Posts tagged with "Plazas":
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 Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to revamp its own classic, 1960s International Style building and 2.5-acre plaza. Among its planned changes to the site, Fosun received Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) approval to build three glass pavilions on the landmarked plaza to 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 pavilions to rise 11 to 17 feet above the highest points of the plaza, heights that far exceed the deed restriction’s stipulation that structures on the plaza shouldn’t be more than six feet tall.
SOM is updating the tower’s office space and plaza by reintroducing original details lost in prior renovations while transforming approximately 290,000 square feet of basement space into retail.
The developers maintain that the glass 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 William streets, are intended to activate street frontage and encourage more fluidity between indoor and outdoor, below-grade and street-level spaces of the plaza, and sidewalk and tower.
Although some later modifications imitate original conditions, all of the plaza’s elements are non-original aside from the Isamu Noguchi sunken garden. (The black-and-white Jean Dubuffet sculpture, installed 1971, was not included in the landmark designation.) The space is not a privately owned public space (POPS), but remains open to the public nonetheless.
Not all New Yorkers are thrilled with the changes. Some members of Community Board 1 (CB1), one of the city’s 59 local representative bodies, 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 include a 17-foot-tall, 46-foot-long, 1,473-square-foot structure at the corner of Nassau and Liberty streets; another 16-foot-tall, 43-foot-long, 1,132-square-foot structure facing Pine Street; and a third 11-foot-tall, 18-foot-long, and 418-square-foot structure at Cedar Street.
The cubes’ sizes are not the only points 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 to the plaza, especially to the Dubuffet and Noguchi pieces.
“Depending on light and structural 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 it is not far enough along in the process to have made a materials choice.
Alice Blank, an architect and resident who also serves on CB1’s board, asked 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.”
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—Seagram, Lever House?”
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 used as a healthcare nonprofit, a move that allowed the owner to profit handsomely from the sale of the property. In response, Mayor Bill 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 Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, favor a process that would make deed restriction changes subject to a rigorous public land use review.
Judgment day for the plaza is near if the city can agree on how, exactly, to process deed change requests. Right now, the mayor’s office is forging ahead with rules for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) that would provide clear guidelines for changes to deeds.In parallel to the mayor’s office, sources tell AN the city council could vote soon on legislation that would create a more rigorous public review than the mayor’s rules. Although the board’s decision is purely advisory, in October CB1 voted in favor of council-led deed change reform.
A new book delves into Mellon Square, the modernist landscape masterpiece at the heart of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is slowly, and fitfully, reappraising its modernist legacy of corporate towers, postwar infrastructure, and neighborhood-obliterating “urban renewal.” In this complex and frequently polarizing narrative, the role of landscape is perhaps only now being properly addressed in academic and political discourse regarding the past, present, and future potential of communal civic space.
Mellon Square is the second volume in “Modern Landscapes: Transition and Transformation,” a timely series from Princeton Architectural Press. As series editor Charles Birnbaum notes in his foreword, if Lawrence Halprin’s Denver Skyline Park (the first site in the series) has suffered “disastrous alteration,” this 1950s landscape at the heart of Pittsburgh has “in contrast (…) been very well chronicled, documented, and analyzed” resulting in “a renewed, enhanced, and revitalized Mellon Square.”
Principal author Susan Rademacher concurs. She has written a compact volume, presenting with modest clarity, a rich spectrum of knowledge from local history and detailed plant selection to technical refinements particular to the project. Emphasizing Mellon Square’s centrality in the self-image of Pittsburgh, Rademacher calls it “a symbol of Pittsburgh’s astounding capacity for reinvention and self-improvement” and potentially “a model for the national movement to preserve modern landscape.”
Mellon Square was the first modernist urban park situated above a subterranean parking structure by Mitchell & Ritchey. Fifteen years earlier, Dahlen Ritchey, a Carnegie Tech and Harvard alum, had assisted Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer on their luxurious Frank House in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill. The main design heroes of Rademacher’s book are John O. and Philip D. Simonds, Pittsburgh landscape architects and environmental planners. John, also a GSD man, published his seminal Landscape Architecture shortly after Mellon Square’s completion in 1955.
Other key figures in Pittsburgh’s “renaissance” include then-Mayor David L. Lawrence (a Democrat), Richard King Mellon (a Republican), and Edgar Kaufmann. Kaufmann not only engaged Frank Lloyd Wright to imagine fantastical infrastructures at the juncture of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, he also commissioned a master plan titled Pittsburgh in Progress from Mitchell & Ritchey. Displayed at Kaufmann’s Department Store, a mere block from the future Mellon Square, this Corbusian-inflected plan heralded an urban agenda for the 1950s, radiating back from that historic origin of the city.
Rademacher delves deeply into the design process, a complicated story for many an urban project, yet especially so here with a business elite keen to impact the fabric and the perception of the city. Not by chance, Mellon Square functioned something like the plaza at Rockefeller Center. (No ice-skating, although early proposals did include flamingos and penguins and a circular platform for sea lions, along with less sculptural bling.) Yet the square was clearly envisaged as the centerpiece of what Rademacher describes as “an integrated complex for the Mellon enterprises.”
Indeed, there are three Harrison & Abramovitz-designed landmarks for Mellon-related businesses in the immediate vicinity: the sober U.S. Steel/Mellon Bank Building, the innovative Alcoa Building directly overlooking the square, and later, the U.S. Steel headquarters, a towering paean to weathering steel at the intersection of Pittsburgh’s two urban grids. Disliking the orthogonal paving proposed by Simonds & Simonds, Sarah Mellon Scaife’s fondness for St. Mark’s Square led to the harlequinade pattern that brings Mellon Square its graphic elegance, especially when viewed from the surrounding towers.
In a 1973 article, John listed the project concepts as a platform (“a vast tray”), a structure (with “footings spaced out on the floor of a prehistoric stream bed some sixty feet below”), an island (“surrounded by and cut off from the rest of the city”), a space (“expanded, modulated, and articulated by all means at the architects’ command”), a focal center, a civic monument (“a source of pride and lasting inspiration”), a gathering place (“human in scale and human in its appeal”), and an oasis (“the welcome relief of foliage, shade, splashing water, flowers, and bright color.”)
Inevitably perhaps, some problems ensued—with tiles, flower beds, and wiring—eventually, “the main fountain and lighting no longer worked.” According to Rademacher, “despite efforts (…) continued maintenance did not remain a priority”. It was not until 2007 that the Parks Conservancy, then the guardian of Pittsburgh’s verdant sequence of robber baron-era parks, got involved. In 2008, the Conservancy published its Mellon Square Preservation, Interpretation and Management Plan. Soon, a planning team was in place, led by Patricia M. O’Donnell of Heritage Landscapes.
Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece goes into considerable detail on both the birth and now the rebirth of this important mid-century landscape set in a city that is itself experiencing economic and social renewal. The book may be slim, yet it is packed with information—a slight drawback of its dimensions is the small size of many illustrations. Rademacher has performed a service for Pittsburgh and for other U.S. cities unwilling to jettison the recent past and the timeless value of offering, “a place of pure delight—an inviting refreshing environment,” to quote Simonds.
Mellon Square: Discovering a Modern Masterpiece Susan M. Rademacher With essays by Charles A. Birnbaum, Patricia M. O’Donnell, Richard C. Bell and Barry W. Starke Published by Princeton Architectural Press, $24.95
CB1 vote to modify deed restrictions on SOM’s 28 Liberty Plaza today could pave way for SOM-led redesign
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.