4-story addition approved for Tribeca, design praised

Architect of pre-designation renovations also chosen to design new residential addition. On October 14, 2008, Landmarks voted to approve the construction of a four-story addition with a penthouse to the two-story structure at 172 Duane Street in the Tribeca West Historic District. The site was originally home to an 1872 store-and-loft building, used for a wood importing business.

More recently, in the 1980s, owners of 172 Duane hired architect Vincenzo Polsinelli and undertook extensive renovations, which eliminated most of the building but left the restored cast-iron facade as a free-standing sculptural element, and built a glass brick-faced building seven feet behind the facade, creating a glowing effect at night. The newest owner of 172 Duane, 172 Realty LLC, also retained Polsinelli to design a residential addition to the existing building. Polsinelli’s original proposal, presented at Landmarks on June 10, 2008, won praise for the inventiveness of its design, but Commissioners ultimately concluded that its bulk was excessive for the historic district. 5 CityLand 99 (July 15, 2008).

The amended proposal retained many of the design elements which distinguished the project, including cast-bronze trusses supporting a glass screen wall that contains an open space Polsinelli termed “the winter garden.” The screen wall is slightly angled to parallel Duane Park, which the building faces. In response to Landmarks’ criticism from the previous hearing, Polsinelli pushed back the penthouse 21ft., and reduced the height of an exterior stairwell by six feet. The architect also reduced the number of bronze trusses from four to two, which he believed created a lighter effect, and removed an elevator bulkhead from the roof.

Commissioners generally found the revised design appropriate and compelling. Commissioner Fred Bland called the building “exhilarating,” praising its “idiosyncratic and personal” nature in an increasingly “generic City.” Commissioner Christopher Moore stated that he appreciated “the artistry and passion of the architect,” but felt that a one-story “studio” on top of the penthouse should be removed, a sentiment that Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz echoed. Commissioner Stephen Byrns, who ultimately voted against the project, found the addition “a bit too tall for a two-story base,” and recommended the height be reduced by a floor. Chair Robert Tierney found enough consensus to call a vote, and Landmarks approved the addition, provided the rooftop studio was removed.

LPC: 172 Duane St., Manhattan (COFA# 08-7877) (Oct. 14, 2008).

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