New Glass-Faced Structure on Vacant SoHo Lot Approved after Modifications

Rendering of the proposed building at 144 Spring Street.  Image Credit: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Rendering of the proposed building at 144 Spring Street. Image Credit: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

In approval of new structure from the architects of the Apple stores, Commissioners included language that would maintain transparency of the facade should the building be repurposed in the future. On September 16, 2014, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve the construction of a new building at the corner of Spring and Wooster Streets in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. The site has been occupied by a 20-by-80-foot vacant lot for approximately 70 years, long before the district’s designation in 1973.

The applicants initially presented their proposal on June 3, 2014 for a 52-foot-tall building with almost all-glass facades facing both Spring Street and Wooster designed by the firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, architects of the Fifth Avenue and SoHo Apple stores. The building’s weight would be primarily borne by a system along the party wall, leaving no structural elements visible in the facade, composed of 26-by-8-foot glass panels.

At the June hearing, Commissioners found the quality of the design to be exceedingly high, but some Commissioners wished to see it further refined to possess more depth and texture, and to better relate to its historic district surroundings.

When the applicants returned to Landmarks, Higgins and Quasebarth’s Ward Dennis said the history of the cast-iron architecture that characterizes the district was one of finding means to increase natural light and transparency, and the new building would be resonant of this history. He noted that building also recalled smaller buildings from later periods of developments within the district.

Architect Frank Grauman presented the revisions to the plan, which included the creation of a cornice. The cantilevered weight-bearing system would also obviate the need for interior columns, maximizing transparency and retail space. The transparency would be carried into the interior, intended to be used as retail space, which would have an open staircase and mezzanines, as well as a transparently enclosed elevator. The second floor would be hung from the ceiling by suspension rods, with the rhythm of the rods helping to distinguish the upper and lower floors.  The base facing Spring Street would be modified to better relate to the neighborhood’s storefronts, and a fin at the roofline would be extended to make a cornice, emphasized by a notch in the glass. Grauman said the glass panels would recall the modularity of cast-iron architecture.

Commissioner Fred Bland who had urged approval of the previous iteration, continued to be enthusiastic about the project as “well developed idea” that will fit the historic district “like a glove.” However, because the transparency of the structure made its inside a crucial aspect of the public perception of the building, he asked if there were ways to retain Landmarks oversight of the interior, possibly through designation. Commissioner Michael Goldblum determined that the proposed building would be an “interesting and perhaps unexpected” contribution to the district, but agreed there was a need for a mechanism to prevent the erection of interior structures that would detract from its transparency. Landmarks Counsel Mark Silberman advised that it could not be designated an interior landmark because it was not yet 30 years old, among other reasons. Ward Dennis commented that the building and zoning codes prevented the enclosure of the mezzanines.

Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron praised the innovative use of materials, and found the proposal to represent a natural progression of architecture in SoHo. Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan found the design “exquisite and elegant.”

Commissioners voted to approve the project, with Commissioner Roberta Washington, who said she was “still not convinced” of its appropriateness, dissenting. Language was inserted into the Certificate of Appropriateness that extended Landmarks oversight over any “significant” work within 24 inches of the building’s skin that would mitigate its transparency.

LPC: 144 Spring Street, Manhattan (15-0708) (Sept. 16, 2014) (Architects: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson). 

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


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