Addition’s design praised, but not its location

Five-story addition proposed for six-story building in Ladies’ Mile. On July 21, 2009, Landmarks considered a certificate of appropriateness for a five-story addition at 33 West 19th Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. Designed by architect Morris Adjmi, the addition would be built on top of a 1903 six-story neo- Renaissance store and loft building.

Adjmi’s design features a translucent woven metal mesh in front of the addition’s rain wall. The mesh would be suspended from the addition’s cornice, aligning with the existing building’s edge, while the addition’s main facade would be set back four feet. On the addition’s side wall, the mesh would take a brick pattern, and on its main facades the mesh would be layered, creating a shadow effect reminiscent of the building’s original facade. Behind the mesh, balconies at every floor would provide further depth. Adjmi characterized the proposal as “an extension of an existing building in a new language.”

Adjmi claimed that the district had evolved over the years from residential to manufacturing and retail uses. He also said the varying heights of buildings gave the neighborhood’s streetwall a “saw-tooth quality,” and claimed that the mesh material would emulate the “lightness and whiteness” of the light brick and cast-iron prevalent in the area.

Bill Higgins, of Higgins and Quasebarth, urged the Commission to accept the proposal. He noted that Manhattan’s expansion historically took a vertical course, comparing the proposal to other significant New York buildings that were expanded years after the original structure was built. Higgins argued that Landmarks had the discretion to take into account architectural quality in its approval process and that approval would not necessarily set a precedent for similarly-massed projects.

A representative of Manhattan Community Board 5 testified that the addition would disturb the streetscape and overwhelm the existing building. One neighborhood resident criticized the proposal for its “discordant and inconsistent aesthetic,” while another worried that approval would mean “if you’re good enough you don’t have to folllow the rules.”

Commissioners expressed admiration for the proposal, but found it inappropriate for the historic district. Commissioner Stephen Byrns complemented the design, but said the proposal overwhelmed the existing building and its approval would set a dangerous precedent. Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz said the structure could be appropriate as a new building but, as an addition, it was “good design in the wrong place.”

Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that sometimes “significant architectural expression” is not enough to override the requirements of the landmarks law, and said the proposal would overwhelm a contributing building in the historic district.

Tierney closed the hearing, and the applicants will have an opportunity to return with a revised design.

LPC: 33 West 19th Street, Manhattan (COFA# 09-7994) (July 21, 2009).

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