Commissioners Fail to Find Consensus on Revised Proposal for Addition to Individual Landmark

827-831 Broadway Rendering. Image credit: LPC.

Proposed additions to recently designated buildings, known for housing artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement, reduced in visibility with modifications to design to better relate to existing building. On April 24, 2018, the Landmarks Preservation Commission considered a revised proposal to create a rooftop addition to the 827-831 Broadway Buildings, an individual City landmark designated in October of 2017. The buildings were designated partially for its architecture as proto-cast-iron commercial architecture, designed by Griffith Thomas and inspired by Italian palazzi, and also for their association with 20th century art. Willem De Kooning lived and worked in 831 Broadway, and other artists that lived in the buildings included Elaine de Kooning, Larry Poons, Jules Olitsky, and Paul Jenkins.

At the hearing on designation Jay Segal, the attorney for BH Caerus Broadway LLC, the buildings’ owners, stated that the properties had been purchased with the intention of redeveloping them with a new 14-story tower. He said the owners would have grounds for a hardship application if a vertical enlargement were not allowed.

The applicants presented a proposal for an addition on January 9, 2018. The proposed four-story rooftop addition would span both buildings be faced in faceted reflecteive glass on Broadway, with a maximum facade depth of four-and-a-half feet. The addition would have been set back 28 feet from the landmark’s street wall.

Area residents, local elected officials, and preservationist organizations testified in opposition to the proposal, objecting to its scale, design, and visibility. The applicants solicited letters and testimony in support of the plan from architects, artists, and gallerists.

Commissioners found the plan inappropriate as proposed, asking that the size and visibility of the addition be reduced, and the design be revised into something calmer that better related to the architecture of the buildings below.

The revised proposal was presented by architect Jordan Rogove, Partner at DXA Studio. The revised addition was still four stories, but five feet lower due to reductions in floor-to-floor heights. It was also pushed away from the buildings’ front facades by an additional eight feet, making for a 36-foot setback. These modifications reduced the addition’s visibility, and it would no longer be able to be seen from public thoroughfares to the south.

The applicants retained the same essential design as the previous proposal. A planted terrace on the roof in front of the addition would still be abstractly reflected in its faceted glass, changing with sun and the seasons, and paying homage to De Koonings’s shift from urban to pastoral themes during his time at 813 Broadway and the dynamic quality of his paintings. The depth and projection of the addition’s facade was reduced, as well as the level of reflectivity. To address commissioners concerns from the previous hearing concerning the lack of relationship between the original buildings and additions, the structural support for the addition’s curtain wall would be organized on the same pattern as the facades below, and brought forward to be partially visible through the glass. At night, the skeleton structure would be visible in silhouette.

Rogove read from a letter solicited from art historian and De Kooning scholar Judith Zilczer which called the revised addition an “improvement of their original submission and preserves the innovative spirit that I found so compelling in the original design conception.”

Preservation consultant Mary Dierickx detailed some of the planned work to the historic fabric, which would include replacing the storefront and second floor windows on 831 Broadway. The applicants intend to remove paint from the facade and restore the original limestone, and Dierickx demonstrate the results of tests of different paint-stripping methods. Pointing and repair work would be included in the restoration, and a cast-stone cornice would be installed above the storefronts.

Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan noted that Assembly Member Deborah Glick had reiterated her opposition to the projects approval in a letter to the Commission, as had several preservation organizations and television food personality Rachael Ray.

Commissioner Adi Shamir Baron commented that there was a strange tension between the proposed addition’s attention-drawing design, and the steps taken to minimize its visibility. Shamir-Baron commended the opalescent glazing and more subdued faceting. She suggested that the applicants consider aligning an addition with 12th Street and Manhattan’s grid instead of Broadway.

Commissioner Michael Goldblum criticized the plan for failing to effectively relate to the historic architecture of the site, or the Abstract Expressionist movement that the applicants cited as the inspiration for the addition’s design. Goldblum said Abstract Expressionist art was characterized “gestural,” “emotive” and “humanistic,” qualities that were not found in the mechanistic, geometric repeated pattern of the addition’s facade. He also said the addition’s failure to address the two separate buildings that composed the landmark, but instead build a single “monolith” on top of them that suppress the landmark’s character. He further added that artists of the mid-20th century were attracted to 19th-century store-and-loft buildings for their “historicity,” and he suspected the artists who resided in the buildings would find the addition “antithetical” to their view of the neighborhood. Commissioner John Gustafsson agreed, and said that if the applicant wanted to go forward with the proposed design concept, they must make it invisible from all public vantages.

Commissioner Michael Devonshire said cast stone, as proposed for the storefront cornice, was not an appropriate material for use on the ground floor of an individual landmark. He also said more information about the origins and state of the limestone beneath the paint was needed before signing off on a stripping and coating plan. He expressed great deal of admiration for DXA, but said the plan for the addition was “off the mark,” and recalled Buckminster Fuller more than any Abstract Expressionist.

Commissioner Wellington Chen supported the project, saying it would call attention to the building and flag it as “something special,” and serve to make more people aware of the building’s history.

Srinivasan, who had found the proposal’s previous iteration largely appropriate, and the revised plan “exciting and “conceptually appropriate,” finding a successful balance between celebration of the design and restraint.  Srinivasan said the landmark was ultimately more culturally than historically significant, and could sustain a visible addition.  She found consensus in that an addition of similar massing could be appropriate for the site, and asked the applicants to rethink its architectural expression and what it conveys before returning to Landmarks.

LPC: 827-831 Broadway Buildings, 827-831 Broadway, Manhattan (19-18646) (April 24, 2018) (Architects: DXA Studio).


By: Jesse Denno (Jesse is a full-time staff writer at the Center for NYC Law.)


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.