Project Adjacent to Whitney Museum Approved by Landmarks

East 74th Street elevations. Credit: Beyer Blinder Belle

Proposal, which includes two new buildings and a rooftop addition spanning six rowhouses, deemed appropriate after multiple revisions. On July 10, 2012 Landmarks approved Daniel E. Straus’s plan to alter and redevelop eight buildings along Madison Avenue and East 74th Street in the Upper East Side Historic District. Landmarks considered the Beyer Blinder Belle-designed proposal over the course of four meetings. The buildings are adjacent to the Marcel Breuer-designed Whitney Museum at 945 Madison Avenue, and include six rowhouses along Madison Avenue and two townhouses on East 74th Street. The Whitney once owned the buildings, but sold them to Straus after abandoning its plan to build a 178-foot tower on the site. Straus intends to convert the buildings to residential use.

At a public hearing in October 2011, architect Richard Metsky presented Straus’s initial proposal. The plan included replacing a heavily altered rowhouse abutting the Whitney on Madison Avenue with a new infill structure, and building a set-back two-story addition across the Madison Avenue rowhouses. Straus intended to build a set-back nine-story building that would also serve as a rear extension of the four-story townhouse at 31 East 74th Street, and add a one-story addition to the existing building at 33 East 74th Street. The addition and new building would be clad in terra cotta. Preservationists and community groups opposed to the project said it had too many parts and did not match the district. Landmarks asked Straus to reduce the project’s mass and visibility, as well as the amount of terra cotta.

Straus returned to Landmarks in February 2012. The revised proposal reduced the height of the new building on East 74th Street by 17 feet, simplified the massing, and introduced limestone and zinc elements. Landmarks found that the project was headed in the right direction, but asked Straus to further unite the massing and materials.

Straus returned the following month with a reduced material palette. Limestone elements were removed in favor of the original terra cotta, while zinc panels remained on the upper stories of the additions and new building. Window patterns were also regularized to match that of the existing rowhouses. Some commissioners still found the mass and visibility of the project excessive, and Chair Robert B. Tierney asked for further revisions.

Madison Avenue elevations. Credit: Beyer Blinder Belle

At the July 2012 meeting, Richard Metsky described the latest revisions. The two-story addition on the Madison Avenue rowhouses was reduced to one story, but moved two feet toward the street to provide a small increase in floor area. According to Metsky, the revisions would not significantly add to the project’s street-level visibility.

Chair Tierney recommended approval of the revised proposal, finding that it would not distract from the Whitney building. Tierney also found that the rowhouses remained distinct and legible beneath the one-story addition. Commissioner Joan Gerner agreed, stating that Straus had been responsive to all of Landmarks’ concerns.

Commissioners Michael Goldblum and Margery Perlmutter disagreed. Commissioner Goldblum found that the project contained an excess of visible bulk, and was inappropriate in terms of aesthetics and precedent. Commissioner Perlmutter stated that the “pedestrian” design did not add to the existing architecture, and did not justify the project’s visibility. Perlmutter said the project would “subsume” the existing townhouse on East 74th Street, and that approving the proposal would contradict Landmarks’ philosophy as she understood it.

Landmarks approved the proposal by a 6-2-0 vote. Commissioners Goldblum and Perlmutter opposed. Commissioner Fred Bland, who is a managing partner at Beyer Blinder Belle, recused himself from the process.

LPC: 933 Madison Avenue, Manhattan (12-4140) (July 10, 2012) (Architect: Beyer Blinder Belle).

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