Four-Story Addition to Recently Designated Landmark Proposed

Rendering of 827-831 Broadway in Manhattan, Image Credit: LPC.

Developer’s representatives said application was presented as alternative to hardship application to demolish landmark; proposed four-story addition would celebrate and honor history of building. On January 9, 2017, Landmarks held a hearing for proposed work on 827-831 Broadway, an individual City landmark. The twin buildings—completed in 1867 and designed by Griffith Thomas—were recently designated landmarks for their commercial history, original cast-iron Italianate architecture, and their connection to 20th century art. The buildings are associated with Abstract Expressionism and the New York School of painting. The landmark housed the last New York City studio of Willem de Kooning as well as other artists. Developer applicants recently proposed to build a four-story addition on top of the buildings, and to restore and alter the facades and storefronts.

Greenberg Traurig attorney Jay Segal, representing the property’s owners, BH Caerus Broadway LLC, stated that the site was only added to Landmarks’ calendar after the owners received Buildings’ approval to build a 14-story tower at the site. The attorney said Landmarks calendared the property before a permit was obtained. Segal reiterated an assertion he made at the hearing on designation: The owners are entitled pursue a hardship application and demolish the building, but are instead presenting Landmarks with a certificate of appropriateness application for an enlargement that will allow them to avoid “financial disaster.”

Segal stated that the buildings are much more a cultural landmark than one designated on architectural merit, and therefore an appropriate site for a visible addition. Segal said that landmarking was intended to, among other things, foster civic pride and spur tourism. Simply maintaining the buildings as they currently stand would fail to make the public aware of the buildings’ role in the City’s artistic history. The additions, as well as a digital “interactive plaque” at the base, would cause the public to appreciate the relationship of the buildings to the artists who resided there.

Jordan Rogove, principal at DXA Architecture, presented the proposed addition, which would be set 28 feet from the front facade. Rogove said the design team looked at the work of Abstract Expressionist artists for inspiration. The design team found that while stylistically disparate, the artists shared an approach to painting that rethought subject matter and technique, and had a “kinetic” quality.

The addition would be faced with faceted glass at differing angles, allowing for varying degrees of reflection and transparency. This would give the buildings a “dynamic, ever changing quality” throughout the day and the changing of the seasons. The roof, in front of the setback, would be a planted “meadow garden space” that would be fragmentally reflected in the facade, with sky and streetscape. The roof garden would also recall de Kooning’s shift to pastoral themes that took place while he resided at the site.  The arrangement of the addition’s facade would be intended to relate to the bays and proportions of historic facade below. The addition’s sidewalls would be two-dimensional and faced with a non-reflective patterned rainscreen. Damaged elements would be repaired and restored. New one-over-one black wood-framed windows would be installed on both buildings. Storefronts were replaced multiple times throughout the lives of the buildings. An art nouveau storefront installed at 827 Broadway by an antique dealer in the 1980s would be retained and a new storefront installed at 831.

Rendering of 827-831 Broadway in Manhattan, Image Credit: LPC.

Preservation consultant Mary Dierickx said paint would be stripped from the facade and it would be returned to its cream-colored limestone. If the paint cannot be removed or the limestone is irreparably stained, the facade will be coated in a color matching the original stone. Dierickx said no testing has yet been done to ascertain the limestone’s condition or the effect of paint removal on the limestone.

Over twenty speakers signed up to testify on the proposal. A representative of Council Member Carlina Rivera asked Landmarks to reject the proposal on “aesthetic, artistic, and historic grounds.” The representative said the “hulk of glass” would overwhelm the original buildings. A speaker representing State Senators Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman said the proposal would undermine the integrity of the landmark and expressed concern about the demolition of interior spaces. A representative of Community Board 2 recommended denial of the application because it would diminish the integrity of the landmark in both scale and design.

The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn rejected the applicants’ assertion that the buildings were designated either solely or primarily for their cultural history, reasoning that they have tremendous architectural value as “commercial palaces.” Goldwyn argued that allowing an addition that is two-thirds the height of the landmarked building would set a precedent for treating designated structures as “pedestals for additions.” The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s Andrew Berman said the proposed addition “utterly overwhelms” the landmark, and the applicants are seeking to use the landmark’s history of housing artists’ studios to justify a “grotesque transformation.” Berman also asked Landmarks to ensure that the owners would not demolish the buildings and only allow them to preserve the facades. Christabel Gough, of the Society for the Architecture of the City, said there is an available footprint behind the landmark on which the owners could build, allowing the designated building in front to read as an independent structure. The Historic Districts Council’s Patrick Waldo said the proposal is fundamentally at odds with the nature of the landmark.

Nearby resident Anita Isola said the proposal fails to honor the work of de Kooning and is inconsistent with the landmarked buildings and the neighborhood. A representative of a nearby co-op compared the addition to a “spaceship” atop a historic structure.

Rogove responded to criticism, saying that the restoration work on the historic buildings respects the aesthetic and architectural significance of the landmark. He said the reflectivity of glass in the proposal was significantly reduced from a previous iteration. DXA’s Sarah Keane read a letter from architect Mark Bearak in which he called the addition a “physical realization of de Kooning’s work.” DXA Partner Wayne Norbeck read a statement from Todd Weyman of Swan Auction Galleries, in which he supported the project as a “tribute to the significant contributions of New York artists.” Brandon Conde, also from DXA, read testimony from Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Cameron Wu, who said the proposal is a “tremendous homage” to the artists who once worked there and a “profound architectural statement.” Gallerist Arnie Zimmerman praised the quality of design and level of thought that went into the “progressive” architecture, which also respects the past.

Rogove stated that Landmarks established precedent for the proposal with its approval of Hearst Tower and the addition at the former Tammany Hall at Union Square. According to Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan, while there is no “line in the sand” in Landmarks oversight, a landmark of architectural significance could not host a visible addition. The building’s cultural significance, she said, “opens up different narratives as to why certain changes or modification may be appropriate.”

Commissioner Fred Bland praised the creativity and thought behind the proposal, but said interesting and daring ideas do not necessarily equate to appropriateness. He said the addition’s design drew too much attention to itself, and “something calmer” would be better for the site. Bland also recommended that the addition be reduced by one story or set back farther from the streetwall. Commissioner Michael Devonshire said he wants to see a more complete plan for the restoration, and wants the facade’s limestone to be tested before voting. Devonshire also commented that the “breathtaking” design would better serve as a stand-alone de Kooning museum in Southampton, rather than as an addition to the historic building. Commissioner Kim Vauss thought the proposal’s mass was excessive, and was not sure the addition’s design successfully relates to the landmark’s facade, though “alone it’s a beautiful building.”

Chair Srinivasan said she believes an abstract and visible addition could be suitable for the site and that the proposal was largely appropriate. She declined to call a vote and asked the applicants to further refine the design before returning to Landmarks at a later date.

827-831 Broadway Building, 827 Broadway, Manhattan (19-18646) (Jan. 9, 2017) (Architects: DXA Architecture).

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

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