April 5, 2011

Item 14
117194- Block 524, lot 66-
100-110 Bleecker Street – University Village, Individual Landmark

A Brutalist style residential complex designed by James Ingo Freed of I.M. Pei & Associates and built in 1964-67. Application is to modify the landscape and install a playground and assorted fixtures.

In 1965 the New York Times quoted I.M. Pei as saying, “A city, so far from being a cluster of buildings, is actually a sequence of spaces enclosed and defined by buildings.  This may sound strange but it is the essence of urban design.”  It does sound like a slightly strange thing for an architect to say, and maybe for a preservationist to quote, but it illuminates the importance of the character of the space between the buildings here at University Village.

The design of Silver Towers is all about clean, geometric simplicity, and this feeling extends to the original landscaping.  The large open blocks of grass, proportionate to the large buildings that seem to grow out of them, and the circular seating area express the compact, orderly nature of the plan.  The amorphic, sprawling design of the proposed playground is a marked contrast to the original design.  The bust of Sylvette might be curvy, but that is a very special feature that is highlighted in part by the contrasting angularity of the surrounding complex.

The addition of a dog run and the larger playground also disrupts the openess of the complex, adding more three dimensional objects to what should be a  relatively clear space.  We all know why the dog run and playground are proposed to be moved from their present Mercer Street positions.  It is not the role of an individual landmark though to take on the responsibilities of a non-designated space.  If the applicant can not find locations for these spaces elsewhere in their vast landholdings, then they should be left where they are.  Much like a tiny rowhouse being asked to do too much, this proposal is a case of a very considered space being asked to handle too many activities.

LPC Determination:  Approved with modifications

Item 28
108244- Block 824, lot 54-
132 East 19th Street – Gramercy Park Historic District

A small apartment house designed by Frederick J. Sterner and built in 1910. Application is to establish a Master Plan governing the future replacement of windows and the installation if through-window air conditioning units.


HDC is happy to see the applicants are seeking to return divided light casements in a three-window configuration to 132 East 19th Street.  While Frederick J. Sterner might be better known in New York City for remodeling townhouses, this small apartment house was a completely new building designed by Sterner.  The windows are a defining feature and certainly an important draw for the artists who lived here.  Considering their importance and the effort and money already being put towards their restoration, the new windows should be as close to the originals as possible.  Each casement should feature ten, not eight panes and proper profiles should be used to ensure articulation.  HDC applauds the spirit of this application and with the few changes suggested looks forward to this “Block Beautiful” becoming even more beautiful.

LPC Determination: Closed, no action

Item 33
115490- Block 2050, lot 42-
351 Convent Avenue – Hamilton Heights Historic District

A neo-Gothic style church designed by Lamb & Rich and built in 1897-99. Application is to construct an addition.

hamilton heights

While the materials and scale of the proposed addition seem appropriate, HDC does not find it overall to be sympathetic to this Lamb & Rich designed 1899 church due to both its placement and in its design.  Like any addition to a landmark, this one should be set back from the primary façade of the historic structure.  Obstructing the multiple gable ends and stained glass windows of the side façade as well as eliminating the planted courtyard would be a visual loss for this block.

Successful additions to landmarks are often either passive infill in the style of the original structures or statement pieces of contemporary architecture that play off the historic.  The proposed, outside of the materials,  shows very little reference to the historic church.  It should be added that it is rather difficult to picture what is proposed without material samples.  Situated prominently on the corner of Convent Avenue and West 145th Street, the neo-Gothic style Convent Avenue Baptist Church provides a number of decorative and structural elements, including arches, peaked gables, tracery, columns and stone laid in random range work, that could guide the design of a sympathetic addition.

Another item initially on the calendar for today, but now rescheduled for next week, would be a good model.  The First Presbyterian Church situated in the Greenwich Village Historic District is a nice example of a church with sympathetic additions built 50 years and over 100 years after the original construction (and before there was even an historic district.)

LPC Determination: Closed, no action

Item 35
117067- Block 2106, lot 1-
High Bridge – High Bridge, Aqueduct and Pedestrian Walk, Individual Landmark

A Roman style aqueduct and bridge designed by John B. Jervis and completed in 1848, modified in 1861-64, and modified with the installation of the steel arch in 1923. Application is to install barrier-free access ramps, viewing platforms, safety fencing, and lighting.

high bridge

HDC compliments the project team on the extensive work and thought that has gone into this application, just one piece of a larger project that will restore the historic High Bridge.  We find much of the proposal to be appropriate and sensitive, but we do have issues with the proposed safety fencing and lighting.  Obviously these are two necessary alterations to make this a pedestrian spot again, but the historic fabric and the open feel of the bridge must be preserved.

We are concerned that the additional lighting fixtures proposed will clutter the appearance of the bridge and change the experience of the visitor.  The original lamp posts are placed on top of the piers, emphasizing the structure’s design and allowing for space for uninterrupted views.  The new ones, besides adding visual clutter, would require cutting into and distrupting the historic fence, making it look like pieces of ornament rather than a continuous rail.  The new fixtures would not be in line with the existing ones and so the application seeks to move the latter.  We see little reason to move the historic lamp posts from the locations where they have stood since at least the 1880’s.  HDC asks that other options, such as smaller, discreet fixtures on the safety fence, lighting at ground level, enhancing existing light fixtures, or some combination, be restudied.

The safety fence would also change the proportions of the bridge and, as the presentation clearly shows, how one will experience the bridge both on it and from below.  The design – the drooping fencing between very thick posts without any capping or finishing features – looks rather temporary and unfinished.  It will not be temporary though; instead it is a new piece of the bridge and needs to relate to design idiom of the historic structure. The example of Ganter Bridge in Switzerland is given in the presentation, and it is a nice one that should be looked at more closely.  Also the fence is very tall – 8 feet. Much shorter fences are found on bridges like the East River Promenade crossing the FDR Drive near Gracie Terrace or the 19th-century railroad bridge turned pedestrian bridge between Poughkeepsie and Highland in Hudson State Historic Park.  Surely these examples could also be used to create a safety fence that is both appropriate and effectual.

High Bridge was once a popular destination and a source of pride for New York City.  With sensitive restoration, HDC is happy to know will soon be again.

LPC Determination: Approved, with one opposed and one abstention

Posted Under: HDC@LPC

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