Nine-Story Building Proposed for Vacant Lot in SoHo Historic District

Rendering of 42 Crosby Street project, by Selldorf Architects. Image Courtesy: Historic Districts Council.

Landmark commissioners split on Annabelle Selldorf designs for a five-story building at the streetwall, with set-back four-story tower, faced in glass and aluminum. On December 11, 2012, the Landmarks Preservation Commission heard a proposal for the construction of a new structure at 42 Crosby Street, at the corner of Broome Street. The space, located in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, is currently occupied by a parking lot and garage, which would be demolished. The proposed building would be primarily residential, with ground-floor retail use.

According to Greenberg Traurig attorney Jay Segal, the project would require a special permit from the Department of City Planning because of a text amendment governing new development in the district, and because the lot’s M1-5B zoning does not permit the planned uses. In addition, a permit is needed for a reduction in the amount of accessory parking and for an exterior sun-control device. The building’s base would rise to 71 feet, with the additional four stories setback 20 feet from the facades. The set-back portion would be visible from many nearby vantages.

Architect Annabelle Selldorf, of Selldorf Architects, stated that the lot, currently used for parking, was an “empty tooth” and the planned new building would “complete the corner.” Selldorf said she intended to design a building that would not disturb the cohesiveness of the SoHo streetscape, while working in a contemporary idiom. She stated that the proposal was “taking the vocabulary of cast iron to an aluminum translation.” She also said the building would reflect the neighborhood’s industrial character.

The residential section would have horizontal bands of nine-foot-tall, double-hung windows that would project in front of the columns, which Selldorf believed echoed the layering characteristics of the historic district.  Selldorf contends the building would grow lighter and more transparent as it ascended. Selldorf claimed the set-back section was designed to appear as a rooftop addition, but that the project could be “clearly read as one building.” A rear courtyard would allow light and air into the building.

Selldorf said there were precedents in the district for the proposed building’s height, but would be volumetrically different, partially because of the zoning envelope. Though not required by zoning, Selldorf created the setback at 71 feet so the base would align with the neighboring cornices. The building would rise to a total height of 125 feet, and possess 41,000 square feet of floor area. Only at the corner of Broome and Henry Streets could the base and the tower be seen together, a vantage from which Selldorf said the building “shows its best.” The tower would be partially visible from several other street viewpoints.

The Historic Districts Council’s Nadezhda Williams testified that the proposal was inappropriate for the SoHo location, and found the glass-and-aluminum facade more appropriate for a Midtown office building. Williams recommended that the upper section of the proposal be removed and the materials reconsidered. The Municipal Art Society submitted a letter to the commission, which found the design and materials appropriate, but said the massing required “further study.”

Commissioner Michael Goldblum was convinced by Selldorf’s arguments for the appropriateness of the massing, but questioned the use of aluminum on the facade, noting that historic buildings on Crosby Street predominantly had masonry cladding. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter suggested pulling forward the setback portion closer to the front facades and away from the rear party wall, allowing it to be seen as a “cube.” Perlmutter found the industrial connotations of the design appropriate for the district, but also thought the facade seemed “rather flat,” and too commercial in nature. Commissioner Fred Bland found the proposed massing non-contextual with the district, and, along with several other commissioners, suggested raising the height of the base beyond the cornice line of the adjoining buildings. Commissioner Christopher Moore found that maintaining the cornice line was “just a little too noble” in this context. Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea commented that he would like to see “more assertive” color for the building’s facade, and recommended the use of cast, rather than molded, aluminum. Commissioner Roberta Washington found the massing of the set back four stories “out of whack” with the historic district.

Chair Robert B. Tierney said the proposal was “provocative, in the best sense,” and asked the applicants to amend the project in light of the commissioners’ comments, and return to Landmarks at a later date.

LPC: 42 Crosby Street, Manhattan (13-6801) (Dec. 11, 2012) (Architect: Selldorf Architects).

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