Commissioners generally praised the concept and design, but asked for further refinements to be presented at a future meeting. On September 24, 2013, the Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing on the proposed project for a vacant lot at 7 West 21st Street in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District. The through-block site was cleared in the 1920s, and the applicants intend to build a 185-foot tall development with ground-floor retail and residential use of the upper stories.
At the public hearing, Kramer Levin attorney Valerie Campbell said that a special permit would be sought for the project to waive the 150 ft. setback requirement. Campbell noted that the plan did not possess any more floor area than was permitted as-of-right. Higgins & Quasebarth’s Ward Dennis stated that 20 percent of the housing in the project would be affordable, with the rest offered at market rates.
The plan was presented by Morris Adjmi, Principal of Morris Adjmi Architects. Adjmi said that the building’s two facades would be identifiable as the same building, but “tuned” to the different streets that each façade faces. Both facades would host an identifiable base, shaft and capital, with bay widths similar to those of the district’s historic store-and-loft buildings and windows in same proportions. The base of the building would be clad in stone, while the upper stories would be clad in terra cotta. The 22nd Street facade of the building would be topped with a zinc cornice, visible portions of the sidewalls would be clad in glazed gray brick, and bulkheads would be set away from the street facades. The grids of the facades would have different dimensions on the two facades. The building’s ground floor lobby would run through the entire lot, while above the ground floor, a central courtyard would separate two masses. While the building would be taller than its neighbors on 21st Street, Adjmi said the building would add to the “saw-tooth character” of the district. The facade would have a foot and half depth on the base, and one foot on the upper stories, replicating “the depth and shadow you see on a lot of the historic buildings.”
The applicants decided not to use setbacks because they would have been visible from street vantages, and detract from district’s character as defined by the loft buildings. Currently, the loft buildings’ facades grow straight up from the sidewalk.
The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified that the “proposed building is too stripped down for the Ladies’ Mile Historic District,” and “closer to staid Midtown office buildings” than the “exuberant” architecture of the district. Leo Blackman of the Drive to Protect the Ladies’ Mile District also criticized the design, particularly on 21st Street, which he called “too large and inadequately defined,” and “simply too high.”
The New York Landmarks Conservancy’s Andrea Goldwyn praised the proposal as a “harmonious addition” to Ladies’ Mile, and complemented the “restrained palette” of whites and grays. Landmarks Chair Robert B. Tierney stated that Manhattan Community Board 5 had issued a resolution recommending approval.
Adjmi responded to opposing testimony by stating that they had sought to relate to the district through means other than ornamentation, which he believed would not be appropriate on a contemporary building.
Commissioner Fred Bland found the proposal “highly contextual,” and agreed with Adjmi that it would be inappropriate to design a building without the sensibility, technology and materials of its own time. Commissioner Michael Goldblum found the proposal generally appropriate, but not rising to the level of “adding something to the district,” particularly on 22nd Street. Goldblum also suggested that the bases on both street fronts should be extended vertically. Commissioner Joan Gerner agreed that the plan fit in well within the district, but thought the building’s base should be strengthened horizontally. Commissioner Michael Devonshire praised the choice of materials in the application as “dramatic and wonderful,” while Commissioner Roberta Washington opined that the proposal “could be more interesting.”
Chair Tierney thanked the applicants for their “marvelous presentation,” and asked them to further examine the details of the proposal, especially on the 22nd Street facade, before bringing a revised plan to Landmarks at a future public meeting.
At Landmarks’ meeting on October 15, 2013, Adjmi presented a revised plan to the Commission. The design was amended to include two-story bay windows at the base of the building facing 22nd Street. Also on 22nd Street, the columns delineating the tripartite facade were moved in one bay, making for a narrower central section. The amount of metal in the primarily limestone base was also increased.
Commissioners praised the plan, with Chair Tierney calling the revisions “completely responsive.” Commissioner Fred Bland found the revisions intelligent and appropriate and the plan “a model of contextualism” for a contemporary building in a historic district. Commissioner Michael Devonshire stated that he had full confidence that the project was “in the hands of a master,” however, also expressed reservations, particularly about the lack of detail, which he believed might make the project look like “a denatured historical building” Nonetheless, he joined his colleagues in a unanimous vote to award the revised a project a certificate of appropriateness.
LPC: 7 West 21st Street, Manhattan (14-7856) (Sept. 24, 2013) (Architect: Morris Adjmi Architects).