Appropriateness disputed despite praise of design

LPC rejects plans for 172 Duane. Photo: Jesse Denno.

Four-story addition opposite Duane Park sent back to drawing board. On June 10, 2008, Landmarks heard testimony on the construction of a four-story addition and penthouse to 172 Duane Street, a two-story building within the Tribeca West Historic District. Built in 1871 as a store-and-loft building, the owners extensively renovated it in 1991 prior to the historic district’s designation. The widely-praised renovation, overseen by architect Vincent Posinelli, restored the original archwindowed cast-iron facade, but demolished the building’s remaining walls. The restored facade remained as a free-standing sculptural element, with a translucent glass-brick building designed by Posinelli behind it. The property’s new owners, 172 Realty LLC, retained Posinelli to design a new four-story addition for use as a dwelling.

Posinelli’s plan for the new structure features a glass wall rising straight above the original facade, with the new building’s facade set back 15 feet. Posinelli called the glass-enclosed space “the winter garden,” saying it would contain an elevator and a tree in homage to Duane Park across the street. The glass wall would be divided by cast bronze trusses matching the original facade’s bay windows. A one-story penthouse would be set back 50 feet from the screenwall to minimize visibility. The addition would also include teak-framed windows, sidewalls with aluminum rainscreens, and an open circular stairway, which would bring light to the building’s lower levels.

Representatives of the owner testified that their analysis of the building’s foundation and loadbearing walls showed that the original builder intended the building to rise beyond two stories, and that while the proposal would be taller than its immediate neighbors, the height would not be uncharacteristic for the area.

The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified in opposition, though she stated it could be “quite exciting” on a non-landmarked building. Williams argued that the addition would reduce the historic structure to a “pretty little pendant” on a modern building. Community Board 1 also sent a letter in opposition, finding that the addition’s height overwhelmed the original building, and the exterior contained too many details.

The commissioners praised the design, but called it inappropriate for the historic district. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter expressed her long admiration for Posinelli’s work on 172 Duane, but suggested the new screen be set back from the old facade. Other commissioners found the bulk excessive, with Commissioner Diana Chapin stating that it needed to be reduced by at least a floor. Commissioner Christopher Moore was most effusive in his praise, calling it “a landmark on top of a landmark,” but concluded that it needed to be scaled down to fit in the historic district.

Chair Robert B. Tierney, in his summation, said that the proposal’s “uniqueness doesn’t overcome the lines that it crosses.” Tierney suggested that the architect reduce the bulk and differentiate the original facade from the new screenwall. Tierney closed the hearing, saying that further discussion and a presentation of design changes would take place at a future date.

LPC: 172 Duane St., Manhattan (COFA# 08-7877) (June 10, 2008).

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