Proposed facade for SoHo store rejected

Architect argued that retail building’s deteriorating facade did not reflect area’s historic fabric. On May 4, 2010, Landmarks denied a proposal to construct a new facade for an H&M clothing store at 558 Broadway in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District. The site was originally occupied by a four-story building dating back to the 1860s, but the building’s height was reduced by two stories and the facade was reconstructed in 1920. H&M has been located in the building for ten years, but it only recently came into possession of the entire building. H&M proposed removing the existing brick facade in order to update the building with a more contemporary facade.

TEK Architects’ Andrew Ojamaa presented the plan, noting that H&M planned to renovate the building’s interior in addition to making the exterior alterations. The building’s first floor and cellar would continue to be used as a retail store, and H&M would use the second story as a private “editor’s showroom.” Ojamaa claimed the existing facade was in a state of disrepair and argued that the facade’s 1920s design did not reflect the neighborhood’s “designated historic fabric.”

Ojamaa explained that the new facade would consist of light-colored panels of fiberglass-reinforced concrete, which he claimed would constitute a modern update on cast iron architecture. According to Ojamaa, the panels would create “multiple hierarchies and layering” and restore “a sense of verticality” to the facade.

Residents and preservationists opposed the proposal. Manhattan Community Board 2’s Jane McCarthy disputed H&M’s statement that the existing building did not contribute to the district. The Historic District Council’s Nadezhda Williams said the proposal would “obliterate a charming piece of SoHo.”

Landmarks’ Commissioners generally agreed with the comments. Commissioner Fred Bland said the designers had “misdirected” their energy, which should have been applied to restoring the existing facade. Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said the proposal would detract from the character of the historic district, and Vice Chair Pablo Vengoechea said the existing facade merited protection.

Landmarks voted unanimously to deny the application.

LPC: 558 Broadway, Manhattan (10- 4619) (May 4, 2010) (Architect: TEK Architects).

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