Scaffolding is going up around a landmarked modernist plaza in lower Manhattan, signaling a revamp that's been a long time in the making. Previously, SOM took on its own vintage work for plaza modifications at 28 Liberty Street (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), a Financial District building that opened in 1964. Those plans, which were approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) in 2015, featured three large glass pavilions to provide additional access to below-grade retail, among other modifications. But the development did not go according to plan. The Architect's Newspaper reported in January that the pavilions were abandoned by owner-developer Fosun, in light of new rules that make it harder for owners to change city-imposed deed restrictions. In case readers missed it, a TL;DR version of the plaza saga can be found here (and here). A recent site visit revealed new plans for the plaza. One posted rendering showed a restored parapet—with not a glass pavilion in sight. Based on the character and style of the rendering, it is almost certain that the rendering was completed by SOM, but at press time, multiple requests for comment on the latest developments were not returned. [Update 2/27/17: AN has learned that the rendering is not by SOM and that there are no additional details on the rendering at this time.] Permits on file allow for the construction of scaffolding around the site, as seen at the corner of Nassau and Liberty streets, above, and on the southeast side of the plaza along William Street, below. As of right now, no additional permits for plaza construction have been filed, although the signage states that work is expected to be complete later this year. Images on SOM's website, however, still show the older version of the design. Fosun declined to comment on the ongoing work.
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Thanks to new rules, it appears that one historic downtown plaza will be free of large glass pavilions, for now. For over a year developer Fosun had planned to build glass-clad entrances to retail spaces beneath the landmarked modernist plaza of 28 Liberty, designed by SOM in 1964. Although the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved the renovations in August 2015, the project needed an additional—but contentious—green light from the community and the city to move forward. The developer sought to change the site's city-imposed deed restriction (convents that guide the use of land) to allow the pavilions, some as tall as 17 feet, to be constructed. Currently, the site's deed restriction states that no object taller than six feet can rise from the surface of the plaza. Deed restrictions are usually enacted for public benefit; by limiting use, they can thwart an owner's ability to capitalize on the property. For months Manhattan Community Board 1, residents, and preservationists concerned about the integrity of the plaza debated whether to grant Fosun's request. For Fosun, a seemingly routine appeal for its plaza project couldn't have come at a worse time. The developer's campaign to change the deed restriction coincided with the unfolding scandal over the transfer of Rivington House to a private developer. In that deal, the city lifted deed restrictions on the Lower East Side nursing home, a move that allowed a private developer to flip the site for a hefty profit. A series of public meetings revealed the convoluted nature of the deed-change process, with the mayor's office and City Council offering two competing visions of reform. In response, the Council passed a new law in December that lays out a standardized process for removal and modification of deed restrictions. Among other changes, the law's public review component makes it much more difficult for property owners like Fosun to change deed restrictions. "The developers basically told the board that they're not pushing deed modifications now that the new rules are in place," said Diana Switaj, Manhattan CB1's director of planning and land use. Although community board resolutions on developments like 28 Liberty are non-binding, the city-sanctioned groups provide frontline community feedback on development in their jurisdictions. When reached for comment, Fosun confirmed that it will not be building pavilions. “At this time, Fosun is focusing on creating hundreds of feet of new storefront, restoring the historic parapet to its original condition, and creating a larger plaza by removing mechanical components," said Erik Horvat, managing director at Fosun Property, in a statement. "We continue to advance the effort to invigorate the plaza and bring some 200,000 square feet of new retail to Lower Manhattan. The site offers existing access points and we believe the new retail offerings will provide enormous benefit to the community. We will reevaluate the additional glass entryway pavilions in the future." This article appears on HoverPin, a new app that lets you build personalized maps of geo-related online content based on your interests: architecture, food, culture, fitness, and more. Never miss The Architect’s Newspaper’s coverage of your area and discover new, exciting projects wherever you go! See our HoverPin layer here and download the app from the Apple Store.
In the New York City mayor's office, the council chamber, and one borough president's headquarters, officials are hashing out critical—and competing—land use reforms that could impact at least one major development in lower Manhattan. One reform is a slate of new rules from the mayor's office while the other is legislation in the city council; both are making their way right now through the review and approvals process. Currently, there is no unified process for the removal or modification of deed restrictions (the legal covenants that outline the use of land). As deed restrictions limit the use of a property, potentially reducing its value, there is often incentive to have those restrictions lifted. Deed restrictions are also widespread: The Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and other city agencies have put (or have grandfathered in) deed restrictions on thousands of city properties, both through the sale of city-owned parcels and through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The mayor's office has introduced agency-level reforms to address shortcomings in the deed restriction modification process. DCAS is holding a hearing next week on these reforms. The mayor's rules call for a review process with a public hearing, plus a stipulation that the community board, borough president, and appropriate councilmember be notified of the pending changes. Parallel to the mayor's reforms, Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer and city councilmember Margaret Chin are advancing legislation that would, among other measures, subject deed modifications to a more rigorous public review. Although Chin and Brewer’s bill, Intro 1182, grew from public outcry over the lack of oversight around the removal of the Rivington House deed restriction, Chin's district also includes 28 Liberty (formerly known as One Chase Manhattan Plaza), another flash point property. Its owner, global developer Fosun, is pushing to modify the deed restriction to construct 11- to 17-foot-tall glass entrances to below-ground retail on the landmarked plaza. Both the mayor’s rules and the Intro 1182 have special importance for Manhattan Community Board 1 (CB1). 28 Liberty lies within the CB1's boundaries and, in a mirror of the citywide conversation, the property has been a controversial issue for the board since the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved changes to the landmarked plaza last year. At the CB1's Planning Subcommittee meeting last week, CB1 board members debated a resolution on deed restriction modifications that will go before the full board at their October 28 meeting. In drafting the resolution, board members repeatedly raised three points: The difference between a "major" or "minor" deed restriction, how that difference should be determined, and by whom. Currently, there's no system in place determine that difference—a minor modification to some could be a radical change in use to another observer, as the ongoing discussion around 28 Liberty's pavilions illustrates. "From what we've seen, putting a deed restriction in place seems to always benefit the public," said James Caras, the borough president's general counsel and director of land use. He added that the burden of proving the benefit of substantial deed modifications or removals should fall on the entity seeking the changes. The borough president's office believes that deed modifications that change the use of a property would "probably benefit" from public review under Brewer and Chin's proposed law. If a developer wants to change the use from public to private, for example, that action may be subject to ULURP, while a continuation of public use may not be. In soliciting the public's voice, Intro 1182 has precedent. Right now, deed restrictions that were the result of a ULURP must be removed through the same process. Intro 1182 would subject major modifications, which are typically granted per the administrative procedures of the DCAS, or the relevant agency, to a ULURP—what they call "the gold standard of public review." In September 2016 testimony given to the Council Committee on Governmental Operations and the Committee on Investigation, Brewer and Chin raised considerable objections to the proposed DCAS rules. The rules' foundations, they said, would not be as strong as the competing law passed by the council, as rules could be changed at any time by the agency itself or by the next administration. As CB1 planning committee member Reggie Thomas pointed out, a ULURP process can be prohibitively costly and time-consuming. Yet, during the meeting there seemed to be a consensus from the board on some kind of public review when the proposed deed changes involve a switch from public to private use. CB1 chair Anthony Notaro called the decision-making process for other properties "a gray area," but said that regardless, the community "should be on the front line, one of the hurdles, before any decision is made." Specifics like these, Caras said, would be worked out in legislation. In light of the lifting of deed restrictions at Rivington House and the Dance Theater of Harlem, as well as continuing conversation around 28 Liberty, Brewer's office is reaching out to each community board in its jurisdiction to answer questions about the pending reforms. Until the city and the council hammer out their respective plans, though, there's no clear process on how to modify deed restrictions, so projects like 28 Liberty are treading water. While plans on file with the Department of Buildings (DOB) show that interior upgrades are progressing, construction on the plaza's glass pavilions appears to be on hold, because the project can only move forward if a deed restriction regulating the height of objects on the plaza is removed. The LPC-issued Certificate of Appropriateness from November 2015 states that no work on the plaza can begin until the agency has received and reviewed the final DOB filing set of drawings, specifications, and a scope of work that details the restoration of the on-site Dubuffet sculpture and Noguchi garden. A spokesperson for the LPC confirmed that the agency has not received DOB specs or drawings. In a statement, Fosun said "all Landmarks Preservation Commission comments regarding the Dubuffet sculpture and Noguchi garden have been resolved to the satisfaction of the LPC," adding that interior work continues to "prepare for the exterior work." At press time, The Architect's Newspaper (AN) was able to confirm that the scope of work for the restoration of the Noguchi garden was on file with the LPC. (As a freestanding object, the Dubuffet, it turns out, is not part of the landmark's designation and is thus outside of the LPC's purview.) Fosun declined to comment on the status of the glass pavilions, reasons for the delay, and whether construction documents exist for the plaza modifications. New York–based SOM, the architect for the project, also declined to comment. In July 2016, Bloomberg News reported that Fosun is preparing to sell $6 billion in assets between now and the end of next year in an effort to raise its junk credit rating and alleviate its massive debt, although AN was able to confirm the seeming hold-up on the plaza is unrelated to Fosun's financial status. On Tuesday night the CB1 planning committee revealed its resolution to the public. It called the reforms drafted by the mayor's office and DCAS "neither sufficient nor in the public interest" due to the fact that they may be easily changed by another administration. The board instead supports a legislative process and expressed support for elected officials as they research the kind and quantity of deed-restricted properties (there's no unified database right now) to create "an appropriate process" for deed restriction modification or removals. The full CB1 board approved the resolution unanimously.
A modernist plaza in lower Manhattan is glass cube–free, for now. At their monthly meeting last night, Community Board 1 (CB1) heard from members of the public about changes to 28 Liberty, SOM's modernist office building and plaza. The owner and developer, Fosun, has commissioned SOM to add three glass pavilions to increase access to the plaza's below-ground retail. Although the scheme received Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approval in August of last year, the plans cannot proceed unless Fosun gets approval to modify a restriction in the deed that forbids structures higher than six feet from rising on the plaza's surface. Prior to LPC approval, the community board approved SOM's design in March 2015, minus one pavilion at Cedar Street which members thought obstructed the view across the plaza. Among the residents and architects who came to speak on 28 Liberty last night were preservation advocates and museum professionals concerned about Fosun's plans. Marissa Marvelli, a historic preservation specialist at BKSK and a Docomomo New York/Tri-State board member, stated that the modern architecture preservation organization "[implored] the Community Board to retain the original public-spirited deed restrictions and preserve the generous space and non-commercial character of the plaza, as intended by the original owner and architect." Like the CB1 board, Docomomo particularly opposes the planned stair enclosure at Cedar Street, pictured above. Although CB1's board does not recommend the Cedar Street plaza to be built, it still could rise, as the community board's voice is purely advisory. "The Cedar Street structure is the most egregious of them all," said Kyle Johnson, Marvelli's fellow board member and architect at Snøhetta. To him, the pedestrian continuity between four public plazas—28 Liberty, 140 Broadway, Zuccotti Park, and the WTC memorial plaza—is intrinsic to the overall experience of the plaza in question, and the pavilion at Cedar Street would disrupt this relationship. Johnson questioned the overall purpose of the pavilions, speculating that their purpose is mainly to advertise the retail beneath. "The access to the proposed retail is already there—how many doorways do you need?" Plans show there will be access to below-grade space from Pine and William Streets (and through the building itself). Other speakers included Jenny Dixon, director of the Noguchi Museum, who cited the importance of the Jean Dubuffet sculpture and the Noguchi's dialogue with the plaza. She critiqued the pavilion's effect on the experience of the work, saying, "These are really important pieces of public art that are part of the history of Lower Manhattan. The space itself, the placement of work, and the relationship to the environment is the totality that Noguchi considered, not an isolated object on the plaza in relation to the building." Noting that the museum's board of trustees encourages CB1 reject the modification, she addressed the attending board members: "People don't come to New York just to make money. People come here to experience the arts." One leader on the board was influenced by the developer- and board-led site visits. Chair Anthony Notaro said that they added to his understanding of the design and the developer's desire for a modification. For him, the design and the deed are definitely related, but the deed restriction is something the board should weigh in on. He advocated for a deeper understanding of how modifying the deed restriction could impact the use and appearance of the plaza in the future. Notaro was clear to connect the conversation at the meeting to Rivington House, noting that if that "debacle" hadn't occurred, there would probably be little to no debate around 28 Liberty. "We [the board] need to do more work on understanding this," he said. "I want the developer to come back with more drawings, more schematics, and [speak] to whether or not they can do this in a different way." In light of the Rivington House deal, reforms to the deed modification process are being worked out by the city, with some elected officials favoring a process that would subject deed modifications to a ULURP. The legislation is being reviewed by the City Council's Committee on Governmental Operations tomorrow morning. In light of the chair and the public's comments, the board voted overwhelmingly to re-table a tabled resolution from July on the modification of the deed restriction for 28 Liberty, at least until October.
An ongoing fight over a storied Manhattan landmark proves that indeed, size does matter. Fosun International, the Shanghai-based owner of lower Manhattan's 28 Liberty Street (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza), has commissioned SOM to revamp their own classic International Style building and 2.5-acre plaza design. Among its planned changes to the site, Fosun received Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approval to build three glass cubes on the landmarked plaza that will serve as entrances to below-ground retail. Although the commission approved the scheme, implementing changes at 28 Liberty requires an additional, and contentious, next step.
Fosun is seeking a modification of 28 Liberty's deed restriction that would allow the cubes to rise 11 to 17 feet above the highest points of the plaza, heights that far exceed the deed restriction's stipulation that structures rise no more than six feet above the highest point on the plaza. Both the International Style building and plaza were designated a New York City Landmark in 2009. SOM is updating the tower's office space and plaza and reintroducing original details lost in prior renovations while transforming approximately 290,000 square feet (four floors) of basement space into retail. (AN first covered the design proposal, and ensuing controversy, in July.) Renovations will add accessible entrances and restore tree wells on the south plaza. Along Pine Street, the project will conserve on-site art, remove air intakes, and perhaps most crucially to the design, reinstate the parapet that encircles the space, particularly a corner at Liberty and Nassau Streets that renovations have compromised over time. The developers maintain that the glass cubes, or pavilions, are a key part of the renovations. Fosun argues that the three pavilions will improve handicap accessibility to the stepped plaza as well as protect shoppers entering and exiting the retail spaces from inclement weather. The pavilions, along with glass storefronts along Liberty and Williams Streets, are intended to activate street frontage and encourage more fluidity between indoor and outdoor, below-grade and street-level spaces of the plaza, sidewalk, and tower.
Some Community Board 1 (CB1) members say the design and the deed restriction, although technically unrelated, cannot be considered independently from each other. They point to the scale of the pavilions as proof: According to plans filed with the Department of Buildings, the three proposed pavilions, pictured in plan above, are a 17-foot-tall, 46-foot-long, 1,473-square-foot cube at the corner of Nassau and Liberty Streets; another 16-foot-tall, 43-foot-long, 1,132-square-foot cube facing Pine Street; and a third 11-foot-tall, 18-foot-long, and 418-square-foot at Cedar Street (which a CB1 joint committee ultimately rejected at a July 2016 meeting). A site tour with the architects scheduled September 23 was canceled because key stakeholders from Fosun and SOM were not able to attend. Instead, CB1 board members led a peer-to-peer tour, showing their colleagues the scale of the pavilions and their placement on the plaza.
The cubes’ size is not the only point of contention. Some residents think the architects' renderings suggest the cubes are being rendered too transparently (a common offense in renderings), and that the built structures will impede sightlines on the plaza, especially to the Dubuffet and Noguchi pieces. "Depending on light angles and angles, a glass cube can be quite reflective. At most angles, glass cubes are pretty transparent, but they are not like a window, they're totally going to interrupt the view,” said Michael Ludvik, glass engineer and founding principal of M. Ludvik Engineering. SOM’s glass pavilions have been compared to the Apple Cube, which is not entirely accurate, Ludvik said. The Apple Cube is not made of anti-reflective glass, so when viewed from an angle, it can look almost opaque. To make the proposed pavilions as transparent as possible, he suggested using the thinnest and clearest glass available, along with appropriate fins to minimize impact on clarity. SOM could not be reached for comment on the glass choice, but a spokesperson for the developer explained that they are not far enough along in the process to have made a materials choice. For one CB1 board member, design and deed are unequivocally separate. “The current owners are not the omnivorous developer creatures we’d expect,” said Bruce Ehrmann, co-chair of CB1’s Landmarks Committee. “They are trying to steward the plaza. They followed our original CB1 resolution, and they followed the instructions from the LPC. This issue is about a six-foot height cap,” not the design, Ehrmann said. An architecture enthusiast, Ehrmann maintained that "the first proposal changed the whole nature of the Modernist platform. It’s important to the plaza that the parapet is restored."
Alice Blank, an architect and resident who also serves on CB1's board, asks why the design can't be done differently, without the large pavilions that trigger the deed restriction modification: "I need to know, have all alternatives been considered before pavilions were added on top of the plaza? I need to know why the existing street level entrances to the underground cannot be adapted." She noted that the pavilions didn't appear in earlier iterations of the design, pointing to SOM’s May 2015 LPC presentation that showed capped entrances to the retail space and only one pavilion, a stair enclosure at Cedar Street, pictured above. While she doesn't endorse the first design per se, she sees it as an example of how alternatives could be crafted to improve access without adding glass cubes. At the August 2015 meeting, commissioners raised questions about the height and transparency of the cubes before granting approval. One LPC commissioner, noting that the cubes were two and three times taller than an average human, asked what was driving the height of the cubes. "The sidewalk is incredibly varied around the site,” said Roger Duffy, design partner at SOM. He explained to the commission that the taller-than-human height is required to prevent mischief and liability: "If [a person] climbed on top of the parapet, they couldn't climb on top of the pavilion," Duffy said. The community board, though, didn’t approve the same plans that the LPC did. The LPC's August decision came after the community board's review of SOM and Fosun's original plans. "We are being asked to modify a deed on a proposal the full Board never saw or approved," said Blank. In July, a spokesperson for the developer issued a statement on the deed restriction modification to assuage concerns about the modification: "CB1 is voting on a MINOR MODIFICATION which would ONLY PERMIT THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE GLASS PAVILLIONS [sic] AS APPROVED BY THE LANDMARKS AND PRESERVATION COMMISSION [sic], AND NO OTHER CHANGES. THERE IS NO CREATION OF ADDITIONAL RETAIL SPACE, AND NO CHANGE OF USE." Blank questioned the impact of the changes and the legacy they could set. “Development is important, but [a] violation of commitments to preserve open space for the public in perpetuity ought to be reviewed with extraordinary care in light of the compromise of the public interest. What would be next—Seagrams, Lever House?” In a statement, the preservation advocacy group Historic Districts Council (HDC) echoed Blank's question in their indictment of the proposed deed restriction modification:
“The sheer existence of such a restriction reveals the great foresight and care which went into the planning of this architecture to prevent it from being marred from future, insensitive fads, most relevantly the corporate ‘Apple Cube.’ More broadly, the proliferation of recent deed changes which disadvantage the public to serve private entities is deplorable. Any changes should be weighed in the context of the long term: Is it wise to permanently alter an individual landmark for the current owner? Do these proposed spaces hold any longitudinal, classical value?"Both the HDC's and Blank’s concerns mirror public outcry over the recent Rivington House scandal, in which the city lifted a deed restriction that mandated the property be managed as a healthcare nonprofit, a move that allowed the owner to profit handsomely from the sale of the property. In response, Mayor de Blasio has announced a series of reforms to the deed modification process that could impact the dealings at 28 Liberty in the near future. Faulting "a process that has failed to protect and preserve significant community assets, like Rivington House," Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose district includes 28 Liberty, along with speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Councilmember Ben Kallos, and Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, favor a process that would make deed restriction changes subject to a ULURP. Although Fosun is not seeking to lift the deed restrictions, it has paid James Capalino, the same lobbyist involved in the Rivington House deal, $120,000 since January 2015 to push the city's Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) for deed modifications at 28 Liberty, DNAinfo reports. Judgment day for the plaza is near. The board is voting tomorrow on the modification of the deed restriction it tabled in July, thus confirming the fate of the design and the deed restriction. Although the board's decision is purely advisory, a vote to modify could give Fosun leverage in future discussions with DCAS to modify the deed restriction.
CB1 vote to modify deed restrictions on SOM’s 28 Liberty Plaza today could pave way for SOM-led redesign
Update 7/27/16: CB1 voted yesterday to table the resolution modify the site's deed restriction to allow for more public review of the proposal. To demonstrate the proposed changes for the public, a tour of the site will be offered. The tour is provisionally scheduled for early September 2016, before CB1's Financial District Committee's follow-up meeting on the issue.
In lower Manhattan, some residents fear that SOM's take on a classic SOM design will compromise the character of one of the city's best-known International style plazas.Manhattan Community Board 1 (CB1) is voting on a resolution tonight to remove the deed restriction on the SOM–designed 28 Liberty Plaza (formerly One Chase Manhattan Plaza) to allow for three glass cubes—entrances to basement-level retail—to be built on the landmarked site. SOM designed the 2.5-acre plaza and adjoining tower in 1964, introducing the International style to the Financial District. The firm is now leading the site's redesign by updating the tower's office space, reincorporating historic details lost in prior renovations, and converting 200,000 square feet of disused space underneath the plaza to retail. Apple Cube–like glass pavilions installed in the plaza will signal the below-grade offerings to passerbys while allowing additional points of access. Last August the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approved changes to the plaza. To one community member who is still smarting from the decision to transform much of the Water Street POPS into retail space, the changes will degrade the plaza. In an email to The Architect's Newspaper, architect and member of citizen coalition Community Advocates for Public Space Alice Blank called SOM's and Fosun's (the site's owners) effort to increase access to below-grade areas "laudable" but denounced the glass pavilions:
The addition of the entry pavilions will change the integrity of the original design of this celebrated plaza; they will compromise three of the neighborhood’s important view corridors; they will act as beacons of commerce day and night and will significantly increase pedestrian foot traffic in the area. These are major changes with major consequences for the community.Blank, who is a CB1 member but does not represent the board in her advocacy around this issue, went on to condemn the renderings as misleading. "The structures have been rendered so diaphanously as to risk leaving the misleading impression that the addition of 3 large structures on top of this classic modernist plaza, will have little visual impact or aesthetic consequence." The changes will enhance the plaza and bring key elements back to their original condition, countered SOM associate director Frank Mahan. "No one has a greater vested interest in doing right by this building than SOM. It's important to be good stewards of classic work." Mahan called the cubes in question "minimal and transparent," noting that they "will impact the existing architecture in a minimal and appropriate manner." Adaptively reusing the basement enables restorative measures like reinstating the parapet that once encircled the plaza, cleaning and restoring the Noguchi sculpture on-site, and eliminating non-original air intakes on the plaza's north side, he explained. Modifying the site's deed restriction clears the way for the proposed development. When reached for comment, Blank noted that if the deed is modified the return on investment for Fosun is high, and the public should have additional opportunities to weigh in on whether these changes offer an equitable exchange. For those wishing to weigh in tonight, CB1's meeting begins at 6PM in the DC37 - Auditorium at 125 Barclay Street.