potential conflict of interest arising from interim LPC chair and BBB partner Fred Bland’s participation in the process, the necessity of the Frick to expand its collection to such a degree, and the addition of a glassy café topper above the reception hall, the group had tried to delay the June 26 vote. Although an emergency temporary restraining order was submitted by the group on June 25 to the State Supreme Court, the judge decided not to grant the measure. However, an injunction hearing has been scheduled for September, which will force the Frick to defend their decisions in court and risks throwing a wrench in the project’s timeline. Preservationist Theodore Grunewald was responsible for filing the Music Room RFE (at the May 29th hearing itself, a first in the Commission's history) arguing that the room deserves to be judged on its own merits. This is the first time that an RFE for a separate part of a project has been raised independently before the LPC. In an op-ed published to the New York Times on June 25, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, a great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick, laid the groups concerns bare. “Let us engage an independent professional to evaluate the feasibility of excavation for proposed new facilities,” wrote Sanger, although the LPC noted that they have, historically, never taken outside design considerations into account when making their decisions. “Revisit the possibility of modernizing and repurposing existing underground facilities; purchase the adjacent, 6,000-square-foot building that is currently on the market for less than 10 percent of the anticipated cost of the current proposal; and seek landmark status for the music room, which could just as easily be preserved as a gallery.” The full presentation given at the June 26 LPC meeting is available here. According to the Frick, construction on the addition will not begin until 2020. AN will continue to provide updates on this story as they become available.

The Frick adjusts expansion plans before next Landmarks meeting

The Frick Collection has further tweaked its expansion plans once again following a Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing on May 29, where the commission declined to make a decision at that time. Selldorf Architects and executive architects Beyer Blinder Belle (BBB) have gone back to the drawing board and have released new renderings of an altered scheme ahead of their next meeting before the commission. The latest scheme addresses–or at least attempts to rationalize–some of the concerns that preservationists and the community had towards the initial proposal to modernize the Upper East Side landmark. Several of the changes proposed in May to the massing of the John Russell Pope addition, and more specifically Russell Page’s 1977 garden, drew the most attention. In order to allow more natural light into the revamped conservation areas, Selldorf and BBB had originally proposed adding a topper to the northern wall of the Russel Page Garden. This will require rebuilding the section and removing the smaller trees planted on top of that wall, dismantling Page’s late addition of a trompe l’oeil garden designed to hide the backs of the adjacent, non-Frick buildings. The revised plan would instead see hornbeams, the same type of tree currently in use, planted behind a modified limestone cornice above the new ground floor windows (which have had operable shutters added to match the existing trellises). The locations of the new trees would attempt to hew as closely to the original plan as possible. The Frick’s plan to dismantle the first floor Music Room and install a special exhibitions area were also elaborated on after preservationists decried the potential loss of auditorium. In notes included with the new scheme, the team explained that the Frick’s mission has always first and foremost been the showcasing of art, and that the conversion of rooms into gallery spaces has historical precedent. The poor acoustic qualities of the auditorium for amplifying speech was highlighted as particularly problematic, as the space is primarily used for holding lectures. The Music Room, if demolished, would be preserved via a 3-D laser scan and photographic survey, with the information added to the Frick’s archive. A modern below-grade auditorium would replace the Music Room and provide more space for lectures, concerts, and other engagements. The room's wood floor and non-structural wall sections would be preserved in the archive as physical artifacts. The Selldorf/BBB team used the opportunity to further elaborate on their plans for expanding the Frick’s subterranean programming. The underground mechanical systems would be upgraded and consolidated and replaced with new gallery and special exhibition spaces, as well as extra back-of-house areas for the staff and new conservation areas. The team explained that their options when planning the underground portion were limited by the site’s plantings and the difficulty associated with creating new required egresses; it wasn't possible, or desired, to cut new exits into the museum's gardens or gallery spaces. AN will follow up on this story when information regarding the next LPC meeting becomes available; the item was originally scheduled to be heard on June 19 but was rescheduled. The full presentation is available here.

AT&T Building landmarking vote advances amid outpouring of support

The winding saga of Philip Johnson and John Burgee’s hulking 550 Madison took another turn yesterday, as New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) considered landmarking the postmodern office tower’s granite exterior. Preservationists, architects, and colleagues of Johnson’s took the stand to deliver public testimony in favor of the potential landmarking, and even ownership spoke on how they would sensitively redevelop the building with input from the commission. The furor over the former AT&T headquarters began with the initial reveal of Snøhetta’s plan to glass over and encase the base of the tower in October 2017, demolishing the great archways and loggias that, at the time of the building’s opening in 1984, formed a looping privately-owned public space (POPS). The original plan would have stripped the base’s defining 110-foot-tall granite archway and redefined the balance between what had been designed as a tripartite structure (the looming base, the center wall of windows, and the ornamental “Chippendale” topper). The LPC moved quickly to calendar the building in November of last year but also noted that, due to development partners Chelsfield America and Olayan America’s decision to demolish the lobby (against the wishes of Community Board 5), only the exterior would be under consideration. At the most recent meeting of the Landmarks Committee, Seth Pinsky, executive vice president of RXR Realty­­­­—now a minority partner on 550 Madison’s redevelopment—spoke on behalf of the building’s owners and discussed the new scheme they would be presenting. Snøhetta’s glass curtain wall is out, and ownership now officially supports landmarking the tower’s exterior. As a result, they would also like to remove the building’s rear annex and renovate the arcade covered by Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman during their 1993 renovation for Sony and bring the rear yard condition closer to Johnson and Burgee’s original vision. This would create a much larger enclosed garden and seating area. As for the tower’s interiors, originally designed for single-tenant occupancy and for a maximum of 800 employees, Pinsky stated that the current plan was to build out Class A office space for up to 3,000 potential workers. The vast majority of testimony read at the hearing was in favor of landmarking the former AT&T Building. Some in attendance spoke on the building’s noble intentions but purported failure to connect with the street level; in Richard Rogers’ statement, delivered via surrogate, it was noted that while the tower itself has always been impressive, the successive series of interventions at the ground level have only strayed further from Johnson and Burgee’s original intention. The committee received an additional 12 letters of support for landmark status, including from the National Register of Historic Places. Ultimately, the fate of 550 Madison will likely be determined at an unspecified later date wherein commissioners will take Tuesday's testimony into account. The building's owners will continue to tweak their proposed scheme in the meantime. AN will continue to provide updates as they become available.

What does the future hold for the leaderless Landmarks Commission?

Though it’s one of the smaller departments in New York City’s large municipal government, the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s impact is as vast as the five boroughs. The regulatory body that identifies and protects the integrity of the city’s most significant structures is an important shaper of its present, future, and the understanding of the past. Yet the LPC finds itself rudderless. On June 1, Commission chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan served her last day, having given public notice six weeks before. Mayor Bill de Blasio has not put forward a replacement–and he only filled the vacant vice-chair position last week. (The job went to Commissioner Fred Bland, a prominent architect accused of having conflicts of interest.) The four years of Srinivasan’s tenure marked a significant break, in both substance and style, from her predecessors. To preservationists, Srinivasan has been the most overt supporter yet of the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), one of New York City and State’s most powerful interest groups, and preservationists’ most reliable opponent. Because the next appointee will be chosen by De Blasio, as was Srinivasan, preservationists see little cause for hope that her departure will be any more helpful to the Landmarks cause. Just past the halfway mark between De Blasio’s two terms as mayor, it’s an inflection point for his land use program overall. De Blasio has made his affordable housing plan central to the mayoralty, and observers say that it can seem like other elements of land use fall into place around that, rather than being guided by a holistic urban planning agenda. Another recent political move illustrates the dynamic of influence: a move at the state level to eradicate NYC’s longstanding floor area ratio (FAR) zoning requirements has no support from city representatives, but plenty from upstate legislators who are courted by REBNY for votes. “This mayor seems not to have a personal opinion about preservation,” said Anthony C. Wood, a preservation activist and historian. “It appears he needs REBNY to advance his priorities in affordable housing, so he’s willing to facilitate their priorities when it comes to landmarking.” REBNY tends to oppose landmarking protections as obstacles to new development. Under Srinivasan, Wood said, “The philosophy appears to have been a constrained view of what the Commission can and should do. The strategy seems to have been operationally rewriting the law rather than legislatively.” The ways that Srinivasan’s tenure broke with precedent are many. Based on interviews with LPC staff, commissioners, and preservation advocates, top complaints include: pressure from the chair on staffers to provide certain action recommendations, and on commissioners to vote certain ways; sudden campaigns by the chair to make major overhauls (a rush to clear a decades-long backlog between 2014 and 2015, and a push for rules changes this year are just two examples); moving some business from the portfolio of the Commission to that of the staff, thus removing these items from public deliberation; a lack of interest in maintaining high standards for historically congruous building envelopes and materials; a demoralized and overworked staff with higher-than-normal turnover and open positions that go unfilled, and a commitment to outer-borough landmark designations, even when they come before at the cost of more-deserving Manhattan locations. One such example is the designation of the Coney Island Boardwalk–which is no longer all-wood, nor in its original location–as a feel-good photo-op, while the history-drenched Bowery between Cooper Square and Chatham Square, recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, has been rebuffed by LPC and is being redeveloped day by day. Other sources of preservationist angst include the potential razing of iconic Lower East Side tenements that served as a crucible of American immigration, as well as Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where a historic district desired by residents has not been embraced by the LPC, among many examples. But the Mayor’s office points to a variety of Srinivasan’s actions as meaningful achievements, and anticipates nominating her replacement this summer. Not only did the LPC designate over 3,800 buildings and sites across the five boroughs during her tenure (including 67 individual landmarks, 3 interior landmarks, 1 scenic landmark, and 9 historic districts); it ruled up or down on the many “calendared” properties that had never had hearings; enhanced the consideration of cultural, not just architectural, significance for designations, and created new online databases, such as this website about NYC archaeology, among other initiatives. Asked for specific comment on several questions, REBNY, for its part, supplied a positive review of Srinivasan, who previously chaired the city board that reviews requests from property owners for zoning variances. REBNY President John H. Banks said: "As she did at the Board of Standards and Appeals, Meenakshi effectively balanced competing interests for the public good. She did a terrific job of fairly administering the Landmarks Law, protecting our city's architectural and historic resources, and professionalizing the operations of the agency to benefit all New Yorkers.” Michael Devonshire, a LPC commissioner and the body’s most outspoken preservationist, isn’t so sure. Devonshire has held the unpaid volunteer post since 2010, while working as director of conservation at the architecture and preservation firm Jan Hird Pokorny Associates, and as a teacher at Columbia University. He worries about the Commission’s recent turn toward approving more ahistorical modifications to landmarks. “We have been given a legacy in this city of buildings that are culturally and architecturally significant, and we have the ability to recognize that and designate buildings and districts,” said Devonshire. “My fear is that the incremental loss of the significant sites and buildings results in an aggregate loss for the generations to come. You can’t recreate them.” On its best day, the LPC faces an uphill battle because adding new landmarks and historic districts means continually increasing its own regulatory workload. It remains to be seen whether the Commission can regain its footing under a new chairperson. Advocates say they are not optimistic about a “true preservationist” being appointed under Mayor De Blasio, and they’re wary of naming favorite candidates for fear of jinxing their chances. (REBNY also declined to name a shortlist.) Instead, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said it’s not about who, but what. Bankoff says the mayor should instruct the new chair to do three things: “Respect their promises to neighborhoods who want to be landmarked (e.g. Sunset Park). Make preservation an actual part of the municipal planning process (e.g. in Gowanus, East Harlem, the Bronx, etc.). Stop signing away the farm to every plush bottom with a fat wallet.” Soon he’ll find out whether, in De Blasio’s New York, that’s too much to ask. Karen Loew is a writer in New York. She worked at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation from 2013-2015.

NYC Landmarks Commission designates a new historic district in central Harlem

On Tuesday, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated a stretch of Harlem between Lenox and Seventh Avenues the “Central Harlem –West 130th -132nd Streets Historic District.” The historic district consists of approximately 164 buildings, most of which are row houses, which were cheap and fast to build in the late 19th century. The houses, most of which are intact, reflect the late 19th century preference for the neo-Grec, Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, featuring uniform materials of brick and brownstone. Some of the district’s most prolific architects include Cleverdon & Putzel, William H. Boylan, Anthony McReynolds, and Charles Baxter. The district consists largely of residential buildings, but they serve as much more. The LPC notes that as many Harlem residents during the Harlem Renaissance and through the 1960s could not afford to make clubs and institutional buildings, they adapted many of their homes to accommodate “a variety of cultural, religious, civic and political uses.” Thus, besides the built architecture, the historic district designation is intended to mark the social and cultural history of the area and its many social institutions. In the late 19th century, Central Harlem was predominantly occupied by a middle and upper middle class population, who viewed Harlem as a new suburb of New York City. In the first decade of the 20th century, quickly following the collapse of real estate market in Harlem, African American realty companies started to sell houses to African American families. By 1930, African Americans made up 70 percent of Harlem’s population, compared to around 10 percent in 1910. The district has since flourished as one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in New York City. Besides arts and culture, it has also been the base of the civil rights movement during the 20th century, with landmarks such as the National Headquarters for the March on Washington. These and other histories can be found on the interactive story map that the LPC has launched alongside the designation. Users can explore the history and culture of the district alongside archival images, photos, videos and 3D maps here.

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.

Landmarks chair steps down; exclusive interview to come

Chair of New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Meenakshi Srinivasan is stepping down effective June 1, and tomorrow AN will present an exclusive interview with Srinivasan on what her next steps will be. As first reported by the Times Ledger, Srinivasan will be leaving a position she’s held since her appointment by Mayor de Blasio in July of 2014. “I am honored to have served as chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission for the past four years and to have had the opportunity to serve the city for the past 28 years,” said Srinivasan in a statement. “I am proud of what we have accomplished—promoting equity, diversity, efficiency and transparency in all aspects of LPC’s work, and working with the administration to make preservation a critical part of the city’s planning process. “It’s been an intense, challenging, and incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve been very fortunate to work in three agencies and chair two commissions involved with the city’s land use and built environment, and to have played a role in shaping this incredibly diverse and dynamic city. I would love to do more hands-on project-based work related to land use planning and zoning and will be transitioning to the private sector.” The move comes during a tumultuous time for the LPC, as the commission has been roiled by criticism of a proposed rule change meant to improve efficiency and streamline the approvals process. The changes, discussed further in-depth here, drew charges that they lower the agency’s standards from preservation groups like the Historic Districts Council. AN will follow this announcement with an interview on Friday.

Revised designs revealed for the modernist plaza at SOM’s 140 Broadway

After hearing—loudly—from critics and community members, the team behind 140 Broadway's plaza revamp has revised its design for the outdoor spaces surrounding the former Marine Midland Building, SOM's landmarked 1968 corporate modernist masterpiece. Landscape architects at New York's NV5, in collaboration with preservation consultants at Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, have submitted a revised design for the modernist plaza at 140 Broadway to the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) for a hearing next week. Most notably, the new design eliminates a 14-foot-wide planter at Broadway and Cedar Street that would have sat kitty-corner from the plaza's signature sculpture, Isamu Noguchi's Red Cube. Aside from the absence of the large corner planter, the plaza design is relatively unchanged from the one revealed in January. Like the previous scheme, the new plans call for six, 14-foot-wide circular planters that double as benches along Cedar Street. Meanwhile, the Helmsley Memorial, a blocky black-granite tribute to the late owner, will be re-dedicated as a marker flush with the pavement, and the design team will add metal bollards along Cedar. To further harmonize the space, the design team is replacing pinkish granite pavers installed in 1999 with a light golden-hued granite that resembles the original travertine plaza. When the plaza plans were revealed in January, critics panned the design, saying it would distract from the Noguchi sculpture, which was installed to complement the plaza and its 57-story tower. Originally, the LPC was scheduled to hear the plaza plans in early February, but public debate over the appropriateness of the renovation prompted the designers and owner to withdraw the item from the LPC's calendar. The Architect's Newspaper (AN) obtained an advance copy of the plans that were submitted to the LPC. All the renderings and drawings pictured here are from that document. Jackson Wandres, director of landscape architecture at NV5, and Erin Rulli, partner at Higgins Quasebarth, said that their overall goal is to add more seating and re-establish the east-west viewshed that extends from Zuccotti Park across the 140 Broadway plaza and over to SOM's 28 Liberty (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), a modernist skyscraper of the same vintage. The 140 Broadway plaza "is the knuckle in a series of open spaces," Wandres said. "It makes the space feel much larger." A web of fine-toothed zoning designations divides these three seemingly unified areas and complicates the design intervention, however. The park and the two office tower plazas are POPS, spaces that are privately owned and maintained but free for the public to use. At 140 Broadway, the plaza continues out from the building to the edge of the roadway uninterrupted, even though the property line actually ends about 20 feet before the street; the food carts with LED marquees that sling chicken-over-rice and green juice to hungry passerbys sit on the public right-of-way. By obstructing the historical plaza-to-plaza vista, "the carts have caused a dramatic shift in how you experience the space," Rulli said. "It's not the intention to deprive anyone of their livelihoods, but rather, it's a design move for the benefit of the plaza," Wandres added. The pair clarified that any changes to the public area is under the Department of Transportation's (DOT) jurisdiction, not owner Union Investment's. Consequently, the proposed food cart–replacing benches and planters in the right-of-way are being reviewed by the DOT, not the LPC.

Preservation groups protest Union Carbide demolition and appeal for its landmarking

Shortly after JPMorgan Chase announced that they would be demolishing their Midtown Manhattan headquarters at 270 Park Avenue, preservationists, architects and critics railed against the move on social media and through letters to the city. Now, the U.S. and New York/Tri-State chapters of non-profit preservation group Docomomo have teamed up for a joint effort to persuade New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to consider protecting the building. In a letter sent to LPC Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, both groups stressed the importance of the SOM-designed Union Carbide building in the canon of corporate architecture, and the role Natalie de Blois played in its design. Seeking to get ahead of the demolition, the letter states,
“As the agency charged with implementing the Landmarks law, we urge you--as the Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission--to immediately calendar 270 Park Avenue for local designation. We appreciate the need to partner and work with other city agencies to advance the goals of the City on behalf of its citizens. However, the goals of one large corporation should not nullify or ignore the public interest, the law or the authority of one agency over another.”
Now that the tower is on the chopping block, calls for the building’s calendaring have intensified, as the New York-based Historic Districts Council has also advocated for the landmarking. It’s important to note that 270 Park Ave. had been identified as a potential landmark by the city once before, in 2013 ahead of the rezoning, and that 12 surrounding buildings were given protection. The city had also seemed on board at the time, saying in the Greater East Midtown Rezoning Final Environmental Impact Statement that, “One of the City’s greatest modern buildings, this 53-story [skyscraper] exudes strength and elegance in its protruding stainless steel mullions and simple but bold façade patterning created by the black matte metal spandrels...The ultimate pin-stripe building.” It remains to be seen whether these letters and lobbying will fall on deaf ears, as Chase is on track to raze the tower early next year, giving it the dubious distinction of being the largest voluntarily demolished building in history.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral planning to sell its air rights

The owners of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City are positioning themselves to sell air rights associated with the landmark to permit construction of a high-rise building in the Midtown East rezoning district, where JPMorgan Chase is planning a 70-story tower to replace its current headquarters, the former Union Carbide building at 270 Park Avenue. Representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York are scheduled to present a “restoration and maintenance plan” to New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on March 13 to show how proceeds from the sale of air rights would be used to improve spaces in and around the church property at 625 Fifth Avenue, which has been designated a city landmark. According to an agenda item listing the meeting, the commission will review a program “for the continuing maintenance of the complex in connection with future development right transfers” pursuant to applicable provisions of the Midtown East zoning resolution. A second midtown landmark, Grand Central Terminal, also may be transferring air rights for the JPMorgan Chase project, according to Crain’s New York.  Two investment firms and a developer control a majority stake in up to 1.35 million square feet of transferrable air rights above the terminal, according to the publication, but the preservation commission has not scheduled any public meetings to review any transfers from there. The meeting involving St. Patrick’s is scheduled to take place less than a month after JPMorgan Chase and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the bank is planning to tear down its 52-story headquarters and build a much larger replacement. A representative for the Archdiocese declined to provide specifics about the air rights plan, but others with the city say it would, if approved, enable the transfer of development rights to the Park Avenue site controlled by JPMorgan Chase. The JPMorgan Chase project is the first major building to be announced for the East Midtown district since the city adopted new guidelines that address where owners of city landmarks can transfer development rights to construct larger buildings. Under previous guidelines, the development rights had to be transferred to sites close to the landmark that has them. Under the new guidelines, enacted in August 2017, the air rights can be transferred anywhere within the larger Midtown East rezoning district, giving owners of landmark properties more options for transferring air rights. The transfer is expected largely to benefit the cathedral, which underwent a $177 million restoration from 2013 to 2016, with Murphy Burnham & Buttrick as the architect. Besides the Gothic Revival cathedral designed by James Renwick Jr. and completed in 1880, the property includes the cardinal’s residence and a rectory designed by Renwick, a French Gothic style Lady Chapel designed by Charles Matthews and built in 1906, and the church grounds. According to preservationists, the cathedral property cannot be demolished without city approval, but it has transferrable air rights that could be used to build an estimated 1.1 million square feet of development elsewhere. The Archdiocese has made no secret about its desire to take advantage of the sale of air rights to benefit its property. The rezoning plan requires sellers of air rights to pay a share of the proceeds to the city to help improve sidewalks, plazas and streets. According to The New York Times, JPMorganChase is expected to buy up to one million square feet of air rights from other property owners, and its air rights purchase is expected to generate more than $40 million for public improvements. A 2017 analysis by The Real Deal indicated that the archdiocese and St. Patrick’s would receive $270.6 million if it sold all of its air rights, and the city would receive $67.6 million. Under the city’s Midtown East rezoning rules, development and approval of a continuing maintenance agreement is required before development rights can be transferred. The plan can involve both interiors and exteriors of the designated landmark. Although extensive restoration work has been completed at St. Patrick’s, the archdiocese still wants to upgrade building systems, including fire protection and roof drainage., and that is what the conservation plan is expected to address. The JP Morgan Chase project is controversial because it calls for the demolition of an office tower designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill and opened in 1961. The tower was designed by Gordon Bunshaft and Natalie Griffin De Blois, one of the few women to design a midcentury office tower, but is not protected by landmark status. It would be the tallest building in the world demolished voluntarily. This month’s announcement of the JPMorgan Chase project drew criticism from architecture experts who say the SOM tower should be preserved. The scope of the March 13 Landmarks Preservation Commission does not specifically address the demolition proposal or the irony that a conservation plan that would help preserve the cathedral could be used to demolish the SOM tower. Preservationists have advocated that the preservation commission consider giving the Union Carbide building landmark designation, but no public meetings have been scheduled at this point to discuss such a designation.

Skyscraper Museum releases interactive Lower Manhattan walking map

The Skyscraper Museum has updated the historic Heritage Trails map and released it as an interactive online resource. The original 199os map created by Richard D. Kaplan covers landmarks in Lower Manhattan and was intended to draw tourists and visitors to the area after the 1987 stock market crash and the recession of 1994. Along with moving the map online, the Skyscraper Museum has added sites from 1998 to the present day. The walking trails used in the original map are preserved in the new online version. Richard D. Kaplan was an architect whose family established J. D. Kaplan Fund, a private foundation in New York supporting the arts, civil rights, parks, and preservation in New York. The interest in mapping out New York City’s buildings using technology has not only been a venture of the Skyscraper Museum. Another interactive map that explains New York’s landmarks has been created by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The LPC map allows users to find landmarks by architect, style, and other categories. Meanwhile the Concrete New York Map created by Blue Crow Media looks strictly at brutalist architecture across New York City. The Heritage Trails map points users to four possible trails. The Green trail covers the east side of the Financial District and moves down south to Battery Park City; sites here include Battery Park City and the Statue of Liberty. The Blue trail is focused on Chinatown and the Seaport, including the Fulton Fish Market and the Federal Reserve Bank. The Red trail covers Broadway and Chinatown, stopping at Little Italy, and includes Newspaper Row and St. Paul’s Chapel. The Orange trail is on the west side of Lower Manhattan and includes the World Trade Center and the American Stock Exchange. The interactive map offers a new way of looking at city landmarks. For example, one sight poses the question, “What has 200 elevators, 1,200 restrooms, 40,000 doorknobs, 200,000 lighting fixtures, 7 million square feet of acoustical tile ceilings, more structural steel than the Verrazano Narrows Bridge?” The answer: The World Trade Center.